Posted by: kerryl29 | January 18, 2010

The Photographic Doldrums

I think that most serious nature photographers run into times when they find it difficult to motivate themselves to get out and shoot. I know I have. In fact, I’m smack dab in the middle of one right now. For a variety of reasons I haven’t been out with my camera since late October.  (The image below is from my most recent photo shoot.) Self-motivation isn’t the only issue, but it’s been an increasingly important one during this stretch of time.

Bridle Path, Turkey Run State Park, Indiana

What causes these periods of personal photographic doldrums and what can be done to escape them?

There are probably as many different causes of motivational shortfall as there are people who experience the phenomenon. I’ve found that, often times, such experiences are heavily influenced by issues outside the photographic realm–personal matters of concern that leak into all sorts of endeavors. I’ve also found that photography is among the most–if not the most–affected activities for me when this happens.

Why is this?

At its most fundamental level–at least as I see it–landscape photography is about seeing.  It’s about the photographer’s ability to recognize “the image” in a real life scene.  There’s much more involved, of course, in moving from the process of seeing to the final image, but seeing underlies it all.  And–here’s where the doldrums come in–seeing requires a special kind of personal focus.

Generally speaking, I’m very good at compartmentalizing.  But I’ve found that focusing on something as intangible, as nebulous, as strictly personal as seeing in the field is extremely difficult when my mind is burdened with something else.

So what can be done to escape the photographic doldrums?  I’ve found that putting myself in an environment that inherently forces my mind to refocus is the necessary tonic, and that typically equates to going to a new place.  A new locale invariably means new stimuli which almost always forces my mind to snap into a different mode.  Rather than experiencing the process of “going through the motions” that can happen when exposed to a familiar place, a new location all but requires the mind to process what’s unfamiliar.

Sometimes realizing this is as simple a matter as going to a new spot near my home.  But when the funk is particularly deep, it may require a complete reset:  going somewhere out of the immediate area, for more than a day, which will automatically involve an adjustment to the everyday routine that is so easy to lapse into when at or near home.  When the doldrums are particularly acute a trip out of the area, for a few days, is normally the best cure-all…at least for me.

Unfortunately, circumstances beyond my control are keeping me from filling my own prescription at the moment.  There’s no photo trip on the immediate horizon for me, so I’ll have to muddle through for the time being and see if I can extract myself from the photographic doldrums in which I currently find myself embedded using something other than my tried and true method.  Suggestions are heartily encouraged.



  1. This is a very well written description of the winter malaise, Kerry.

    I’m positive you will “muddle through” the doldrums. I hope the circumstances beyond your control will clear up to where a view road ahead is possible, hopefully before the first hepaticas break winter’s grip.

    In the meantime, burnish your gear. If time allows, this could be an opportunity for experimenting with flash at home. Studio still life photography can be less about the subject than it is about the light. Knowledge gained indoors is transferable to the outdoors.

  2. Kerry — In short, put a decent point and shoot in your pocket. A longer description: I understand your doldrums, mine are generally cyclical Nov-Feb. Pittsburgh has contrast less gray skies and river effect snows. Reminds me of pictures of Moscow. Its not very inspiring. For me, its more a serendipity moment that pulls me out. I will be walking with my head down, to keep the snow out of my eyes, when I will spot something that I have never seen. I have spend a very cold 20-30 minutes looking at it. I become engrossed in this new phenomenon. Of course, I don’t have my camera, I never do during these times, but it reminds me to bring it. Once I have it on my person, I find myself with my head up looking for opportunities thus snapping myself out of it. I hope your mind clears and your doldrums end. I find your photography very insightful. –Tom

  3. Gents, thanks for the suggestions–and the encouragement. I’ll have to see if I can extract myself from this morass.


  4. Completely agree with your comments on this thanks for taking the time to post.
    Andreeas Knij
    Photo Video Chicago LLC
    246 North Pulaski Road
    Chicago Cook, IL 60641

  5. […] Most Underrated – Geez…again, I really don’t know.  I’ll reach a bit here and go with The Photographic Doldrums. […]

  6. […] pondered the notion of selling all my gear and giving up photography entirely.  I descended into a deep photographic funk for roughly six months before finally extracting myself from it in April of 2010.  So what was the […]

  7. […] pondered the notion of selling all my gear and giving up photography entirely. I descended into “The Photographic Doldrums,” a deep photographic funk for roughly six months before “Back in the Saddle” finally […]

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