If you're anything like me, chances are at some point you've fallen into a rut. Maybe you feel like your work just isn't getting any better, and there's too much competition, and you don't even want to keep up anymore. I've been there...and back. Here's what I've learned along that road:
PRACTICE MAKES BETTER
Yeah, yeah, we all know that 10,000 hours is supposed to make you an expert, but realistically, who actually has that much time at their disposal? Instead, I recommend practicing as much as you can without getting too crazy. I set a personal challenge to take one photo every single day. For the most part, I do pretty well (though there are some days I skip!). I feel so accomplished when I take the time to work on my skills, and that helps me avoid getting into a rut. When you're not practicing on the reg, it becomes easier to let that inertia lead you so far down that you avoid your work. Keep at it, even when you don't have clients or customers, and you'll always be fresh and ready to go.
KEEP YOURSELF EDUCATED
Lots of fields, from doctors to hairdressers, require regular education. This way, they stay on top of best practices, and it's why even if someone went to beauty school in the '80s, she's not going to give you a giant perm now. It's no less important for creatives to make sure they keep learning. These days, thanks to YouTube, OpenCourseWare, and thousands of affordable e-courses, it's so easy to stay on top of your game. I suggest setting aside an hour or two each week to learn something new. Every Friday, I queue up a module in SLR Lounge, and I take notes that I go back and review during the week to make sure I retained what I learned.
You never, ever want to fall into the trap of believing you already know everything there is to know about your field. I know an embarrassing number of photographers, for example, who brag about never shooting outside the golden hour because they think that's the only time to get beautiful photos. In fact, they're missing lots of opportunities because they don't think they need to learn techniques for sub-par lighting scenarios. Don't be like that. I don't care how long you've been doing something—there's always something new to learn.
GET A REPORT CARD
Ever thought about getting your work critiqued by your peers? Maybe you have, but the idea was too scary? I hate to say it, but the fastest way to get better at what you do is by having a peer (or better yet, someone whose work you admire) take a look at it. Often, they can spot things you'd never see in a million years, and you get immediate feedback that's perfectly tailored to you. You don't have to wait to stumble across some concept in a tutorial.
I joined Clickin Moms (I'm a dog mom; that counts!) a few months ago, and it has been a total game-changer for me as a photographer. I've improved more since I've started getting feedback than I have in the last year by myself. I learned how to avoid limb chops and green skin, and now I feel confident enough to critique others' work.
When you're ready, join a forum of professionals and see if they offer critiques. Or join a Meetup where you can workshop your ideas with your peers. Let other people help you!
When you want to stay on top of your game—no matter what you do—it's so important to keep practicing, learning, and getting feedback. You'll be amazed at the progress you make, so keep at it!