Ask yourself: “Am I in a groove…or a rut!?”

Author: Suzanne Mathia

Here are some suggestions (a friendly kick in the rear) to get you out of a photographic rut. Bad habits creep up on us all. Just like exercise you cant do the same thing every day and expect different, better results. You have to switch it up, kick it up a notch, get out of the routine, learn something new.

Here’s some suggestions:

Take a great workshop (we have a few suggestions!) Workshops are a great place to sort out problems, learn new techniques, experiment, get exposure to new ideas, practice new methods and get out of your comfort zone for a while under the expert guidance of a dedicated teacher and enthusiastic participants.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable!  Sometimes stretching yourself, both physically and mentally, hurts (so good!).  Get on the ground to get a better perspective.  Hike a few miles to get that great vantage point.  Get outside your comfort zone.  If you’re a landscape shooter, work on some portraits.  If you shoot wildlife, play with macros and abstracts.  Shoot for a whole day with the lens you use the least. Borrow a tilt/shift lens or a macro and learn the possibilities. Find objects around the house and create unusual images. Stretch your creative muscles by cross training!

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Learn your camera, every option, every setting.  Leave your camera manual in your bathroom and READ IT (RYFM! google it!).  The more you really know your equipment, the easier you’ll create what you want and the quicker you can react when the conditions change!

Don’t leave a great shot behind.  Don’t “get it on the way back” or think it’s too much trouble. Stop, do the work!

Don’t be lazy. Anyone who’s been on one of my workshops has this ringing in their ears!  Change lenses if the shot calls for it.  Get out your Graduated Neutral Density Filters.  Take off the polarizer if it’s not needed. USE THAT TRIPOD!

Expand your post processing skills with Lightroom and Photoshop, then shoot your images as if neither one of them existed.

Get your files, folders, & drives organized well, and, if you haven’t already, begin the process of easy, productive catalogue and image management using Lightroom.

Review, refine and test your backup strategy: have at least TWO back ups of all your work. I would suggest that one of those be a cloud backup such as BackBlaze or CrashPlan.

Make yourself a project for the year.  Create a collection of work on a single theme.

Create a web gallery for your images.  There are many inexpensive, easy-to-build sites; at the very least post your images on Facebook or Flickr.

Go out and shoot with a small memory card or vow to only take 6 images.  This will slow you down and make you more deliberate in your choices.  Really work the scene and create an image instead of Spray and Pray.

Learn about Focus and Hyperfocal distance.  This one technique, once you understand it and put it into practice, will take your photography to a whole other level.  Check for critical focus on your LCD at 10X magnification with DoF preview while you’re in the field.

Find your Histogram and USE it! The histogram is the most useful but often most misunderstood and ignored tool that your camera provides to help you get the best exposure on your images.

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Go back and re-edit some of your old images.  Do some “archive diving”. With your new skills and improved tools, like you will be amazed at the diamonds in the rough you’ll find.

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Find someone to give you an honest critique of your work.  Find a professional who will be firm but fair.  All the kudos from your Facebook friends & relatives won’t make you a better photographer.  Someone who will point out the flaws and help you develop a well-edited body of work will.  Warning: it can be painful but it’s an incredible learning process!

Study the work of great photographers, present and past.  Go to the museum, buy the books, browse online.

Go to a Symposium!!!

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Don’t give away your work unless it’s for a good cause.  Value your work and the work of others….but remember to…

Give back – Find a non- profit or charity that you can contribute your work or time to.

Have fun (that’s what it’s all about, yes?)!!

Suzanne Mathia is an instructor for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops and a frequent contributor to Arizona Highways and other great publications.

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