How to overcome creative doubt and increase productivity

We all have dealt with creative overstimulation…or what I like to call “creative chatter”… at some point in our lives. This unwelcome chatter is defined by those moments when our minds are running at a thousand miles an hour. It’s that dreadful feeling of being caught between being truly present, being a creative, or simply wanting to escape.

Marked by feelings of anxiety, adrenaline, over-stimulation, creative chatter is frustrating and overwhelming and largely unproductive.

It’s no surprise that we find ourselves feeling this way. Many of us wear so many different hats at the same time. In a world that values multitasking and constant connectivity, the problem of creative chatter is more common than anyone would like. It can cause a lot of stress!

When creative chatter hits you during a photography outing, it can be paralyzing. The noises of doubt and fear can silence creativity. It can make it so that picking-up your camera and taking photographs is the LAST thing you want to do.

I do not want you to be overwhelmed with all that is around you. Through my own experiences, I have found that having a solid strategy in dealing with all of the noise is key to overcoming the negative effects of it. These are the coping techniques that have been most successful for me and allowed me to continue to be creative and successful behind the camera and in life.

Be prepared

Having the tools you need to succeed is essential to keeping unnecessary stress and anxiety at bay. The more thorough you are in being prepared, the better equipped you are to cope when doubt creeps in.

The last thing you want is to get to a location only to realize that you don’t have what you need. Having the wrong gear, the wrong clothes, or failing to anticipate environmental changes can spell disaster. Research where you will be going with your camera and pack your bags accordingly. Bring the lenses that will allow you to capture the location. Pack extra memory cards and batteries. Dress in a way that will keep you comfortable in the climate (including chillier temperatures when the sun goes down!) and will allow you to manage the terrain easily.

Having the tools you need to succeed will keep you confident and is key to holding creative chatter at arm’s length.

Keep realistic expectations

I recently visited one of my favorites cities in the world – San Francisco – for my niece’s college graduation. I knew my days and evenings would be full of family commitments. Therefore I kept my professional photography goals to a minimum.

If I had tried to cram too many spots on my list, I would have been frantic and overwhelmed. My family took priority on this trip. Taking the time to think through what I could realistically schedule allowed me to shoot calmly and thoughtfully while also taking time to truly enjoy my family.

Keep your expectations in check and priorities in order. It allows you to capture location and occasions efficiently while also satisfying your creative drive. Should you have extra time for shooting it will just be icing on the cake!

Create a shot list

If you are starting to hear creative chatter before a photo shoot, creating a shot list can quiet those voices of worry and doubt! Research all the things you want to photograph and jot them down on a piece of paper or in your phone.

Taking note of all the types of images you want to photograph for a particular event, client, or occasion will direct your focus away from worry and toward productivity. You will feel more in control of the environment knowing precisely what you want to capture. You may not even end-up referring to the list when shooting but should the worry creep back in, it will be there for you.

Stick to a time limit

I will be the first to admit that I don’t like putting a limit on my creative opportunities. It can take a bit to wrap your head around this concept limiting the time you spend on creative pursuits. However, it can be counterproductive to keep the time you allow for a particular project open-ended. You could be giving space to worry or burnout!

When we travel as a family, everyone has a schedule and knows the times that I will be spending taking photos for work or for personal creativity. It is an activity just like going to the beach or hanging out at the pool. On the flip side, when my scheduled time is up, I switch gears and commit myself to the next activity on our itinerary.

Limit your frames

Much like a time limit, establishing a maximum number of frames you are allowed to take can help you focus on the task at hand and keep the creative chatter at bay. Whether you pretend you are shooting a roll of film or are actually using a film camera, the premise is the same.

A frame limit forces you to focus on each and every frame. You must be intentional in order to tell the story. No frantic shooting happens with a frame limit. Instead, you create each photo thoughtfully. When you are out of frames, you have the opportunity to put the camera away and focus on being present.

Spring was in full bloom in San Francisco and I was so excited about all the colors and tones. I limited myself to just 10 floral photos. This forced me to really look at the scene and enjoy it, only picking up my camera because I was inspired…not frantic.

Be choosy with your gear

Another easy and effective way to not let creative overstimulation take over is to be selective in your gear choices. Who here is guilty of taking every lens and every camera they own to each session/event/location?!

More often than not, you only use a few of the things you packed. All that extra gear that you have to haul around can be a burden on both your mind and back!

Try to limit the gear to perhaps one or two lens depending on the environment. If you have done your research and have a plan of action along with a shot list, you will know exactly the kind of gear you need to get the job done.

I find myself always reaching for my 24-70mm and my 70-200mm as they cover a large range of focal lengths and only require me to carry two lenses.

Communicate your plan

Once that you have created the perfect plan, be sure to communicate that plan with everyone involved. Keeping everyone on the same page will make your plan run much more smoothly. When things run smoothly, the creative chatter finds it much harder to find space in your mind.

Early on in my business I did something that changed the way I interact with clients. I created a ‘What To Expect’ email for every session. The email lists everything to expect at a session with me. From how long a session takes, what to wear, a general photo shoot timeline, and some helpful tips I’ve learned along the way, it prepares my clients thoroughly.

My clients have raved about how that email is a lifesaver. It makes them comfortable with the process before it even begins! Knowing that the people in front of my camera are happy and at ease makes me happy and puts me at ease.

Leave some room for spontaneity

I would be doing you a disservice if I told you to always stick to the plan. Let’s face it – we are creatives! This means we are likely to have at least a little streak of spontaneity in us. There is nothing quite like that feeling of excitement when creating something truly fantastic because of something that inspired us at the spur of the moment.

On more than one occasion I have packed the car and headed out on an adventure. A 14-hour drive because of an intense need to see the mountains and hike in the backcountry is never out of the question! Of course, I have my packing list and camping gear all ready for occasions like this and now have nailed it down to a science. But the thrill of spontaneity is unmatched.

On our San Francisco adventure, we captured some fun, crazy family moments! If I am absolutely honest, these are some of my favorites! Yes, we did get more traditional family photos too, but tilting my head to look at this one brings a smile to my face every time.

Keep an eye for that spontaneity and let it flow when you recognize it within you. Don’t hold back just because it is not an item on your list. Let the thrill and joy of the moment take over from time to time and it will surely keep the creative chatter at bay.

Take control of any creative situation by taking control away from the voices that try to keep you stifled. That chatter doesn’t serve you and with these tips, you will be able to reclaim your creativity and make photographs that inspire you.

About the Author:

Karthika Gupta is a lifestyle, wedding, and travel photographer based in the Chicago area. Her images are fun, fresh and her love for nature makes its way into most of her imagery. She strives to capture authentic emotions and interactions among her clients and emotive imagery in her commercial work. She writes travel and photography education articles online. She also leads travel and culture tours to India, her home country, to help you experience India with a local.

2 Comments

  1. Christopher Hall Sep 18 2018 at 1:21 am - Reply

    I am always challenged with creative doubt. In a way it is good as it help to keep my ego grounded.

    I do like some of these tips though. Keeping a priority of your time is a good one. Remember that not every outing is a photo session.

    Another one that I do is go somewhere and DON’T plan any shots beforehand. Just left your eyes see what is there not what you want to be there. With plans you spend so much time looking for a shot that you end up missing others. You also have no expectations to compare to.

    Chris
    https://www.family-photographer.co.uk

  2. Karthika Sep 18 2018 at 8:19 am - Reply

    Thank you for sharing your tips Chris, Yes. I love what you said about not every outing being a photo session. As photographers, we tend to think of it this way. It can be refreshing to just experience life for what it is at times 🙂

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