Tuesday, January 1, 2008


When a creative slump happens, change your visual diet

When a photo editor calls with a job, it would be great if I could suggest that, in order to produce the best work, I start the shoot the following month since I’m creatively inert this month, or maybe ask for an extra week or two for the shoot since I know that by giving each photo idea a few takes, I’m sure to nail it perfectly. This isn’t how it works in the real world. You must be ready mentally when the phone rings and your boss or photo editor explains that you need to pack your bags for an African location to photograph the centennial camel race or to the mountains for a first ascent, and you’re leaving in three days.

When I’m recovering from burnout, I find ways to put the fun back in photography. What many photographers do to bump up their creativity is plan a photo vacation, which usually means attending a photo workshop. This is a great idea, but as someone who teaches them, "work at your own pace" isn’t a phrase I associate with photo workshops.

In fact, most workshops try to give students so much information, as well as actual field time with a camera and an instructor, that there’s little or no time to relax or work at your own pace. In other words, workshops, as the name implies, are "work" and not the best place to get through creative burnout.

Making good photography isn’t easy. I take my photography seriously, and despite its name, my Photo Circus is serious photography that’s also fun. I infuse the fun factor into these vacations by traveling with a few photographer friends.

When you’re burned out, there’s no way you can make a photo, much less plan a shoot.

The scenario goes like this. A couple of photographers and I decide when and where we want to go. The trip might be for a few days or a week. Once the location is decided, we determine who and what we want to photograph. This is where the contacts of all the photographers are tapped.

Last year, I did a weeklong shoot along Highway 395 on the Eastern Sierras and in Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. The subjects were lifestyle, rock climbing and hiking. We had some loose contacts of possible models and locations. We met at a predetermined place, and from there we arranged from day to day possible "photo events" to shoot in the nice morning and evening light, either using each other as models or calling from our talent list. The events unfolded as if on a road trip, and we shot as each new event engaged us, or maybe some of us didn’t shoot at all. In the evenings, it was dinner and a slideshow of the day’s work.

Bill Hatcher travels the world in search of adventure and good stories. A regular contributor to
National Geographic and Outside, his images have appeared on the cover of 40 magazines. Visit his Website at


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