I went hiking up the Luskville Falls trail one day this summer in the Gatineau Hills. It was my third time up the steep falls which occupy the first 750m of the hike, and my amazing hiking partner’s first time up. I was reminiscing about my first time up the falls. I was weeks away from jetting off to Peru and Bolivia where one of my first stops was to complete the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu. I figured that this would be a good climb to help get ready for my trek. But instead of leaving me confident, it left me exhausted. I had to sit down, and even felt a little dizzy at points. What had I gotten myself into? The Inca trail was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I have never done anything more mentally or physically demanding. Just breathing at 4,000m above sea level was difficult, and then added on top you had to actually climb uphill. One step at a time. Just keep breathing. My audible breath served as a reminder that I was still there and present, and that I was doing this. It kept me calm, and allowed a flow to my steps. One foot in front of the other.
I wrote in my first blog post that I no longer believe in dreams, but I do still believe in goals. Goals are what we strive towards, and having a clear picture in mind of what we want to achieve will help us navigate through. As a photographer my motivation has gone through periods of highs and lows. There have been times when I have nearly forgotten that I own a camera, when nothing I would see around me gave me any sort of inspiration. We all experience moments of this, whether it is with our cameras, healthy living, or any other hobby that we enjoy. Ruts. We all get stuck, but those that succeed are able to climb their way back.
Here are some tips to help regain your motivation. Though they are geared towards photography, you could use these tips for anywhere in your life that you need to get unstuck.
1. Do it for you, not for others; Enjoy the process.
Try to get back to why you loved taking photos. Go out on a shoot for you, not for anyone else. Put on your favourite music, and head to a location of your choosing. Forget about the rest of the world, forget about Instagram and Facebook, or even your portfolio and just start snapping.
There was a night during one particular rut when I decided to go to a bridge over the Queensway to try and take long exposure shots. I put on my iPod, and blasted Coeur de Pirate’s album ‘Roses’ on repeat. It was just me, Coeur de Pirate, and my camera. And just like that I began enjoying the process again. I set up my tripod, and with each click of my remote shutter release, I could feel my motivation return. It wasn’t about the output, it was about what I saw and enjoying being there and doing it. I didn’t want to leave, I just wanted to be in the moment and just be. When I was done I was excited to get home and look at what I had done. And even though the shoot was done for me, the pictures I took that night have become some of my favourites. Which brings us to…
2. Look back at your own photographs
Photography is a moment in time, and looking back through your photographs might trigger memories of taking your pictures. Look back at old albums, or organize your photos and create a folder or album of all your favourite. Heck, even go old school and print some of them out! Seeing your photographs in print brings them to life and makes them art. Pick out a few to put up in your home. Bonus: you’ll feel good with all the compliments people will make!
3. Look on-line at other photos
Looking at other people’s pictures can give you ideas or motivation to try something different. Looking at different styles and examining other’s people’s work might give you some ideas of things that you want to try. You might get inspired by street photography, or capturing the night sky, or even a particular subject matter.
4. Come up with a project
During times of low motivation, come up with a project to work towards. A simple google search will come up with a plethora of ideas from 52 week assignments, which highlight different subjects or styles that you must concentrate on each week of the year, or if you are feeling even more ambitious there are 365 challenges, which give you a challenge every single day of the year. Having something to work towards makes you feel accomplished, and having a goal gives an added push to complete each of the tasks. It also takes away the thought process and having to search out something. An assignment narrows your focus and can introduce you to subjects and techniques that you would not have thought about before hand.
5. Give yourself an assignment
After looking at your own photos, other people’s photos, and then doing a project, you can now come up with an assignment of your own to focus on. Maybe you want to take photos of old building, or windows, or streaks of light using a long exposure. Make yourself a photobook, using a website like Shutterfly, to put your project together. By focusing on one subject you can hone your skills and improve with each shoot.
6. Take a trip either locally or abroad
There are only so many times that you can take photos in the same location, and since we tend to be creatures of habit, we often see the same views over and over again. After awhile, no matter how beautiful, we stop becoming inspired by the view. We’ve taken every photo, in every season, and although you may still be in awe of the beauty, you’ve lost the motivation to take any pictures. Finding new places to shoot keep us going, since half the fun is discovering a place that you have never seen before.
If you can afford it, find a destination and book a trip. Wake up each morning and bask in the culture and glow of the unfamiliar. Going to a place that you have never seen requires exploring, but we often forget how much exploration you can do in your own city. Find a location in your hometown that you have never been to and discover parts unknown.
7. Try out a new piece of equipment
Whether you know someone who will lend you their equipment, rent something for a weekend, or go all out and buy a new lens or other toy, the newness of the gadget will spark your creativity by wanting to try and and and play with it’s capacity. It’s only natural to want to play with something new and exciting, so even though they say objects don’t make you happy, a new piece of equipment might introduce you to a new subject, technique or method that inspires you to keep taking photographs. After get my new 85mm, I couldn’t wait to get out and take photos.
8. Find a Friend
When your motivation is low, find a buddy that you can go out and take photos with and enrol their services. People can be our biggest motivators and create a type of accountability. They may push, inspire, or suggest new places, though even the simple act of planning a time to go out and shoot will get you out of the house and usually that’s all it takes. It’s that first step: the putting on the running shoes, or picking up the paint brush, that propels the project or goal. Being accountable to yourself is one thing, if you let yourself down then you are the only person that knows, but it is harder to let down someone else.
9. Take a class
Learning from an expert teaches us new tricks and can energize our minds. Classes are good places to meet new people who are also interested in photography and can become your photography buddies. It is also a place where you can discuss and analyze yours and other people’s pieces. It can help open your eyes to new techniques and how to improve your own photos. Seeing improvements in your photos can be enough to keep you going.
I took my first photography class this past summer. Not only did I meet new people who inspired me to pick up my camera, it also forced me to get out once a week focusing on a specific aspect of my work. We are often resistant to change, but when you are forced to try something, you might really like it. It wasn’t until learning about flashes that I realized the importance of them and how they might improve my art.
10. Get out, without your camera
You know what they say: if you love something let it go. Sometimes taking a break is good - it makes us miss what we love. The stress and worry that you are not taking pictures can be a weight. Go out and explore and don’t even worry about taking your camera along with you.
I went out for a walk the other night, it was a beautiful summer’s evening during an unusually hot September night. I just put on my running shoes and left, but once I was down by the river, all I wanted was my camera. So the next night I went out, this time with my camera on my back. Not having it the night before made me enjoy the process even more. So relish in the moment, knowing that when you are ready your camera will be there waiting for you.
In times of hardship, or even during periods of your life when motivation is at a low, it is a good reminder that you just need to keep breathing and put one foot in front of the other. For those small baby steps (Thank you ‘What About Bob?’), one step at a time, seem small and insignificant, but lead up up Dead Woman’s Pass to stand on the summit at 4,200m. Even though going out to take a photograph isn’t like climbing a mountain, sometimes the motivation required is the same. And once you push through, you’ll be happy that you did.