As I made my way from Gig Harbor to Las Vegas for the WPPI convention, I was reminded of how important photography is in our world. The highway is lined with billboards containing photos. People drive by with pictures on their car or in their windows. When I stopped for food and gas breaks the restaurants and gas stations were full of images.
All of these photographs, good and bad, can serve up inspiration for photographers. The most routines places and experiences in our lives can motivate our photography. Where else can we find inspiration?
1 – Movies
I don’t have much time to go to the movies these days, but when I do go, I go for two reasons. The first is to hope for entertainment. The second is to look for imagery. If you study the work cinematographers like John Alton or Charles Bryant Lang, Jr., you can’t help but be inspired. Cinematographers have to struggle with the same issues we do as photographers. Look at how they tell stories with motion picture cameras and learn from their expertise.
2 – Old Family Photos
I love looking at old family photos. I don’t even care if they’re from my family. ANYONE’S old family photos can be a source of inspiration. What backgrounds caught my eye? How did the pose from the old days compare with one I might find now? What patterns moved me? Old family photos can be a gold mine of information and inspiration for modern-day photographers.
3 – Museums
Whether or not your local museum displays photography, there’s plenty of visual stimulation at the average exhibit. Movement, shape, color, form, lighting, etc. are important to many art forms. Look at how other artists use these tools to create their art and apply it to your photography.
Now this might sound weird, but I often find myself visually inspired by auditory input. When I listen to certain types of music, I start to create visual imagery in my head that goes with the music. That seems to get cataloged somewhere in my tiny brain and just when I least expect it, instead of being able to remember my Safeway Customer Loyalty Card Number, I hear the melody and see a corresponding image that causes me to want to make a photograph.
5. Go For A Walk
When I was in Florida last month, I regularly went for a walk along the beach. I often came upon patterns, reflections, and other things that would cause me to think about photography. Maybe the information I took away from walking down the beach didn’t directly and immediately translate to a photo opportunity, but it often stimulated me to take action on a photographic idea later.
6. Read the Sunday Paper
If you have access to a major Sunday Newspaper – spend 15 minutes looking at the images. Don’t read any stories, just look at pictures. Most Sunday newspapers have a Sunday magazine or a features section that will be full of the best work from talented photojournalists who are master storytellers. I find this sort of imagery very instructive and inspiring. It helps me to see in new ways.
7. Get a New Lens
Okay, I had to throw in something for the gear junkies. (I can see it now, hundreds of photographers furiously printing this post out on their inkjet printers to show to their spouse or significant other to use as an excuse to make a trip to the local camera store!) Sometimes literally looking through a new lens can cause you to be visually inspired. I’ll never forget the first time I looked through a fisheye or a tilt-shift lens. It had a big impact on me and caused me to want to spend more time trying new things with my camera.
8. Buy a Child a Disposable Camera
This is one of my favorites. Kids aren’t afraid to try new things. Heck, to them, everything IS new. They haven’t learned to be self-conscious or doubting yet so they just go for it. Kids don’t care if the picture “comes out” as much as they care about the experience. If you hand a kid a disposable camera and say, “Let’s go shooting together,” be prepared for your inspiration meter to peg hard to the right. Kids see things differently (and sometimes more clearly) than we do as adults. Follow their lead and you will be inspired.
9. Photograph for Charity
If you are bored with your photography, one of the quickest ways to get a pick-me-up is to stop thinking about yourself, and start thinking about helping somebody else. Years ago I started a project taking inner-city youth out on a monthly photo walk. I don’t think the term “photo walk” had even been invented yet. We’d go photograph around town and a local lab would develop contact prints for each child. We’d have a little contest and give EVERY kid a $50 grocery gift certificate so they could be assured of food on the weekend. Talk about inspiration. Watching and working with these kids gave me so many ideas that years later, I still thrive by them.
10. Ignore the Critics
One thing that will kill your creativity faster than anything else is the critic. Ignore negative people. They exist for one reason – to steal your inspiration. Look at them and treat them like thieves. Stay away from them. Exclude them from your life. The trolls can’t do what you can do so they have no choice but to try to make themselves feel better by cutting you down. Don’t fall for it. The most inspirational thing you can do is surround yourself with people who support your photographic efforts. Find people who are rooting for you to win – not people who are hoping (and helping) you find find failure.