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When Inspiration Wanes, Dissolved by Depression

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

There are times when even the hobby I love just does not have that tug at my heartstrings that it normally would. The best thing I could do is go out and shoot anyway, for the sake of being outside, not focussed on getting great images; those happen on their own sometimes, if you give them a chance.

Above: A fisherman on the rocks at the Blue Lagoon Pier, Durban.

Depression Isn't Just Melancholy

Most Saturday mornings, my wife (Leeanne) does a park run at the beachfront in Durban. I either go cycling or surfing if I tag along, or am off on a hike. This past Saturday morning was no different for her, but I just wasn't feeling it.

"Feeling what?" you may ask.


This is the manifestation of depression that most don't realise is a symptom. I was not sad, and negative. I was just numb. Flatline. Apathetic. Emotionless. Some would argue that this is not depression, especially psychiatrists who, have not themselves actually experienced it. The textbook cannot be wrong, though, considering how it is able to reach into every individual brain and know what's going on, right? Anyway, I digress. Sometimes I think that flatline is worse than being sad; at least with sadness, something is felt.

Is feeling not the essence of humanity after all? If we don't feel anything from our interpretation of external stimuli, what is the point really?

So, I go out and shoot anyway! I go for the sake of being out in the world even though it's hard to lug my gluteus out of bed in these states. Given my love for photography, my camera is with me, because should the image appear, I want to be ready to capture it. This is where the 'rules' of photography come in a little. I am a firm believer that rules like the exposure triangle and compositional rules etc., are guidelines. At the competition level, yes, they take priority, but for the sake of images that I love, they are there to be bent when needed. That said, and to share a little view of the 'depressed' mind, my creative eye takes a nap. Those things in the world that I have learned to see that I didn't before, go into hibernation. I even feel it in the way I write. The lack of emotion shines through. These times are when I look at a scene, and I can see there is potential, but not exactly what the composition is just yet. So I revert to the 'rules'. I do this so that when I get home and look at the photo again, I feel a little less like kicking myself for not taking that extra step to the left to get the subject on the third (rule of thirds) for example. I also make sure to capture a zoomed-out shot of the scene to leave room for cropping later.

There is a really good series on Netflix called 'Spinning Out' about a competitive figure skater, her family and their struggle with mental health. No spoilers here, but there is a specific scene where the protagonist's mum says, "…love isn't always an emotion for people like us. It has to be a decision." This made a lot of sense to me. I used to think I was too robotic in nature at times. Heartless and devoid of emotion. In some instances, I thought it was a good thing like we used to be taught that you need to be in business or at work. It was only when I started truly experiencing the good weeks when I didn't need to think to feel, that I realised how much I was missing. Not my choice, unfortunately. Now I just know when to expect the changes and understand better why it is what it is at a given time. I have been living by this mantra these days:

"You can't fight the waves, but you can learn to surf."

- Jon Kabat-Zinn

All I am saying is, give people the benefit of the doubt. When you think that a person is strange, and judge them, take a minute to think that whether diagnosed or not, the way this person interprets and processes the world is likely different from the way you do.

Seeing the World: A Tale of Infinite Potential

I talk a lot about learning to see. I have not really delved into the mechanics or evolution of that skill. What I mean is that as much as I do see potential sometimes, my brain does not always allow my heart to help reveal the final image to my eyes, especially during a depressive phase. Thankfully my ups and downs cycle roughly on a week-in, week-out basis. For a lot of bipolar people, it can be months to years.

Herein we have another wonderful aspect of photography. As much as photography gives us the ability to freeze moments in time, capture the world as it was at that moment and as it never will be ever again, it also allows me to capture the world I saw and later relive it the way I had wished it had felt the day I took the shot.

Right: The Lacklustre RAW image of the scene. 'Adobe Standard' profile applied in Lightroom Classic.

Let's take a look at the RAW image here to the right. RAW files are known to appear flat until you edit them. This is a great analogy for the view through eyes tinted by depression. It is not always grey or black, but sometimes just lacklustre. Without oomph!.

The shot is terribly angled; I mean, look at that horizon, but I know I can correct that in post. I don't normally let that happen. On that day, I did not really fully care for the details, also very unusual for me, who is normally a perfectionist in the worst of ways. There were fishermen all around me and a concoction of mushed sardines on the floor mixed with salt water that sprayed over the rocks. It made for a repugnant, slick surface for my feet and tripod alike. I was also attempting to dodge crashing waves. A few times, I had to play Kevin Costner to my Nikon 'Whitney Houston' Z6ii. (This is a pop-culture reference to 'The Bodyguard', I don't actually call my camera Whitney although I-IIIIIII-I will always love yoooooou, my camera not Whitney)😅.

Then let's pick out the major issues I can see in the image.

The shadows are too dark, I am too lazy to take a bracketed exposure, or multiple images to blend later in this instance. The sky has potential, but the highlights are strong. My ND filters are all the way over theeeeere 😒. The foreground is kinda okay-ish, but nothing to write home about. Maybe after some cropping and repositioning, we will get something. At least there is the sun coming through the clouds, and light glowing down onto the water and the rocks, lets get that as central as we can. Let me create some movement and interest in the midground, seeing as that foreground is not amazing. Shutter speed, click, click. A few more tweaks in-camera. Some exposure compensation, and SNAP!

Neo exits stage left and says to Leeanne, "I am just not feeling it today, let's go."

Little did I know that whilst waiting for her to finish her park run, I would snap what I feel has potential to be a portfolio image, whilst sitting on the beach sipping coffee and people watching.

Rules to Preserve Potential

Left: The potential I saw but did not feel at the time.

From the onset there were obvious things that I wanted to change.

In red: Dirt spots are par for the course, worse so at the sea. An ugly scratch from my lens, which is second hand and the blown-out sun. Not highlighted but also needing help, the shadows in the rocks that are too dark.

There was also potential though:

In yellow: a leading line of sunlight that could take us through the image from the rocks, through the ocean, to the sun. It just needed to be brought out. Some overall warmth needed to be added too

In blue: The movement of the water, but needing to be accentuated by some manipulation of contrast, maybe some dodging and burning.

A couple of tweaks to contrast, white balance and saturation; and....

The Version I Wished to Have Experienced & Prefer to Relive

Above: Not perfectly balanced, not technically perfect, but alas, a feeling is evoked despite the lack thereof on the day. Not one I will be entering into competition, but plenty of meaning for me personally. I could only do so much in post to lower the sun's hilights. Technically not blown out according to the histogram but still too bright I feel.

The moral of this story is that there is always potential, even if you cannot feel it at the time. Unfortunately, for people like me, and others with and without mental health challenges, these moments happen. Don't discard those days. Get out, take in the world and shoot some frames. Give it a chance, worst-case scenario, you go back home, erase the memory card and have not taken any steps backward really. In fact, you have gained some photographic experience. Every shot counts.

Until next time...

You Bipolaroid Photographer 🙂📸

Below: A few more images from last weekend. The first one is quickly becoming one of my favourite images. Maybe even a portfolio image. It's actually still in its 'pickling' stage (more about that in future articles, but basically, I am waiting a while before relooking at it for final edits, before entering it in any salons.) Gotta let a great steak rest!

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