Jeff Smallwood Photography
Break Through the Funk
Feb 7, 2012
In a photo funk?

I've been going through a period lately where I thought everything I took was crap. I was struggling to keep my eye and produce any shots I felt really confident about. A lot of scenes I was shooting just felt like lost opportunities once I looked at the results. In the past my reaction to feeling like this has been to back away, keep the camera out of sight and not push it. This worked before by allowing the creativity to come back on its own but I've never felt very positive about that approach.

This time I tried something different.

I kept pushing myself. I went on a Google+ photowalk in DC even though I wasn't very confident in what I'd get (I actually ended up satisfied with the results and met great people too!). I kept looking at other's work and reading and thinking about different techniques. I also prepped for a trip to the Eastern Shore of Maryland this past weekend with the goal of forcing myself outside to take photos.

Under the pier in Ocean City, MD

Up until yesterday I was still feeling out of it, but today a feel a lot better. The reason is that I finally got to review (in detail) the shots I took from my trip this weekend to the shore.  I think the difference was exactly that...a difference. I was away from home for a few days, shooting in a different location, shooting a subject I'd never tried before. The time of day certainly wasn't new to me as I've grown to love sunrise (it's my favorite time to shoot). But just about everything else was different.

After the sun came up
the rays of light became
incredibly brilliant

The Ocean City pier is a neat subject for those that don't live near such a structure. It's got a set of pilings down the center in addition to the right and left sides so the typical, iconic "under the pier" shot can't be had here. The reason is that if you stand in the middle of the pier underneath, that center row of pilings blocks your view. If you stand to the left or right, it's tricky to avoid having the shot feel imbalanced because more of the pier overhead is on the left or the right. Still, you can come up with some creative ways to shoot the scene if you work it, and that's exactly what I tried to force myself to do.

The forecast at midnight was for partly cloudy skies so I figured I needed to go for it. Sounded like it would be a perfect scene at dawn. Got up early, started heading down Ocean Highway and realized the sky was crystal clear. And I mean crystal clear. Not a cloud to be found. So without a dramatic sky to work with, the colors and the pier were the subject (and challenge) for the morning.

Long exposure under the pier, just before dawn.
Here you can notice the extra row of pilings
on the right side. There are actually two
corridors leading toward the ocean.


The waves came up during this
long exposure...I had to grab
the tripod and run!

I spent over an hour in one area around 20 meters in circumference, wandering from outside the pier to under it, close to the breaking waves and further back, from pre-dawn light to after sunrise. I even got my shoes and pants soaked from the waves (cold!) because I was taking a long exposure and waited too long before realizing I'd have to abandon the shot and run (see results on the right).

My lesson learned is that next time I feel like I've lost the "eye", that my shots are coming out like crap, that nothing is working...don't put the camera away. Find a way to go somewhere different. Go even if you don't feel like it, but keep one element you're comfortable with, something to keep you grounded (for me it was sunrise). Take photos even when you don't want to, and eventually you'll break through the funk and arrive with something you're happy with.

When the sky doesn't cooperate and you've got
strong contrasts, black and white can work too.


I'm sure other photo enthusiasts have their own thoughts and techniques for how to get out of the lows, to break out of a slump. Getting out of that mode of thinking can be tough so even if this advice helps just one person, it'll be worth it.


Don't stand alone when you're uninspired. Get out
and make something happen!
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