Photography, like many other creative media, takes incredible skill. There are tools and techniques of the trade that demand understanding and experience to master. Even still, no matter how much you know about photography in the technical sense, there’s an artistic element that every photographer must bring to each frame. And linked to any artistic endeavor is almost always the desire, longing or need for some kind of inspiration. But finding inspiration isn’t always easy, even for the most creative or seemingly “inspired” photographers. So what are the ways to seek out and discover photographic inspiration when you need it most?
There’s no right or wrong answer, but there are some tried and true ways that some photographers seem to find something that lights up their lens and keeps them shooting. For Canadian photographer Catherine Connors (instagram.com/herbadmother), it’s the beauty and wonder of an open landscape. I can’t help but think her keen awareness and appreciation of Southern California specifically comes from being fairly new to the area. Even I tend to see my native land through a new lens when looking at Catherine’s images.
Whatever the case, it’s evident that she is constantly inspired by her surroundings. Catherine states, “I love capturing images of landscapes because I love the way that an epic landscape puts everything into perspective. A vast sweep of desert, an imposing block of mountains, a sunset that seems to explode across the sky—they’re all so big as to defy measurement. But point your camera toward these, and fix on something in the foreground, and suddenly their size has a context. Usually, it’s my children that are foregrounded, and that’s a very intentional choice that has less to do with capturing my children against a good backdrop than it does with capturing something of my own experience of their presence in the world. It’s so very, very big, and they are so very, very small—but the world and its horizons also represent infinite possibility, and their imposing, undeniable presence on that landscape is a kind of proof that it is theirs to conquer. There is the sky, there are the mountains—but there is this human being, so tiny by comparison but such a presence that the sky and the mountains are undeniably secondary. It’s inspiring to me—and reassuring.”
Photographer Kristin Zecchinelli (instagram.com/mainemomma), based in Maine, has her own way of gleaning inspiration from Mother Nature. Living void of noticeable season shifts as I do in California, I’m always moved by the way Kristin visually translates the natural world around her and how it affects her perspective.
As she so eloquently puts it, “I live in New England, a part of the world where seasons are hyper-obvious. Each one with its own unique beauty and gifts, always perfect inspirations for my photography. As a photographer, my eye instantly gravitates to the natural beauty Mother Nature heartily supplies me. My year begins surrounded by the stark monotones and stripped landscapes of our harsh, snowy winters. My eyes are drawn to the lacy, delicate details of frost-covered windowpanes and a landscape blanketed in layers of snow. My only pops of color [are] supplied by colorful winter apparel and an occasional ‘bluebird day,’ when the skies clear after a snow storm and the most amazing blue sky emerges that only winter can bring. Winter slowly gives way to our wet, electric green springs. The magical rebirth of a once-frozen earth is evident all around. My eyes (and camera lens) longing for anything and everything green are happily sated. Then our days grow longer, light-filled and warmer. Summer explodes, and my eyes are instantly drawn to all the colors, flowers and natural bounty; clothes on the line, farmers markets overflowing with life, bare feet and ice cream cones, the bright sun-soaked beaches dotted with happy, colorful beach umbrellas. Then summer’s song winds down and is replaced by autumn’s raucous colors and earthly decay. Amazing reds, yellows and oranges eventually all turn a golden brown as winter begins its inevitable descent upon us once more, and the circle flows on.”
While some take creative cues from observing the world around them, others are more actively pursuing their photographic muse. Over the years, I’ve watched and admired photographer Angie Dornier (anngeedee.com) embark on her many personal photography projects. I’m impressed and inspired by her ideas, her commitment and her execution of such compelling and creative projects. I not only felt the need to ask how she came up with her ideas but also how could she be so self-disciplined Angie’s response was all about the desire for inspiration.
She put it so well when she said, “Photographic inspiration comes to me all at once like a firework bursting in the dark sky. I get hit with a deluge of interests at the same time, and then I could go for months without finding something I want to work on. In the past, it was always hot or cold. During a time of abundance, I would race from one thing to the next, never allowing myself any time to fully develop an idea before running off to try something else. (And believe me, I wanted to try everything!) I would burn myself out, and then spend months looking for another spark. Thankfully, I’ve found another way to keep myself grounded and churning on a slow burn. When ideas come to me in a flash, I write them down and put them into my Jar of Inspiration. I choose one topic each month and spend time each day working on that mini-project. It allows me to stay grounded and consistent instead of explosive and manic. When I allow myself time to work through an idea, my photography continues to improve, and I can hone my techniques and find new processes that help me in my client work. By sticking with a schedule, inspiration stays close by my side, without consuming me in its flame.”
Photographer Karen Delaney (www.karenadelaney.com) has found inspiration in a different way. I met Karen at a creative retreat, where we discussed and shot photography together. We both absolutely came away inspired with being surrounded by fellow creative, and I asked her specifically about her personal pull to community and how it affects her photography. She reflected, “When I first started taking photos, it seemed like a solo journey, one that didn’t include community. That all changed with my first online photography course. It opened up my world by being part of this creative community. It amazed me how we all responded so differently to the class prompts. In the end, all our voices together enriched the photo story being told. Sharing in this way changed my perspective and expanded my ideas of what was possible.”
But there was even more to it than that. Karen learned that inspiration came in an even more unexpected way: “I started attending live workshops and met other artists who I continue to gather with. The live workshops were a little tough in the beginning as I battled my inner critic in a social setting. I quickly discovered that I was deeply inspired by witnessing others in their creative process and found myself taking photos of their work. When I shared these later with them, it allowed them to feel seen and witnessed on a deeper level. So not only was I inspired by being a part of the creative community, I was also inspired by being an observer of it.”
8 Inspiration Incentives
- Nature: Let the magic and mystery of the natural world pique your curiosity and entice your lens in refreshing new ways.
- Conversation: Seek out other creatives to connect with. Photo friends and colleagues can often offer new perspectives.
- Films: Observe moving pictures like you would a still image. The cinema can open new portals of visual ideas and inspiration.
- Life: Sometimes the most ordinary things can yield the most extraordinarily photogenic opportunities if you’re open to them.
- Challenges: Finding creative challenges or photo prompts can lead your lens toward something unique. Newness can translate into something refreshing.
- Gear: Try a new piece of photography gear. Borrow, rent or buy a different lens or a new gadget to help mix things up.
- Projects: Whether solo or in a group, working on a project means you’ve got a kind of “assignment” to concentrate on.
- Pause: When feeling particularly uninspired, sometimes walking away from your camera can be the best remedy. Time away, fresh air or even a totally different artistic outlet can work wonders.