The Photographic Circle of Life

29 12 2009

A few years ago on a forum, I stumbled across a group of photographers who had hit a creative wall. They were feeling that their work had lost its meaning, and that their perspective was “boring”.

This was my response. I hope you’ll find it useful.


You’re all going through something that just about EVERY photographer goes through at some point. It’s the photographic circle of life, and it goes something like this:

You started out taking snapshots because it was fun. You got a little more serious about getting good photos, so you began trying to figure out how to make that happen. The more you learned, the more you found out you didn’t know, so you knuckled down and forced yourself to get technically proficient.

Once you got technically proficient, you realized that you had techniqued yourself right out of the reason you started the journey in the first place — because you were intuitively taking some creative and rewarding shots.

So the challenge becomes embracing your unique perspective and values, while allowing them to rest upon the technical foundation you’ve constructed.

It’s simple, but not easy.

The problem is that you’ve forgotten what it is you want your work to say. You can’t really find that by forcing yourself to take hundreds of pictures aimlessly. It may eventually accidentally happen over time, but doing the same shots over and over again and expecting different results is an exercise in frustration.

Dig around in your personality and life experience. Think about what makes you smile, what makes you sad, what makes you angry. Think about the greatest lessons you’ve learned thus far in your life. Think about regrets, or things you wish you had known sooner. Figure out what defines you as a person (without getting paralyzed by analysis) and photograph that. Use your values as your voice.

Consider the dreams you have when you go to sleep at night. What are they about? Do they make sense? How do they make you feel? Are they clear, or are they fuzzy, or just impressions? Can you “see” them? Are they literal, or totally random? What do they look like? Mull it over. Photograph that.

You’ve figured out how to be a photographer. Now you have to figure out what you want to say. It’s easier to learn the rules than it is to let go of them.

It takes time, but when you base your style on your sense of self, embracing both your strengths and your weaknesses, you’ll develop something that is deep, personal, and consistent.

Enjoy the journey and embrace a little frustration, because it keeps you evolving as a person and an artist. I believe it was Martha Graham who said, “No artist is ever satisfied at any time.” That’s the truth.

– CJ

scarf in snow

scarf falling down on the job



8 responses

29 12 2009

You are not only a very good photographer but also a gifted writer.
I hope you never decide to remain just one of them!
Thank you… thank you.

30 12 2009

Thanks very much. I hope to do both for a long time to come.

29 12 2009

Wow, the struggle, so eloquently put. Thank you. I will be back for more.

30 12 2009
Stephen S. Mack

Cheryl, once again I’ve gotten something neat, both photographically and philosophically, from this here place! Thanks again and again, and Happy New year, too.

With best regards.


1 01 2010

I’m so thankful for finding this blog. So often, since graduating, I’ve found myself missing that interaction and even instruction. It’s difficult once you’re away from all that creativity and energy. Add in a kid and bam, complete creative flameout. Over and over this blog has made me realize it’s not the end for me, that I’ll be back.
Merci. Arigato. THANK YOU.

13 01 2010
Jon Liu

It’s me again. : )
I’ve been facing the obstcale as well, and this article is enlighting to me. Again, I translated it into Chinese today. If you feel my translation inapposite, just notify me to remove it.
Here is the article. []

13 01 2010
Jon Liu

Revision of the address:

Sorry, the mark made the address unavailable.

24 09 2014
The Photographic Circle of Life « PhotoDino - a photography link from simple_iso_v4

[…] The Photographic Circle of Life « PhotoDino […]

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