Optimal growth and development occurs when you are outside your comfort zone.
The concept of a comfort zone is a useful one. Your comfort zone encompasses everything you already know, can do readily, people and places you know, and such. When we are within our comfort zone we are, as it goes, comfortable. It is a nice place to be, except when you are trying to develop.
Outside of your comfort zone is everything you do not feel comfortable doing, techniques you do not happily use, aesthetics you do not like, as well everything you do not already know, understand and have integrated into yourself.
If you are interested in growth and development, whether artistically, photographically, in business or in your personal life, you need to step outside of your comfort zone. By stepping outside our comfort zone we expose ourselves to new things, new ideas and new experiences and eventually we make them our own. This expands our comfort zone, which is what growth is about. You have pushed your own boundaries, expanding them in the process.
Now there is an interesting thing about comfort zones. Step too fact outside of it and you risk the ‘Oh my God, I can’t deal with this’ response. How far varies from person to person and time and situation and so you must know yourself. The OMG reaction sets you back, people retreat back into their comfort zone and sometimes don’t step out again for some time.
So what you want to do is get yourself out of your comfort zone as far as you can without provoking the OMG response. After you’ve been out there for a while you will find your zone has expanded and you can push further.
Photographically and artistically, our comfort zone includes the tools we regularly use, the techniques we use, the subject matter we like to shoot and the places we shoot. Pushing our envelope can be trying a new lens or filter, a new processing technique, using different software, shooting in a new way, tackling new subject matter (always been scared of shooting people, for example), trying some new ideas on composition or image design, etc.
Note that just because you bring an artistic style or technique within your comfort zone this doesn’t mean that you will necessarily like it or want to use it in your own work. What it means is that the blanket fear and hate of it will tone down and you’ll see it as a valid approach, just perhaps not for you, at least at the present.