Breaking Free from a Creative Rut

Photography is a muscle, the more you use it the better you become AND if you don’t use it, you lose it.

Lucy Magdalene — © 2021, Thomas Ott

Warning: The following images below the fold are NSFW. Not because they’re porn, but because they show the female nipple and partially covered pubic hair.


I’m stuck in a creative rut and I need to break free. I felt like an anchor has weighed me down for many years and I’m cutting it loose. Finally!

There was a time when photography liberated me and I made wonderful photos but somewhere along the way, I became an iPhone snapper. I stopped “making” photos and started “taking” photos.

I don’t know where I went wrong or how it happened. Perhaps it was life or something more sinister, but after my existential crisis, I’ve decided to make a conscious effort to get out of this rut.

I need to break free and start shooting again, not for others but for me.

The sad thing is that I feel like I’m starting all over again, and that’s OK. Photography is a muscle, the more you use it the better you become AND if you don’t use it, you lose it.

When my friend Lee asked me to come down and help fill out a model’s time he booked, I said “Ok.” This was in May of this year, just over a year into this pandemic, and two years since I shot anything of quality.

Lee was running a “Lighting the Nude” workshop and he wanted to make it worth her while to be there. So instead of hiring her for 2 hours, he asked our friend Harold and me to come down and work with her for two more hours.

Modeling is a tough gig and nude models’ fees range from $80-$150 an hour. While $150 sounds like a lot of money, it isn’t when you consider their travel time, prep time, and all the other time a model spends before the first photo is made.

On top of that, there were two more reasons why I wanted to do this, see my friends again and work with the talented and wonderful model and photographer Lucy Magdalene.

So I packed up my gear, bought some film, and drove down to Pennsylvania with my trusty medium format camera and my DSLR.

The Shoot

Before the pandemic shutdown, I shot mostly street photography. It was a safe way to repress a lot of my desires and I wanted to explore what the mean streets of NYC and other places had to offer. While that was fun, it never really connected with me over the past decade as much as I wanted it to. What did connect with me and what I actively suppressed was erotic photography.

While that subject is for another post and story altogether, there was a time when I did single/couples boudoir photography and made erotic work with fantastic models.

Note: Most of that work isn’t online and I can’t share it as I’m very discreet and respectful of my client’s privacy.

For this gig, I wanted to shoot mostly with medium format film and experiment with double exposures. Making double and triple exposures is easy on my Mamiya RZ but I never did it before. I thought working with Lucy would be a great way to try it out.

The top two images in the photo gallery (below) are on film and the rest is digital.

Lucy Magdalene — © 2021, Thomas Ott
Lucy Magdalene — © 2021, Thomas Ott
Lucy Magdalene — © 2021, Thomas Ott
Lucy Magdalene — © 2021, Thomas Ott

The result is that film is always visually appealing to me. There’s nothing like the color rendering of Portra 400, it remains one of my favorite negative films ever, BUT, and this is a big but, it’s too damn expensive now. Each frame of film cost me $3 for film, development, and scan. Add in the model’s time, the drive down there, and it turned into an expensive get-together.

Still, there’s nothing like the look of Lucy on film. She just rocks it.

Where do we go from here?

What do I want to do with my photography going forward? I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure that out but I need to just step up and start shooting again.

The hardest part is coming out of that cave I’ve been hiding in and making the switch from an iPhone snapper back to a maker of photos.

Wish me luck.

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