How to Make Photography Fun Again

Most people get into photography because it is fun and exciting. But when you do photography as a job or even if you are in school studying photography, it can at times lose its luster. Finding ways to bring joy and fun back to photography can be a challenge, but is a worthwhile pursuit.

I’m sure most of us have been there at some time or another. Photography can at times feel like a chore, instead of something you want and are excited to do. Maybe it is because photography is your career and you have been focused on the photography needs of other people and not your own goals. Or perhaps things have become so technical and formulaic that the play has been taken out of the medium for you. No matter the situation, when you lose the joy that drew you to the medium, it can be frustrating, to say the least.

My first article here at Fstoppers was about getting out of the creative doldrums, and while those tips can certainly apply here, feeling like photography is, for lack of a better word, work, can require a slightly different approach.

Go Low Tech

When I was in my undergraduate years, I had a photography class that was solely dedicated to learning The Zone System. This was done on black and white film, and the first half of the semester involved photographing nothing but a gray card on a light table. Photography went from being creative, exciting, and spontaneous to mathematical, tedious, and predictable. Don’t get me wrong, The Zone System was valuable to learn, and I am very grateful for that course, but at that moment, I felt like something was missing from my photography world and desperately missed being creative.

A Holga for 120 and 35mm film, as well as a Holga lens for digital cameras.

My answer to that was to pick up something that was the exact opposite of what we were doing in the course: a Holga. Holgas are extremely cheap, plastic film cameras that have very minimal options for settings. They have only manual focus, two aperture options (one for sun and one for cloudy conditions), and a whopping two shutter speed options; bulb mode and somewhere around 1/100 s (yes, the one shutter speed isn’t even precise). They are prone to light leaks, don’t advance to the next frame exactly, so it is easy to partially overlap images, and because of how you release the shutter, it is easy to end up with blurry images. But, it was all those quirks that drew me to the camera. I wanted something that I didn’t have to think about and something that would give me wild results no matter how much I tried to control the situation. The low-tech, minimal camera sparked that love of photography once again and fueled me to keep creating.

An image from my 35mm Holga camera.

Holgas are still out there, as are lots of other cheap, low-fi film cameras. If you don’t want to mess with film, there are also Holga lenses for digital cameras, which was a fun tool to play with during my graduate school work. And there are also some low-fi digital options these days as well, which mimic the film toy cameras. Finding a low-tech camera or tool can be a great way to take the precision and pressure off when it comes to photography, which can lead to making photography fun again when the joy has been sucked out of it!

Budget Time for Personal Projects

Some genres and areas of photography lend themselves to creativity more than others, but if you are in one that doesn't allow for that, it can become tedious quickly. There will, of course, be times that this just isn't possible, but purposefully scheduling time for personal projects among your client work is an important thing for keeping the fun alive. Perhaps set a few hours on Saturdays aside for photography fun or maybe a day once a month. Finding a good groove with regular, consistent time to create just for fun can be extremely beneficial. There is, of course, something to be said for spontaneity, but getting into the habit of making time for your own passion projects is also important.

Your personal projects don't have to be related at all to what your professional work is focused on, and in fact, it might be good to stray from that significantly for the sake of boosting creativity. Personal projects also don't have to be serious or focused or meant for anything more than just playing around. For example, I really enjoy photographing water splashes, but those are just pure enjoyment and not intended to be more than that. Perhaps your personal project is even more focused on the editing side as opposed to just shooting. The important thing is to find something that makes you excited about photography again!

Be More Selective With Your Clients

I understand that many do not have this option, as simply having any client is a necessity. Being more selective with your clients can be an extremely difficult thing, but if you have the flexibility to do this, it can be hugely helpful. Choosing to work with clients that fully trust your creative vision and style and will let you do your thing can be the key to staying excited about photography while you are also working. This can be done with commercial clients or even if you photograph weddings or portraits for families. I have worked with clients before that have had extremely specific opinions on how they want their photographs to look, and it doesn't necessarily align with my existing style. I took the job because I needed it, but it became a bit frustrating and tedious trying to meet their expectations instead of going with my normal process. On the flip side, I have worked with people who have given me free rein, allowing me to explore and do my thing, and that fueled me instead of draining me! It made me want to continue creating, instead of having me dreading sitting at my computer to edit images or go take more photographs.

I worked with the creator of Coffee People Zine to create an image for their 11th issue. She provided a rough idea (darker images of coffee trees to fit with winter) but gave me complete freedom to create. 

Take a Break

Lastly, sometimes, it is important to take some time off. This is true in basically every profession, and photography is no different. At times, just an afternoon of complete freedom and no photography-related activities whatsoever is enough. Sometimes, however, a bigger break is required to hit the reset button and feel excited to work again. Time away from responding to emails and client inquires, although hard to do, can also be important. With the freelance photography life or even if you work a more structured, traditional photography job, it is easy to get sucked into the mentality that you have to always be working. The boundary between work and life can easily become extremely blurred or even non-existent, which isn't healthy and can quickly lead to burnout. Giving yourself breaks and setting up boundaries with your time will help prevent that burnout and keep you enjoying photography.

Do you have tried and true ways to keep the fun in photography? Share your tips below!

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6 Comments

Tom Reichner's picture

Abby,

I really appreciate this article.

I have never had photography become tedious or not fun anymore, but that is probably because I only photograph what I want to photograph ... well, at least 99% of the time I am only photographing the wildlife and nature scenes that I am passionate about. Any time I photograph something that someone else wants me to shoot is a very rare exception.

I have some friends who love photography more than anything else in the world, but they purposely did NOT go into photography as a career, even though they had the opportunity to do so. The reason? Exactly what your article is about. They feared that if they shot "other people's photos", that photography would be ruined for them, And so they pursue photography as a hobby / obsession, shooting only what they like to shoot, and derive more enjoyment from it than they would if they shot photos that other people hired them to shoot.

I completely relate to what you advise when you say, "go low tech". For folks who are pretty good with technology, and enjoy learning how to get gadgets and programs to work for them, then hi-tech photography may be very enjoyable. But I suck at technology and dislike it. I hate to read manuals or watch tutorials to figure out how to get something to work. If I can't "just figure it out" intuitively, in less than two minutes, then it isn't going to happen.

Forcing myself to focus and concentrate for long periods of time, in order to learn something new, is a horrible experience, and the effort expended is never worth the reward. So to keep things fun and enjoyable, I avoid any technology or gadgets that require more than a modicum of brain power. That is one way I keep myself from getting burned out on photography, and ensure that every moment is filled with fun and enjoyment and doesn't get tedious.

Abby Ferguson, MFA's picture

Thank you for the comment, Tom! I think even high-tech people would benefit from going back to the basics from time to time as well. It can do wonders for refreshing your creativity and mindset! So awesome that you are able to focus on keeping things fun and enjoyable!

Catherine Bowlene's picture

Great article, thank you, Abby! The advice about taking a break is really good, sometimes it's necessary to just take a step back and reload yourself a bit. Trying out something totally new (like going low tech or changing the style completely) is also an interesting thing to do. What worked for me was going 'low color', I fixed a bunch of old photos and somewhere during another Photoglory edit I thought about trying black and white shooting too, even though I've never done that before. It's just the whole vintage atmosphere that got me thinking about trying it out and so I did. It's not the same as just applying a Photoworks effect and making colorful picture b/w, to me it was about catching emotions when there are no screaming colors that could possibly outshine them. Not really my cup of tea, but it was fun to try and I certainly do not regret it.

Abby Ferguson, MFA's picture

Thank you, Catherine! And yes! Trying out a different style can be a great way to reset as well. Even if you don't stick with it in the long run, it's a great way to flex those creative skills.

Simon Hartmann's picture

Im only part-time working as a solo filmmaker (mostly weddings) so my workflow is somewhat similar to a lot of friends that shoot wedding photography. While it brings its own issues to be „split“, it surely helps avoid burning out on the thing i love doing…

Abby Ferguson, MFA's picture

That definitely is one of the perks of splitting time!