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Dump A Slump With Personal Projects

September 26, 2009

We all go through creative slumps.  I live in Moab, surrounded by Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Dead Horse Point State Park and over 2 million acres of BLM land every bit as breathtaking as the parks.  I have no reason to whine but I’m going to any way.  Here goes: I’m bored with red rocks.  I’ve had enough of sweeping canyon vistas, massive arches and impossibly balanced rocks bathed in alpenglow so vivid you’d think the sandstone was actually on fire.  There, I said it.

I dream of cold mountain streams lined with colorful wildflowers, powerful waves crashing against sea stacks and thundering waterfalls pouring over high cliffs.  I’m not certain my camera even has the ability to record the color green.  Okay, so maybe that last part is a bit of an exaggeration but I think you get the idea.

What to do about such a dilemma?  How about a personal project to pull you out of a creative slump.  I’m working on two projects that require me to dedicate countless hours wandering around Arches, hiking trails I’ve never hiked and photographing things I’ve never seen.  My love for the place is being renewed with each outing.  Away from the crowds and the buses spewing fumes I’m able to reconnect with the very landscape that brought me to Moab.  Watching sunset light wash over pinnacles of red rock piercing a clear, deep blue sky in an area of the park I’ve never seen and that I have entirely to myself has a remarkable and lasting impact.  Finding the remains of early spring wildflowers nestled in shifting sands of the largest dunes I’ve seen in Arches makes my mind fast forward to next May, and images I’ve yet to create.  Examining maps for new, off-the-beaten path locations keeps the excitement alive even when I’m only sitting at home.

Next time you find yourself in a slump try designing a personal project that immerses you in the landscape that’s giving you the creative blues.  If your style leans toward sweeping vistas, give yourself a month to create a compelling portfolio of intimate landscapes.  Or, skip the icons and focus on lesser known locations you’ve never photographed.  Visit the same location over and over again, at different times of the day and in various seasons.  Work it until you’ve compiled a collection of images that tell a complete story of the location.  Write about your experiences in a blog or, if you’re not ready to share publicly, in a journal.

If all else fails store your camera in a closet for a while.  Read natural history guides.  Learn the geology, history, flora & fauna.  Hike trails you’ve never hiked.  Enjoy a grand sunset without worrying about finding a composition and fumbling with filters.  Sit by a creek and listen to the sound of the clear water rushing over mossy rocks.  Sharing these moments with those not present to witness the magic is why many of us fell in love with nature photography.  Treat yourself to them and you will surely find new energy and a passion to capture them with your camera.

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