Beating the Block: Sense From Nonsense


Okay, now what?

While we tend to think of being blocked as a long-term thing, it’s not always that way. In fact, we could be having a great day shooting, and suddenly come across a scene that stops us in our tracks (and not necessarily in a good way). We look and look, trying from every angle we can think of, and nothing seems to be happening. Okay, now what?

For starters, make sure there’s a there there.* In your best Dr. McCoy voice, remind yourself that, dammit Jim, you’re a photographer, not a miracle worker. Some things are just dull, while in other cases it’d take another set of eyes on the scene to find and flush out a good photo. Don’t drive yourself nuts and let a speed bump turn into a brick wall; move on to something else.

But let’s assume that you’ve got something in front of you that your intuition tells you ought to be photogenic and you’re just not finding it. If you can’t change your subject, change your approach to it.

I think that sometimes we discard things out of hand out of expectations that they’ll make a certain kind of sense, which is to say, we expect them to conform to a certain look. Whatever it is — a landscape, a person, a car — we usually have a set of experiences with that thing, or things like it, and with those experiences come a set of memories and mental images. We remember the last great sunset we saw, or the last oddball on the boardwalk,** and we wait for the thing in front of us to look more like that. Our eyes are trying to reconcile the thing, or things, in front of us with what our mind’s eye remembers or expects.

Well, that’s a bit better.

Let go of it. Short of having your third eye squeegeed, try to find something that at a glance makes no sense and work with it ’til it does, or starts to. Our minds look at something and say that it “works” or doesn’t. When we approach something that’s not so readily apparent, we do something very useful for ourselves; we’re giving our mind something to chew over while we’re not necessarily consciously thinking about it. The results of what it churns up can surprise us, or send our thinking in new directions, but we have to be open to (and actively allow) the possibility to happen.

*If you’re having difficulty with this sentence, read it aloud. It should make more sense at that point. If it doesn’t, my apologies. Some days I swear my poetic license is on the revoked list.

**And if it’s the oddball on the boardwalk, wait a bit. There’ll be another one along any minute, trust me.

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