Let’s face it…growing up isn’t always easy. There are lots of hurdles to overcome during our journeys as photographers. At one time or another, we all hit rough spots with some aspect of photography. Take heart though, whether it’s a problem with technique, gear, or simply finding your own creative uniqueness, I can personally guarantee that someone else is struggling with that same problem.
But there’s one situation too often encountered by beginners and even pro photographers alike – the dreaded “plateau”. This is a stage that often happens when we feel like our photography has a reached a point where it is no longer improving. It’s a terrible feeling.
Fortunately, overcoming a photographic plateau is easy once you identify and diagram the source of the problem. It’s here where you can run into trouble because critiquing your own performance in order to self-diagnose why you have plateaued is an exercise in self-realization. Here are three common reasons why photographers plateau in their work and some solutions that can push you into a new phase of growth.
Here are three common reasons why photographers plateau in their work and some solutions that can push you into a new phase of growth.
You’ve stopped learning new techniques
I get it. I really do. There comes a time when you reach a level of confidence in your craft. You feel comfortable in the techniques you practice and more and more of your images turn out just as you imagined them in your head. In itself, confidence that you know what you’re doing is a huge accomplishment in itself. The problem arises, and thus the plateau happens when you stop looking for new things to learn.
How to overcome it
I used the word “comfortable” earlier. Becoming comfortable in your photography can be a creative death sentence. Simply put, don’t become overly comfortable to the point where you think there’s nothing else to learn. There are always advancements being made in the world of photography.
Someone is refining a new method of shooting with a filter. There are more things to learn in the digital darkroom during post-processing. There’s always something new to learn. Learning new techniques not only keeps your mind limber but also improves your craft and the potential of your photographs.
Ignoring needed gear upgrades
I’ll admit it, I love photo gear. There are few artistic mediums where technology advances more quickly than it does in photography. The way your gear facilitates your work is a careful balance between mechanical capability and your personal skill level.
The most expensive camera in the world will not make you a top notch photographer. At the same time, there may come a moment in your journey where your skill legitimately surpasses the capability of your gear. This can cause a plateau due to the fact that your lens will not become physically sharper and your camera’s maximum ISO rating of 6400 will never be able to shoot at 24,000.
How to overcome it
Learn what gear meets your current skill level and still leaves room to grow. However, the remedy for gear top out is not to automatically run out and buy the latest and greatest camera or lenses or anything else for that matter.
The very first thing you need to do if you’re a gear shopping photographer is to begin researching. Research and research some more. Read unbiased gear reviews and talk to other photographers who shoot with the same equipment you’re considering purchasing. The reason for this is so you know exactly what you need and you spend your money ONLY on those things and nothing more.
Shooting the same thing over and over
We all have certain things we love photographing. There are genres of photography which draw us in for one reason or another. For me, it is landscape and wilderness/adventure photography.
For others, street photography is their love, while still others thrive on doing portraits in the studio. Whatever your passion may be, there will likely be a point where you find yourself shooting the same thing over and over and over again. While this is not always a bad thing, it can cause you to hit a creative wall and ultimately, plateau.
How to overcome it
This problem perhaps has one of the most polarized solutions of all. Simply go photograph something that you normally wouldn’t consider shooting. I know, sounds easy, right? It practically is, but completely switching gears and branching out into new areas of photography can feel unnatural, awkward, and downright scary.
Still, shooting a few portraits here and there when you’re used to shooting only landscapes can be a great creative palette cleanser. Getting out into nature and slowing down can be a welcomed break for street photographers who generally shoot only in concrete jungles. Whatever change of pace you temporarily switch to, it will usually breathe new passion into your original modality and help you move past that plateau.
Some closing thoughts
Sooner or later, to some degree, we all will hit a plateau in our photography. How we handle that moment when it comes can make all the difference.
Usually, understanding the problem is a huge step in solving it and moving on with your photography. Try new things. Research and see if your work does, in fact, need that full frame camera sensor. Branch out and try a style of photography that you generally don’t practice. The key to overcoming a photographic plateau is the realization you need recharging once in a while. It’s a normal part of becoming a stronger and more capable photo maker.