HOW TO FIND INSPIRATION IN FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHY?
HOW TO FIND INSPIRATION IN ART?
How to find inspiration? This is one of the most important questions in art and one of the questions I hear most often from my photography students and from many other photographers.
Thousands of pages and hundreds of books have been written on this subject, but there is always something new you can discover if you research it.
For me, the answer to the question “how to find inspiration” comes not only from the resources I have studied but, in a considerable measure, also comes from my own experience and from observing the experiences of others.
Theory can only take you as far, just as in any situation when you have to create something out of nothing, as you do in photography and art. Like any art, photography is highly subjective, so personal experience is critical in the process of creating photography. Personal experience and observing the world around you will give you the edge in understanding what you learn and in being able to put it into practice.
I find experience vital in understanding what inspiration is and in finding ways to discover those things that will give you inspiration for your photography.
In photography, this process is similar to any kind of art. The specifics may be slightly different, but at its core, finding inspiration comes from finding ways to see the world in a different way. The process of doing that will be similar in photography, painting, architecture, music, or literature. What will differ will be the actual practical tools you will use, but the aim, the process, the methodology, and the result will be the same.
What I have discovered is that the more you practice an art, the more inspiration you will have. The more experiences you have related to creating that specific art, the more inspiration you will find. So, the more you actually do photography, the more inspiration you will discover.
If you know how to approach inspiration, you will never be short of it.
Many artists at one point in their career have struggled with finding inspiration, so you are not alone if you feel like that. Just like there are moments when your mind is in a state of effervescence and you have so many ideas that you cannot find the time to put them all into practice, there are also those moments when it seems like your mind is empty or that everything that comes to your mind doesn’t feel compelling enough for you to follow it. It is for those moments that you need to have a strategy that will help you get over the impasse and get back to being inspired and in the flow.
THERE ARE ANSWERS!
To help you create this strategy, I have gathered a series of practical ideas that you can keep in your mind for those moments of struggle with your inspiration that you will undoubtedly encounter at some point. Some of them will work in some cases, while others will work in other cases. Still, overall, all these ideas have helped me over time to never lose inspiration and be always enthusiastic about my photography, and always be ready to work on new things. If you ask me, what I lack most is not inspiration but enough time to put all those ideas into practice.
These ideas have also helped many of my students get over moments when they were uninspired or lacked the enthusiasm to follow their impulse to create.
What I’m sharing here with you are things that have been tried and verified and that have helped in practice many people. I hope that in those moments when you’re wondering if maybe your reserve of inspiration has emptied, these ideas and suggestions will help you too. No matter how frustrating those moments are, there is always a way to get over them and get back to being enthusiastic about your art and happy to be creating it.
I will be talking about the subject and many more, as well as work intensively on the black and white fine art photography processing techniques in my upcoming workshop in London on October 15-17. You are more than welcome to join us to learn the secrets of B&W fine art photography and how to find inspiration and put it into practice. You can find more details about the workshop and sign up for it at the link above. At this moment, there are only a few spots left since this will be a small group workshop. For the moment we have a special discount for subscribers so if you want to receive the discount you can subscribe to https://blog.juliaannagospodarou.com/subscribe/ to receive it.
If you want to keep in touch and to read more articles like this, feel free to subscribe to my website, and you will be receiving them in your mailbox as soon as they are published.
So let’s start talking about these ideas, and if you have more ideas, I’d be happy to hear about them in the comments. Let me know what worked for you and what your experiences were with inspiration.
I will be starting now with 15 ideas about finding inspiration, and in my next article coming in a couple of weeks, I will follow up with 15 more ideas. Let’s talk now about the first ones, and in my next article, we will get to the more advanced ways of finding inspiration. If you want to receive the follow-up to this article, be sure to subscribe, and you will receive it in your inbox.
REMEMBER WHY YOU LOVE PHOTOGRAPHY IN THE FIRST PLACE
Arguably this is the best advice I can give because the answer to this question will resonate best with you. Each of us has a personal reason why we fell in love with photography and decided to dedicate ourselves to it. It can be anything, from seeing a beautiful photograph or wanting to document the world around you, to feeling the need to express yourself through your camera to tell your story and the story of others.
If you spend some time thinking about it, you will remember what was that thing that drew you towards embracing photography so you can reignite that love and go back to the enthusiasm you felt in the beginning.
Every time I think about it, I remember all the beautiful moments photography gave me and how it helped me have experiences that I would have never had in any other way. Traveling, looking at the world with curiosity, trying to discover the secrets of the places I was photographing, researching their history and culture, searching for ways to express myself through the subjects I was shooting, and always becoming richer spiritually as a result of the interaction with the people and these places, all these are things that will draw me to photography forever and thinking about them will always refill my inspiration reserves.
In my case, as a photography educator, I have another reason to love photography, because it brings me together not only with the people and the places I shoot but also with my students through my workshops and lectures. That experience is always so powerful and inspiring that I wouldn’t exchange it for anything in the world.
MAKE A TRIP TO AN UNKNOWN PLACE/CITY/COUNTRY
Related to the previous idea, traveling to another place will always be an inspiring experience that can rekindle your enthusiasm for photography. Traveling to a place you haven’t seen before and you do not know too much about gives you the opportunity to research that place even before the trip. That brings you into that state of childlike enthusiasm for learning something new and experiencing it yourself. That preparation and research phase is an intrinsic part of doing photography, and during this phase, you can find many ideas that will inspire your work.
You do not need to travel to some distant or exotic place or make a costly trip. All it takes is for you to not have seen that place before. Then you will have the curiosity to discover it and to research it both before the trip and also when you are there. You will have the surprise of seeing something you haven’t seen before, and that is opening up for you to get to know it and create a story inspired by it.
I have had my most intense moments of inspiration while finding myself in places I have never seen before. I always have the impression in these moments that I am the first human that sees these places, as if I was visiting another planet or discovering an unknown Maya city or a lost tribe on the Amazon. Of course, my imagination is lively and it plays a role in this too, but this is exactly why you have to rely on your imagination to bring you inspiration.
STUDY THE WORK OF ART MASTERS
You do not need to travel far away to find inspiration. You can find it in your own living room by researching the work of art masters. You can start with photographers and then expand your research to painters, sculptors, architects, cinematographers, or any other artists who work with the image, with light and shadow, with space, and with ideas.
Looking at their interpretation of the world, at the way they use their tools to express what they see and what they feel will trigger new ideas for you.
The goal is not to reinterpret what art masters have done, even if that could be useful too as an exercise. The goal is to let your mind be stimulated so you can discover a new idea having been inspired by their work, an idea that will be yours and that will suit best your style and personality as an artist.
To start with photography, have first a look at the works of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Richard Avedon, Brassai, Sebastiao Salgado, Ansel Adams, Berenice Abbott, Gordon Parks, Arnold Newman, Robert Mapplethorpe, Sally Mann, Ralph Gibson, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Nick Brand, Fan Ho, Alexey Titarenko. For me, these are some of the best photographers, classic, modern and contemporary, who have all brought something new and exciting to photography. This is not an exhaustive list, and you can find many more that can inspire you.
After you finish with the photographers, here are some suggestions of artists working in different fields, like painting, sculpture, architecture etc.
Everybody knows the classics like Rembrandt and Van Gogh, and you should definitely study them, but now I would like to suggest some modern artists you may not know so well and that can inspire you.
You could start with painters like Gustav Klimt, Marc Chagall, Francis Bacon, Gerhard Richter, Lucian Freud, Mark Rothko, Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper, Yayoi Kusama, Willem de Kooning.
Then take a look at sculptors like Auguste Rodin, Alberto Giacometti, Alexander Calder, Anish Kapoor, Constantin Brancusi, Ai Weiwei, Louise Nevelson, Antony Gormley, Barbara Hepworth, Jean Arp.
You can finish by looking at the work of some modern architects, for instance, the surprising and highly creative Deconstructivists like Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, and Daniel Libeskind, Rem Koolhas, or the equally inspiring Renzo Piano, Jean Nouvel, Norman Foster, Tadao Ando, Santiago Calatrava, Rafael Vinoly, Alvaro Siza.
All these artists are highly creative, and their work has shaped the world of modern and contemporary art and has inspired millions of people to look at the world and at life in a different way. Studying their work or even only taking a look at it will always bring you inspiration and the desire to create something new yourself.
READ A COMPELLING BOOK OR WATCH A THOUGHT-PROVOKING FILM OR DOCUMENTARY
Just like looking at great photography, painting, sculpture, architecture, or other visual art, reading a book or watching a good movie or documentary can spark your imagination and bring you the inspiration you’re looking for.
You can find great books or films in any genre. What is important is not necessary the subject or who wrote the book or made the movie or documentary, but for them to be thought-provoking, to make you ask questions and search for answers. In this process of making questions and searching for answers, you will find new ideas and some of these ideas may be interesting to follow up in a photography project. Or maybe these ideas can work in a more subtle way by slowly changing the way you think, which will inform your work and make more interesting your evolution as a photographer.
LISTEN TO A NEW STYLE OF MUSIC
I’m sure you have a favorite style of music, or maybe there are a few styles that you like. And I’m sure you are familiar with how music can help us relax our minds and souls, so we are more receptive and open-minded towards the world around us. This is because music has the power to penetrate our psyche and work subconsciously from the inside.
When we listen to a new style of music or to some kind of music we haven’t heard before, we tend to be more attentive and curious. The type of relaxation that music brings us combined with the sense of curiosity we have when we listen to something new makes our perception more acute. Our senses will be more awake, and our feelings will react more intensely, the result being to find new ideas that bring inspiration.
VISIT A MUSEUM OR A PHOTOGRAPHY EXHIBITION
Nowadays, it is very easy to get in contact with art and photography through the Internet, but there is nothing like seeing the works of great artists and photographers in reality. No matter how far online interaction will get, even if we all get to live eventually in the meta-verse and the virtual world and look at each other through fancy VR glasses, real-life will always allow you to have more powerful experiences and the outcome of these experiences will last longer.
Theoretically, you can see all the great paintings and photographs online. Still, you will never be able to understand the texture of the paint, in the case of painting, or the smoothness or roughness of the printing paper, in the case of a photograph, if you do not see that painting or photograph in real life. The impression of seeing it, of being able to study it from different angles, to see how the light falls and creates a three-dimensional effect in the micro details of the paint’s or the paper’s texture, this impression is only possible if you are close to that work of art and you are able to come closer or move further from it to understand all its qualities.
Besides the micro-detail spatial experience, there is also the macro spatial experience that you cannot reproduce unless you are in the space of a real exhibition or a museum. There are many virtual reproductions of exhibitions or museums that you can find online. They are helpful from an education point of view because they give you quite good information about the works exhibited, which can be beneficial as the first level of contact with them. Still, for you to be able to have an emotional response to those works, you need to come in direct contact with them.
That emotional reaction you have when you come in contact with great works of art and photography is what will move your imagination and sparkle your inspiration in ways you may not have expected. I wholeheartedly recommend that you have as many real-life experiences with art as possible.
THINK ABOUT HOW YOU FEEL
What is art? Art is expressing yourself. For you to be able to express yourself, you have to understand what you want to express, to be aware of it. For that to happen, you need to start by thinking about it.
What you want to express has to do with how you feel about one or the other subjects and also generally. The way you express yourself is part of who you are and it may be different if you have different feelings. So you will express yourself in different ways depending on how you feel.
Many times it is not easy to think about how you feel because we did not learn to understand what we feel. Feelings are not objective. This is why they are more challenging to understand. Thoughts, especially logical thoughts, are more objective, and this is why it is easier to understand our thoughts than it is to understand our feelings. Initially, we need to find a way to transform those feelings into thoughts so we become able to express them through our work.
To be able to understand how you feel, you can start by being aware of your reactions related to different events, different ideas, your experiences, and everything that can trigger an emotional response in you.
In the beginning, you may understand better how you think about all these things than how you feel about them, but how we think about things is sometimes not in line with how we feel.
For instance, a simple and timely example is that we may understand that it is difficult to change people’s habits in order to fight climate change and that we need to be patient for this behavior change to happen. Still, the way we feel about this is frustration that we cannot move faster to undo the damage that has been done to the environment on our planet. So, on the one hand, with your mind, you understand that you cannot always force the situation and make it go faster just because that would be the ideal case, but with your heart, you feel frustrated that this thing cannot be done.
You will start realizing the difference between your thoughts and feelings when you start getting used to being aware of them and when that happens, you will be able to take those feelings and put them into your art together with your thoughts. Your work will become a more complex kind of photography coming from the fusion between thoughts and feelings, and that will make it much more powerful.
FIND EXPERIENCES IN YOUR LIFE THAT YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT OR TO UNDERSTAND
As a continuation of the previous idea, understanding how you feel and how you can put that into your work will open up a whole new range of possibilities, making it easier for you to find inspiration for your photography in your own life.
What artists do many times is that they find inspiration in their own experiences and in their reactions to them. Art becomes an essential tool in the process of understanding those experiences and interpreting them.
If you look for meaningful experiences in your life that you want to process and understand, you will find that one of the ways to understand them is to bring them into your work, either in a literal way or in a symbolic way, and creating photography that is a result of how those experiences formed you. Some experiences in our lives are so powerful that they can even change who we are. Relying on those experiences to create photography can give birth to highly original and emotional creations that can define who you are as an artist.
Besides, relying on your own experiences means that you will never run out of subjects to inspire you because every day something happens in your life, and if you attach a meaning to that and you take that meaning and express it in your work, then you will find inside yourself more inspiration than you could ever find outside.
For more thoughts related to how to create photography taking inspiration from your own life, you can read my article About Being Vulnerable in Art – Making of Unknown Prophecy”.
CREATE MORE THAN PHOTOGRAPHY – CREATE (EN)VISIONOGRAPHY
If you know me or have read my articles, books, or have watched my video tutorials, or if you were or are my students, you know that I talk a lot about what I call (en)Visionography.
If you don’t know yet about that, you can read my extensive article The Manifest of (en)Visionography to understand better what I mean when I talk about (en)Visionography.
One of the intentions of creating (en)Visionography is to go beyond what we generally understand as photography, which is that we make photography to present the subject or the world around us. In my opinion, fine art photography, except for presenting an external subject or the outside world, aims to truthfully express who the artist is, how they feel about a specific subject or the world around them, how that world touches their lives, and what their response is to that impact.
This is a new way of thinking about photography that is closer to the way we think about art. Try to think about photography in this way. You will see that this change in direction will bring you inspiration for a new way of creating photography. You will create more personal photography that will be more satisfying and will talk to you and those around you more deeply.
If you want to dive deeper into the subject, you could read my book From Basics to Fine Art – Black And White Photography, and watch my video tutorial Creating (en)Visionography – Long Exposure, Architecture, Fine art Photography where I elaborate more on this subject. Both resources could, and I hope will bring you more inspiration for your work.
LEARN BETTER POST-PROCESSING
Creating photography doesn’t only mean working with your camera. It also means knowing how to take the photographs the camera will produce to the state of the vision you have in your mind. Sometimes what you see in front of you will be closer to your vision, and some other times it will be further away, but it will be a good starting point for your story. To take that photograph from the starting point that a RAW file provides you to the final result that is your vision, you will need to edit your photograph. The more comfortable you are with your processing software, the further you can take that story from the initial point to your ideal result.
This is why it is so important to learn better post-processing. Knowing good post-processing will give you freedom. And freedom means inspiration. That is because many times we have an idea in our mind, but we don’t know how to get there, and the reason is our technical abilities are lacking. From my personal experience and my experience with my students for many years, improving your post-processing skills opens your mind and gives you a tremendous level of freedom to follow your ideas from their birth to their completion.
If you want to learn better black and white post-processing, I warmly recommend my latest video tutorial From Vision to Final Image – Mastering Back and White Photography Processing, together with the ebook that comes with it, The Ultimate Guide to Black and White Photography. Many people found inspiration in it, together with learning many things about how to edit a fine art image in Lightroom and Photoshop.
TRY TO SHOOT OR EDIT IN A NEW STYLE
No matter your photography genre, you should always be open to trying something new. Even when you don’t lack inspiration, switching to a different style of shooting or learning a new way to process your images will make you think out-of-the-box, and this is when inspiration comes.
One way of challenging yourself to a new way of shooting is to shoot a different genre than the one you are habituated with. For instance, if you are a landscape photographer, decide to shoot architecture for some time, or the other way around. Or if your style of shooting is slow-paced, like when you generally shoot on a tripod, decide to shoot for a while street photography which is a fast-paced style of photography when you need to shoot handheld most of the time and move quickly to follow your subject. If you are a portrait photographer, you could try to shoot objects instead of people, and if you are a landscape or architecture photographer, you could try to shoot portrait photography for a while.
Changing the way you shoot or the genre can be a little uncomfortable in the beginning but it will bring to your attention things that you weren’t aware of when you were shooting in your regular genre or in your typical style.
Something similar happens when you try a new way of editing photography. For instance, if you are used to processing your work in Lightroom, give Photoshop a try and aim to do everything you’re doing in Lightroom in Photoshop instead. And the other way around, if you are mainly using Photoshop, you can try to do everything you’re doing in Photoshop in Lightroom instead.
You can take it even further. If you’re working both in Lightroom and Photoshop, you could try to do as much as you can of what you were doing in Lightroom in Photoshop in a different program, like for instance in Topaz Studio and the Topaz Plug-ins, or in Luminar or ON1 Photo RAW, which are all quite powerful tools that you can use.
As a side note, if you happen to need any of these programs or plug-ins you can use my discount code JULIAG to get a 15% or 10% discount when you order them from the links above. I am using all these pieces of software, and there are things these programs are doing that are much more difficult to do in Photoshop or Lightroom or even impossible.
The goal when you use these alternative programs is not to necessarily switch to them from Lightroom or Photoshop, but to discover new things that will sparkle your imagination, and also learn new techniques that will bring you the creative freedom that we were talking about in the previous idea.
SHOOT NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY
One of the things I’ve been shooting the past few years and am very excited about is night photography. I started shooting night photography partly to avoid the crowds you can find during the day in popular places and partially to extend my shooting day, which was regularly ending when the light of the day was starting to dim. After doing it for some time, I fell in love with it. Not only did I fall in love with it and started to do it more and more, but it provided me with inspiration for many other projects that I am working on and shooting during the day. I could say one style of photography is informing the other, and I can highly recommend you doing the same to trigger your imagination and inspiration.
One piece of equipment that I could recommend if you want to shoot night photography is the Formatt-Hitech NightScape filter that is a special filter made for night photography. The filter removes the light spectrum associated with light pollution and the streetlamps giving you a color-cast-free and more clear image without haziness and that ugly orange tint you can get when you shoot at night. If you want to save on it, you can use my discount code JULIA10 to get 10% discount when ordering this filter from the Formatt-Hitech UK website or from the Formatt-Hitech USA.
SHOOT LONG EXPOSURE PHOTOGRAPHY
Another style of photography I have been shooting for a very long time, more than 10 years, but that always brings me new inspiration is long exposure photography. I could never get bored of shooting long exposure and the reason is that this is one of the simplest but most unique ways of changing the realities in front of you through your images. Everything busy and agitated can become still, fluffy clouds can become soft, restless water can become dreamy, a stormy day at the sea can become Zen-like, a crowded scene in the city can become peaceful.
All this with the help of a piece of equipment that is very easy to use when you learn how to use it – the “mighty” ND filter. The neutral density filter can change the aspect of reality more than any other filter can and that is why it is one of my vital pieces of equipment in photography.
If you haven’t yet tried long exposure photography, you should definitely do it. And if you already are doing long exposure photography, you surely know what I mean, and you should definitely keep doing it because it is one of the surest ways to get inspiration for your work.
Like with the night photography filters, I have been using ND filters from Formatt-Hitech for almost 10 years, and after trying different other brands, I can tell you this is the best and it provides you with the widest range of intensities.
As mentioned before, if you want to get any filter or another accessory from Formatt-Hitech, you can use my discount code JULIA10 to get 10% discount when ordering them from the Formatt-Hitech UK website or from the Formatt-Hitech USA.
Also, since we are talking about long exposure photography equipment, if you ever need to get a new tripod or tripod head from Manfrotto or Gitzo, you can use my discount code JULIA10 to get 10% discount when ordering them from the Manfrotto website or from the Gitzo website.
The video tutorial I mentioned previously, Creating (en)Visionography – Long Exposure, Architecture, Fine art Photography, will get a good resource also for studying long exposure photography. Also, you can consult my Ultimate Long Exposure Photography Tutorial to get more insight into this technique.
(BE BRAVE ENOUGH TO) CREATE A FINE ART SELF PORTRAIT
After going out shooting long exposure and then taking it further with night photography, you can now come back inside and think about an even more personal way of creating photography – photographing your precious own self.
Shooting a self-portrait is not really an easy thing to do, both technically and artistically, but creating a fine art self-portrait can truly be a challenging task. This is why it takes bravery to do it. Not only will you have to be the photographer and the model, but you will have to create a meaningful and personal image that reflects who you are in a symbolic way rather than in a literal way.
This is the moment where what we talked about earlier will come in handy. I recommended you a little earlier to think about what you feel and try to find experiences in your life that you want to talk about, understand and express in your work. While doing that you may have found some interesting things that you would like to communicate which can be best expressed if you are in the photograph too.
Shooting a self-portrait doesn’t mean you have to be in a studio with complex lighting, a crew of assistants, and some high-end medium format camera. You can make a fine art self-portrait outside in nature, in the city, you can even create a night photography or a long exposure self-portrait. You do not necessarily need to find a mind-blowing location either unless that location is meaningful for your story. The most mundane place can be an excellent background for a fine art self-portrait because the focus will be on yourself.
You are the one telling the story in a self-portrait, and everything else should be secondary. A fine art self-portrait has to have a story, it has to be about you. It can be about you and the way you connect with another subject, with a location, with an idea, or a situation. But it is you that creates the uniqueness of the story and if somebody else were in your place, that would be a completely different story. This is what makes a fine art self-portrait so intriguing and emotional, because you know it is so personal, and it is one way you give access to others into your inner world.
A fine art self-portrait is just as interesting for the viewer as it is for the photographer. For once, you will be both the photographer and the viewer. And you will find that trying to tell your story in front of the camera is an intense experience that brings a lot of inspiration, both to the photographer and the viewer.
JUST MAKE PHOTOS AND LOVE DOING IT
After talking about meaning, vision, shooting styles, post-processing, photography equipment, I want to close the circle of this first article about inspiration by coming back to what we started with. We began by remembering why we love photography in the first place, and my suggestion is to just continue loving it, continue making it every chance you get.
Sometimes you don’t even need to think too much about what you are doing. You just do it because you simply love it, and it makes you feel good. Some other times you will try to find hidden meanings or solve a mystery by doing photography. You may even feel at times that you can change the world with your photography. All these reasons for doing photography and all the circumstances are extraordinary. None of them should mean less than the other as long as it brings you closer to who you really are and it helps you express yourself for others to be moved and get inspiration from your work.
It is a never-ending circle. We make art because we need it; we spread it out into the world; others are being moved in contact with it and become inspired to create something themselves. This is the amazing thing about art and why it is so important. It makes the world go round by keeping the flame of inspiration burning for everything to feed off it.
Whenever you feel out of inspiration, you can feed off this thought. Think about the inspiration you bring to others and the inspiration others can bring to you. Think about how amazing the world we live in is, how complex and unique, and how hugely privileged we are to be here and experience it. This in itself will bring you inspiration, and when you become aware of it, it will be difficult to not find new ideas every day.
Finding inspiration in photography is a complex process but it doesn’t need to be complicated. Lacking inspiration in some moments is a normal step in the evolution of your photography life. It shouldn’t scare you, just like you should ignore it. If you know who you are as an artist and if you create a strategy that you can apply in those moments when inspiration doesn’t seem to come, it will be easier for you to get over those moments and get back to your inspired self.
I still have many things to say about this subject, but this article has become already too long, and I don’t want to overwhelm you. So I will continue this discussion in my next article, hopefully in a couple of weeks. We will dive deeper into how to find inspiration and will go beyond the advice you usually find on this subject online. If you want not to miss the next article and receive it in your inbox, you can subscribe to my website, and I will be sending it to you as soon as I publish it.
Meanwhile, join us in London in October for a fantastic (en)Visionography workshop, and I can guarantee you that you will leave this workshop so inspired that you will have ideas to work on for at least one year. No kidding! Just read the testimonials of my alumni students.
Let me know what you think in the comments. I’d love to take this discussion further with you. What brings you inspiration? What about your struggles finding it? What do you think about my ideas on finding inspiration? What are your ideas? What works for you and what doesn’t work? Looking forward to hearing from you on all these topics.