4 Steps to Overcome a Creative Block in Food Photography

4 Steps to Overcome a Creative Block in Food Photography | What do you do if our arch nemesis strikes whilst we are shooting? Even worse, you’re on set and the client is watching you struggle! Check out these 4 steps that’ll have you back on your photography game in no time.
4 Steps to Overcome a Creative Block in Food Photography | What do you do if our arch nemesis strikes whilst we are shooting? Even worse, you’re on set and the client is watching you struggle! Check out these 4 steps that’ll have you back on your photography game in no time.

Oh the good ol’ creative block. The arch nemesis of any creative that has been known to bring a certain grown woman to her knees on the studio floor, (ha hmm – not naming any names). It’s something all food photographers will face, so learning how to overcome a creative block in food photography with grace, especially when you are on set, is an important part of your photography journey.

In this post, I wanted to share with you the four steps that I take to overcome a creative block in food photography, especially when I am on set shooting.


So you can go from less than amazing, (almost terribly boring and mediocre imagery) to the stuff you create that makes you quietly fist pump in the corner when no one is looking.

From this.

Two-Loves-Studio-Overcome a Creative Block in Food Photograph

To this.

Two-Loves-Studio-Overcome a Creative Block in Food Photograph

It’s been said that creativity is maximised when you are living in the moment. Creative blocks can therefore strike at any time when you aren’t doing just that, (which if you’ve ever actively practised mindfulness, is just about all the darn time). So inevitably, creative blocks tend to occur when you can least afford to them like when you’re on set shooting or have a up coming deadline. If this happens to you, you can’t exactly just pack up and try again another day. Can you imagine? “Sorry guys, not feeling it today, let’s rain check” , you’d never be hired again.

It seems to me that the more you have going on in your life and the more that is on your mind, the more creative blocks you will encounter. I go through ‘seasons’ of creative blocks, where they tend to linger for what feels like months on and off. I never want to let these blocks get the better of me or break my soul as they often seem to do, regardless of whether I am shooting personal work or paid commissions so I have a little plan of action that gets me (off the floor and) back to shooting something of substance!

Two-Loves-Studio-Overcome a Creative Block in Food Photography

4 Steps to Overcome A Creative Block in Food Photography (and on Set)

Step 1 – Disconnect From The Emotional Barrier

When a creative block strikes, so to does a barrage of nasty horrible thoughts. That little voice in your head goes to town on how shit you really are, and look at the proof right in front of you – you suck! STOP.

The foundation to getting on with the shoot is too disconnect from those thoughts and any meaning your brain attaches to the fact you aren’t able to produce quality work right now. How you disconnect is a pretty personal thing. Some will take a walk, make a cuppa, do some exercise, shop online, search Youtube for the latest montage of cats being ridiculous, it’s endless. But when you’re on set shooting and have a team of people working (and waiting) for you, not all of them are going to share your affinity for cats.

Forcing isn’t going to create anything beyond mediocre ~ Ben Skinner

To disconnect and maintain your professionalism, you first need to get over the emotional barrier you are experiencing. Take a step back and remember to tell yourself that nothing lasts forever, and this too shall pass.

Step 2 – Tell Yourself, You (f*ing) CAN!

The best way to disconnect from negative emotions is to tell yourself that YOU CAN. You can do this. Of course you can! I know that I always get through a creative block and I end up shooting something that I am proud of. It might not always be in the direction I originally set out in, but getting something of substance is better than getting nothing at all. Especially when someone is paying you to produce. You never want to turn up with nothing.

Any time that little voice gets in my ear about how this wouldn’t happen to a ‘real’ photographer and I should just quit, I take a breath and repeat to myself:

You can. You always do. You will.

I don’t just believe that I can, I actively tell myself I can.

Two-Loves-Studio-Overcome a Creative Block in Food Photography

Step 3 – Start Over Begin Again

Once you’ve actively addressed all that fun stuff, it’s time to get into action around how you are going to get back into producing quality work. For whatever reason, you’ve got to a point where you aren’t meeting the brief and forcing it is only leading you to mediocre. At this point, I start again. I physically take the set apart, remove the food and lay all the props back out in front of me.

I ignore the inspiration or mood board images and just go with it (whatever ‘that’ is, that I have mustered up since separating myself from judgement). Essentially, I change direction and shoot something that feels good, looks good and gives me back confidence.

I need to sort of tear down everything I’ve done and rebuild from scratch ~ Steve Soderbergh

Step 4 – Build Back Up

Once I have some confidence back on my side, I then start to tackle the brief again (if I have one). If I am shooting for a personal project, I have more freedom and so will just pursue the new direction if I am happy with it. If I am shooting for a brief and I have the client or team on set, they may want to keep moving in the new direction or are inspired to create a variation of the original concept.

From there, things almost always just work and my ass has been saved.

The Evidence – The Process In Action

The most recent struggle I had was with my Black + White Chocolate Cake shoot I did for my personal project Black + White Food Photography. This was my inspiration image and boy did I struggle.

Pre Step 1 + 2. This was all I could muster up during my creative block. Horrendous right? Who am I? (I’ve got to say though, this does make me laugh).

Two-Loves-Studio-Overcome a Creative Block in Food Photography

Two-Loves-Studio-Overcome a Creative Block in Food Photography

Two-Loves-Studio-Overcome a Creative Block in Food Photography

Step 3. To get my confidence back up, I totally changed direction and shot this.

Two-Loves-Studio-Overcome a Creative Block in Food Photography

Two-Loves-Studio-Overcome a Creative Block in Food Photography

Two-Loves-Studio-Overcome a Creative Block in Food Photography

Post Step 4. The slices were exactly what I need to get me back to the concept I had envisioned and some work I really enjoy.

Two-Loves-Studio-Overcome a Creative Block in Food Photography

Two-Loves-Studio-Overcome a Creative Block in Food Photography

Two-Loves-Studio-Overcome a Creative Block in Food Photography

I hope this post has given you the tools to overcome the next time a creative block comes your way! If you have any techniques that you use in the situation, I’d love to hear them so please share.

4 Steps to Overcome a Creative Block in Food Photography | What do you do if our arch nemesis strikes whilst we are shooting? Even worse, you’re on set and the client is watching you struggle! Check out these 4 steps that’ll have you back on your photography game in no time.
4 Steps to Overcome a Creative Block in Food Photography | What do you do if our arch nemesis strikes whilst we are shooting? Even worse, you’re on set and the client is watching you struggle! Check out these 4 steps that’ll have you back on your photography game in no time.

You Might Also Like

20 Comments

  • Reply Marisa Franca @ All Our Way April 14, 2016 at 8:36 pm

    Hi Rachael! I sure do learn a lot every time a read your posts. I also study your photos — a lot. Right now you have your camera and settings figured out — I’m still at that learning curve plus wanting to arrange my shot so that I’m satisfied. Whew!! a lot going especially when hubby is ready to eat the meal. Do you have a light tent for the dark moody shot? I believe I’m going to have to figure how to get my shots so that I have a backdrop. You see, otherwise I have a lot of distractions in the background and trying to get a shot without all of the “other things” sometimes makes the shot too tight. But I’m learning and I’m learning a lot from you. Thank you!! Have a great day.

    • Reply Rachel April 21, 2016 at 9:09 pm

      Hey Marisa, I don’t have a light tent. I prefer to use natural light of my Profoto B1. It can be hard to shoot certain angles when there are a lot of distractions in the background, often doesn’t give you the feeling you are after so a backdrop definitely helps!

  • Reply Angelica Talen April 17, 2016 at 7:03 pm

    Wow, I can so relate to this of late… Go down to Denmark on holiday? Great photos. Catch my cat napping in the afternoon light? Got a great spontaneous shot. But make a batch of shortcrust pastry, bake a tart from scratch, style an autumn-themed shoot with great potential? Photos turn out like they were taken on an instant camera.

    I made, styled and photographed that flipping tart on THREE separate occasions before I came up with something remotely good enough! As you say, it really pays to leave your preconceived ideas at the door if they’re not working, take a deep breath and start to build your stage again. And it always helps know that you’re not alone when it comes to creative frustration…

    • Reply Rachel April 21, 2016 at 9:10 pm

      I totally agree Angelica, it’s nice to know that we’re all in the same boat. Funny how shoots turn out sometimes! Nice to see you around here.

  • Reply Sarah @ Wandercooks April 19, 2016 at 9:30 am

    Haha Rach, your posts make me laugh (in a good way of course!) because I can totally relate. I’ll set something up and start shooting and be saying in my head – it’s crap, oh it’s so sh*t…what is that even? Why? No.

    So then I do a couple of things. 1) I take a slow breath and close my eyes. 2) I move my feet – is it the angle? Or the setup? If I need to go to 3) I’ll head back over to my props or background and see what I can change to improve it by asking myself – why aren’t I happy with it? Where’s the issue I need to improve?

    Sometimes I feel like I need to get a couple of the staged and crappy shots out the way in order to break down that ‘okay’ barrier and hit the fist pump mode that is oh-so-good when you get there.

    You’re totally right though – wanting to be better is key. The determination and the drive to know that you can do it and be better is what what keeps me picking that camera up every. single. day.

    • Reply Rachel April 21, 2016 at 9:12 pm

      Oh that’s too funny! Glad you can relate. It sounds like your quite composed when shooting and things don’t work out which is a really good skill to have!

  • Reply Katelyn Williams April 22, 2016 at 9:30 pm

    I loved reading this post, mostly for your frank honesty and admitting that you too have creative blocks! So now it feels totally normal for the rest of us 🙂 Thanks for the great post!

    • Reply Rachel April 23, 2016 at 4:07 pm

      Hey Katelyn! I know, I know, I am human too. It’s a good reminder cause hey, we all started at the same place and well, even if some of us won’t admit it, we all go through the same thoughts, emotions and hurdles. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  • Reply Vaida April 27, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    whoooah!!! I aboslutely love this post! That’s so on point, and yeah – very helpful! Girl, you’re an inspiration! I love your photography, the style, aesthetics and the whole vibe. TOP notch! 🙂
    Vaida | http://www.donttellanyone.net/blog

    • Reply Rachel April 28, 2016 at 6:52 am

      Well Vaida, you are a day maker! Stoked to hear how helpful this was for you. I think it’s super handy to know how to deal with these situations as they always come up when you can least afford them too.

  • Reply Claire @ The Simple, Sweet Life May 16, 2016 at 4:52 pm

    Great post Rachel! I feel like I’ve been right there, in that mental spot you’re talking about, SO many times. As of late, in particular, life has been hectic and I’ve felt the residual stress creeping into my work leading to untold hours of frustration and disappointment. Thanks for the reminder to take a step back! 😀

    • Reply Rachel May 18, 2016 at 10:10 pm

      Hey Claire, me too! I especially feel this when I am stressed and attached to an outcome. I have to use this often. Hope it works for you and keep moving!

  • Reply Tanya May 31, 2016 at 10:11 pm

    Great article, thanks for sharing! We can all use insight on how to overcome that dreaded creative block. I’ve just started making contact with potential clients for commercial food shoots…any advice on how to land my first client? Thanks in advance and have a lovely day!

    • Reply Rachel June 2, 2016 at 12:45 pm

      We sure can Tanya! Yes getting clients. Such a huge topic and a never ending learning curve. Something I’d love to talk about on the blog when I can figure out how to make it actionable for people. Glad you found this helpful.

  • Reply Carlos Leo June 12, 2016 at 12:32 am

    Hello Rachel,
    I love all your tips. They are very valuable. Do you have all those tips in e-books? or in PDF? I would love to print them. Thank you for helping us to get better. BIG THANK YOU!

    • Reply Rachel June 14, 2016 at 11:15 am

      Hey Carlos! I am so pleased! Creative blocks are the worst, but bound to happen so accepting them and working through them is the most important part. Currently, I don’t and I am working towards putting some ecourses together. My inbox is always open if you want to send me ideas of things you would like to see available on/via the blog – twolovesstudio [at] gmail [dot] com.

  • Reply Janelle June 12, 2016 at 3:34 pm

    Hey Rachel!
    I have just discovered your gorgeous blog today and I love! Your photography and style is just beautiful. Thankyou so much for
    being so generous and sharing your tips and tricks with us!! Looking forward to seeing more of your work!!
    Janelle xx

    • Reply Rachel June 14, 2016 at 11:17 am

      Hey Janelle! Thank you so much for taking the time to explore. Pleased to have you here. It’s great to be able to give back and allow others to shine, like people have done before me. Looking forward to having you on the journey and please do let me know if you have any ideas of things you’d like to see on the blog.

  • Reply Paula Casimiro August 24, 2016 at 2:09 am

    Hi Rachel!
    I just discovered your blog today and I love it. Thank you for sharing so much information.
    This post in particular might well be what I needed to read. I have a food blog as a hobby, mainly, and for the last year or so I could see my photography evolving and I was full of motivation. Now I need to take another jump from where I am and where I want to be, to take the kind of pictures I love to see, and it’s not working so well. A lot of trial and error, a lot of pictures taken just to be deleted afterwards and a terrible sense of “maybe I can’t do it”. So, thank you for this post and some others that I just read and that are so useful for me at this moment.
    Have a lovely day!
    Paula

    • Reply Rachel August 24, 2016 at 9:45 am

      Hey Paula, so lovely to have you around here for the journey. We all take crappy photos! Even the best photographers. The hit rate of keepers will always be love, but you only need a couple of stellar images, rather than a tonne of mediocre ones. Every crappy photo you get out of the way makes more room for better ones as you learn and progress. We all had to start somewhere. I hope this post helps you to know you can do it!

    Leave a Reply

    Take my FREE 7-Day Food Photography Email Course
    x

    FREE 7-DAY EMAIL COURSE​

    BOOST YOUR SKILLS + BECOME THE SUPERSTAR FOOD PHOTOGRAPHER YOU'VE ALWAYS WANTED TO BE!