Monday, March 26, 2012

On Inspiration

 Spring Walk, 2012

I’ve often commented that there’s no shortage of interesting things to photograph. And yet there are many times I don’t have the will to go out and photograph something.
Lenswork magazine publisher Brooks Jensen recently described this is a quandary that afflicts many photographers, particularly those of us who respond to the environment around us (as opposed to those who work in the commercial photography sector where so many images are posed, constructed or arranged).
Jensen agrees that there’s no shortage of opportunity. What’s missing, he says, is the inspiration to go shoot it. The commercial photographer generally has a target in mind, a specific set of conditions and expectations that must be met. We wandering photographers, on the other hand, only have a conceptual target; namely, the possibility that we’ll take a picture that gives us satisfaction. We just know we’re going out with the camera. We might have a starting point. But honestly, we’re not sure what we’re going to see or what, if anything, we’ll bring home.
How do you overcome this lethargy? Jensen’s solution is simple. Figure out what inspires you and surround yourself with whatever that is.
Well, duh.
So where do you find inspiration?
You can get inspiration from looking at other people’s pictures. I know I do. And there’s no better way to learn about the art of photography than by looking at other people’s pictures. But it’s also my experience that too much direct inspiration of that sort tends to lead to derivative ideas or styles.
Inspiration usually comes to me in the form of a question or a challenge. What’s the story of this place? How can I best convey what it was like to be here to someone who was not here? How can I portray this place in a way that is different from how it has been portrayed before? That last question is the one that usually provokes me to start looking closer at things.
While taking a walk yesterday afternoon I noticed a section of our street that was carpeted in spent Cherry blossoms. It looked like pink snow. They’d been pressed flat by rain and traffic, so there wasn’t much dimensionality to them. I still wanted to try to convey some sense of the mood they elicited.
I used my camera phone to take a few pictures of the street. The results weren’t at all interesting. So I eliminated all the distractions by pointing the camera down at the street. That result—pick petals against the asphalt street—also wasn’t very interesting, more like wallpaper.
It was only when I stepped in closer and the blue trim of my shoes provided contrast to the pink petals that there started to be the inkling of an idea. Unfortunately, that’s when the rain kicked back in in earnest. I had to get back home quickly. So there’s still no story to this. But at least you have a sense of scale and a mix of somewhat complementary colors.
And since they’re so pretty this time of year, I couldn’t resist a cheap shot of these redbud tree blossoms.
Red Buds, 2012


  1. I think it's marvelous how you are always able to come up with unique ideas in your photos-wonderful, vibrant spring colors.

  2. I like this image - it is definitely Gulliver-ian!
    Your topic made me think about my own approach...
    Sometime I bring along a camera Somewhere I am going, Just In Case. Usually I don't think about Going Out to Shoot, though ( unless i am at the beach, then I always do!). Mostly, around my house or yard, I will SEE something that strikes me, the play of light, colors and forms, etc, and I will run and get the camera. We all approach this in different ways. I like your idea of approaching a place differently, in a new way, that's a valuable photo-journalistic quest. I never think that hard, am somewhat lazy in that way, but just sort of instinctively respond, to something i see, and need to make it happen. Hard to explain.
    And your redbud shot is not "cheap" at all, but wonderfully graceful with the arching branches. !

  3. Thank you for this reflection. It put a lift in my day . . .