METHODS TO FIND PHOTOGRAPHY INSPIRATION AND CREATE MINDFUL PHOTOGRAPHY
If you read my previous article about finding inspiration in fine art photography, the first in this series about photography inspiration, you know I had much more to say about this subject than what I could fit into that article. This is the continuation of the thoughts and ideas I presented in the first part. In this article, I will go even further by talking about advanced methods to find photography inspiration and create the best fine art photography.
Even after writing this article, I still have quite a few more ideas about the subject, so you can expect at least one more article from me about how to find photography inspiration. If you want to not miss it subscribe to my website to receive it as soon as I publish it.
There is one more reason you may want to become a subscriber. In a few days, I’ll be launching my next international (en)Visionography workshop where we will study in-depth fine art black and white photography and black and white photography post-processing and you will learn how to create (en)Visionography. My subscribers will receive a special discount for the workshop even before the workshop becomes public to be sure you get the best offer and you make sure you secure your spot before the workshop is launched to everybody else. My international workshops tend to sell out very quickly so securing a spot before the workshop goes public is a good idea if you want to attend.
Now, back to our subject. Let’s talk more about what are some methods to find photography inspiration.
Inspiration and the act of finding it is a vast subject, one that we could talk about four hours, days, or even years. This is one of the main subjects we are studying with my students in my workshops and mentoring courses. It is such an important subject because inspiration is closely connected to finding your vision and creating photography that expresses your own beliefs and style, photography that can be original and different from anything else you can see out there.
This article is meant as a collection of suggestions, of pieces of advice I can give you from my own experience, and the experience of my students and other artists on how to find inspiration and how to have a great time doing it.
Yes, it’s fine to have fun when creating your photography. Actually, that is the point – we do photography because we love it and when you do something you love, you do it better and you feel better when doing it.
WHAT IS MINDFUL PHOTOGRAPHY
If I were to give only one piece of advice on how to find inspiration for photography, or for anything else for that matter, this would be it.
One of the best ways to find inspiration for your photography is to learn to be mindful, or what I call creating “Mindful Photography”.
Mindful photography is the photography you create when you are aware of the ideas and emotions you want to communicate through your photographs. It requires you to look at yourself and understand who you are as an individual and an artist and take that knowledge and awareness and incorporate it into your photography.
Creating Mindful Photography means expressing yourself as an artist at the highest level and being the most truthful to what you believe and what you stand for in your life and your photography. It may look like a difficult task, and it may seem vague and challenging to attain this state, but it is at its core the reason we create art.
We create art to express who we are, and we can only know who we are if we are mindful and present. To express something, we need to know first what that “something” is. In fine art photography, we narrate our experiences but to understand what our experiences are, we need to be mindful of us having those experiences. We need to be aware of how we react to the stimuli we encounter in our lives so we can use those reactions and the things we learn by having those experiences to create a message that we will incorporate in our photography work.
If you are familiar with the concept of Mindful Meditation or of Mindfulness, which is in a few words the idea of bringing yourself to the present moment to be aware of what you are living in that moment and not travel with your mind to the past or present instead, Mindful Photography is very close to that concept. It may look complicated to understand the concept of creating mindfully, but, once you do, it becomes simple because you understand that when you are mindful, you can have very powerful experiences since you let yourself be aware of what you are living. And being aware helps you understand what exactly out of those experiences you want to incorporate in your photography.
This is a subject I will be coming back to in the future because this idea deserves an article of its own to elaborate on everything Mindful Photography related, but for now, I’ll touch on a few things that ho[efully will already give you the inspiration to research further and practice in your own photography.
I can tell you that my most powerful experiences have come through photography. I have never felt as free in my life as I feel when I’m doing photography.
Freedom is my creed, and that is what I search for in this world – freedom to experience everything and to be able to take from this life I have been given as many things as possible.
I consider myself privileged for having the chance to live in this amazing world we live in. So many people didn’t have this chance, but I am among those who did, and I can only feel gratitude for that. Having the freedom to experience this world is my most precious gift, and I experience this freedom most powerfully through photography. We photographers are fortunate to be able to use this medium to express what we think and feel and I truly feel privileged to have photography as my tool to explore the world. I see it as a way of living, or as my sixth sense. Photography has given me the most powerful mindful experiences, and I am sure that many of you feel the same. This is why I’m talking about Mindful Photography because the photography I am making comes out of this mindful experience I have while living in this world.
I’m sure some of you will find what I’m saying now as difficult to understand or as not having a lot to do with the act of photographing. But bear with me, because the way I see photography is an expression of life and not only the act of taking photos. Anybody can take photos, but creating photography means putting yourself into those photographs you make. For me, the most powerful way of doing it is to be mindful and put my experiences mindfully in my work. Photography is about being aware and truly opening your eyes. Actually, life is about opening your eyes and being aware of what you are living, and photography is an expression of that.
One of the most important reasons why being mindful helps you find more easily inspiration to create your photography is because when you are mindful, when you are aware of where you are, of what you do and what that means to you, when you are aware of who you are and what your mission is in this world, you are more able to find things around you that will give you inspiration and the incentive to create.
When you are mindful, you live in the present moment and your attention is acute. You understand your thoughts better, you are able to notice your feelings and emotions, you are more receptive to the stimuli you find around you that can inspire you to create. When you are mindful, you see the beauty, you see the passion, you understand the meaning of the things you look at and the things happening in front of you.
When you are mindful, you can concentrate on what is in front of you, and you can connect much easier with what you photograph. You can be open to new things and ideas and you can make connections in your mind more easily. When you are mindful, you can identify much better with the photographs you edit. You can understand with more clarity how you can connect the dots between your ideas and the image in front of you on the screen and how you can put into practice in the best way the things you have learned about how to use your tools.
When you are mindful, you can access that state of being “in the zone” or being “in the flow” that is specific, as it has been scientifically demonstrated, to the act of creation.
This is why I could say that aiming to be mindful is my best advice on how to find your way in fine art photography, and generally, one of the best methods to find photography inspiration in any genre.
UNDERSTAND HOW IMPORTANT IT IS TO FIND YOUR OWN PATH IN PHOTOGRAPHY
If you take a look at the world of photography, you will see that lately, we have a serious problem with the lack of originality. Wherever you look, you see too many photographs that look alike.
One of the reasons this is happening is that everybody is shooting the same things from the same angles and applying the same techniques – shooting techniques and post-processing techniques. Very frequently, when a photographer creates a certain interesting style, too many others are replicating that style without adding much to it. They don’t do it only to learn something from it but many times because they cannot think of anything else.
In short, there is a lot of imitation, and that comes from the fact that many photographers don’t know how or where to find inspiration. My hope with this article is to help those photographers and everybody else to find new ways of finding photography inspiration so they can create art that they are proud of, art that is original and that represents their own vision.
We, as individuals, as artists, are different from anybody else. We all have a source of inspiration inside us.
What is happening, though, is that many photographers that don’t have enough experience are afraid to express themselves as who they are, for fear of rejection, for fear that their work will be met with indifference. They need appreciation, a natural need for any artist, for any human being for that matter, and they think that by stimulating the work of somebody else, they may acquire that acceptance more easily.
Indeed, they may be accepted by some, mainly those who don’t know their source of inspiration, which is rewarding initially, but soon that satisfaction fades out, and you’re left with nothing if you are not able to find a new way of expressing yourself. That is happening because when you try to find inspiration in somebody else, and you don’t search further, that source will eventually dry up, and you will start feeling unsatisfied with your work.
You cannot expect somebody else’s ideas to give you the satisfaction you have when you create something yourself. For that, you need to find a vision of your own and to know how to find inspiration starting from the things that matter to you and define who you are as an artist. This is how you can create a style of your own and how you will never experience what we call an “artist block” – being stuck and not able to find new ideas. This is how you will never find yourself in the place of thinking that you have no inspiration and not knowing how to find it.
From my experience with my students, I know that this is a real problem that everybody experiences once they want to take their work to the next level. Finding inspiration and finding your own vision is not easy, but that is exactly the point. That is why we create art. Because it is not easy. If it were easy, it would be boring. We don’t do this because it is easy; we do this to find ourselves and to communicate with others through our art.
Your end goal is not necessarily the image you create; your end goal is the journey you make towards creating that image.
As I tell my students, your end goal is not necessarily the image you create; your end goal is the journey you make towards creating that image. The creation of the image and the moment you see it in front of you is only the culmination of that journey. It is in itself an amazing and powerful moment. Still, it can only be amazing and powerful if that image expresses who you really are, and finding inspiration is a big part of that process.
This is how important finding inspiration is. Art cannot exist without inspiration. Art cannot exist without originality and originality relies on personal vision and on finding inspiration.
DO YOUR BEST NOT TO EMULATE THE WORK OF OTHERS
The distance from finding inspiration in others to emulating their work is very small, much smaller than you may think. This is why you have to be very aware of how you relate to the work of others. Understanding this will add one more to the methods to find photography inspiration that you can use to improve your work.
You probably hear a lot that you need to copy the masters to learn. That may be true to an extent, but you need to be very careful how you interpret this statement. While it may be all right to practice by replicating the work of someone you admire and who is more advanced than you, you have to be very careful to keep that work for yourself and not present it as something you created.
I have seen photographers crossing this line so many times. Some of them don’t even realize they are doing it. Some of them are so happy that they were able to replicate a photograph they liked that they feel the need to immediately share that photograph with others as if it was their own idea.
Being able to replicate what you see done by others doesn’t mean you have created a photograph. It only means that you have replicated it. It means you have acquired the technical skills to replicate something someone else has created. While acquiring technical skills is important in photography, be careful not to present that as creation because it is not that. You would be fooling yourself if you do and would be working against yourself. Do you want to be yourself the photographer who replicates the work of others? I don’t think so. I’m sure that you started this journey in photography to create original work, work that represents who you are and what you believe, that represents you as an artist. You have to defend that at any cost because it is a precious gift and because, as they say, you’re just as good as your work is original.
Especially in the age of the Internet when we have access to so many resources of inspiration, many of them from people we don’t even know, it is very tempting to think that if you make a photograph that somebody else made and you publish it as your own, the people who see it will not know the original and will think that you were the first who created that photograph. This is very risky because you may end up not being able to manifest yourself as an individual. Not to mention what others may think of you.
Just imagine making a copy of a Picasso painting and trying to place that in an art gallery for exhibition and sale as your own. Do you think the curator would accept it? Of course not. Then why create a photograph similar to somebody else’s and publish it as if it was your own idea? Just because you hope some will not know it was replicated and they would think it is your own creation.? That doesn’t make sense, right?
Would you do that just because you don’t have a better idea? Well, you don’t need to. Because you certainly can have a better idea. You can have an idea that is your own, and if that idea is your own, it will definitely be a better idea because who could express your own idea better than you yourself could?
The point here is that you will be much better at expressing yourself than anybody else would ever be. The work that expresses you can only be done by you, and that will be original work. So why simulate somebody else’s work when you can do better work if you find a way to express who you really are as an artist? If you understand this, it will be much easier for you to find inspiration in yourself and not need to look at others and replicate somebody else’s work because you know that nobody else can do a better job at being you than yourself.
In conclusion, my advice is, if you feel that you learn better if you try to simulate photographs you like, then, by all means, do that, but keep that as an exercise for yourself and don’t present it as if it was your work. That can only make you look like an uninspired photographer, and who wants to see uninspiring work?
I’m talking about this subject from my own experience as I have found many times photographers who replicated my images, and sometimes they don’t even understand how much they go against themselves by doing that. I’m not alone in having these experiences. I’m sure you’ve often heard photographers talking about their images being imitated. So if you do that, you take a serious risk. You take the risk of somebody talking about you publicly as an imitator, instead of talking about you as an artist, and you can be sure that it will be very difficult to change that impression once you go there.
So, for your own sake, one of the best pieces of advice I can give is to be yourself in the work you do and only use replicating other people’s work as an exercise you keep for yourself, far from public eyes. When you do that, you will have access to sources of inspiration that can inform the work you do and help you grow instead of limiting your imagination.
THINK ABOUT WHAT ORIGINALITY IS AND HOW YOU ARE ORIGINAL IN YOUR WORK
At this moment, you may ask, okay, I’m going to create original work, but what does that mean anyway? A very reasonable question.
Let’s try to answer that question. While it is not an easy answer, you have many more chances to be original if you rely on your own experiences in photography.
You can have photography experiences in many ways. An experience in photography can be the way you feel and the things you think about when you shoot a certain subject. It can also be the ideas you get when you think about a certain subject, situation, or concept. It can be the questions you make, and the process you go through to find answers to.
Anything that originates from your own self, your soul, mind, and awareness can be the trigger to create original work. The reason why that happens is that when you live that experience yourself, you will be genuinely interested in expressing that, and you will use your own means of expression to do that. When you create something you care about, and that originates from your own thoughts, feelings, and experiences, you don’t really care what others have done because you have enough creative material in yourself.
Of course, sometimes your conclusions and your work can reflect an attitude or form of expression similar to somebody else’s, especially if it is somebody who has a similar way of thinking or feeling as you do. But there will always be differences that can set apart your interpretations from somebody else’s. In other words, you can be like-minded with somebody else, but you won’t be identical, and that will reflect in your work. You may have a similar style as a general approach, but there will be differences that will be obvious to somebody who looks at your work.
So if you are true to yourself, to your convictions, and your identity as an artist, you have all the chances to create original work, even if you don’t know exactly how to define it.
But thinking about how to define originality in your work can trigger many inspiring ideas and thoughts that you can then apply in your photography.
USE YOUR IMAGINATION. RELY ON IT AND TRUST IT
Everything you can imagine is real.
– Pablo Picasso –
Imagination is the main ingredient of fine art photography, next to emotion.
Imagination helps you find ways to express emotion in your work.
Fine art photography is not factual photography. It is photography that relies on stories, on feelings, on the intensity of the experience the viewer has in front of your image.
Fine art photography creates a world that does not exist. This is how we can communicate with the viewer through fine art photography: by inviting them to join us in a dream we create in our photograph. The best tool to create that dream, to construct that story, and trigger that emotional experience in the viewer is our imagination.
Your photograph starts in your mind. It starts in your soul and your fantasy. That is your power in photography, using that fantasy, using the ability to live in your imagination so you can create that story you will incorporate in your images which will make the viewer resonate.
If you cannot live that story in your own mind and your own imagination, you will never be able to create powerful enough work to transmit that emotion to the viewer.
This is why imagination, trusting it, cultivating it, and relying on it will make you more receptive to finding photography inspiration.
Inspiration can come from actual events, but it can also come from our mind and imagination, and both ways of finding inspiration are just as valid and powerful. So I suggest you make as many exercises of imagination as you can, even if it may seem uncomfortable if you are somebody who relies on reason and facts. Try to make different rules in your imagination for how the world works to free yourself from standard ways of thinking and to invite inspiration in your mind coming from the channel of your imagination.
Your imagination is your most powerful artistic tool because that is where emotion is born.
A photographer whose work I find truly imaginative and whom it would be interesting for you to study to discover ideas on how to use your imagination more is Jerry Uelesmann. He is one of my favorite photographers for the way he uses his imagination to create surreal photography. One of the most amazing things about his work is that everything he does is done in an analog way by working with film and not by creating his images digitally. He creates his images by using the photomontage technique by combining film negatives and then developing them in the darkroom. He has been doing this since the 1960s and continues to do it to this day. I warmly recommend you to study his work.
EDUCATE YOURSELF THOROUGHLY
FIND A MENTOR AND STICK WITH YOUR LEARNING PATH
We live in the age of marketing. From apps that promise you that you will speak perfect French in three weeks to software that promises that you only need to push a few buttons and you’re going to create a masterpiece, everything is made to seem much easier than it really is. When you’re starting out, you are tempted to believe that, even if you know it is not true. That is because you wish there was a way you could get where you want to get quicker. The truth is, even if some shortcuts help, there’s no way to bypass spending the time to acquire knowledge and to practice. Practice makes perfect, isn’t it? There is truth in that. So the next time you hear the same adage “learn fine art photography in 3 weeks” or “process your fine art photos in 20 minutes with this software”, you will know that, just like the “get-rich-quick” schemes, this is not how it works and it is only a marketing trick. Believe me, I’ve been there too. We all have. It is not only true for photography, it is true for everything. But we know better.
Related to this subject, I have written an article some time ago that you may be interested in reading. Here it is About Shortcuts vs Real Craftsmanship in Art and Photography.
Art takes time – that is the whole point of making art, to have an experience. You cannot have a meaningful experience in fast-forward mode. All you can do like that is to create a mediocre piece of work that most probably looks like someone else’s. Is that the best you can do? Is that the best use of your time and talent? Probably not.
Education is paramount if you want to create quality work. This doesn’t stand only for photography but for everything you want to create in your life. And photography, even if you do it as a hobby, has to be the best photography you can create.
As in any aspect of your life, having the knowledge, having a qualified and inspiring mentor can make the difference between creating average photography and creating great photography. You wouldn’t practice your profession without learning how to do it, right? It is the same with photography. The better you learn how to do it, the better the results. The higher the level of your education and your mentors, the more creative and original your photography will be.
So make a decision to commit to your process of learning, to give it time, and to find somebody who has the authority and the knowledge to mentor you. You will thank yourself for doing that and you will discover that this is actually the quickest way and one of the best methods to find photography inspiration and get where you want to get in your photography.
FIND LIKE-MINDED PHOTOGRAPHERS TO EXCHANGE IDEAS
You cannot live in a vacuum. Your ideas need to be communicated in order to thrive, and you need feedback from others to improve them.
Being in contact with people who believe in the same values as you will give you the energy and inspiration you need to evolve and improve your photography. Exchanging ideas with like-minded photographers will help you discover new things much quicker than if you were only talking to yourself.
The most common way of being in touch with other photographers is to be a part of a photo club. Especially if you live in a city or somewhere where you have easy access to a photo club, this can be a good option. If you live in a more remote place, you may not have easy access to a real-life photo club, but you don’t even need to be face-to-face with others to have this exchange of ideas. It can also happen virtually, on social media, or in a photography forum. Also, many photo clubs nowadays have online meetings, and you can be a part of them even if you cannot always meet in person with the members.
Another great way of meeting photographers interested in the same things as you are is by attending a photography workshop. The good thing about workshops is that you know that the co-students will be interested in the same things you are, they are searching for the same kind of knowledge and have similar goals as you. This means that your interaction with them will be much more effective, not to mention that you will also be in contact with a workshop leader you admire and trust, which is inspiring in itself.
Regardless of how you do it, having a few people that you can share your ideas with, either regularly or periodically by attending workshops, can help tremendously in finding photography inspiration. Even the simple fact of talking to somebody else about photography could reveal new ideas to you that you may not have thought of if you weren’t trying to put your ideas into words to communicate to the other person. There have been countless times when I had eureka moments when trying to formulate my ideas in a conversation with somebody who shared my passion for photography. I’m sure you have examples of these kinds of inspirational moments too.
I hope you found these methods to find photography inspiration useful. I could go on forever talking about finding photography inspiration. But I want to give you the time to first think about the things I’ve said here before I go on. This means I’ll be back talking about this subject in another future article and frankly, I can’t wait to do that. I hope you cannot wait either and that you’ll be back here too for our next conversation about inspiration and how to find yourself in your photography.
I’m very interested to find out what you think about this subject. Don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments and let’s continue the discussion there. Also, don’t forget to subscribe if you haven’t already so we can keep in touch in the future and so you can get the continuation of this article as soon as it gets published.
If you are interested to know more about black and white fine art photography, inspiration, (en)Visionography, long exposure photography, architecture fine art photography, and many other subjects, feel free to read my other tutorials and have a look at my books and courses. Since we are talking about inspiration, I’m proud to have inspired over the years many photographers who have studied with me or who have read my books, watched my video tutorials, and attended my courses. You’re more than welcome to join us on this journey to discovering yourself through photography. I would be honored to be your guide and help you find inspiration.
Related to the subject of this article, you may find interesting my first article in this series How to Find Inspiration in Fine Art Photography where I talk about 15 ways to find inspiration in fine art photography.
FURTHER STUDY RESOURCES
FINE ART BLACK AND WHITE PHOTOGRAPHY, ARCHITECTURE PHOTOGRAPHY, LONG EXPOSURE PHOTOGRAPHY
You can find more resources about fine art black and white photography, (en)Visionography, long exposure photography and architecture photography in my extensive collection of photography tutorials. To receive my future tutorials directly via email you can subscribe to my website.
Learn more about how to create fine art photography, from vision to processing and the final image in my book From Basics to Fine Art – Black and White Photography, in my video course From Vision to Final Image – Mastering Black and White Photography Processing and in my video tutorial Long Exposure, Architecture, Fine Art Photography – Creating (en)Visionography, or by attending one of my workshops.
To study with Julia Anna Gospodarou personally, find out about our
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Julia Anna Gospodarou is an internationally acclaimed award-winning photographer, an architect with a Master’s degree, a best-selling author, and a highly sought-after educator, teaching workshops and lecturing around the world. Founder of (en)Visionography™ and creator of Photography Drawing™, author of the best-selling book From Basics to Fine Art – Black and White Photography, multiple times awarded in the most important photography competitions worldwide (Two-Time International Photography Awards IPA Photographer of the Year 2016 & 2021, World Photography Awards SWPA Top 10 Finalist, and Hasselblad Masters Top 10 Finalist, as well as 100+ more awards), widely published internationally in books and magazines, Julia is passionate about art and photography and striving to spread the ideas of fine art photography and (en)Visionography all over the world.