The problem with creative pursuits — of any kind, not just photography but all other forms of art, too — is finding the motivation to get work done. I know from personal experience that there are just so many reasons to not get something accomplished. You’re not feeling creative enough, inspired enough, you don’t have that exact right piece of gear, there is no time. The list goes on and on.
As many excuses as I can make, however, the problem isn’t that obstacles are actively being thrust in my way. These things, they are just excuses. There is always a way to work around an issue, be it one with inspiration or a piece of gear that you don’t have. The problem, plain and simple, is one of motivation.
To that end, I’d like to share a few tricks to help you motivate yourself and become more productive. With New Year’s resolutions upon us, you may find that these are just the things you need to keep those resolutions!
Motivate Yourself with Deadlines
Deadlines, if you face them, are perhaps the most powerful motivator of all. If you have deadlines for a newspaper, you have to meet them or your editor will be angry and the paper will be printed short a few photos. The same is true for art galleries, magazines and other such organizations that hold calls for submissions. Miss that submission deadline and you’ve missed your opportunity. You can see where this drives you to take those photos and get everything completed on time, even if you really don’t feel like it. It is a tool that you can use to be more productive.
But what about those photo projects that have no deadlines? Your own personal projects, things that no one is waiting for you to finish. I say, make your own deadlines! Set a date when you want to have a project completed and treat it every bit as seriously as you might treat a submission deadline.
Or, if you are like me, prone to ignoring such artificial deadlines, then try a different tactic. Make the deadlines mean something. Create a list of photo contests and other events that may interest you and go with that. Contests will give you a deadline. Submit too late and you’ll have missed out on the chance to compete. You can also set your own deadlines for unsolicited submissions to photography magazines and other publications. While these types of submissions don’t generally come with a built-in deadline the way a contest does, it doesn’t hurt to give yourself a time frame, particularly if the art you are sending in is seasonal in nature or designed to fit a specific edition’s theme.
The Gear Purchase
Now, I will be the first to admit that photography is not all about the gear. Beautiful things can be made with very basic equipment. However, I will also admit that the lure of new gear is strong and as such, it can also be a powerful motivational tool.
To use gear purchases as a motivator, place restrictions on yourself. Tell yourself, “I will not buy that new set of neutral density filters until I have completed 10 photographs.” Or, you could give the images a dollar amount. For each fine art photograph completed, set aside $5 or whatever you think is appropriate for a new piece of gear.
Just be careful with this method! Don’t let subpar images through your normally exacting standards just so that you can say you’ve met your goals and can now buy more gear. Remain honest about the quality of the final work and reward yourself accordingly for a job well done.
Dispense with Perfectionism
Sometimes, our own attitudes work against us and perfectionism is a prime example of that. Have you ever found yourself worried, stressed by the idea of getting everything just right? I worry that the weather won’t be ideal on the day that I have scheduled for an on-location shoot, I worry that I’ll miss shots that should have been obvious, I worry that I’ll forget to adjust some setting or other, thus blowing the shots I do get. Doubt sometimes creeps in about post-processing skills.
All of these worries can become overwhelming. They become detrimental to the process. When you really should be going out and taking photos, instead, you think of this laundry list of worries, either consciously or subconsciously, and decide that perhaps your day is better spent watching TV.
So go out, take photos, do the best that you can and most importantly, don’t stress yourself to the point that you don’t feel up to taking photos. Relax and don’t place the focus on perfectionism.
Learn a New Skill
There are times when the desire to take photos just isn’t there because you are somewhat bored with the things that you can do. This is the ideal time to sit down and add a new skill to your repertoire. Learn it, practice it and in the practicing, you’ll build a whole new collection of images to work with. In the process, that new skill can be pressed into service, something that you can experiment with until the urge arises to learn yet another new skill.
Get New Friends!
I’m not saying that you should abandon your old friends! But I am saying that meeting new people can be refreshing and that burst of newness might be exactly what you need to get things in motion. Join a photography club, attend a class, a workshop or go to some other photography related event. Mingle with the people you meet, build some new friendships, enjoy the art that they have created and then take this new experience, this fresh perspective home and let it fuel you.
Motivation is not always easy to come by. Try out some of these tricks and you may find that one or more of them helps you to increase your productivity!