At the heart of all art is the issue about how the artist “sees.” Training yourself how to see the world through emotion instead of just visual elements is difficult. Part of what I feel helps is spending time each day thinking about how you see the world you live in. How you feel about it and how it effects your life.
Spending time thinking about how the world effects your life is maybe the most important of these. To learn to allow yourself to be vulnerable to these emotions may be hard but a photo like any other form of art is a reflection of the world mixed in with your paradigm.
Also looking at as much work by others as you can is very important. I’m not talking about the Flickr what a bees but truly talented photographers both of the past and present. There are several excellent magazines that contain compelling photographs and I mean that even if you don’t like them. Some I would recommend are PDN, Photo Eye, Aperture, Lenswork, B&W, and Silvershotz. These are just a few. Most are available at your local Border’s or Barnes and Noble or online. Some have extended content on their websites and offer contest opportunities.
Spending time with these publications can spark a lot of thinking and push you to try new things even though they may be very difficult to accomplish. Most of us fine art photographers have other “day jobs” and that does impact our growth but even during that time you can work on your seeing. I’m sure that you already have plenty of books on the how to do things. Work flow, Photoshop, Lightroom, etc so now look for books on how to look for photographs. How to see. Some of these books can cover the standard “rules” of how to shoot a picture but they will also force you to look past the rules.
I fully agree you must understand the rules before you break them. In some cases looking through books of great painters is very helpful.
When you are standing with your camera thinking there’s nothing to shoot here, STOP. Move into a more Zen like state and absorb your surroundings. Feel them and build an emotional bond. Open your eyes and look very carefully. The photo is there. Let your emotions guide you.
Many times I go out to take a specific photo and to look at what I’m doing one would think I was nuts but the truth is I “see” something more. I have a concept in my mind of what I want the photograph to be when it is finished with all the post processing. I relate to the emotional elements I’m trying to portray. Like a poem.
What I shot. What I saw.