To be honest, my enthusiasm for photography has waned in recent weeks. Not de-railed and in pieces but certainly sitting in the sidings.
Covid-19 has had a big impact. Like the majority of us, I’ve respected government guidelines and restrictions in an attempt to help fight the spread of the virus. This has limited my ability and indeed desire, to travel around South East England to scout locations and find new compositions.
Now, though1, travel restrictions have been lifted and our freedom to move around in a respectful, responsible way has returned. This means our depleted get-up-and-go batteries should be re-charged. Right?
Except, that mine’s not re-charging. Lack of motivation prevails and I can’t keep pointing an accusatory finger at the pandemic. Time to identify what’s preventing my interest from returning and in particular, what action I need to take to re-ignite the fire.
Enthusiasm; feeling motivated, are tricky concepts to pin down. Before the virus struck I can’t recall worrying about being motivated to go out and photograph outdoor scenes. Even during the height of the pandemic, I carried a camera. Indeed, doing so enabled me to capture local photographs while out on permitted daily exercise walks, which I then curated into a photo book ‘COVID-19 Living on my estate A Visual Record’2. Yet now, while I am still photographing locally, I continue to feel uninspired. The spark that I hoped would restore my pre-Covid photography mindset remains elusive.
What makes it worse is that, as an outdoor photographer, I’ve got even less of an excuse to get back out there. Doing landscape, woodland, seascape and my kind of urban photography, does not involve other people. Outdoor photography is often-times a lonesome business. Unlike portrait and fashion photographers who work with clients and models, or ‘Street’ shooters who desire people in their images, I don’t need other humans around.
So, what’s the solution? Well, part of the answer lies in appreciating two competing notions: the feeling of not being motivated to do something, of not having the enthusiasm to research, plan and execute an idea; and the memories of doing similar activities in pre-Covid times when motivation wasn’t an issue and (nearly always) never regretting them.
For example, my least favourite time to shoot is sunset and into the blue hour. Let’s just say, this time of day and I never really got along. Yet, once I’m on my way and I get set up in my planned location ready to capture the light that I hope will unfold, I never regret being there. Even if my hoped-for conditions don’t materialise, there’s no regret. The pleasure of being out ready to photograph, enjoying the location, and noting things for a probable return visit is what really matters. While there, I often think, “Why don’t you get out at this time more often?”
How does this help me get back into my outdoor photography swing? What’s stifling my motivation? The answer is that I’ve let my feelings dictate my actions, not my actions dictate my feelings.
What I’ve just referred to as my ‘swing’ comprised a series of regular, uninhibited actions all geared towards capturing outdoor photographs from around South East England. By doing these actions, they fuelled my motivation to keep trying to capture new images. The actions led the way and thereby controlled the feelings that followed. During Covid I, unknowingly, allowed this equation to get switched.
It’s a difficult thing to try and control our feelings. Much easier, I think, to control our physical activities, the tasks that we do. The best bit about this is that positive action begets more motivation. And more motivation leads to more positive action.
Which means, I need to start with an action, even just a small one and this will bring about a small feeling of motivation. The feeling will prompt another larger action, leading to another, enhanced feeling of motivation. And this will prompt another still larger action and so on, ultimately leading me back to my pre-Covid swing and a new wave of enthusiasm.
What does this mean in practise? Well, I’m going to slowly re-build my number of shoots per week from the current casual, to one, then two per week. I’ll also gradually increase my travel distances, progressively vary my shooting times, from morning blue hour through to night time and step by step return to my swing. And then, maybe even enhance it.
If you’ve read this far (thank you for your patience), perhaps because you’ve also fallen into a similar de-motivated malaise in your work, creative, or personal life, why not try it yourself? Start with a small action. Take some small comfort, enthusiasm and motivation from it and use this nudge in momentum to move onto the next slightly bigger action.
Whether in your photography or other aspects of your life, make the switch now. Get your positive actions to dictate your feelings, not the other way around.
1. At the time of writing 8 September 2020
2. Preview at: https://www.blurb.co.uk/b/10224469-covid-19-living-on-my-estate-a-visual-record