Life Photography

Looking for inspiration

I feel like my creativity died with the summer sun. Dull days, rain & all that other work I do to make money have kept me from shooting. I’m mad at myself for letting my photography slowly slip away in the last while.

Other than having to pay the rent and buy food, the main reason that I haven’t been taking photos is that I feel such a pressure to produce “perfect” images. I’ve set a high bar for myself and when I don’t reach it technically or emotionally, I feel let down and oddly self-conscious about my work.

*inspire me*

5DMKII + 85mm f/1.8

This photo, for instance, is blown out in the centre and the bottom is too dark. I’ve played around with it in Photoshop on and off for a while now, but never felt it was good enough. I have hundreds of images just like this that I’ve worked on and deemed inadequate to post. This has started a vicious cycle that ends up actually affecting my creative process, if not completely destroying it.

What we all need to remember is making mistakes makes you a better photographer. By exploring techniques you haven’t mastered and shooting creatively you learn how you how to use your camera, how to perfect exposure, how to deal with light, how to compose… on and on.

Nobody wants to take bad photos, but everyone does, even professionals. Allowing yourself the freedom to take creative risks and learn from them is one of the best things you can do.

Today I thought to myself, “Just post the sunset shot.” It’s a nice shot of an amazing sunset and landscape. Not my best photo ever, but I like it. The most important point was the fact that this photo meant something to me. And ultimately the most important thing.

If you are in the same boat, remember:

Let yourself make mistakes. Lots of them. Break the rules & Believe in your work.

Now it’s time to take my own advice!

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  • Reply
    Ron Whitaker
    October 25, 2009 at 1:18 PM

    I feel your pain. Wanting that perfect picture actually is a distraction to doing good walk around photography. I try to shoot and ignore and enjoy the occation good image.

  • Reply
    Matthew Achariam
    October 25, 2009 at 1:34 PM

    As an amateur photographer and digital illustrator I find myself having many folders of pictures and misc. work that I find lacking a certain something. That being said I can totally relate to this article, quite insightful.

  • Reply
    Rick Rosen
    October 25, 2009 at 1:48 PM

    Hi Lisa,
    Don’t beat yourself up over that photo. The dynamic range of the image is far greater than a camera can capture. Your exposure, for that type of image, is perfect. The sun will never be not blown out and the shadows in the foreground will always be dark due to the bright sky and sunlit area. The only way to capture more of that dynamic range would be to produce a HDR image, composed of multiple exposures.

    It is an excellent trait though to analyze your images and always work hard to improve them. Whenever I take a picture I always ask myself alter this question: If I could take it again is there anything that I could do to improve it?

    Happy shooting!


  • Reply
    October 25, 2009 at 1:54 PM

    I just learned that Velvia only has one stop of latitude. Blew the whole roll down to the acetate by over exposing :) But now I know, and ready to take another shot at it. Glad I jumped in and made the mistake, now I can move forward.

  • Reply
    Stuart Webster
    October 25, 2009 at 1:59 PM

    Did you look inside my head, been struggling sine I came back from Montenegro a couple of weeks ago.
    I’ve got to shot a team building day for my company in a couple of weeks. It’s a free bee but could lead to some paid work in the future and I’m dreading it 8(.
    Good news doing loads of interesting stuff with my iPhone 8).
    Any ideas on shooting small groups in a badly light hotel conference room gladly accepted.

  • Reply
    October 25, 2009 at 2:04 PM

    You did good on posting the sunrise shot. It look great to me. The problem is our ego. It’s has become accustomed to “perfection” that we can only accept images that fit on that category. I’ve had my share of near-perfect images, so I’ll leave my advices:
    1. Whenever I face a “not sure” shot, use exposure bracketing!
    2. Make a list (I use Remember the Milk task list) of what you want to photograph. stupid idea + stupid idea = perfect shot.
    3. If i feel it’s useless in color, I’ll try black & white.
    4. Still useless? Topaz Labs has some cool filters.
    5. In the end, post it. Some will hate it, some won’t be sure, but at least more than one will love it.

    And I love it.

  • Reply
    October 25, 2009 at 2:14 PM

    I’ve missed having large insects around since the seasons changed. They kept a constant stream of new or interesting subjects during the summer months, at least if I’m not inspired by anything else.

  • Reply
    October 25, 2009 at 2:23 PM

    Sometimes, one is so worried about our technique that it’s easy to forget that photo opps often present themselves at any time. Take the shot and do the best one can now, worry, tweak, and fine-tune them later. What’s the worst can happen? A null result? And really, is that so bad?

    Thanks, Lisa, for the note.

  • Reply
    Lee Andrew
    October 25, 2009 at 2:30 PM


    you are definitely not alone with this opinion, in fact “we” all seem to be in that same boat. I have stopped listening to photography podcasts and purposely forgetting the rules, so I can finally have joy in taking photos again. I noticed if I keep the general basics in mind and take photos the way I want to, I not only get “good” results, but my love and joy for photography has come back, in fact it has never been this strong before.

    I stopped along time ago comparing my “good” photos with newer ones, as I realized I cannot always take better shots, especially since places & lights are never the same. And since these change all the time, my camera and knowledge do not always allow me to shoot better photos.

    When ever you have the time, shoot photos and enjoy doing so. You should ‘never’ feel pressure to take them, otherwise they will ‘never’ be better.

  • Reply
    October 25, 2009 at 2:30 PM

    The perfect is the enemy of the good….
    My photography and simple illustrations will never support me, so it’s never my main focus, and can’t be. I hate my (many) mistakes, and often a successful photo scares me, because I don’t know if I will ever take another.
    Mistakes are the trail of breadcrumbs that we have to follow if we are to find our way to success, so give yourself a break. :-)

  • Reply
    October 25, 2009 at 2:37 PM

    Thankfully we are just coming out of winter here in the southern hemisphere and I feel like I have been in a rut all winter long so yep it’s time to kick my butt back into gear and start pressing the shutter button once more.

  • Reply
    October 25, 2009 at 2:46 PM

    It looks great to me from an amateur eye. Try not to be too much of a perfectionist. :o

  • Reply
    Mostly Lisa
    October 25, 2009 at 3:20 PM

    @Herb: I did that with two rolls of Holga lomo film. Took tons of photos at night in SF and didn’t know about the “Bulb” switch.

    you live and learn… *sigh*

  • Reply
    October 25, 2009 at 5:04 PM

    Sounds like you need to challenge yourself . . . take part in some contests/competitions , start a 365 project, give yourself some strict assignments or deadlines.

    Almost all photographers I’ve seen interviewed about a creative slump mention that they usually have one before they break through into the next phase of their work :)

  • Reply
    October 25, 2009 at 5:04 PM

    Good points, Lisa.

    Especially now when it seems there are so many outstanding “amateur” photographers on places like Flickr. It’s easy to feel your photos your photos aren’t good enough sometimes.

    At least we don’t shoot film as much but digital, so it’s not as expensive to learn from your mistakes.

  • Reply
    Sam Haque
    October 25, 2009 at 5:30 PM

    Hey Lisa. Don’t worry about shots like this. The dynamic range is impossible to deal with unless you make a multi-shot HDR of the scene.

  • Reply
    October 25, 2009 at 7:35 PM

    Thanks so much for the Twitter post if this. I think we get so wrapped up in the technical that we forget the reasons pictures exist.

  • Reply
    October 25, 2009 at 7:48 PM

    Every once in a while I try to read Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. They call it an artists survival guide. Keeps at it when I get frustrated, (which is often). Lisa, base don your post, I would recommend it wholeheartedly.


  • Reply
    Brian Reavis
    October 25, 2009 at 8:07 PM

    I think your biggest strength is not being happy with your work—as long as it doesn’t discourage you from getting out and playing with your camera. In me, I’ve noticed this with programming and design. I’m never really happy with what I produce. Don’t get me wrong… I absolutely love doing what I do. I’m just never really content with my output. If someone gets too happy with what they produce, they stay where they’re at and never grow (e.g. take pictures of their hand going into a steamy shower with a nasty vignette). So, in other words, props to you. Love the post.

  • Reply
    October 26, 2009 at 12:04 AM

    Yeahyeah, I’ve totally just hit that brick wall with my stuff lately too. Weird. Loved reading what you wrote, Lisa. Think the moon of your photography.

  • Reply
    October 26, 2009 at 2:31 AM

    Nothing wrong with reviewing your work critically, but the key thing is to ask yourself “what could I do better?”. That’s how we grow.

    In the case of that photo there’s only so much that could have been done. The sun is a devil for being really bright ;-)

    a) Used a graduated filter of some kind. Trouble is that it’s not a classic “sky too bright” photo, so it’d need to be a centre band. You don’t want those clouds darker.

    b) Exposure bracket it to make an HDR. Probably need your tripod with you, but might get away with handheld.

    c) Realise that the range is beyond the camera, and continue taking pictures as the sun goes down. As the light drops you may get a lower range, and the shot. This doesn’t mean waiting doing nothing, just taking shots for longer, otherwise you’d have missed this one.

    d) Stop forcing the image into something it’s not.

    I think that’s a beautiful shot. I don’t care that the shadows are dark, and the sun is blown. It conveys a mood to me, but that’s possibly not the mood that you felt when you took the picture. That difference can make us over critical of our own shots. The picture becomes “wrong” because it doesn’t say what we intended.

    Photography is a strange art, because the photographer isn’t in complete control of the piece. Whatever is in front of the camera is the truth of the image. We can mould that image, but often we have to let it mould us.

  • Reply
    uberVU - social comments
    October 26, 2009 at 3:13 AM

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by mostlylisa: Stuck in a creative rut with your photography? Yeah, me too:

  • Reply
    Shawn Camp
    October 26, 2009 at 6:34 AM


    Long time reader, first time commenter….(Always wanted to say that). Anyway. AWESOME. I’m a programmer and I feel the same way about what I do. Keep up the good work…(and the bad).

  • Reply
    October 26, 2009 at 11:23 AM

    from earlier today:

    RT @jeffpulver: Don’t worry about making mistakes. Explore. Innovate. Create. Good mistakes sometimes become someone’s Great discoveries.

  • Reply
    October 26, 2009 at 12:53 PM

    I really love it! would totally use that for my desktop! it’s a wonderful transition fro light to dark, i love how the middle is perfect! Did you really not like this shot??!? i think it’s great

  • Reply
    October 26, 2009 at 1:54 PM

    I’ve been feeling the same way lately. I submit to Getty and iStock and rarely shoot for myself anymore, it’s all work and no play:( I need to take pictures for me more often and have fun with my photography!

  • Reply
    October 26, 2009 at 6:28 PM

    I do like the sunset shot, without your mention of technical issues they would not have occurred to me. It made me think of this shot I took at my cousin’s wedding . I was inside and stepped outside and my camera settings were such that the highlights were totally blown out. I figured it was a great photo that I screwed up, but I came back to it a couple of days later and ran it through Nik Silver Efx. Technically it’s far from perfect, but I like it just like the sunset photo. I think the mistake made me more creative in this case. Pull out your iPhone and shoot with that for some fun? Technically it can’t produce the results of the 5D, but you can get some fun pictures just the same

  • Reply
    October 26, 2009 at 6:30 PM

    @Philip: I see my post is missing the links, so I’ll reattempt Wedding Photo and The Best Camera

  • Reply
    October 28, 2009 at 4:19 PM

    Definitely should not have posted the sunset picture!! big mistake… jk

  • Reply
    Michael James
    October 29, 2009 at 2:21 AM

    All the tweaking in the world (in photoshop) can’t fix the fact the dynamic range of the scene exceeded the capability of the sensor. Don’t sweat it.

    Next time use AEB and either import each exposure into PS and mask in parts of the image. Or use Enblend or Enfuse to exposure blend them or create a HDR and tonemap it.

    Many ways to get around the issue you bumped into.

  • Reply
    October 29, 2009 at 2:36 AM

    I just recently stumpled across one of your photos.. Then your flickr, twitter and your blog (gotta’ love cross-linking).

    It’s a relief reading your posts. The down-to-earth honesty is just plain relaxing and it’s nice to know that others are going through the same set of thought-patterns. Thanks for the heads up though. It’s a good thing catching theese things before it’s too late.

    Oh and the sunset picture is far from non-posting material. But that already seems to be the general thought on the matter ;]

  • Reply
    Rick Rouse
    November 10, 2009 at 12:18 PM

    I feel the same way. Everyone wants to capture the perfect image, but there is beauty in the also-rans as well. Nice job on this pic and the narrative.

  • Reply
    Andre Goulet
    December 8, 2009 at 8:52 AM

    I too feel your pain… it’s like when you are painting your house and standing 1 foot from the wall, you notice all the imperfections, yet when someone else walks in, they see the room and how wonderful it looks. Photos are like that too. You are too close to them sometimes and can’t see the forest for the trees. Sometimes you just need to let photos be, let others enjoy them and let yourself be moved by them.

  • Reply
    Derald Freeman
    December 1, 2010 at 8:40 PM

    Are you being too critical? You said “This photo is blown out in the centre and the bottom is too dark.” I am sure you expected something different when you snapped it.

    For me, the dark area at the bottom brings the focus for my eye up to the light. Everything comes to a focus point.

    I love the photo. It is something I would enlarge and frame for the wall in my den. It has composition, focus, depth, and I love it.

  • Reply
    Tyler B
    September 30, 2011 at 4:48 PM

    This is a very true article. I do find my self looking and waiting for the best image. But now I know you can’t wait for the image, you have to take a lot to make the image. I am very critical about my images and I hope I can do better, which I keep finding out new techniques. I am still learning though.

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