How to Beat That Dreaded Creative Rut in Your Photography
by Ben Sasso
February 13, 2017 —
This past year has been the most creatively transformative year I’ve had since I first picked up a camera. But rewind to the start and you’ll see me desperately grasping at anything I could to pull myself out of a creative rut. I’m going to save you from hearing the long, boring story of why I was in a rut (you’re welcome) and instead, share what helped bring me out of it.
Experimentation Fosters Progression
Take a quick gander through my work and you’ll notice something pretty quickly: hard light is not my forte. not even close. To be honest, I’ve spent the majority of my career fearing it. My go-to is soft light, soft texture and subtle tones. Shooting in this harder light meant flipping my style on its head. This shot is one of my favorites from this past year because it was me dipping my toe into the hard-light pool, and it has led me to shooting more work in a way that i would have never thought of doing a year ago.
Be Brave Enough To Be Yourself
Yes, be a trustworthy businessperson, but also be yourself. What’s important is to make sure that the expectation of who you are is set well before you meet a client for the first time. So, if you make puns all the time, make puns on your website. That way the clients who appreciate who you are and how you act will be drawn toward you while others who might not be into who you are will be encouraged to look elsewhere. You still need to be a respectful, kind human being, but being who you want to be allows you to create how you want to create.
I couldn’t believe the amount of relief I felt during one of my couples sessions when the bride-to-be dropped an f-bomb. weird, I know. I was young and still stuck on being overly proper in front of my clients. I make jokes that you might not tell your grandparents and I love people who find humor in silly things. Sharing our true personalities allowed me to capture photos that felt closer.
Put Your Heart Into Your Work
Strive for Originality
Lyrics are the artistic medium I find myself the most inspired by. I love discovering little hidden meanings behind the words. It feels so rewarding to learn why a certain word was chosen over another, or how a specific line (that might not make sense to me at first) becomes one of the most powerful lines of the song once I finally understand it. Realizing that was a turning point for me in terms of what my creative process looks like.
I want to give meaning and symbolism the priority so I can create images that mean something to me. Sure, the rope in this frame is pretty and adds a great texture, but there’s a reason that there’s a rope and a 5-foot braid in here—the inspiration I find in other artists is woven together into what I create (among other things—but I'll let you analyze the rest). This is the type of meaning, the hidden one, that I love finding in song lyrics, and that’s why I wanted to inject more of that into my own work.
Forget About Perfection
If You Need a Second, Take a Damn Second
Sometimes we just need a second to step back, breathe and look at what’s in front of us before we start shooting again. That’s okay! You’re an artist. Art requires time to think. It’s absolutely, 100 percent okay to let your subject know that they can hang out for a second while you look at light, or find your next shot. Your client hired you because they love your vision. If you need a second to make that vision happen, take a damn second.
My shoots typically last for about an hour, but only about 25 minutes of that is actual shooting time. what you’re not seeing is the extra 35 minutes where the couple is just hanging out talking or relaxing with each other while I’m wandering around looking for our next spot. What you see is the shot itself. What you don’t see is me standing there alone, looking silly and thinking about where I want the light coming from, how I can pose the couple to take advantage of the wind and how I can draw a genuine connection out of them (in this instance, him whispering sweet things into her ear). Think more than you shoot.
Emotion Over Aesthetics
Search for emotions more than searching for perfect poses. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about gorgeous visuals, and I know that we can use aesthetics to draw out a certain mood, but we often lose sight of the emotions for the sake of the way we want an image to look, and that’s where we can take a powerful step forward.
I would say 99 percent of the images I create leave me feeling a mix of pride and humiliation (welcome to the life of an artist). The ones that lean toward the pride side of the spectrum are the ones where I feel like I created something unique. I shot this entire set from below my subject, at noon, because it’s what most people steer away from. Midday light isn’t exactly ideal, and shooting from below isn’t typically known as the most flattering angle, but shooting that way left me with a fun, creative challenge and a set of images that I feel more proud of than most of
Shoot What You Love if You Want to Grow
This image is from a recent set revolving around the idea of losing the technical “perfection” but keeping the emotional connection. I shot each frame about 3 stops underexposed (to introduce grit when bringing it back up in post), at 1/50th or slower (embracing the blur), cropped in past 100 percent and then enlarged. This entire shoot was all about ignoring everything that we typically hold dear (perfect exposure, no noise, tack-sharp focus and tons of megapixels). Let’s be real: there are more important things in this world.
Know Your Craft
Embrace Your Weird
This piece was excerpted from Ben Sasso’s “Creative Manifesto.”
Ben Sasso is a photographer and educator living on the road. “My love for our creative community is only matched by my love for the outdoors and cats,” he says. “We’re all in this together.”
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