Today I’m sharing some interesting ideas that I think will help you leap into a good photo practice if you are stuck in a rut or struggling to get inspired.
1. Photography should always bring you joy
A few days ago, we were having lunch with some friends and one of them mentioned how his photography education had been quite a joyless experience. There was such a focus on what wasn’t working with the students’ work, and what needed to work better, that it sucked all the enjoyment out of taking photos.
I can see that too in some of the emails we get – people worried about their lack of skill or experience, worried they haven’t got far enough or berating themselves for not using their camera more.
To all of this I want to say – Stop. Just stop.
Photography – and the act of creating anything – should not a be negative or endlessly difficult experience. No way. If we are weaving this beautiful practice into our lives, don’t we want it to be fun?
Of course, there is challenge and difficulty in any creative practice, and there are hurdles to overcome. There are the forces of boredom, the procrastination to deal with. Naturally, there is the need to put in effort and learn things you find difficult.
But ultimately, it should bring something wonderful into your life.
Ideas & resources:
- This is a brilliant book exploring in-depth where creativity comes from. Fun and inspiring. Imagine – How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer
2. Find your good photos – and hang them on your wall
When you want to get good at something, it’s important to build positive momentum. Which means you have to recognise your progress and all the good photos you are taking – not just those which need to be improved.
We wrote about why you should print your photos a few years ago – and we encourage you to start printing your work if you haven’t.
Photos should be living, breathing things – adorning your house, given as gifts, made into books, posters, prints – whatever you desire for them. Don’t let the images that you work so hard to take languish on your memory cards or hard drives.
Ideas & resources:
- If you’re a bit stuck, Anthony did a webinar about How to Print from Lightroom
- We love the joy and fun of Self Publish, Be Happy – the photo organisation dedicated to you taking control of your work and putting it out there.
- Why not enter your best photos into the Sony World Photo Awards. It’s one of the few comps you can enter free – so risk-free. Just go!
3. Look for people whose ideas and work fascinate you
In reading about her, I then came to Edward Weston, from whom Modotti learnt much of her craft. Modotti was actually only one of two female photographers who were very significant in Weston’s life.
Edward Weston is considered one of the masters of twentieth century photography. He made his still lives of cabbage leaves, peppers and shells incredibly emotive and sensual.
Margrethe Mather, was once the most famous female photographer in America but appears to have been almost forgotten. She played an important role in Weston’s life, teaching him and developing his interest in photographing still lives of shells, flowers and everyday objects.
Mather and Weston worked together for several years – and you can read more about them in Margrethe Mather and Edward Weston: A Passionate Collaboration
After Mather, Modotti came into Weston’s life, and he taught her much of the craft of photography. They moved to Mexico together in the 1920’s and she became increasingly interested in documenting the social and political world of Mexico City.
Her short career (she died aged 45) was prolific. In her work she was innovative, and she mixed her fine art sensibilities with her strong social conscience. Tina Modotti Photos
Ideas & resources:
- I loved this incredible collection of images Of Love & War from photojournalist Lynsey Addario, where the stories of unbearable human tragedy are weaved interchangeably through images of resilience of the human spirit.
- I am rarely a fan of contemporary street photography. The abundance of comedic images often feel empty. To me, photos need to give me something more substantive – a little idea about being human, a glimpse of a story, a feeling. But I do love cities, and I love to explore them. So to expand my awareness of the possibilities of this genre, I have ordered the updated edition of Bystander – A History of Street Photography by Colin Westerbeck and Joel Meyerowitz, a collection of some of the most interesting street photography going back to the 19th century.
4. Commit to your progress
I remember when Anthony bought his first digital camera and started to practise using it alongside his film cameras. I was shocked by the results – they were dreadful.
Possibly it was the new world of digital cameras as they weren’t as good as now – but it was also that it was a whole new system for him to learn. I admired that he jumped in head first and spent hours and hours learning and perfecting.
Even now I often find him watching YouTube videos or reading articles about different techniques. I remember when he started really getting into HDR he’d be reading and practising, unswayed by his initial mediocre results.
While it’s obviously necessary to keep up with technology as a professional photographer, one thing that I have learnt from Anthony that I try to remember in my own work is to not get impatient with the learning journey.
Anthony starts learning something and keeps going. He starts out with no skill, keeps practising over time, is never in a great rush, and eventually gets to the proficiency he seeks.
He accomplished exactly this when learning about editing for our new video course, and he did it with time lapses and little videos that he wanted to make of his travels.
He is patient with himself – and this is what I’d like to share with you. So many people get frustrated with their progress, expecting to make massive leaps immediately. I do. Always. I am impatient, I am in a rush.
But learning is an every day, every year, lifetime experience.
Take pleasure in the learning journey. Recognise that you will get to where you want to go. Consistent incremental progress will get you everywhere.
Ideas & resources:
- Learn Manual / Tips for thinking more artistically when you process your images / Video: Learn how to process your images like an artist /
5. Create the environment you need to take photos
“Leisure, is not the same as the absence of activity… or even as an inner quiet. It is rather like the stillness in the conversation of lovers, which is fed by their oneness.” Josef Pieper
If I were to have a goal right now, it would be to bring more space and silence into my life. Because I know when I am not working or distracted or doing, then I will naturally turn to the act of creating.
You have to create the environment around you that will help you do the things you love to do.
For me, it’s – turn off my phone, log off my laptop and be alone. That’s all I need.
For Anthony, it’s often having enough energy and time to get up before dawn and go out. So exercising, and early nights.
It is different for everyone – the point is to know about what environment you need to create to take photos, and to make sure you have that in your life on a regular basis.
Ideas & resources:
6. Ignore everyone
Everything that is within us comes out in our photography, or writing, or creative practice.
When we are in deep creative flow, we are untethered from what others think of us: lying on the ground taking that shot, or asking that stranger for a portrait, or spending months photographing beautiful feathers because they are just so interesting to us.
But when we are showing people our images, all that is unique about ourselves can suddenly feel vulnerable. And let’s be honest, for all the yes, that’s great, we are so much more sensitive to criticism.
I have developed more of a thick skin over the years, but what made me filter criticism more vigorously was when Brene Brown said she won’t listen to criticism from people who aren’t putting themselves out there and doing something themselves.
It’s easy to just sit there and critique. But to say – this is who I am and this is what I’ve made is actually pretty brave. Even if it’s just putting your photos on social media or getting them printed to show to friends, it’s a brave act to reveal your work.
If you want to truly be creative, you have to unhook yourself from the judgements of others – and commit to that.
Ideas & resources:
A recent favourite photo project of Anthony’s was The Last Testament by Jonas Bendiksen. Anthony saw the exhibition during our Arles workshop in the summer, and brought home the book. It’s an in-depth exploration into the lives of men who think they are the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.
The photography is stunning, but made much more poignant accompanied by the men’s stories and teachings. Bendiksen’s approach is very respectful – as this could have turned into a giant comedy project. Instead, he gained the trust of his subjects and brought their lives and worlds vividly to life.
7. Drop the self criticism
Strangely, though, it’s often not what others think that is so destructive to our creativity. It is our own personal inner voice that scuppers our work.
Adam Phillips wrote a wonderful essay called Against Self-Criticism, in which he says:
“Were we to meet this figure socially, as it were, this accusatory character, this internal critic, we would think there was something wrong with him. He would just be boring and cruel. We might think that something terrible had happened to him. That he was living in the aftermath, in the fallout of some catastrophe. And we would be right.”
“Nothing makes us more critical, more confounded — more suspicious, or appalled, or even mildly amused — than the suggestion that we should drop all this relentless criticism; that we should be less impressed by it. Or at least that self-criticism should cease to have the hold over us that it does.”
How about doing something radical in 2019 and just completely and totally dropping the self-criticism? Instead of beration – think celebration. Instead of worrying about where you need to go, celebrate where you are at.
Print the photos. Enjoy your photography. Let it take you places you had no idea you wanted to go.
8. The power of surrendering to the world
Let’s be honest, so much of our lives are lived on the surface. It’s looking at things in the same way, doing the same things – not questioning the status quo. Our own personal status quo, our families or our cultures, how we work and what we do with our free time.
Travelling has given me a new perspective on habit and routine. I see now, truly see, that the maxim ‘wherever you go, there you are’ is 100% true.
So travel won’t take you out of habits, out of your routines of thinking and doing, and help you experience the world anew unless you allow it to.
If your thoughts are – things should be like this and like that, which I most certainly suffer from, you will have a similar experience whether you travel or stay at home.
You have to surrender that certainty and those thoughts about who you are and how things should be.
Nothing is certain, nothing is 100%. You have to allow travel and new experiences to change you. You have to unhook your habit and see what emerges.
Surrender to the new experience – allowing all of the new sensations to be alive in your body, even if this involves fear. Especially if it involves fear.
Trying to hold on to habits or preformed ideas you have about yourself and the world because you feel fear will block the potential for so many new enlivening experiences that could be dancing around in your life.
As Anthony and I are in mid-life, we are attempting to buck the trend – to consciously go in the opposite direction to where we are expected to be, in order to open up more possibilities.
It takes a lot of effort and overcoming of fears to become more of who we can be. But it’s an exhilarating experience of what life can become – and when you do it can elevate your creativity beyond your wildest imagination.
9. Find ways to be amazingly inspired on a regular basis
There is a sensation that I feel when I know I am deep in a creative flow state. I realise that somehow my worries or things I have been going over and over in my mind – although still there – seem to have shrunk.
I also notice that there is a beautiful, light feeling within me.
This is not an everyday state for me – yet. But it is a state that I’m trying to bring more into my life. One way I do this is meditating regularly which helps to ‘declutter’ my busy mind from excessive thoughts – and that’s the best way I can describe the benefits.
Meditating gives me space to be more thoughtful and creative, rather than obsessing over how we are getting to the airport tomorrow or wondering if Anthony called the accountant like I asked him to.
Another way is to fill my life with things that are deeply inspiring.
When I was in London I would take regular trips to the woods near us on the outer edges of West London. It’s scientifically proven that seeing trees every day (I think seeing at least 14 trees is the magic number) improves your mental health.
I can attest that whenever I found life too stressful, spending time in the woods would alleviate so much anxiety.
It’s what the Japanese call forest bathing – or Shinrin-yoku.
“It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Shinrin-yoku is like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world.” Dr. Qing Li – who wrote the book Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness.
(And did you know that trees have feelings, families and communities that they communicate with? The Hidden Life of Trees is a fascinating book proposing this new understanding of tree life.)
Anthony and I have found being by the sea intensely inspiring this year.
The vast expanse of it is so hypnotic. Some days it’s beautifully calm and still, translucent so you can see the sea floor. And then it’s wild and angry. Deep green with big waves, telling us all to keep away.
As Lord Byron said “There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more.”
Ideas & resources:
- Anthony’s video: For the Love of Light
- Anthony’s video: Hong by Night
- Incidentally, trees and the sea are both subjects Anthony has done photo projects on. A decade ago it was his project on trees, Arboreal Dreams, and this year his ongoing work on the sea where we live, which has the working title of Meditations.
10. Give up what binds your creativity
I am addicted to Facebook. There I said it. I admitted it to the world. Why do I need to say this out loud? Because it angers me that it almost seems like an unconscious act that, having put my daughter to bed, I fire up Facebook and suddenly realise an hour has disappeared from my life.
If I came off Facebook full of joy and ideas and inspiration then, hey, it’d be an hour well spent. But really, no-one expects to say that it makes me happy, right?
I don’t want to get into should’s though. I should be doing something else, I should be being productive, I should be better in every way. That to me just leads to the above point of intense self-criticism.
I would, however, like to give myself the time to potentially pick up my pen, to commit to what I love to do, to make progress on another book I have been writing for over a year now. That would be awesome.
So I am going to become Facebook-free.
I am going to remove just one thing from my life as the new year gets under way, and that’s the thing that binds me the most, and keeps me away from creating.
We all have things that impinge on taking photos or being creative. What is yours?
I hope you have enjoyed those ideas and they ignite something within you that will help your photography. Let us know in the comments below.
Read more of our articles …
One of my favourite articles was about Ara Guler. He was a phenomenal photographer – as you can see in the documentary about him – The Eye of Istanbul. I also deeply, deeply love Istanbul. It might be my favourite city in the world. Or how about these:
- Dissecting the shot series. See more here, here and here
- Photos: the beach at dawn in southern Spain
- The truth of long-term travel with your family
Diana and Anthony