When the camera fights back

I’ve been in one of those phases where everything I do with a camera sucks. You might notice that my images from Yosemite consist of (a) an afternoon spent with a nice cooperative coyote and (b) some pictures of Yosemite Falls, taken out the window of the SUV while parked at the side of the road.

Which is not to criticize either set of shots, but, well, not exactly innovative.

I have been fighting the camera the last few months. My landscape work sucks. Everything I shoot I hate. I’ve lost my eye for composition. When I shoot things, it’s bland, it’s boring, it’s ugly, or all of the above. I can’t tell whether it’s because I’m shooting ugly, or whether I just see what I shot as ugly.

You know what? From talking to photographers, pretty much everyone hits this phase. It happens. Often, you grow out of it in new directions a better photographer.

Until you do, you grump and grind away and throw away a lot of crap.

What interests me about this is the cause. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about how I ended up at the point where I hate pulling the camera out of the case.

This is speculation, but here’s my take: I put too much into the idea of “I should…” — I should work on being better at intimate landscapes vs. wide angle epic. I should work on macro work. I should be thinking about travel-style photography. I should… I should… I should — the push to get better, widen my craft, do more.

Combine that with time; more conflicts in time mean fewer times when I’m pulling out the camera. Fewer opportunities to just go and shoot. When I do, the conflict: do what I like and have fun, or do what I should do and work on improving my craft.

Do that enough times, and you turn the camera into a chore and new not a joy. Do it enough times and you start finding reasons to not take the camera out. Do it enough and you kill the fun.

And then your muse walks off in disgust and tells you she’ll be back when she feels like it. And everything turns into crap.

It’s important to push your craft forward. It’s more important to not lose the fun. Make sure you don’t lose the fun, folks.

How do you break out of this? As someone who’s fought writer’s block on and off forever, it’s simple, sort of. Some times you need to just grind through and do the work. But what you really need to do is get back to why you do this: make it fun again. For me, that’s about more focus on the bird photography and the big lens work, which is one reason I was out in Yosemite with the 150-600 and not the wide angle gear. I almost went on the trip without it, but I’m glad it was there.

Stick for the easy and obvious, the stuff you know works. Like, oh, shooting something iconic like yosemite Falls. I can do that in my sleep, to be blunt. I probably have — but shooting half dome and not being boring and ugly is more of a challenge for me, so I didn’t even try.

Find the fun, focus on learning to enjoy it again, get back into doing it enough to get the technique down, and it’ll come back.

But the grind to get there is still a grind…

Still, it’s the path we’re starting on… Stay tuned.