Peter McCollough: Ideas for Breaking Out of a Creative Drought

Fellow Leica users and enthusiasts,

Creative droughts are natural, but it’s good to have the ability to get yourself out of them sooner rather than later. One way to help facilitate that is to write your future-self a letter. So I thought I’d try to gather all the pieces of advice that have stuck with me in my short time as a photographer (plenty of clichés included) into a list that, one uninspired day, I might need. And please, I’d love for anyone who feels compelled to add to the list to do so in the comments section. It would be much appreciated.

  • Hesitation is destruction.
  • Addition is often a process of subtraction.
  • Go as deep as you can with what you’re doing.
  • Let your camera follow your life instead of having your life follow the camera.
  • Think of photographs as compliments and love letters.
  • Relationships are more important than photographs.
  • Rejection is normal, don’t be afraid of it.
  • Welcome failure because it leads to growth.
  • Don’t worry about the answers, you’ll never find them until you embrace the questions.
  • Success is a byproduct of something bigger than itself so don’t pursue it.
  • Confront your anxieties and fears by leaving your comfort zone.
  • Don’t repeat yourself.
  • Don’t worry about your work being bad or good – completion is all that matters.
  • Stay away from imitating others (know the difference between inspiration and imitation).
  • Know yourself.
  • Challenge everything and do so with humility.
  • Your subconscious is like a secret factory, if you feed it good things than good things will probably come out.

  • Stop thinking and go out and produce and produce and produce…
  • Two weeks with a great mentor is probably equivalent to two years of school.
  • What you surround yourself with will often dictate who you become.
  • Photography is not about photography (photographs about photographs are boring).
  • Examine your intentions carefully and stay true to the original idea.
  • Make friends with people who aren’t photographers.
  • Becoming a “great” photographer is a lifetime achievement.
  • Sentimentality is the opposite of cynicism and try to keep both out of your work.
  • Let your work breathe. When you have completed it, lock it away and come back to it at a later date with fresh eyes.
  • Sometimes you need to let go in order to have something return.
  • Everything is subjective.
  • People are constantly re-writing their memory.
  • Know when and when not to show your work to people. Give ongoing projects a healthy incubation period before sharing them.
  • Go for walks when you feel stuck.
  • Fake it until you make it!
  • Always trust your gut.

– Peter McCollough

Peter Earl McCollough was born in Billings, Montana, in 1982 and grew up in Davis, California. Shortly after turning 18, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps where he served from 2000-2004. After being honorably discharged he began studying photography in Sacramento. In 2008, after transferring to Ohio University, he received a Bachelor of Science in Visual Communication with an emphasis in Photojournalism. He is currently a freelance photographer and aspiring cinematographer based in San Francisco. In his off time he likes to paint and work on his street photography. More photos can be seen on his website,

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  • Wow. This should be required reading for photographers. It is a good antidote to the barrage of photographic propaganda out there that is trying to convince us that if only we had the latest camera, or multiple late-model flashes, we also could be as good as those celebrities. Very refreshing to see someone emphasizing creativity and not gear.

  • Just my words, my photolife and my intention witth photo and my life.
    Thank you!

  • Just my words, my photolife and my intention with photo and my life.
    Thank you!

  • Hi Peter
    Excellent and comprehensive list. Thank you. May I add one extra idea? Collaboration. Get together with a like minded artist, choose a project and trust in each others’ creative judgement and artistic sensibilities. I’ve done this with triple exposures on film and on images illustrating haiku. It’s about letting go of control and being part of a bigger idea. Then you return to your own work, re-energised. Regards

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