The better you get at photography the harder it becomes, but there are simple ways to keep yourself motivated and continue to grow as a photographer
Photography never stops being a learning process. No photographer knows everything, and there’s always scope for technical improvement and creative development regardless of experience. But despite this, it’s the early days after starting photography when photographers make the biggest gains; you develop skills at an incredibly fast rate and your photography improves exponentially.
Sure, the learning curve is steeper at the beginning and there’s much to learn, but as your skills increase everything naturally begins to plateau. The rate at which you learn new skills slows down because there’s less to learn and techniques become more complicated. Plus, your standards rise; images that you thought were incredible a year ago may now seem mediocre. And it’s at this stage that photography starts to become most difficult.
A hobby or career that you love may, as a result, can become a source of frustration through this perceived lack of progress. Add a sense of stagnation from using the same shooting and editing techniques, failed shoots and visiting the same locations, and photography can begin to feel like more of a chore that doesn’t deliver the results you’re hoping for and the idea of giving up becomes loudest.
"No photographer knows everything, and there’s always scope for technical improvement and creative development regardless of experience."
The fact that photography becomes harder the better you get, in itself, can be a motivator to improve further if you can get over the negative feelings it can also create. Photography, for the most part, is a source of enjoyment whether it’s a hobby or a career, so you have to focus on what you enjoy about the process and aim to keep things interesting.
So, here are five tips that will hopefully help you to stay motivated and continue to enjoy your photographic journey as much as you did when you first started.
1 Go to new locations or try new techniques
One way to alleviate the risk of creative stagnation and loss of motivation is to simply change something. Whatever you do in life, whether for work or pleasure, doing the same thing over and over again builds competence but it’s a recipe for boredom because the interest in whatever it is inevitably begins to wear off.
For instance, as a landscape photographer, visiting the same locations multiple times is beneficial because you can capture familiar places in multiple seasons and weather conditions, but this does become uninspiring after a while. Likewise, for portrait photographers, there may be lighting set-ups, camera settings or focal lengths etc. that have been tried and tested to produce great results, but again this can become repetitive and boring.
"Whatever you do in life... doing the same thing over and over again builds competence but it’s a recipe for boredom because the interest in whatever it is inevitably begins to wear off."
Whatever you shoot, it’s easy to slip into a comfortable routine simply because it works and provides consistency which is a good thing, but this can also have negative effects. So, in this situation try doing something different, whether that’s going to new locations, shooting at a different time of day or learning a new lighting technique that you’ve never tried before. Variety is the spice of life, and it can certainly help to reinvigorate your photography.
2 Re-edit old photos
One of the best pieces of advice often given to absolute beginners is to shoot in both JPEG and Raw. Editing Raw files may be a long way off, not to mention it looks incredibly complicated at first, but shooting in both JPEG and Raw future-proofs your early work. And just because you’re a beginner, it doesn’t mean that some of your early work won’t be good enough for your portfolio even after many years of shooting. Of course, most won’t make the cut but it’s likely that you’ll have a few gems.
In the early days, JPEGs provide immediate in-camera processed images while also capturing Raw files provided higher quality files that can be edited in the future as your editing skills grow. The ability to go back and edit old images, even if you’re a proficient photographer who has shot Raw for years, is that it’s a great way to give your older images a new lease of life and make them look their best.
Time also has the advantage of helping you to approach editing and image processing more objectively. A shot that means a lot because of the difficulty of taking it may have an emotional attachment that’s unavoidable, but time dissolves that emotion and you will often see an image for exactly what it is and not what it represents to you on an emotional level.
"The ability to go back and edit old images, even if you’re a proficient photographer who has shot Raw for years, is that it’s a great way to give your older images a new lease of life and make them look their best."
3 Shoot different subjects to develop a new point of view
Most photographers have a specialism, whether that’s shooting portraits, landscapes, street, sport, still life or anything else. The reason for specialising is that photographers often have a passion for the main subject they shoot, but that doesn’t mean it can’t begin to feel repetitive. Shooting just one subject can result in a form of creative tunnel vision, where you’re so focused on one thing that you approach it the same way time and time again.
This is why shooting other subjects can be beneficial, simply because different subjects require different approaches. For example, still-life photography is slow and considered – everything has a place and lighting is often under the photographer’s full control. Street photography, on the other hand, is the complete opposite in many respects because you have to think quickly and respond to situations as they unfold with no control over light. So, taking a more spontaneous approach to shooting would undoubtedly inform the approach to still life or any other subject because you’ll gain another way of seeing the world photographically.
"Shooting just one subject can result in a form of creative tunnel vision, where you’re so focused on one thing that you approach it the same way time and time again."
Time is often an issue for many of us, so whatever subject you choose to try could be something that can be shot in your lunch break or connected to a hobby. A secondary or even third subject doesn’t have to be a commercial endeavour either, it can be purely for fun and self-fulfilment which is always a great motivator.
4 Take risks to drive creativity
This may sound like a slightly ominous tip, but we’re not suggesting you take up bungee jumping or swimming with sharks. Taking risks in photography can take many forms, but here we’re talking about breaking out from your norm and purposefully doing something different; things like limiting yourself to a single lens, shooting at only a wide aperture, using a focal length that you wouldn’t normally use for a given subject or anything that keeps one aspect of your approach fixed.
Doing any of these or similar things is a risk because you’re likely to be doing something that goes against how you’d normally approach a subject, but that’s the whole point. Limitation drives creativity because you’ll often have to think outside of the box to overcome the challenges the limitation creates. Shooting with just a 50mm lens, for instance, may not be something you’d normally do. But with no ability to zoom or swap lenses, you’re forced into making your desired shot with what you have available, and this is where things can get creative.
5 Don’t slavishly follow social media trends
Social media has become one of the main sources of inspiration for photographers. It’s an effective way to expose yourself to the work of other photographers and have your work seen, too. Pesky algorithms aside, the scope for getting your work seen by a wider audience is enormous and this is one of the benefits of social media, but it’s not without downsides.
"...in the pursuit of likes and ultimately more followers, photographers can be tempted to repeat popular editing techniques, compositions and visit popular locations etc. to the point where some photographers’ feeds become almost indistinguishable from thousands of others."
With such a large worldwide community, visual trends can quickly develop and can provide traction for early adopters of the trends. So, in the pursuit of likes and ultimately more followers, photographers can be tempted to repeat popular editing techniques, compositions and visit popular locations etc. to the point where some photographers’ feeds become almost indistinguishable from thousands of others.
If you’re producing work that looks like everything you’re visually consuming, you can begin to feel like you’re in an echo chamber. What’s more, your work will look like that of thousands of other photographers with little, if anything, that makes it stand out from the crowd. One way to expand your exposure to inspiration is to not rely solely on social media and aim to develop your own distinctive style.
- AuthorJames Abbott
James is a freelance photographer and journalist producing content for photography magazines and websites and is a former deputy editor of Practical Photography magazine. He’s also the author of The Digital Darkroom: The Definitive Guide to Photo Editing.View all articles