Improving Your Photographic Mindset

Creative minds from time to time hit creative blocks, where we’re not learning or discovering new things. As a photographer trying to push your own boundaries, it can be frustrating at times. I want to share some ideas on how to overcome creative blocks and get yourself in a mindset to create better images.

1. Find a new perspective.

Set aside some time to explore different perspectives. Experiment with different angles, heights, and ranges, that you may not be a part of your normal routine. Get out of your comfort zone, which is the only limitation for you finding a new perspective.

Escalante image by John Haymore

Here are some ideas. Lay down on the ground so your angle is extremely close to your subject, and looking upward. Find something perched above, so you’re not shooting at chest level. Walk around a scene, looking for interesting angles and compositions. Don’t always shoot a subject straight on. No matter what your subject is, finding a new perspective will help give you that creative boost you are looking for.

2. Reduce your possibilities.

You read that right, REDUCE. In a digital age, it’s easy to shoot hundreds of images at a single location. While this is convenient, it dulls your creative thinking. Instead of firing off dozens of shots, meticulously look at the scene and think about the essence of your subject, how and what you’re trying to capture. The mood and message you want to convey through your photograph.

Southern Utah image by John Haymore

Reducing your shot count to a dozen or so images will force you to be in a different mindset and consider each photo before you take it. The plus side is that your creativity with begin to flow and you’ll be more attentive to your internal thoughts.

3. Make purposeful mistakes.

Throw out what every teacher told you in school about not making mistakes, and make them! (sorry any teachers out there) “Picture perfect” is a phrase you’ll commonly hear when referring to photography. But what is that anyway? I never quite understood that because of my background in art and design. In design school you’re taught to intentionally break the rules, to make mistakes, and to learn from them. When you’re trying to push your personal boundaries and expertise, do different experiments and see what works and what doesn’t work for your personal esthetic style. Purposeful mistakes boost your creativity.

4. Choose a single color.

Go out and focus on one color in particular. Shoot nothing but that. Build yourself a mini-portfolio based off that single dominant color. Find subjects, textures, shapes, small bits and large areas of that color. This channels your mind into tossing out other distractions and brings a purpose into focus. You’ll be surprised by what you can find and what the end result could be.

5. Find something that makes you uncomfortable.

If you’re really trying to improve your photography mindset, go out and shoot subject matters that aren’t your usual. It’s all about breaking comfort levels. For example, if you shoot landscapes, try shooting people. If portraiture is your jam, go shoot cityscapes, nature, and animals. If you’re a “natural light” photographer, try using flash and studio lights.

comet neowise by john haymore

You’ll quickly notice that the settings on your camera totally change based off your surrounding environment. You’ll think about your camera in a whole new way. By spending time practicing other styles and techniques, your mind will adapt and come up with new ways of shooting. You’ll even be able to apply new things you’ve learned to old subjects.

6. Take your camera everywhere.

Get out of the mindset of only bringing your camera with you when you go on a trip, or purposefully intend on using it. Try carrying it around with you everywhere you go for a whole week. By doing so, you’ll be constantly reminded to slow down and look at things differently (even through your lens). You’ll notice small things you normally miss. It doesn’t have to be on a grand scale, it can be something small and meaningful. Take it all in.

Utah State Capital Building by john haymore

7. Reduce your post-processing and editing time.

There’s a huge trend right now of post-processing images and editing them to perfection. More time on a computer = less time shooting. Focus on taking the best photographs you can, and don’t make post-processing the primary purpose of your photography. I promise you if you spend more time on location learning your camera, practicing fundamentals and controlling the available light and conditions, you’ll spend less time editing and more time creating.

8. Don’t compare yourself to other photographers.

Remember, the point of these exercises is to increase YOUR mindset, not others. If you spend your time envying other people’s work, it’s likely going to discourage you. Yes, look for inspiration, but in a creative sense, nothing more.

Night sky by john haymore

Practice arriving on location with a clear mind, and study the scene. Look for things that inspire you and speak to you. Don’t go with a bunch of pre-researched images of other people’s work clouding your memory and thinking. Photography is just like anything else in life. You can’t just pick up a camera and expect to be an all-star with a championship ring right away. Place emphasis on your own skills and improvement, and how much you’re refining. Less time comparing yourself to master-photographers means more time to learn.

9. Gear is secondary. Learn everything there is to know about the camera you have.

People ask me what’s the best gear, the best camera, best lens, filters, tripods, etc. All of which were new to photography. I’m seldom asked what fundamentals should be learned and what kinds of things they should practice.

southern utah by john haymore

It’s taken me over 10 years to acquire the tools I have now. Though I rather enjoy them, I’ll admit. When I was starting out, I didn’t have a nice camera. It was the “best” one I could afford. So what I focused on was composition, framing, controlling light, interesting subjects, leading shapes and the flow of a scene.

When you improve your photography skills enough to push the limits of your camera, you’ll naturally know what you need to upgrade to. Think of it like this: you don’t need a Formula 1 race car when you’re getting a learner's permit to drive. By the time you learn how to race and really need the advanced technology, the car will be old and the tires worn out.

10. Find creativity within, and be hesitant of external inspiration

There’s a huge difference between creativity and inspiration to create. It’s hard to develop your own unique style when you’re constantly looking at other people's work for “inspiration” and then trying to recreate it. I once heard a brilliant quote by an Art Director (Owen Shifflett), “It's no longer a spark of intuition to solve the uniqueness in a problem, but a search for the current and complacent solutions created by others.“ When we immerse ourselves in finding solutions from others instead of experimenting ourselves, we end up stunting the growth of our own creativity.

Get to know more about John Haymore below:

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About the Author

I’m John Haymore, a photographer with a deep passion for landscapes. Ever since I took my first road trip to Moab over twenty years ago, I’ve been in awe of the magnificent sandstone formations that Southern Utah holds. That single trip began decades of returned adventures, discovering new places I had no idea existed. Those encounters with serene locations left me craving for a way to hold on to those memories and preserve the surrounding beauty.

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Superb advice for a beginner who is seeking my own style like me. Thank you very much and keep up the good work!
Scott Cooley

Scott Cooley

Great article. Thank you for the insights.

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