Confessions of a Stuck Photographer

I used to tell students to not be afraid of stuckness – and they looked at me like I had become senile or just crazy. I went on to explain that being stuck is when we have tried everything we know to do and give up. Giving up seems to allow us to free our minds to find a solution. I learned about the joy of stuckness in the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, way back when…

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Learning something new is always hard, it takes work and the path to knowing is rocky. If we never feel stuck, if we never feel lost, if we never feel overwhelmed by all there is to know, if we believe we already know everything there is to know – we aren’t engaged and learning. To be vital and alive we always need to be at the leading edge of our learning curve. Anywhere else leads to boredom and stagnation.

I am stuck, but not enjoying my stuckness very much. If there are any prior students of mine out there reading this, I understand the evil looks you sent me because stuckness isn’t fun.

I don’t think I’ll ever become a really good photographer. There I’ve said it as I’m fighting back tears. I’ve been working at it for 6 months – I should know what I’m doing. And if anyone dares respond that they have been doing it for 6 years and still have times when they don’t feel like they know what they are doing, I’ll… Well I’ll just have to give you a raspberry and make my freshly cleaned computer screen all spotty again.

When I pick up a camera I seem to turn my brain off. Photography for me is a creative experience. I am wanting to capture all the beauty there is in life. After a lifetime of using my left brain, I finally have the time and leisure to be creative. I think I have even bypassed my right brain, going straight to my soul. When I start snapping photos I don’t do much thinking. I just go for the adrenaline rush of capturing everything there is to capture. Can you relate?

This is a new (and good) position for me because I have always been a thinker, although my sister says I was spacey as a kid. Purely semantics. I think, however, that I need to put more thought in my photography if I am going to justify spending all that money on a DSLR when my friends are taking great pictures with their cell phones. And besides when I am back from a “shoot” and sorting through photos I realize that I should have been a little more deliberate about which settings I used. I’m embarrassed to say that emptying my recycle bin has become a regularly scheduled activity – like taking out the garbage.

I do change settings and I do get some good images – at least people are telling me this in blog comments. I also know that I have been taking A LOT of photos to get a few really good ones, ones where most of the settings are right. I have been studying the settings on the photos that turn out and the ones that don’t. Usually I can figure out why.

Take a deep breath, Pat. I live in two places where there are wonderful photo opportunities so each time I pick up my camera isn’t a once in a lifetime event (I promise not to contract to do a wedding). I have always been intrigued by SLR cameras and now is my time to enjoy my stuckness while I learn. I think I’ll go back to my Nikon D5100 for Dummies because reading can be really productive for me when I’m stuck.

Left and Right Brain

I also think I will work on integrating my left and right brain. I know that I can be creative in my thinking, so why can’t I be thoughtful in my creativity. I need to slow down and think about how I can best capture that image that I think is so beautiful. There – that feels good. If I integrate my thinking, I bet the passion of my soul will find better expression.

I just wish I was learning faster. After all I learned how to water ski and got up the first time (not bad for an athletic klutz) by reading a little book and thinking my way through. Patience isn’t my long suit. Now you can tell me it just takes time. I’ll listen.


  1. Indeed it was way back when with Pirsig’s iconic book. I think you are coming along very well with your experimentation in photography, and you seem to have the patience that I lack.


    • Maybe we need to collaborate on a post called the Virtue of Patience. 🙂 I have always assumed that I could do the hardest or most complex activity on the first try. Absolutely no patience for learning by doing learning steps. Thanks for your kind words, Opalla.


  2. Like all good art, a creative fusion of right and left brain is needed. It also takes time to develop one’s skills. I like your work (it speaks to both my head and heart) and think your work shows growth (skill development). Besides, if you get too good, you won’t let me shoot with you!


    • Thanks for the good laugh. No worry about not wanting you to shoot with me – that will always happen because I like being with you because of you! Thank you also for your words of wisdom and encouragement.


  3. Why don’t you try taking bad pictures for a while? Try using exactly the wrong settings, and frame them all counterintuitively, and jiggle the camera.


  4. Such a good post Pat. We all get stuck sometimes, or feel like we are in a rut, sometimes a very deep rut. You are correct, it certainly helps to step back and catch our breath for a bit and then proceed again. Good luck! Blessings, Robyn


    • Thanks, Robyn. I will proceed at my slow pace of learning photography. And remind myself that the fun is in the process. I appreciate your understanding.


      • Just enjoy it! Don’t ever let it stress you out. I’d be happy to help you if you ever have questions about your settings, etc. You can contact me directly through my blog/website. Blessings, Robyn


        • Thanks, Robyn. I’ll take you up on that. I have been rereading my books and have relaxed a lot. Oh the power of writing to set my mind straight. I really appreciate your support.


    • Maybe I need to do another post on being stuck in unrealistic expectations. 😀 The outcome of writing this post is that I’ve decided to just have fun and not compare myself to professionals who have been doing it for 100 years. WP should charge me for the therapeutic value of blogging. 🙂


  5. Hi Pat,
    I have been where you are, although not with my photography. I just do that for fun and don’t worry about settings or being professional. But I understand the feelings of frustration, and don’t want to discount them. For what it’s worth, we are always harder on ourselves than anyone else would be, and I think you are a very fine photographer. I hope you will be as kind to yourself as you would to another person.


    • You have given me a lot to think about. I had decided to just have fun, but now I think I’ll add more gentleness to self in the equation. Thanks.


  6. You are doing great! Anything we do that brings pleasure or causes another to be inspired is so special. Besides, if you mastered it, where would the joy be? I’m still learning and growing from my hobby after twenty years!!! Don’t think it will ever stop. I love your photos and have always seen an eye for creativity in you. Enjoy, enjoy and enjoy!!!:-) love you!


    • Thanks, Linda. I sure am loving what I am doing and appreciate your encouragement. I am enjoying my photography, and especially when I can bring joy to others as other bloggers are bringing joy to my life.


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