10 Ways to Break Out of a Creative Slump

You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.
Jack London

In the first part of this topic, The Creativity Cycle, I talked about how creativity runs in cycles – to not be so hard on yourself and that it was okay to not do photography for a while.  Go, experience life, other types of art, the beauty of nature.

But what if you’ve done that and still want to dive back into photography but something is missing? 

For me, it usually comes down to possibilities.  There are simply too many.  I need some way to focus my creative direction (pardon the pun).

So, here are 10 ways to break out of a creative slump.  These are only a few ideas, certainly not the only ones.  I’d love to hear your ideas too!

On to the list:

  1.  Buy a Holga.  Okay, this one is my favorite simply because it worked for me.  What’s a Holga?  It’s a toy camera.  Literally.  It’s a plastic film camera with only one aperture and one shutter speed, and even those are approximate. The rangefinder framing is approximate is well.  Focus?  Well, there are a few symbols on the lens that are roughly 3 ft., 6 ft., 9 ft. and infinity.  That’s basically your only setting – and that’s the creative freedom.  No menus, no histogram, no expose to the right, no nothing.  Just the pure creative process.  It allows you to be totally in the moment, creatively.  Get intimate with your subject, think about possibilities, not results.  Possibilities because even when you think you’ve planned your shot, the Holga will surprise you.  Sometimes bad (there can be light leaks), sometimes great (there can be light leaks!), but the one thing that it will undoubtedly do is have you in the moment – free of any technical constraint.  That’s what creativity is all about. Holga’s are available for use with 120 (medium format) film and 35mm film.  Trust me, it’s the best $25-$30 you’ll spend.
  2. My friend Sabrina Henry has started a One Mile Project that’s very cool. It’s based on the teaching of Freeman Patterson (the great Canadian photographer) who takes the majority of his photographs within one mile of his home.  This type of project will force you to discover the world around you – pause, take the time to visualize. Notice the details.  You might be surprised at the beauty nearby.
  3. Stuart Sipahigil had a great project recently where he only used one lens for an entire month.  One prime lens.  Yes (gasp) you’ll have to zoom with your feet. In order to visualize properly though, you’ll need to start to “see” in that one focal length.  That gets you into the photographic mindset, which can kick start you. 
  4. Pick a color, any color.  In your mind, start to pick that color out of everything you see in your world.  Notice all the various shades of that one color, how light reacts to it, which colors complement it, which dilute it.  Now, photograph it – I dare you.  And that doesn’t mean just bumping up the saturation of that one color in Photoshop.  If you had to explain to someone what “blue” meant, for example, how would you convey the feeling of blue, not just the color.  Equate the color you chose with an emotion.  Now try to capture that emotion using primarily that color.  Tip:  Remove everything extraneous in your photo that doesn’t enhance that color in some way.
  5. As I mentioned in The Creativity Cycle, there are highs and lows.  Sometimes you’re overflowing with ideas, other times there’s a drought.  Ray Ketcham had a great idea – when you’re in one of the prolific times, keep a journal of ideas.  They’re usually flowing freely when you’re in the zone and you don’t have time to get to them all.  Then when you’re in a low cycle, break out those old journals and look through them for inspiration.
  6. Rent a different lens or camera system.  Shake things up.  Always wanted to try macro photography but didn’t want to invest in a lens to try?  Rent one.  I can highly recommend lensrentals.com.  Fantastic selection of lenses, cameras and equipment and fantastic customer service.
  7. Change your perspective.  Forbid yourself to take any photographs standing up with the camera at eye level.  Squat, crawl, hold a camera over your head, tip up, down anything but straight on.
  8. Just carry a pocket camera, and have it with you at all times.  It could be a simple point & shoot, a micro 4/3rds camera or even your phone, but try to look at everything photographically. Notice the possibilities around you throughout your day.
  9. Follow the light.  Pick a subject, then watch how the light changes with it throughout an entire day.  I was home sick a while ago and noticed some interesting light patterns through my blinds.  As I laid on the couch, it fascinated me how the light patterns completely changed throughout the day.  I ended up taking close to 100 photographs, just because I couldn’t let that photographic moment go to waste.  It could be a tree in nature, a nearby lake, or your living room, but be patient and just watch how the light dances across it throughout the day.  Notice the color and intensity of the light, the character and emotion that it can convey.
  10. Take a workshop. Many, if not most photographers these days supplement their income by holding workshops.  I know every time I take one I come home super-energized about photography and full of ideas.  Want to learn landscape photography?  Try Ian Whitehead’s Southwest Photo Workshops.  He’s an incredible teacher.  Jeff Lynch runs workshops focusing on the Texas landscape.  Like travel and cultural photography?  David duChemin, Jeffrey Chapman, Tim Humble, Gavin Gough, Matt Brandon  and many more offer some great locations and get fantastic reviews of their workshops too. (apologies if I didn’t mention more people here, there is so much talent out there!).    The point is to try to find one that matches your interests and just go do it.  It’s an investment in yourself that will pay off.

Okay, that’s 10.  I know there are MANY more ways of breaking out of a slump.  Share them here, I’d love to read about them!

Note:  I know many people talk about doing a 365 project, taking at least one photo per day for a year.  If that works for you, then great, but for me it turns photography into a chore, which is the last thing I want it to be.



  1. Good post. I have not taken courses u mention but for the last year have taken pictures within 1 mile of home, or if I’m in Manhattan. Having one serious lens with my D300 Nikon forces me to get creativet. I carry my old pocket Nikon S6 iPhone 3GS. For creativity I add titles with wordplay. And post 2-3 per week from my last 2 years of photos. You’ll enjoy my work at

  2. GREAT post. I have been carrying around my iphone, doing the “in the moment” photo thing–but I like some of the ideas here around focusing on color or whatever.

  3. A friend of mine just offered another perspective on the “one lens” approach. He has 10 lenses and challenged himself to use all ten within 24 hours. Cool idea (now if I had 10 lenses!)

    Keep the ideas coming!

  4. Don’t previsualize images in your head, you will never find them! Sometimes the more you are in a rut, the more you put yourself under pressure and this will not help. Don’t rush images or tell yourself that you have to get this many images while on a trip or an outing. I’d rather come home with one fantastic image than ten ok ones. Give yourself plenty of time, don’t show up for a sunset, ten minutes before sunset!. When you are out and you see something that grabs your eye, go ahead take it, then slow down, relax, take a deep breath and see if there is anything else there. There are shots within shots, it’s not always the big picture that is the best picture.

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