Getting Out of a Creative Funk - Andrew Hertel

Getting Out of a Creative Funk

Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon

A few weeks ago I posted the image above on Instagram and Facebook, you can view it on my Facebook page here. At the time of that post I was in a super creative funk for a couple of weeks and I couldn’t seem to shake it. I wasn’t feeling very creative, I wasn’t motivated to go out and shoot anything, I wasn’t motivated to process any of the images sitting on my hard drive and when I did try any of the above it all felt very forced and uninspired. I posted the photo of Antelope Canyon from a trip to Arizona and Utah in April of last year with two friends of mine. While on the trip the energy and excitement was palpable, I was feeling so inspired seeing all of the magical places for my first time. Now months later at home I’m trying to process these images and life keeps dragging me down and I don’t can’t find the drive to put the energy needed into these images. To me, when I sat back and looked at the final image it felt absolutely forced and way overdone! This didn’t help the mindset I was in at the time.

The other influence on my creative funk was Social Media. Instagram and Facebook can be good at times but for me I was finding that I was wasting so much time on those platforms just mindlessly scrolling through the feeds. To make matters worse, I was comparing myself and my work to the hundreds of images a day I was scrolling through. Not exactly helpful! In the original post I expressed how my mood at that time was reflected through that image, over-processed and forced. I was in an artistic funk, I didn't feel creative at all and I didn't feel like I was expressing the moods and emotions through my images I wanted to. While trying to post process this image I wasn’t visually expressing the emotions I had when I was capturing it. I received a lot of positive feedback from that post, way more than I was expecting. Social media can be a scary place to be venerable and put your feelings out there for the world to see and judge. It can also be a place to connect with a large audience of people with your shared interests, get advice or just meet new people or heavens forbid just be social.

After taking a little time to reflect on my current situation, I decided I had two choices: 1. Do nothing and hope it blows over or 2. Keep creating art and my funk will eventually pass, it has to. An easy way for photographers to justify not getting a shot, or not shooting a certain subject matter or simply justify being lazy is "I don't have the right lens or camera". I know I've used this lame excuse before. It’s total BS, a good artist can and will use the tools they have to create good art. No tool will do the job on it’s own, you have to start with a good mindset and have spent countless hours with your tools learning how to use them perfecting your craft.

I just needed to get inspired again, but how? One way to help get the creative juices going is to try something new or different from what you normally do. I figured flowers would be a good place to start, who doesn't love an image of a beautiful flower! For a split second I used the excuse that I didn’t have the right lens, I needed a macro lens to really create good images of flowers. I called BS on myself. I didn’t have a macro lens but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from trying something new so I rented a lens. No more excuses, I decided I would rent a 90mm Macro lens from Lens Rentals for a week.


Fox Tail Agave, captured with a 90mm Macro lens.

Fox Tail Agave, captured with a 90mm Macro lens.

Renting the macro lens was perfect, it only cost about $65.00 for a full week instead of almost $1,000 to buy one. While I was waiting for the lens to arrive I did what I always do, I researched how to use the lens, how to shoot flowers and how to shoot macro. As I kept researching, I was amazed at the images I was seeing and could feel myself getting excited and inspired again! I also kept seeing something that surprised me, not all of the images I really enjoyed were taken with a macro lens. I was learning to get good images of flowers you just really need to be a little creative and most importantly learn how to work with light and really master composition. A lot of the images I liked were taken with an 85mm lens, I have one of those!

Two days later the lens arrived, no excuses, time to get out there and start creating. I knew that this time of year the torch aloe at one of my favorite local places to photograph should be blooming so that's where I headed. I purposely went to a place I was very familiar with, I knew there would be a very diverse selection of flowers to shoot and I was familiar with the lighting. Taking two variables out of the equation let me focus on the subject matter and composition of images. Once I got started I just couldn't stop, everything around me started looking so much different. Instead of just seeing flowers, I was seeing images I wanted to capture and create. I was able to really visualize what I wanted in my head. I noticed that I was really paying attention to the shapes, textures, light and the background, much more that I usually do.


I used this newfound inspiration and vision to keep creating, I used flowers we had at home to practice with. No excuse that I don’t have a professional studio, most people don’t. I watched videos of people setting up flowers on a counter top and bouncing light with cardboard painted white, I can do that!

This led me to try other tools I was uncomfortable with. I got out the flash and umbrella that were collecting dust in my closet. Like the macro lens, a flash is not a tool that a landscape photographer uses very often if ever. Figuring out how to turn the darn flash on let alone figuring out how to get the light to look natural was a very frustrating experience. With frustration came additional skill building, knowledge, a new way of thinking and problem solving. The creative juices started flowing again, how do I use these tools and how do I use them well?

I'm a "landscape" photographer, I'm at home and feel most comfortable when I'm capturing a grand landscape or seascape. Shooting a mountain range that is miles away is much more natural to me versus shooting a flower just a few inches from me. Using the macro lens really forced me to think and view everything around me differently, it forced me to learn how to use my equipment a little differently than I’m used to. It forced me to go back and study up on depth of field, apertures and really learn where each of my lens performs at their best.

True macro photography, as I learned from my rental experiment, is great but not a genera that I’m currently interested in enough to go all in and willing to invest the time and effort needed to do it well. Phew, I saved myself a $1,000 from not buying that lens! Sure I’d love to have that 90mm macro lens in my bag for those few times a year I’d need it. True macro photography is another art form one day I hope to learn but for now I’ll stick to what I know and work on perfecting that.

I haven’t even touched on the post processing of macro photography, that’s a topic for another day. Let’s just say that there’s a lot to learn when processing a single flower versus a landscape scene. Focusing stacking is a big part of macro photography, manual vs software that will do it for you, etc. We’ll save this for another day as well, I could write another couple of pages on each of these two topics.

Brugmansia taken in my backyard with a 55-210mm lens at 156mm.

Brugmansia taken in my backyard with a 55-210mm lens at 156mm.

Will the images from my macro experiment win any awards, probably not but I don’t care. I like them and more importantly I really enjoyed creating them, I learned a lot in that one week. I had a smile on my face for a couple of hours while I was out with my camera being creative and not caring about anything else. Not only did I learn about a new area of photography, macro, I also came away with a better understanding of the tools I already have and a how to use them better and more diversely. I approach scenes differently now, I view and pay attention to the little details around me and how I can incorporate them into the scene.

Sometimes being uncomfortable is the best way to boost creativity. Whether you're a photographer, painter, musician, or just trying to get your business to the next level you'll eventually run into a rut or funk. If my experience is any help or you want my two shiny pennies of advice, DO SOMETHING. I know it will feel hard, stupid (insert your own adjective here) but just keep your feet moving, keep the creative juices flowing. Step out of your comfort zone, if only a little bit. Eventually everything will fall into place and you'll be on a roll again. 

Before you let the camera and lens manufactures suck you in and convince you that you NEED to buy the newest lens, go out and rent it. Yes it’s great but once the shine wears off I bet you’ll see you can use the tools you already have to create the art you want. You may have to go through a few growing pains or study up a little more but you’ll get there.

Now get out there and get creative! Please stay in contact, I’d love to hear from you.


A pink rose I saw in a yard while walking down the street. Captured with a 50mm lens.

A pink rose I saw in a yard while walking down the street. Captured with a 50mm lens.