Tonje Lilleås

Motivation – or the lack thereof?

To keep motivation for the things we are passionate about doesn’t sound too difficult. Nevertheless I often hear about photographers that find it difficult to get out and shoot. And if you search for “motivation in photography”, the main hits you’ll get is about how to keep motivated or regain motivation as a photographer.

A lot of successful photographers have said that they’ve found it difficult to stay motivated with photography since turning their passion into a job. And I have to say that I’ve been quick to judge them as (excuse my language) spoiled brats. However it has also had me thinking about what motivation actually is, and why it seems so difficult to keep it consistantly as a creative.

What is motivation?

Motivation is, according to the great source of Wikipedia, “an internal state that propels individuals to engage in goal-directed behavior”. Britannica defines motivation as “forces acting either on or within a person to initiate behavior.” 

Motivation has both biological and psychological sides. And as I dive into an article on “The Behavioral Neuroscience of Motivation”, I quickly understand that the concept is very complex. But more importantly; it’s a fundamental element of who we are and why we behave the way we do. And the motivational drive for meeting our basic needs is something we share with all animals.

Now I won’t state that motivation in photography is the same fundamental drive as the motivation to secure that our basic needs are met. However the essence is the same; motivation makes us take action towards a goal.

Motivation in photography

Staying motivated to meet our basic needs is easy if we’re well. A lack of motivation on this level is illness.

The motivation that drives us to do photography originates from a psychological need of for instance mastery, autonomy or self expression. Or belonging. It may not seem as important as providing food or shelter, but it is rooted deep within nonetheless.

External factors no doubt influence our inner needs. For a lot of photographers today the possibility of likes and followers in social media highly affect our inner needs of mastery and self expression . Before social media the influence was the potential of a solo exhibition, selling images or getting to publish a photo book.

Based on our needs and wants, influenced by external driving forces, we set goals for ourselves. And we use our motivation to reach that goal to spring into action. We plan and execute a photo shoot, we share our images in social media and the reward is the feeling of mastery.

So why is it so difficult to stay motivated as a photographer?

Motivation naturally ebbs and flows

As humans we are driven by a wide range of motives at any given time. How strong our motivation for one particular part of our lives is vary. It ebbs and flows, and is impacted by numerous factors.

For instance if one of our basic needs aren’t met, our motivation to correct this will outweigh our motivation to shoot images. And if we don’t reach our goal through persistent work, it’s easy to loose motivation. Whenever someone tells us they really like our images, we feel a new burst of drive to shoot.

Habit is a killer

Keeping motivated with anything that becomes a routine or habit can be difficult. Because motivation is so closely knit to the goal, it’s difficult to have strong motivation to achieve a goal that becomes less appealing over time.

When you first capture an image of a deer at sunset, you feel exhilarated. It motivates you to get out there to get an even better image of the deer. However after having shot deer for five years, you may not as motivated anymore. If you stick to the habit of going out to shoot deer, your drive will diminish.

Our brains love habit and routine. It’s easy and safe. But it’s a killer of both motivation and creativity. Really not helpful if what you want to achieve through photography is a feeling of mastery or self expression.

How do you keep motivated with photography?

There’s a lot of blogposts and videos about staying motivated with your photography or creative work. All of them have more or less simple tricks to get motivated. Knowing that motivation is such a complex and fundamental process, I think we have to dig deeper.

We have to figure out what inner needs we are trying to meet with our photography. For me it’s mostly about the need for self expression.

Whenever I feel less motivated to shoot or edit, I know it’s because I have wandered off the path of self expression and onto the path of getting recognition. The path of recognition always have me shoot stuff I’m not excited about. It has me trapped in a niche or even shooting stuff just because someone else wants me to. Or because I’m pretending I want to just to be liked.

Why do you shoot? What inner need does photography help you meet? Figure that out, and staying motivated will be so much easier.

Self expression to me is also about sharing the things I make. If you are so inclined, you can find my weekly posts here on my blog, my videos on YouTube and my inconsistent posts on Instagram.





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