As for all the arts and works emanating from the heart and mind, we need that spark for our creations. Like wordsmiths who can have writer’s block, image-makers on occasions can also feel unimaginative and face a blank canvas. Here’s how I counter such moments of drudgery and awaken a sleeping creativity.
1. Go on location
The most enthusiastic lensman can capture exquisite images right from his home or backyard. But sometimes it takes a trip outside into the big wide world to give us photographic ideas and insights. Nature never fails to inspire the artist in us. It may not be a grand adventure or expedition but simply a walk in the beach, fishing by the lake, a picnic on a forest reserve. The breath of fresh air and views of new surroundings is sure to stimulate senses and get you grabbing that camera, seeing the world through the viewfinder.
2. View works of the masters
Bless the internet as we can see in an instant the works of the legends – Ansel Adams, Henri-Cartier Bresson, Diane Arbus, Annie Leibovitz and many more. Professionalphotographer.co.uk lists 100 Most influential photographers of all time with links to their works. I get a kick reading on their biography, how they started in photography and how they found their style. Viewing their masterpieces, for me, is an enriching experience. We may never get to reach their level, but surely we can learn a thing or two from their pioneering and innovative efforts.
3. View works of enthusiasts
The masters may teach us, yet it is the works of like-minded photography enthusiasts that influences me and keeps me grounded on reality. At this time when everyone with a smartphone can snap any picture, I actually explore Flickr and other photo sites as well as pages of photo bloggers here at WordPress, looking out for those exceptional images that stand out. I read about the photographer, their experiences, the camera settings they use to take images. It thrills me that I can be of the same level with outstanding enthusiasts, as I can never be with the masters.
4. Join a camera club
We may be members of online groupings, participating in chats and forums to learn from others. However, nothing beats joining a physical camera club where you get to brush elbows with friends and peers. Social engagement is now taken for granted what with all the social media sites around. But “facebooking” or “flickring” is never like the inspired experience of an actual photo shoot/photo walk with your club buddies.
5. Be alone
Social is good. But the clutter and chatter of our fast-paced, noisy environment distracts us from the art of “seeing” or “sensing.” I found that a place of quiet and contemplation, where the soul can be calm and the mind refreshed, can unleash imagination and vision.
Creativity is not an on or off thing like a toggle switch that can be activated at the flick of a finger. Artists are an emotional and expressive batch and they can have moods, sometimes bountiful with a wellspring of inspiration flowing continuously, at times dark and empty, an abyss of nothingness. There are moments we need to find our muse and there are things we can do to realize that. How about you, where do you draw inspiration for your images?
Have a great week ahead!
A recent post of mine Inspiration from within contained an excerpt from the article of master photographer Alain Briot titled Finding Inspiration. Before I read that article it was always my belief that we find inspiration from outside – in nature, in places, in the works of the masters and legendary photographers, and in photos of blogger peers. The wonders of the Internet affords us to review and admire the works of noted photographers, without us physically going to the library. This is where I get my inspiration: an interesting situation, a new place or location, and images by other photographers. Half of my time on WordPress is spent going through the sites of photo bloggers. Yes folks, I get ideas and inspiration from your works.
The aforementioned are what Alain Briot calls external inspiration. Then there is also the internal inspiration. Something which I never realized consciously until just recently. This is inspiration derived from our work which, as we accumulate experience and knowledge, is refined and improved. How many times have people noticed your images and said it was great? You post a creative piece of image in your blog and others comment, like and follow you. That is public approbation in the blogosphere. And you get inspired, and vow to do well and capture pictures to top the image that got so much attention. It will be a cycle of giving out your best every time you press the shutter. It is a powerful driving force – the spark of inspiration within.
However, back then I did not realize that there is a second level of inspiration. This second level of inspiration is our own work, the work we create following the spark of inspiration I just described. At that time, when new work is being created, this work in turns becomes the source of inspiration, of new ideas. This work starts to generate ideas for more work. It becomes the motivation for going further into a specific direction and for continuing to explore a specific subject.
I vividly remember the day that I found my work more inspiring than the work of the masters that had so far guided my steps. It came as a shock and at first it felt sacrilegious. But the feeling persisted and revealed itself to be a lasting fact rather than a passing impression.
As time went by and as my work progressed I became more and more inspired by my work and less and less inspired by other photographers’ work. Today, I continue to find inspiration in the work of artists but as time goes by this inspiration increasingly comes from artistic mediums other than photography. I find inspiration in writing, painting, music, architecture and in the design of functional and beautiful objects, be it cars, ceramics, tableware, light fixtures or a multitude of other things. I love to discover objects that demonstrate a seamless relationship between form and function. In turn, I like to collect and own such superb examples of artistic design to which practicality and art have been given equal attention.
~Alain Briot on External and Internal Inspiration, from his article Finding Inspiration
There is little room today for inspiration in most people’s lives. However, if your goal is to create artistic photographs, if your goal is to be an artist, in short if your goal is to create art, you must make room for the muses to visit you, or for when inspiration strikes, whenever that may be.~Alain Briot
I adore this article Finding Inspiration by master photographer Alain Briot. In it he defines and differentiates the relation between four of the most important aspects of photography – inspiration, creativity, vision and personal style. Here’s his take on these four:
A. One can be inspired without being creative.
B. One can be extremely creative without being particularly inspired.
C. One can be inspired and creative without fulfilling a personal vision.
D. Finally, one can have a personal vision without having yet developed a personal style.
Each of the aforementioned has its own explanation and I was impressed how Briot connected and correlated them. I will not expound further but will strongly suggest that you again set aside some five minutes or so of your time to go over this very compelling and informative article. In the latter part of his piece, Briot adds:
“Finding inspiration is an engaging subject. As we just saw there are many ways to find inspiration. Yet, there is one way that I have not discussed yet, and that is where your own internal inspiration, your “secret flame” so to speak, resides…This flame, this spark of energy, this initial internal combustion burst, resides within you. It has been there for a long time, most likely since the day you were born, and it is for you to discover if you do not know about it yet.”
For me, photography has always been a process of discovery, both of the world and of myself. When I look back at the pictures I took early on, they were amateurish, unpolished – works of an inexperienced snap shooter. I don’t know why I kept these crude pictures in my hard disk. I should have deleted them long ago. But I did not. Probably to serve a purpose such as a reminder that I should never take pictures like those again. So I read up on techniques, on styles, on the wisdom of the masters. I looked at lots of fine photos from books and on the internet. I experimented with my shots, practiced and trained my eye to “see” despite being nearsighted (I wear glasses). I learned to find photographic inspiration even in the most menial subjects. And learned to see the light such as in the picture above. Briot is right, it is within you. You have to discover that spark, and express it in your images.
But inspiration comes from the soul and when the Muse isn’t around even the best exposure meter is very little help. In their biographies, artists like Michelangelo, da Vinci and Bach said that their most valuable technique was their ability to inspire themselves. This is true of all artists; the moment there is something to say, there becomes a way to say it.~Ralph Gibson