What to Photograph When You’re in a Creative Rut with Morgan Heim
When you hit a plateau in your creative work, turn to these 3 tools and strategies for what to make so you get back your momentum.
All creatives face this moment when it feels like we're just in a rut.
Maybe you've hit a plateau in a project. You're stuck or lost steam and want a way to rebuild momentum.
Or you've hit a ceiling in your skill sets and you aren't sure what to do to break through so you can keep growing.
Whatever it may be, there are at least 3 ways – three joyfully creative ways – to get past a plateau and back into your creative zone.
Today, we talk with Morgan Heim, a creative genius who is constantly on the move in her work. She walks us through the strategies that you can use any time you feel like you're stalling out in your photography.
You'll walk away with fun tools to try out AND some important mindsets to carry with you that'll help you through the tough times.
Episode 099: What to Photograph When You’re in a Creative Rut with Morgan Heim
(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)
[00:00:00] Jaymi: that'll definitely get added in Morgan. Welcome back again to the podcast. It is always a joy to have you here. Thank you so much for joining us.
[00:00:14] Morgan: It's my pleasure.
[00:00:16] Morgan: It means we get to like, drink, beer and talk about our favorite subjects.
[00:00:20] Jaymi: Like, and where can we go wrong with that? Exactly. That's just happiness.
[00:00:26] Jaymi: Well, we're actually talking about a subject today that actually is happiness for me because you know, it's a, an issue that I've personally faced that I'm still kind of in the midst of it's something that I've watched colleagues face. It's something that I've worked with. Clients through. And it's when you feel like you have hit a plateau, what do you do to get some momentum back?
[00:00:52] Jaymi: And we've, we've talked about this a bit outside of this episode. And one of the important things I think to think about is that there's a few ways that. [00:01:00] Photographers and filmmakers creatives really can feel like they've hit a plateau. And one of those can be a plateau inside of a project. So you've been working on a project for a while and you just aren't sure what.
[00:01:12] Jaymi: Where to go from here. It's like you've hit kind of a stall out on a project, a passion project. And another way is you've plateaued on where you feel skill wise or style wise. And so you feel like maybe you've plateaued you're in kind of maybe a rut. And you're trying to figure out how to regain some of that stoke that fire in creativity and, and to keep moving forward.
[00:01:37] Jaymi: And so we've got a few ways that people can move through that and gain momentum back. And I'm really excited to talk with you about this subject because you are one of the most creative brained people I've ever met in my entire life. And I know that you've got some wonderful input for folks.
[00:01:56] Morgan: Oh, thank you.
[00:01:57] Morgan: Yeah. Plateaus who? Whoever [00:02:00] plateaus. Oh, I've heard of it. No,
[00:02:02] Jaymi: that's a rare, a rare thing. And creativity is ever hitting a plateau.
[00:02:06] Morgan: like hitting plateaus when I'm running. Cause then I get to take a break for a little
[00:02:10] Jaymi: while.
[00:02:14] Jaymi: Well, well, let's, let's dive into the idea of a creative plateau in a project or a story that you're working on. And you feel like you've kind of stalled out there because you've, you've have some strategies that I really love. So what are some of your strategies for restocking the creative fire inside of a stalled out project?
[00:02:39] Morgan: Yeah. When we start out these projects, right? We're like so full of excitement and possibility and visions of what could be, and everything's possible, you know, there's been no limitations. You've not experienced the physicality of things or attempted anything and then found out that it was not how you envisioned.
[00:02:59] Morgan: [00:03:00] So trying to like recapture that innocence again, so to speak. It can, it can often be overwhelming when you've like, especially gone in and done that first chapter of those first shoots. And, and then you're like, okay, well, god, I used up a lot of my bandwidth there to just get to this point.
[00:03:20] Morgan: And there's still so many pieces left or you feel like you have to go redo pieces you already did, and you're trying to psych yourself up. So something that has really helped me has been to go back and make a thing called a pitch deck because at this point in a project I need to really kind of, I think, understand what I have accomplished.
[00:03:43] Morgan: And I think it's really easy to not recognize. What you've accomplished, whether it's through actual photos that you've made, or inroads that you've made with the right people to be connecting with and getting access and knowing the parts of the story that you're going to need to [00:04:00] photograph.
[00:04:00] Morgan: And when it's all just floating out there in pieces in a big mess, it's just really hard to, it just feels overwhelming. So I like to make this thing called a pitch deck. And yet the other reason I like to make it is because. It takes a lot of energy to make those initial steps. There comes a point where you're like, I need some help you guys, like, please just, I need to feel like I'm not just doing this underneath my own steam and making the pitch deck is one of these really useful tools to help make that more of a reality.
[00:04:33] Morgan: You can really create them at any stage in your project, but it's usually after you've done some field work and taking the things that you've gotten, taking the research , you've done and putting it into a pretty visual package that you can then use when you're meeting with potential funders or editor.
[00:04:54] Morgan: Other collaborators to get them on board, not only with your idea, but get them on board [00:05:00] with you. And in the course of making those pitch decks, one, they're so fun to create. They're really satisfying that creative side of your brain, and they're really satisfying that more, a type, you know, organizer side of your brain that lets you go through and assess.
[00:05:19] Morgan: Everything you've done the important parts and putting it into a nice orderly fashion. And then a lot of people don't take the time to make them. So when you have a pitch deck that you can give to a book publisher or an editor, it really helps them see your vision and your potential. And it also kind of wows them.
[00:05:41] Morgan: They're just like, wow, this person they're not messing around. They've done the work. And I see what they're doing and it gets them excited. So it just like creates, I think not only energy in yourself, but energy in the people that might help you make more of the project happen or give you an outlet for [00:06:00] your project when it's done.
[00:06:01] Morgan: And so that helps you kind of feel like, okay, I've got steam. Now I can, I can do another, , leg of this, No matter what happens, Right.
[00:06:09] Jaymi: Or even planning what the next leg might look like, because you know, the project's not done. You're just not sure what shape it's going to take. I'm going to put a link in the show notes for not only an example of a pitch deck, but also a link to where you can buy pitch deck templates, which working from a template can be really helpful.
[00:06:28] Jaymi: But essentially what it is is a slide deck, like a PowerPoint or a keynote. That is illustrating your project. It's illustrating the story that you're working on, or the project that you're working on, what it is that you've accomplished, the goals that you have for it. The resources that you already have lined up, maybe the resources that you need.
[00:06:49] Jaymi: And I went through the exercise of doing this for a project that I was working in. And it was really great, just as a personal thing for me to go through it, because sometimes you get to the point where you're just like, [00:07:00] why am I even working on this? I suck at this. I'm terrible. Like you get, you start to beat yourself up for where you're at or feeling stuck.
[00:07:08] Jaymi: And so what happens is, as you build your pitch deck, you need to go into your archives and pull images or things that you need to use as visual assets. And in going through that particular pitch deck exercise, and I went through these archives. Oh, wow. I forgot. I took that. That's really good. Oh man, that, that was actually really good too.
[00:07:28] Jaymi: And man, look at how much of the story I've already built so far. Look at how much content I have to put in there. It was this big confidence boosting exercise. So even if it's something that you do. For yourself as a, as a personal thing, to organize your story in your mind, or to look back at what you've accomplished so far and where you want to head.
[00:07:47] Jaymi: I think it's a really powerful tool. You don't even have to do it for collaborators or to show anyone it can be this wholly personal thing that can spark that fire that can do attitude in you once [00:08:00] again.
[00:08:00] Morgan: Yeah, absolutely.
[00:08:01] Jaymi: Another aspect of gaining momentum that we were talking about is not just creating a pitch deck, which is in a way a deliverable, but creating deliverables that can feel like quick wins and start to, to feel like your snowball is growing as it rolls downhill.
[00:08:19] Jaymi: What are some deliverables that you, especially when we're talking about maybe personal projects or personal stories? That you want to feel like you are making some progress in this, especially when it comes to maybe your creativity, your, your skill set around that. What are deliverables that work for you for things to create?
[00:08:38] Morgan: Yeah, I mean, it'll vary by project, but I think what's useful is to. Take your project as a whole and look at what you've done so far and then be like, okay, can I actually roll something out into the world, just on this one chapter? And what would that look like? And you know, maybe it's a little a [00:09:00] gallery exhibit, or maybe it's a presentation that you give in a few different venues, or maybe it's a magazine story that it's not the feature story, but it's a front of the book, Photo essay spread, you know, something like that.
[00:09:13] Morgan: Or it could be a feature story, but it's just on this one component of the much bigger project. So how do you break that up into. Things that are actually getting out into the public eye and building buzz around what you're doing around the subject and helping to just make you feel like you're not just sitting there, keeping everything held back and secret, and nobody knows that you're actually out there working on anything,
[00:09:38] Morgan: so I think just giving your project that time , to roll out parts of it and In whatever venue that you want. So that there's like a tangible thing that you have to create. It just gives you that action item, you know, that, you know, you have to complete it. It gives you potentially a little bit of money back on your investment and it [00:10:00] helps you feel like your projects more real.
[00:10:02] Morgan: So that's going to then add to that feeling of, okay, I got to make the next part of this happen now. It's it's out there. It's not just something I've kept to myself. Now. People are expecting more. To come. So you start to feel that responsibility.
[00:10:19] Jaymi: Yeah. Yeah. I think to deliverables that especially if you're working on a personal project that I think are very, very doable and can function a little bit, like what a pitch deck does in terms of looking at what you've done so far.
[00:10:31] Jaymi: And then feeling like you've got a little win out the door. Is, if you have a website creating either a blog post or a project page, like something that's really curated and small, it doesn't have to be really big, but creating something that is actually out there for the world to see, and maybe sharing that with people.
[00:10:51] Jaymi: So you have something written, you've got something organized visually that you can share with people. And then on a more personal level, I think one [00:11:00] thing. You can create, if you have a little bit of extra funds, is something simple, like a blurb book or like a printed portfolio of some of the work that you've created so far so that you have to put similarly to building a pitch deck, you put structure around it.
[00:11:15] Jaymi: And you start to maybe practice some skillsets that you might want to work on. Like, if it is. A project where, you know, you want to create a gallery exhibit or, you know, you want to create a book or something printed out of it. You can basically create a self published single book from blurb or someplace, and you're practicing those skills of curating images, ordering images creating like a polished whole thing.
[00:11:41] Jaymi: That is a physical thing that you can flip through. I think there's something to having a physical. Deliverable that you can hold in your hands and look at that can really help you feel like, all right, what's next? What's I'm ready to do the next thing on this.
[00:11:56] Morgan: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, from a conservation side, so [00:12:00] many of the things that we work on are, it takes a long time to get all the pieces that you need and, conservation issues.
[00:12:07] Morgan: Both unfolded, I really rapid pace and at a really slow pace. And so there might be pivotal moments that are happening in your issue where your work could benefit that issue and your projects far from being like ready for the big rollout. And so you make a decision for yourself, like, well, what can I put out there and apply to.
[00:12:31] Morgan: Conservation effort. That's being pushed it's happening right now. And just treat it as like I'm putting my work in service of this bigger issue. And that's where at the end of the day to at the end of the day, it's really important to remember that where your motivation is coming from, it's coming from why you're doing the project in the first place.
[00:12:53] Morgan: And so if there's something tangible that you can contribute to with the work that you've done so far, That'll help you [00:13:00] see how your work, can be applied and be helpful. And that will refuel you to like keep working on it. Keep working towards that bigger picture and also keeping in mind too, that everyone working on their projects, no matter whether they're new into this or have been doing this for years, they are constantly having to find new ways to kind of roll out.
[00:13:25] Morgan: The same project over the long haul and they're not holding everything back. I mean, look at Carlton Ward Jr. In his path of the Panther and Florida corridor project. he's been working on that for over a decade and he's been putting pictures out there the whole time. He's been doing magazine articles the whole time and I would say like his projects now that whole initiative is kind of reaching completely new levels of impact and exposure more than a decade into it, even though he's been rolling out all of this amazing work the whole [00:14:00] time.
[00:14:01] Morgan: So I think a lot of people agonize over, what do I share if I share it? Have I scooped myself? If I blow. The, the outlets that it could go into and have the most impact. And I think that it's important to remember that your project is always growing and evolving and your skills are changing and improving.
[00:14:21] Morgan: And you're going to create new work as long as you keep, applying it and putting it out there. And not just letting it grow stagnant and keeping it in the closet.
[00:14:32] Jaymi: Yeah, I think I want to return back to one of your points too, that I think , is so essential, which is remembering your why.
[00:14:40] Jaymi: And there's a whole episode about finding your why, and I'm going to link to that in the show notes and why it's so essential, but it is insanely helpful to. Pause. Like when you start to get wrapped up and the feeling that you're not going anywhere or you've you've plateaued, or you're kind of stuck somewhere.[00:15:00]
[00:15:00] Jaymi: A lot of times that as creatives can actually stem from the feeling of you yourself. Not making progress or you yourself hitting a wall or we'll you know, I, I can't seem to make progress on this story or nobody seems to want to accept my pitch. I must not be any good at this. Like, it all gets wrapped up in ego and if you're able to take a step back and be like, oh right.
[00:15:23] Jaymi: But I don't do this for myself. That's a great benefit. And I get a lot out of doing this, but I don't do this for myself. I do conservation work for a larger purpose. It's not about me. It's about the work and that can be such a breakthrough attitude to have. So when you return to your why, and you're like, oh yeah, well, it's not about me.
[00:15:45] Jaymi: So of course I'm going to keep moving forward. Of course, I'm going to look at, at other ways to approach some theater. Of course, I'm going to try and find fresh things because it doesn't. Matter as much what people think of me, it matters what they think about this issue. [00:16:00] It matters that they know about it, and that they're interested in that as long as I can keep putting this issue or, or the stuff in front of people in a way that they care and they're driven to act, then I am making progress.
[00:16:10] Jaymi: Period. I'm making progress. So going back to that, why can be such a powerful tool to really stoke that momentum and get out of that plateau?
[00:16:21] Morgan: Absolutely. And then when you couple that with like, you know, sometimes he might feel exhausted with the idea of going out on a shoot, you've already funded a bunch of your own shoots and you don't feel like funding another one right now where you can't.
[00:16:35] Morgan: So I, or you just like mentally, or like, I just feel like doing something a little different right now, trying to tease out the thing you do feel like doing, like, maybe you feel. Taking your pictures and putting them into a beautiful layout or making a series of prints and getting them framed up or organizing an event around what you've created so far.
[00:16:57] Morgan: I do that a lot with film editing where it's like, I don't feel like [00:17:00] weeding through a thousand video clips today. But I do feel like. Listening to a bunch of music and trying to pick out music tracks that I want to put in my film. So I'll spend a couple hours doing that and it gets me excited again about the whole process.
[00:17:16] Morgan: So re calibrating your task list so that you pick something about your project. Feels like you can do and that you want to do. And then you can come back to those other parts of the project that, , maybe just weren't exciting you in the moment because you've now gotten fired up.
[00:17:35] Jaymi: Nice. Yeah, well said, and that I think comes up a lot in the editing process because it's so fun to be out shooting or it's so fun to show your work. And then the whole editing process is like, ah, I don't want to do this. Oh my God. Don't even get me started on captions. But there's one more thing. So we were talking earlier about how there's.
[00:17:56] Jaymi: At least two ways that people can really creatives can really feel like [00:18:00] we've plateaued and one is inside of a project or a story that we're working on. And one is inside of just our skill or our style. And we can feel like we've kind of hit. Peek of where we are, or we've hit this stride in a certain style and can feel a little bit burnt out by it.
[00:18:18] Jaymi: Like maybe you've gotten really amazing at photographing a certain species or a certain type of environment or using a certain type of equipment or set up or something. And you've you feel like you've mastered that and now it's like, well, what's next? Or you feel like you've hit a wall to.
[00:18:37] Jaymi: Your skillset, maybe you're really amazing at portraits or something. And you're like, yeah, but, but what's next. And one of the things that I think really lights a fire, I w not even, I think I know because I've watched it happen in so many people is you discover. That you can transition from photographing single images to photographing stories and really move into the storytelling side of photography [00:19:00] where you're moving away from single shots, like portraits or landscapes or macro of insects or whatever it may be.
[00:19:06] Jaymi: And you're pivoting into. Photographing other aspects of things that tell a story about maybe that one subject and all of a sudden it's like you are at the beginning starting line of everything. And that, especially for people who love to learn, I feel like that sparks this whole new thing of like, there's this whole world that I get to learn about and go experiment in and try.
[00:19:29] Jaymi: What are your thoughts about. Moving into storytelling as a motivator or that spark of inspiration and move , past skillset or style plateaus.
[00:19:39] Morgan: Yeah. I mean, I think working on storytelling is definitely helpful because immediately you go from thinking you have like one or two potential visuals to, oh my God.
[00:19:51] Morgan: There's twenty. That I could go for. And so that gets you just that possibility kind of fires you up. I think [00:20:00] not necessarily a storytelling, but it can include storytelling, but deciding to maybe step back and, and practice a different genre photography, or do a workshop in something that you thought might not have been relevant to your project.
[00:20:18] Morgan: Can kind of jog you loose creatively cause it will teach you those lighting techniques or you maybe assist more of a social humanitarian photographer and then that sparks ideas of how you can take things from that field and bring it into your project. And then that renews your excitement over how you're going to document.
[00:20:41] Morgan: What you're going to show the world about your issue. And so I think that anytime that you can find a way to inject something new into the process is really going to benefit you for getting you excited about doing the next steps again. And then it's like, oh, I've got more [00:21:00] tools in my tool kit that Make me feel able to tackle the sides of the project that I wasn't sure how to do before, because I think a lot of times that's what holds us back and dampens our enthusiasm as we.
[00:21:14] Morgan: At the beginning, we're going for all this, like low-hanging fruit, you know, and then it starts to get hard and you're just like, I don't actually think I know how to do this. And then the insecurity sets in and you're just like, I just want to like, I'll start a new project or I'm just going to go watch this Netflix series
[00:21:31] Jaymi: hahaha
[00:21:32] Morgan: going to give you that like comfort.
[00:21:35] Morgan: And so. Being willing to, to sort of decide, to take that mindset of like, oh, this could be like a new and exciting way to try to just experiment and venture into this. And then maybe you land on your track moving forward. And, and it just fuels you.
[00:21:52] Jaymi: Yeah, I love that so much. And especially the idea of maybe taking a pause from what it is that you're working on.
[00:21:58] Jaymi: In order to go [00:22:00] out on basically an inspiration hunt and look at how other photographers or filmmakers have presented their work, look at how they've maybe outlined a campaign or rolled that campaign out on social or designed their website. Or how they present their newsletter, you know, their email newsletter, there's all these ways that you can look at what other people are doing in a really cool way and think, well, how can I apply that to my conservation visual storytelling?
[00:22:31] Jaymi: And then you can take all of that kind of, all of the, the loot that you have from your inspiration hunt and come back into your project or come back into the way that you have been doing things and feel like you've got some fresh. Avenues to go explore.
[00:22:47] Morgan: Yeah. And something that I think is really important when doing that though, because it's very easy for people to be like, okay, I'm going to learn this new thing [00:23:00] and then they never get back to their projects.
[00:23:02] Morgan: Yeah,
[00:23:03] Jaymi: Educrastination.
[00:23:06] Morgan: Yeah. So I think what's really important to do. Say to yourself, I'm scheduling a shoot and do it in a way that pulls other people into it, like sources for your story. So that like you're scheduling a shoot that involves, someone else's time too. So now you've got a responsibility to actually show up and do it, and then you can.
[00:23:31] Morgan: That scheduling that shoot that part of the story that you're going to go photograph. It might help direct what, as you cation, you're going to pursue that. Not be directly related to your subject, but it's teaching you something useful or sparking ideas on how to tackle that part of your story. So you let the two kind of like inform and guide each other, but like, you gotta have that shoot scheduled because otherwise it's just something that can keep just being put off into the [00:24:00] future.
[00:24:00] Morgan: And I can't tell you, I mean, I've fallen victim to it. I know you have. I've seen so many people, not only put off their projects, but their education, because they're like, oh, I can't do that right now. I'll do it next year. And it's like, nah, you need to put that stuff down. Just make a pact with yourself that you don't have to do everything.
[00:24:22] Morgan: Just do, do one thing once you, and one educational thing to help get you to where you need to be. And
[00:24:29] Jaymi: don't make excuses. I love that that also applies to, if you have money to put in the game, then you put down money. And I did that when I was kind of struggling to work on some coyote storytelling. And I was like, you know what, I'm booking an Airbnb and I'm getting out there to go shoot.
[00:24:47] Jaymi: And I just put, 300 bucks on my credit card. I'm not canceling that, , so you put a little bit of skin in the game that way too. And that can be a big motivator to help. Well, so far we have [00:25:00] covered some really, really great ways and I kind of want to come back and summarize them. So if you are feeling like, yeah, I do feel like I've kind of hit the.
[00:25:09] Jaymi: Either a plateau or a sticking point or a rut or a something inside of my project or inside of my creativity inside of my skillset, my style. Some of the things that we've talked about are creating a pitch deck, so going and actually designing a presentation that shows everything that your project is accomplished so far where it's going from here.
[00:25:31] Jaymi: This thing that you can show people, we've talked about creating some deliverables as quick wins. So whether that is. Publishing a short version of your story or a little piece of your project as a story, or creating a page on your website that talks about the project you're working on, or an article on your blog, or even printed images that you hang on your wall, whatever it may be creating.
[00:25:55] Jaymi: Some deliverables that make you feel like you've made a little bit of. In [00:26:00] that project, a little bit of progress in that. We've talked about, if you are feeling a little bit creatively stuck with single images, embracing the idea of storytelling inside of that. So how can I look at. Visually creating more aspects of understanding around what my main subject would normally be, whether that's a species or a place or, you know, whatever it may be like.
[00:26:24] Jaymi: Okay. Well, how can I tell the story about this? And we have talked about a really great strategy. Setting an expectation that others are also helping to hold you to, which is scheduling a shoot, committing to it and looping other people into that. Is there anything that I missed that we talked about, we talked also about finding, like revisiting your why inside of all of this work.
[00:26:48] Jaymi: Is there anything else that I, that
[00:26:50] Morgan: we covered that pretty much nails? Yeah.
[00:26:53] Jaymi: Awesome. Well, do you have any last words of wisdom for those [00:27:00] moments? When folks are feeling just a little bit creatively, like they've hit a stride and they're ready to change speeds or change direction, but aren't sure how
[00:27:09] Morgan: I just want you to know that there's nothing wrong with feeling that way.
[00:27:16] Morgan: It, I think that. That's a very ugly feeling that can seep in is this feeling of guilt. And then it makes you feel like ashamed and like you're not worthy or letting people or the issues down or that you weren't genuine going into the whole thing. And just know that. This is something that we all go through at some point, and we have to push through the parts that aren't just fun or inspiring.
[00:27:47] Morgan: And it's okay to, to get into those ruts. The big thing is to, if you really care about what you're doing and why you went into. Giving yourself the [00:28:00] opportunity to try to get out of that rut and move on because the thing you're going to then have is regret. If you didn't do that. So which is gonna, it's gonna, it's gonna lead to a spiral of guilt and regret and level was like, yeah, that's no fun.
[00:28:13] Morgan: That sounds like way less fun than so, so just know that like we all go through it. There's ways to get out of it. And you know, to at least try and if. You try and you're just like, it's not working for you or you just find you don't really, your feelings have changed. You're going to have to give yourself permission to be okay with that
[00:28:34] Jaymi: too.
[00:28:36] Jaymi: and that's a whole nother topic too, is it's okay to go ahead and let go of projects or let go of, of a way of like trying to photograph something or like a visual storytelling style or direction or stories that you thought you were going to work on a project or whatever. Sometimes those don't pan out and it's okay.
[00:28:55] Jaymi: That's all right. You can let it go. And it's really hard, but you have permission to [00:29:00] do that when you've, when you've tried your best and things shift. Okay. That's all right.
[00:29:05] Morgan: Yeah. Yeah. I'd say the only time it's like really a problem is if that just becomes like what you keep doing over and over and over again, then, then it's something that you definitely, I think need to work on.
[00:29:15] Morgan: Figure out why your. Ending up that way. But if it's, this one time or, you know, you've really, really tried, , you definitely need to give yourself permission to know, when it's time to move to something.
[00:29:29] Jaymi: Yeah, that is a wonderful note to wrap up onto is that permission to try to experiment, to move on if you need to, whatever the case may be.
[00:29:40] Jaymi: Well, Morgan is always thank you for lending all of Your insights and your perspectives to other creatives. It's always a joy to talk with you about this stuff and nerd out on it. Yeah. Thank you for letting me
[00:29:52] Morgan: nerd out on it saves my husband from having to listen to it all
[00:29:57] Jaymi: any time, any time.[00:30:00]