Thoughts On Google And How It Can Jump Start Photography Inspiration

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What to expect from this (long) article: I do not intend to write a set of complete instructions how to use Google and its broad variety of services to market a photography business. There are enough detailed articles – books even – out there which are doing a great job in explaining the advantages of Google+ & Co. for photographers.

I’d rather like to publish some of my personal thoughts on a selected choice of Google services (triggered by the #1 question I often hear at work: What do you think of Google+?) and I’d also like to provide a few ideas for shutterbugs how to use these services to find photography inspiration. So if you’re interested in Google or a photographer trying to anticipate the next artistic low please bear with me.

What do I think of Google+?
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With 350 million active users, Google’s social platform blossomed into the 2nd biggest social network right after Facebook. Unfortunately, the network has a negative public image which gets reinforced by public comments made by ignorant tech journalists or people who tried to use Google+ (G+) during its hyped launch phase but eventually gave up too fast.

Critics say G+ is silent, I say G+ is different – but far from silent. In fact it’s one of the best places for skilled photographers because of its growing and very engaging photography community which will not shy away to reward quality content.

The trend on social currently goes towards image-centric content. Apps like Instagram and Flickr grow as fast as never before, and G+ makes no exception. Did you see their latest updates giving high priority to big size images? It’s an old piece of wisdom but still effective: A great picture says more than a thousand words.

G+ critics also say it is hard to get liked (+oned) and shared on the network. Well, your friends and family who “auto-like” all your Facebook updates may not be on G+. Teething trouble! Luckily we know what kinds of updates are liked by others (with similar passions), don’t we? Correct, quality content. Sorry for the repetition, it is intentional.

Now I don’t want to imply that you don’t need to put a bit of extra effort in a G+ profile to get feedback. You do! Simply posting one excellent image won’t be enough to cause circle madness. It is obviously harder to convince strangers to lend you an ear (or eye). Define your passion or niche, stay consistent and share your work with an own story, experience or thought provoking opinion. Give useful tips. Spread newsworthy news. Comment and reshare posts you love. The secret is to see G+ more like an open blogging platform rather than a poor Facebook copy. It simply isn’t Facebook!

In fact, Google has no interest in creating a Facebook clone. For them, Facebook is a “walled garden”. Think of it like this: Google’s best product is its very well defined search algorithm (the secret weapon of GoogleAds!). This algorithm is based on all search queries it performs each day. Google needs public search queries and public search results to make its search algorithm even more precise in order to refine its ad solutions.

Google has no benefit from walled gardens like Facebook with its strict privacy settings. It is actually threatened by such platforms and therefore aims to have an “open garden” like G+ which it strives to establish as a blogging platform around passions rather than a platform to share party pics with the family.

To sum up: It is not a coincidence that Google gives a high priority to becoming a major player in social networks. Stop comparing. Accept its dissimilarity. Give it a Go.

How to get inspired on Google+?
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Like on many other networks, it is rather easy to start with listening. You don’t even need your own G+ profile. You can simply search on Google by adding the filter “” to your query. Find out what other G+ togs are sharing and thinking or find challenging. Trust me, you will find listening much easier than jumping right into your first photography hangout or joining a photography community on Google+. These are steps for “advanced inspiration” once you’re familiar with the basic G+ features.


It can be tedious to find photographer profiles on G+ which might fall into your field of interest. Don’t bother. Let more experienced G+ users work for you at the beginning.

Browse through recommended photographer profiles in public circles focusing on your niche or photography style. For example, if you are a landscape photographer you can do a quick G+ / Google search for ‘ ”shared a circle” landscape photography ’ (keep the quotation marks around “shared a circle”). The first search result I get is this post by RJ Wilner promoting a public circle with almost 200 landscape photographers on G+ that he handpicked because “their work is consistently good to great”.


Now you can simply add this circle to your own circles and you will automatically get the updates from all people in this circle, or you can create a test circle, dump the 200 profiles in and go through each profile manually. Latter one takes longer, but promises better long term results. When you find a few profiles of interest, go ahead and create your own landscape circle based on your own preferences for a daily stream of fresh inspiration. Don’t forget to junk the test circle with the uninspiring (personal taste really) or inactive profiles.

If you did a simple Google search and found an inspiring G+ profile you would like to follow, you can also do so without G+ account by creating an RSS feed to which you can subscribe with your RSS reader of choice. Though it seems this does not yet work with the new personalized URLs Google is rolling out. To stay tuned.

Tip: A few public circles are regularly updated to reward very active G+ members. By sharing great content, staying active and following a few simple rules you could end up fast in the next public circle being an inspiring GeePlusser yourself (and receiving more feedback on your own work, which in turn is hopefully very inspiring too). I actually got most of my G+ followers from being included in the “a photo a day” circle in 2012. BUT: Beware of circle jerks!

While public circles are neat to browse for people with similar interests, you might prefer getting inspired by browsing images (which do not necessarily have anything to do with your preferred photography style). First aid: Daily photography themes. All of them can be a great source of inspiration and may help you to find a link between a new style and your current style. Here are some of my favorites:

#MinimalMonday curated by +Olivier Du Tré
#BokehTuesday curated by +Bob Baxley
#WildlifeWednesday curated by +Mike Spinak and +Morkel Erasmus
#SilhouettesOnThursday curated by +Siddharth Pandit
#FloralFriday curated by +Tamara Pruessner +Beth Akerman +Kiki Nelson and +Eustace James
#StillLifeSaturday  curated by +Keneth Hoyle and +Sherri Meyer
#ShadowSunday curated by +Daniel Graupner and +André Roßbach

Tip: If you get more than inspired and plan to make use of these daily themes yourself post your photo on the correct day (say on Sunday for #BeachSunday) and mention the curator of the theme (link to the G+ profile), which is a common way on G+ to show appreciation and have a chance to get a repost if the theme’s tag has an own G+ page (like for example #BeachSunday).

Curious and / or willing to get inspired? Fantastic! You can find all the big daily themes in this public Google Calendar curated by Ellie Kennard (click on a theme for details, like the curator’s name). You can find new Daily Photography Themes here, or – if you’re so inspired that you want to become a curator yourself – you can suggest your own theme here (which makes sense if you want wide exposure and lots of inspiring submissions right from the beginning).

Tip: I am not sure if you can create an RSS feed for a G+ hashtag as well. But if you find a post you like, you can bookmark it for easy access lateron.


Some thoughts on Google’s YouTube
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I like YouTube. I like that no TV executive can decide anymore what I watch at which time of the day. I know I am not alone.

YouTube has 1 billion users (June 2013) who watch hours of video each month. Unfortunately, many of these hours are filled with originally copyrighted material, which puts Google in focus of norm discussions for digital communication.

Please don’t get me wrong; Google monitors YouTube content and has a quite complex support section on copyright. The company definitely follows a different approach from YouTube’s start-up period. A short history lesson:

When YouTube first launched in 2004 it didn’t take long till the first copyrighted material was uploaded and spread without the creator’s permission (knowledge). Steve Chen and Jawed Karim, two of the three YouTube founders, advocated an opt-out option for this kind of content, meaning, as long as the original content owner wouldn’t ask YouTube to take a video down it would stay up, even though the copyright owner never opted-in to have the video uploaded to YouTube.

When Google bought YouTube in 2006 they strived to tame “the Wild West of copyright infringement that characterized YouTube’s pioneer days, both through licensing deals with major content providers and through a content-management program, called Content ID, that alerted copyright holders automatically whenever any part of their content went up on YouTube. Owners can choose to remove the content, sell ads against it and share the money with YouTube, or use it as a promotional tool. Content ID generates a third of YouTube’s revenue.” (Streaming Dreams: YouTube turns Pro by John Seabrook).

However, there are still people out there who think that all the content found online is and has to be for free and they continue sharing it on networks like YouTube for example (many of you photographers surely know what I am talking about). Consequently, they are also not willing to pay for content online. There is educational (!) work to do.

Luckily there are also people out there who see a personal opportunity in a streaming service like YouTube. Vloggers and “home artist” share their own experiences, tips and skills rather than someone else’s. It is this – (hopefully) free of copyright infringements – video wonderland where I would like to send you for an inspirational foray.

How to get inspired on YouTube?
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First of all, you can find all kinds of video tutorials on YouTube which discuss in length how to become a better photographer, for example by making use of the Magic Lantern software which Canon users love to install on their cameras for some extra functionalities. Chances are you already know about YouTube’s vast quantity of photography tutorials.

So let me ask one question: Why do so many photographers think they have to be inspired by other photographers? Be inspired by what inspires you! For me it can be a science experiment, a travel documentation, an art project or even a well-made advertisement (please click on the links to see some of my favorite videos).

Sometimes I get inspired by something I see on television; for example the cinematography of the TV show Breaking Bad. I loved the camera filters that have been used for desert scenes, the time lapses in between two scenes, the low camera angles and of course the various points of view which made us all see moments of the series “through the eyes” of a washing machine, swimming pool, shovel or car trunk.

Unsurprisingly I found a YouTube video about the various points of view that have been used during several Breaking Bad season. Treasure! How about changing your camera’s point of view during your next photo session?

Wait a minute, didn’t you just badmouth copyright issues on YouTube, you might wonder after seeing the video above. I assume that it falls under “fair use”, which, in the US, means that certain uses of copyrighted content may be considered fair if they are for criticism, news reporting, commentary, research or teaching. Besides, the above clip is rather “transformative” and not a mere copy. “Borrowing small bits of material from an original work is more likely to be considered fair use than borrowing large portions.” (What is fair use? On YouTube)

Did you read some of the Breaking Bad POV video comments? Many people praised the music choice. And I agree; I guess we all got emotional because of a song already. How about some inspirational tunes then?

Nearly every record label and artist can be found on YouTube, allowing you to find inspiration in lyrics, sounds and visual effects of course. My current favorites are Tennis Court by Lorde (great documentation of studio light effects), Ratchet by Bloc Party (see the overlapping images effect) and Breathe Me by Sia (nice Polaroid animation).

What are your favorite music videos or visual inspirations that you discovered through YouTube?

Some thoughts on Google Books
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Digitizing the world’s books means access to international points of view, out of print or conserved books and books we would have never known they existed; digitization means preserving ideas in a format less vulnerable to natural hazards like fire or flooding (both happened already to renowned libraries).

So while Google’s intention to digitize the world’s books may sound like a win-win for authors (they would be heard), publishers (they would have a free marketing tool), readers (think about the enormous resources at your fingertips), librarians (they would have a digital back-up of their business) and Google (they would follow their pursuit to make knowledge accessible to everyone), the Google Books project is first and foremost a good thing for Google, a business that doesn’t live hand-to-mouth.

Critics of Google Books mention copyright issues (affecting authors and publishers), restrictions upon certain books (affecting readers) and the end of line for printed books (affecting librarians), but there are no obvious negative points for Google.

1. Google gets a huge free body of content to use for revenue through ads.

2. The extra text in their system enables Google to analyze human language in order to create devices that mimic and interpret human speech (see Google Glass for example). Given that Artificial Intelligence will be huge in the coming years, this is an immense competitor advantage.

3. Google can collect data about us while we browse their book database; yet another access point providing them with invaluable information how to improve their search algorithm.

4. If Google ever considers Google Books a failure they could just shut it down. Scary, right?

That said, Google Books hopefully sets an example for public institutions to learn from their “public failure” not to subsidize libraries for a fast and efficient scanning process the way Google set it up.

I don’t deny that Google Books is a brilliant idea, quite the contrary, I am using it and I will as long as Google keeps it online and there is no public library equivalent available; but I agree with the original law suit that scanning someone else’s content and having a free ride on it (even if it’s only a snippet view) isn’t a gentlemen’s agreement.

How to get inspired through Google Books?
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Now that we cleared this, you might want to know how I already found inspiration through Google Books. The service is actually not limited to books as the name might imply, but also grants access to a huge selection of magazines, like the New York magazine or American Photo magazine for example.

I especially enjoy browsing through the old issues of magazines, say from the 1960s and 70s, a time when I wasn’t even born yet. Luckily Google offers tag clouds of the most common keywords in an issue, so I skim till I find something that catches my attention and I go from there.

That’s how I found for example an article about experimental photography in a LIFE magazine from 1954. The photographer, Marvin Newman, used a special film material to turn everyday scenes into silhouette landscapes, something that photographers still enjoy nowadays, especially with regards to minimalism.


LIFE Magazine, 22 March 1954, Photo by Marvin Newman

In the 1950s however, when photographers had film cameras only, this was purely experimental; one reason for me to google Mr Newman and find out more about his work. Turns out the man is really obsessed with shadows, a photo topic I plan to explore myself a bit more. Bingo!

Browsing through old magazines does not only show you what was popular, but also what was the best of the best for the time they were published. It’s the difference in aesthetic and expression I personally find most inspiring.

Google Street View technology and Art Galleries
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When talking about Street View, we finally reach a point where I would need to discuss Google and privacy. This is going to get looooong! I spare you this one this time and refer you to the very interesting book The Googlization of Everything written by Siva Vaidhyanathan (no sponsored link). It contains a complete chapter about Google Street View and how it’s been perceived in different countries with different cultural backgrounds, what problems Google had to deal with and which facets of privacy have been violated due to Google’s new technology to “scan the neighborhood” with Googlemobiles.

Just one fun fact for all photographers reading this: The first privacy discussions due to new technology in the US didn’t happen before 1890 and they were triggered by the invention of the Kodak camera. Surprised?

How to get inspired thanks to Street View technology?
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The Street View technology allows Google Maps users to explore cities, streets, places, or even single buildings in a 360° view, like for example Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

But Google doesn’t limit its virtual tours to the outside. Thanks to the Street View technology, you can visit renowned art galleries like Musée d’Orsay in Paris and get access to high-resolution images. Van Gogh, Monet, Degas – the old masters are only a view clicks away. How great is that?! After all, they aren’t called masters for nothing but studied light, composition and posing till perfection. You can learn a lot by trying to produce a similar image; or you can learn by trying to homage.

A side initiative of the Google Art Project is the Google Cultural Institute, which, just like Google Books, aims to make cultural material accessible and to preserve it to inspire future generations. As of June 2013, 6 million items have been digitized. Obviously I am a big fan of the photo collections you can access. I even found a few items from Te Papa, my favorite museum in New Zealand.


Hot Water Cups, White Terrace, Photo by Charles Spencer, taken between 1880 and 1885 (belongs to the Te Papa collection)

Looking at paintings or photographs (at the computer or in the museum) is always inspiring for me. How about you? Which galleries or photo exhibitions can you recommend? Or which ones would you like to see added to Google’s Art Project? Me personally, since I already mentioned Te Papa, I would love to see their collection of Brian Brake’s work in a Google gallery. The kiwi photographer took stunning photos of New Zealand and the world and has had some influence on how I see landscape photography.

Final thoughts:
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Many thanks if you read this long article till the end. I hope it gave you some ideas for new photo projects and experiments, or at least ideas where to forage for inspiration.

I also hope I was able to show that this post isn’t intended to be a Google advertisement. I admit I like and use many of their products, but I try to stay skeptical and to avoid getting too dependent on one online company creating a “web for one”. Google has a lot of power and it can’t hurt to scrutinize their influence from time to time. Let me know what you think about Google by leaving a comment…

If you like this post, you might also like Acronym Galore: #jj, #gf, #wu, #rsa, #whp, #ic & #owu on #ig

4 thoughts on “Thoughts On Google And How It Can Jump Start Photography Inspiration

  1. Pingback: Year In Review: 2013 | travel photography and social media for photographers - ae.i

  2. I read all the positive aspects you mentioned about google + . The fact is I thought I don’t need to be involved in yet another social network. It’s true that I had no clue about the communities on certain fields, like photography, but somehow it seemed all so complicated to even bother to give it a chance. :D I created an account many months ago, which I deleted shortly after, mainly because it changed the looks of my picasa account, which I’m sure it wasn’t user friendly and puzzled all my family members who were following my photos :D


    • Thanks a lot for your comment Corina! I think many people shy away from G+ because it looks “so complicated” ;) I think the impression is caused by the constant comparison to other social networks, especially Facebook. The truth is, once you accept that G+ is different and stop comparing it’s actually rather easy to use.

      Anyway, you have a point when you say you don’t think you need to be on yet another social network. I tried many networks and gave up on the majority cause they don’t work for me or I simply don’t like their look (similar to your Picasa issue I guess). I clearly have my favorites that I use on a regular basis (and G+ is no longer among them; I am all Instagram now :D ). I just wanted to make clear that G+ can be powerful when fully understood and take up the cudgels for an often misunderstood tool.


  3. Pingback: Is Your Photography Blog Ready For Google’s Mobile Ranking Changes? | travel photography and social media for photographers - ae.i

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