Ruts along the visual arts road are deep and seem to stretch on forever. In my own work, I seem to be in a rut more often then I’m out of one. I’m constantly checking my work against my own expectations and falling short. It seems everything I shoot is just a rehashed version of something I’ve already done.
For me, one of the best rut busters out there is travel. Getting out to see parts of the world I have never seen before is a panacea for what ails my artistic vision. But I’m cautious with this medicine, lest my brain grow used to it and dampen it’s artistic effectiveness. To keep travel from becoming a photographic crutch, I often limit myself and my gear on trips. It adds just enough challenge to allow me to produce quality work and it forces me to think outside of my box.
This summer, my wife and I visited her brother and his wife in Pasadena. We decided to spend one of our days in downtown L.A. touring famous architecture and getting to know the metro system. For the entire 3-day trip I had brought along only one lens — and it wasn’t even a zoom.
Normally, when I’m toting all 10 pounds of my camera bag around, I’ve got a focal range split between three lenses that covers 10mm to 200mm (on my 40d’s crop body that’s a 16mm to 320mm equivalent). Now I was 200 miles away from home armed only with a trusty 50mm f/1.4.
It’s not that I don’t love this lens, it’s only that it isn’t my go-to lens for shooting travel. I almost always use it for portraiture or shooting at night but I rarely use it when I want to capture the scale and grandeur of a place. Because we were on an architectural tour and because we were going to places I had never been before, I was worried that my lens wouldn’t be enough to capture the experience.
But when I started shooting the towering buildings through my prime, a strange thing happend. I became aware of details and angles I would have overlooked if I was shooting with my standard scene gobbling wide-angle perspective. The transition wasn’t limiting, it was freeing. I was free to shoot in a way I wasn’t used to. Free to make mistakes and throw away images that didn’t work. I was free to experiment and free of the nagging fear of repetition.
I’m not suggesting that every stale period in your artistic career can be solved with the purchase of new gear, but changing the way you work can have a profound impact on creativity. Don’t go out and buy another lens or bag of filters, turn to something you already have. Grab that old 35mm film camera off your book case and shoot something. Heck, pull the lens off that camera and hold it in front of your digital SLR for some free-lensing fun. Shake it up, be uncomfortable, go forth and shoot.
Photos by Isaiah Brookshire