We often look at photography and its inspiration in very different ways and each of us extracts a different meaning. Some of us see photography as a duty, others as a passion, or even a funny activity. There is no right or wrong here and I won’t intend to put the emphasis on any direction in photography.
I see photography as a passion, a way to express myself, my feelings. A perfect mean to record reality, not so much the objective reality, as much as a personal, subjective reality. A world built inside my mind, expressed through images. I often think about photography and what is its place in my life. What major role can it play within my personal growth. I guess this is a subject that you can discuss it with your friends and with yourself, as long as you are alive and passionate about photography.
Today, I feel the need to write down a few things I have in mind. Some interpretations about a few concepts in photography, like Inspiration and Meanings in photography.
Inspiration in photography
The lack of inspiration is something we all feel, at a certain point in our lives. Today, with the rise of digital photography, that started quite a few good years ago, where almost anyone who has a smart-phone can, technically, take pictures, is even harder to stay focused, inspired and most of all, keep the originality line. Being not easy to stay inspired, we need to understand a few things about inspiration in photography.
What is inspiration? It is both the source of your creativity and the path to materialize it. Inspiration comes from outside your being, when you live a sensible, or powerful experience, when you see somethings that makes your soul vibrate in a specific way. And also it comes from inside your being, a concept born from a dream, a vision, a desire, or a strong feeling that need to be expressed, to be put in a material shape – the photographs. Your thoughts, feelings and observations, blend into a stream of creative energy that will manifest itself, leading you to the act of composing you shot and press the shutter button. A photograph was created.
But when the inspiration is fading away, you need to get it back, or make in stronger and deeper. For that, I have thought of some things that might help you get back on your creativity track. Do not care about the order of appearance, those ideas were simply put the way they came into my mind. And for each of us, a different order of importance (if any) will apply.
Assess old projects and bad photos.
It is very interesting how you can find captivating elements in old photos, or the unprocessed photos that just sit in a folder of an old archive. After taking your photos, you quickly select the best ones, process them, show them to the world and most of the files will rest in the folder, forgotten. Allow a few months to pass, or even a year and then, take a look again at your old project. Surely you will discover interesting things in your old, or even bad photos. A different way of post-processing them, a crop, could offer you a fresh, new look of the frame you already captured. And you took that picture for a reason – there must be something in it, even though it wasn’t immediately visible. Also, it is a good way to improve your style, your composition. It is the perfect time to evaluate your mistakes and learn something useful for your future projects.
Create projects based on what you dislike and fear to photograph.
What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. I think this principle also works in photography. In order to improve your style, your technique, to get rid of your fears of photographing people, or some other fears you might have in photography, just have the courage to choose a project that initially scares you. Something that you would naturally avoid, like street photography with a wide lens (to get really close to the action), if you are a shy person. You need to evaluate your fears and dislikes, the unattractive motif and subjects and try to build a photography project in this area. A 365 day photography project could also be a good way to ease the tensions and get familiarized with your camera and with the process of capturing images.
Take a break.
This sounds a little counterintuitive, like undermining your very goal of improving yourself in photography. Why taking a break? Because when you’ve lost the inspiration and the pleasure to photograph, sometimes the best thing to do is stop. It’s like over-training, where real training consists of both working out and recovery. Your muscles are simply too tired, too stressed and they need the time to rest and recover. Leave the camera for a while and dedicate your time to experience something new. Visit an art gallery, stay in touch with the world of art – not necessarily visual arts, like photography, or painting. After a while you will come back to your camera with fresh energies.
Look at the work of other artists.
This is not intended for you to just copy other artists. Originality is what we should all and always preach, in photography. But studying the work of other great artists, or the artists that you like, will help you understand something about the method they used, why did they choose those subjects, the specifics of their composition styles. It should not be an invitation to copy their way of working and expressing themselves, but it will broaden your horizons, giving you a hint of what is possible in photography.
Travel, feel, experience new things.
This point strongly relates to the one where I have told you to take a break. During our monotonous lives, going to work every day, getting the children to and from school, shopping the necessary goods for our house, living this “modern way” of life, it is normal to lose inspiration, to feel a kind of degradation in its consistence. To be inspired, you need to be relaxed, to be yourself and there are many things in our daily lives that won’t let us feel really ourselves. But a vacation, a week-end spent in a beautiful location could help you relax, reconnect again with your inner energies and all that will stimulate your inspiration. Build a travel diary using your camera, as a mean of recording memories of the places you visit, like I do here. This is why it is a great thing to focus on new things and new experience, to fight the boredom of our lives in every single possible way. And new experiences are what keeps us young, focused, Switched-On to the Learning Mode and also, inspired.
Meanings in photography
As I have told you at the beginning of my story, there are as many unique meanings in photography as many creative human spirits exist in this universe. A lifetime will simply not suffice to explain what is photography and what does it mean for each of us. And this is the beauty of it; in its vastness, we could all fit in, by both creating something beautiful with our cameras and also by contemplating the work of the artists around us.
Photography should be a way to connect with yourself, first. Yes, being relaxed and inspired is a sine qua non condition to create beauty through photography. This is why I think photography should not be something you do by being compelled to, or for the sake of competition. Many photographers, especially today, due to the extended social networking capabilities, where everyone could exhibit his work online, feel the need to compete, to be better that the other one. Their immediate goal is to get as much and as robust recognition from the others, as fast as possible. A photo that gets over 100-200 “likes” defines itself as a good photo, if not, tragedy strikes and they are back in competition.
Do not compete in this way, in photography. Do it for yourself, for your mind and soul. Make photography a way to define yourself in art, to explore the world, to communicate who you are and what you are, inside. Not a weapon to compete and defeat others.
Every great photographer takes bad pictures, unless you are Ansel Adams. It is important to keep learning all the time, because without mistakes, there will be no lessons, therefore, no improvement. Keep a consistent critic eye on your work and development, but also be gentle to yourself. You cannot deny your own self because your photography is the product of who you are. The best way to approach your way in photography is by embracing The Middle Way.
Buddha describes The Middle Way as the wise path to moderation between the extremes of self-indulgence and self-punishment. Keep learning, practicing, always ask for more from yourself, always look for a better outcome. Not necessarily better than other, but better than the one you were before. And never fall into any of the extremes, by being to harsh and critique to yourself, until you will lose the will and the faith in your abilities, nor by indulging yourself in the pleasure of receiving the appreciation of others. The recognition of others is something really illusory, never to be fully trustworthy.
At the end of my story, I would like to conclude my thoughts, by pointing the difference between taking pictures and making photographs. When you keep your hands on your electronic device that captures images (camera, smart-phone, or tablet), then raise your hands and press a button, you take pictures. I mean that your device is taking the pictures, by capturing the available light within your frame and you are simply the operator of a button. This is not photography and if you expect more, a lot more than this outcome, you have to make the switch from being a simple camera operator and taking pictures, to the state of being a photographer.
For a photographer, a camera is a tool of artistic creation, like the chisel for a block of stone. The camera still captures the available light within your frame, but the way it does it, along with the composition, the chosen subject, the story that is assembled within the frame and the feelings of the artist… those are the things that make a photograph. The photograph is created not inside the camera, but inside the mind and the soul of the artist. Search for the artist core deep within you and learn to express its voice. Your voice!
All photos and text – © Sebastian Boatca 2016 / www.sebastianboatca.com