Mark Bauer has been a full-time landscape photographer since the early 2000s. As well as being a regular contributor to the UK photographic press, he is the author of seven books, including the best-selling The Landscape Photography Workshop.
At some point in your photographic journey you will find yourself stuck in a rut. You’ll feel that your photography isn’t going anywhere, you’re not enjoying it, and even getting out with the camera can seem a herculean task.
During these times, some people will complain that they lack inspiration, but personally I don’t like the word inspiration as it shifts responsibility away from the individual, suggesting that at some point an external force will descend and fill the photographer with the impetus to get out and start being creative again.
Instead I prefer to talk about motivation, as this puts responsibility with the individual – which is scary, because it means no one else can do it for you, but also liberating, as it is within your power to get out of that rut.
The big question, of course, is how? I have to be honest and say that as a professional, it’s probably less of a problem for me as clients will commission me to do jobs with specific briefs.
Often these are fairly straightforward, but sometimes they will take me out of my comfort zone and force me to shoot new subjects or try new techniques.
However, I still shoot personal work too, and once in a while I hit a low motivation point. When this happens, I take a cue from my professional life and set myself a project.
This works, as the reason I am usually in a rut is because I’m lacking direction. Setting a project gives that sense of purpose and simulates what happens in the professional arena.
So what sort of projects can you set yourself? Projects typically restrict the photographer in some way – for example, the classic project is to spend time with only one lens, usually a 50mm prime.
However, I’d suggest that you should identify your usual approach and do the opposite, to break the boundaries that constrain you and have probably gotten you into a rut in the first place.
So if you are a landscape photographer who mostly shoots with a wide-angle lens, spend time with a telephoto. If you always shoot colour, limit yourself to black and white for a few days. If you’re naturally drawn to the coast, head inland. If most of your shots are in landscape format, only shoot verticals for a day. And so on.
Another idea is visiting a familiar location and trying to find a composition you’ve not shot before. The possibilities for projects are endless. So sit down, consider some ideas and then get out and use them to kickstart your creativity.