Have you ever listened to an athlete who put on a particularly impressive performance talk about being in “the zone”? It’s as if it is some sort of mythical state of existence where everything just works.
Photographers can experience such a state as well, a state in which you perceive everything in your environment — no matter what it is — as fortuitous subject matter and virtually every shot you take is a keeper.
Yes, it’s a real thing.
Of course, you won’t always shoot with such effortlessness; and while you can’t turn this “zone” on whenever you want — it’s not a switch — it is quite easy to prevent yourself from ever experiencing it in the first place.
Simple. By thinking too much.
The Curse Of Overthinking
Overthinking things is a waste of precious time.
Before you walk out the door to go shoot, you wonder where you should head to exactly. You mull over your options, volleying the pros and cons of each back and forth in your head. Before you know it, 15 minutes have passed and you’re still at home.
You then begin an internal debate about which camera to take. Maybe you should travel light with a point-and-shoot. But what if you see a beautiful bird in the distance? You’ll regret not having enough reach.
Ok, so maybe you should take a DSLR/mirrorless body.
But your telephoto lens is just too big and you don’t feel like lugging it around today. Your 50mm is nice and compact. Wait, what if it’s not wide enough?
Should you even use an autofocus lens? You know you’ve got a few legacy lenses that you can adapt to your camera. And you’ve been meaning to use them. The rendering is so cool on those old lenses.
Maybe your kit lens is the answer. It’s super versatile, you know.
All of this has eaten even further into your time.
When you finally make your way out of the house, you can’t decide what you want to shoot. People or animals? Vehicles or architecture? Landscapes or flower close-ups?
This is a debilitating frame of mind to be in all the time.
Simplicity Equals Creativity
The scenario above exemplifies the paralyzing problem of too many options, but none of it is inherently complex. We’re the ones that make things harder than they have to be by going through all the “what-ifs.”
Pick a camera, pick a lens. Go shoot something somewhere. Anything, anywhere. Whatever ground you don’t cover this time, whatever subjects you don’t shoot this time are things you can do next time.
You give yourself the best opportunity to enter “the zone” when you can turn off part of your brain and just enjoy photography for photography’s sake. The internal tug-of-war that you put yourself through is likely the main thing killing your creativity.
Have you noticed how those photographers who regularly use the same camera/lens combo seem to always be in a zen-like mindset? It’s because they have simplified things. They grab their camera and start shooting.
There are plenty of exercises you can engage in and countless sources of inspiration to draw upon when you’re looking to get more creative, all of which may prove valuable. But step one should be to get out of your own way and stop overthinking everything.
Once you do that, you will free up an amazing amount of mental bandwidth that you can dedicate to fostering your creativity.