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As with many other areas in life, you may find yourself susceptible to falling into a routine with your photography – a comfort zone, if you will. It is usually a good thing to find a “comfort zone” in life. When it comes to your photography, however, a comfort zone could put your work at risk of becoming dull. I’m not advising you to implulsively scrap your usual workflow simply because you are rather to used to it. But be careful that your work isn't becoming monotone and routine.
I can say all this coming from personal experience. Having two and a half jobs doesn’t leave much time to take photos, devoting the necessary amount of time to them, so whenever I did have the time, I went for the sure and safe shot. I only bothered attempting something that I was really used to and was certain would work, but all that work eventually came down to only dusk portraits and semi-sunset panoramas. My girlfriend had to point this out to me because I hadn’t really noticed it myself. After consulting with other photographer friends of mine, they confirmed the observation.
Photo by Christian Lambert Photography
You will get to the comfort zone, it will adversely affect your photography, and the chances are pretty good that you won’t notice it.
The first sign that you are settling into an overly familiar method is that you may find yourself choosing the same (or similar) locations over and over again, perhaps only changing up the angle a bit to avoid capturing the exact same background all the time. You may even get accustomed to shooting at a particular time of the day with a preferred set of weather conditions.
The next sign could be that you limit yourself to photographing only one or two things ( landscape-oriented portraits and city panoramas, in my case) over and over again.
The issue here is that this affects the business aspect of your photography, not just your creative outlet. Nobody would hire a photographer who is not able to come up with something fresh and unique. Nobody likes a picture that cannot be differentiated from the work of dozens of other mediocre artists.
Photo by Jamie McCaffrey
If you catch yourself doing that, you need to step up your game and start widening your horizons. It is ultimately for your own good. I’m not saying that you need to specifically drop portraiture and start shooting macro. Just try to change up the scenery and create something that is new and different from what you are accustomed to.
If you still think you aren’t suffering from comfort-zone-syndrome, then go back and check out your 30-40 most recent photos which you've taken on your own. If more than half are similar one to another, then you are already stuck in a bad habit which you need to quickly break.
What To Do When You Hit Complacency
Once my girlfriend brought to my attention how boring my work was, the first thing I did was take an approach completely opposite to what I had been doing for months. I had been waiting for the blue hour, but since it was still sunset, I took some shots with direct sunlight hitting the lens. And boy, did I have problems – tons of problems.
First of all, I had forgotten how to anticipate flaring, so sun flares were all over the place, and it took me 50 shots to get three pictures with flare which didn’t cover a crucial part of the portrait. The next big problem I had was focusing. I had also forgotten that my outdated camera has issues focusing when it is blinded by loads of light, so I had to position the sun behind my girlfriend to hide it, focus, then shift to the side (a technique I had gotten really rusty at) without moving forwards or backwards.
But I must say that it felt good. When you get to the point of breaking out of a dull routine you develope, the feeling is really good. It's kind of like the feeling you get before hopping on a bus for a long trip. You feel a wave of nostalgia for what you are leaving behind, but you are energized to progress by the excitement that accompanies a new change.
Changing up your photography routine is refreshing – refreshing for your creativity, refreshing for your audience, and refreshing for your clients. As an added bonus, it gives you loads of motivation, which in itself is hard to find!
Break the habit, and you will surprise yourself. You have nothing to lose, except maybe some time and megabytes, but those are nothing compared to how much you will gain in knowledge and motivation. You may even find fresh inspiration by dusting off some routines you haven't used in a long time.