Finding That Inspiration

Finding That Inspiration


Breaking from the Herd

It seems simple, right? I mean, you, as a photographer, just have to take pictures. How hard is that, how hard is it to just go take pictures? The hard part isn’t clicking the button, it’s not understanding apertures or shutter speeds, it’s not even finding the time to go click that button, or enduring the bite of the cold wind as you work outside in the not-so-pleasant months of the year. For me, I think the hard part is the state of mind. It’s being in “the groove,” getting the creative juices free flowing, properly executing your unique perspective on the chunk of the world you are capturing in present time. It’s creating photographs that are new, different, and refreshing to look at. We live in such a contradictory world. We live in a place where we are taught, either directly through our friends, family, and peers, or indirectly through magazines, news, and other media outlets how we should live our lives and think. It’s the message that you are brainwashed with since day 1 of your life, “you will do this, look like this, act like this, spend money like this if you want to be happy and successful” (in a nutshell). We are taught to live by these rules, walls, and boundaries all over the place, to emulate that which is around us in both a personal and professional sense (coincidentally, we call these people who follow the rest of the flock “normal”). Yet, at the same time individualistic, out-of-the-box thinking is what people stop to appreciate, it’s this thinking process that separates them from the rest. We tend to call it “breaking the mold” when something comes along and slaps us in the face, opening our own minds through other people’s visions and creations. It’s a really cool thing. Simply put, it’s inspiring. In a way, inspiration for me is basically an escape from the mundane, it reminds me how important it is for myself to continue to create original works. Inspiration is my fuel as a photographer, it keeps my head in the right place, and keeps my work fluid and the ideas rolling in. For me, it’s a kick in the ass to ensure I continue to think “outside of the box.” It’s a large motivator to keep me shooting, shooting personal work when I’m not shooting clients.

To summarize, inspiration is a hard thing to find and endure in a society is that obsessed with conformity. Creativity and conformity, opposite ends of the spectrum, so how do we keep ourselves on the creative end? Also, understanding the scope of your current state in life and environment will better help you decide where you want to be in that mix. Almost a way to seize better control of your life and decision-making and create your work how and when you want. It’s your drive, your passion, and your ability to decide your path when you wake up each day, and it has to start somewhere. I think for me, it is the creative momentum I strive to keep in my everyday life, and my favorite tool I use to keep that momentum is inspiration.

The Battle

I too, as a photographer and creative designer, battle with this. In the thick of a project, it’s easy to keep with it, keep the ideas and concepts following, but when dealing with the smaller, day to day work… well, some days it can be harder to “break out of the norm” and get into that creative bubble when it seems the rest of the world is on autopilot, the robotic-like responsibilities, reliving the same day over and over. Some days I wake up, and very much like authors getting writer’s block, I just can’t come up with a fresh idea that I’m happy with. And that is the worst place for me to be, because when push comes to shove, I end up falling back on what you know, what I’ve previously shot, and executing similarly to past photo shoots. Not to say that working off past shoots is a bad thing, but let’s be honest, if we all shot every picture like the last one, and didn’t work anything new into the portfolio, they’d all look like something you’d get from Sears. Every time, and I mean EVERY TIME I shoot, I’m out to get something totally new. I’m pushing myself, pushing my portfolio to new levels each time I shoot. I’m out to replace the first picture on my portfolio slide show every time I go out to shoot. I think of it this way… there is no reason that each new shoot can’t produce something better than my best photo. To push my ideas, my locations, my photographic and lighting execution further than the last time. Now, I have clients who will point to one of my past shoots and say “I want that right there,” and that’s what we do (with a couple mods), but whenever I get an ounce of creative flexibility in my shoots, boy… I take full advantage of it. This is when I tap my creative fuel tank.

Each time I grab my camera I’m thinking “how can I make this truly new and different.” I’m asking myself questions to push myself, pursuing a higher level of execution than from my last photo shoot. I don’t know what that next level is until I reach it, but I know it when I do. I compete with me and only myself. The only thing stopping me from taking my photography further is myself. That idea in itself is very powerful.

Inspirational Avenues

For me, keeping my mind in a creative, fluid, inspirational state takes daily maintenance. What, huh, inspirational maintenance? Yes, that’s right. I dedicate a part of my every day to keep my mind in fresh state, and I do this by embracing every other artist around me (just like you are by reading this post). I have and do use professional photographers as a source of inspiration, but more as a source for photographic information. It is inspiring to see other photographers successful and getting to do it for a living, that in itself is inspirational and a reinforcement to my own goals. But I get most of my creative inspiration from other arts, which feels funny to say (that I don’t get my creative juices from other photographers and their work).

Every day I’m listening to music, and all kinds (except country, I’m sorry, I just hate the stuff, it gives me a headache). I listen to a lot of movie scores, as emotion and drama are common themes in the music pieces. When I’m in a room with nothing but the music playing, I can’t help but visualize a photo or video sequence to match the musical style. Concepts generate from thin air. I can visualize locations, faces, emotions, actions. I’d say that music is the BEST tool I use to maintain my inspiration for every day life and creative design. Rarely do I get the chance to do the casual walk-around shoot, but when I do, you better believe I’m rockin’ an iPod with a dramatic soundtrack. I can tell you without a doubt that my photo style and composition greatly improve when I have music. My angles, my perspective, my entire execution improves, and I think this simply comes down to the state of mind you are in while capturing. You are able to step back and appreciate different parts of life in that moment during a time that you would normally overlook (does that make sense?). I guess the best way I can relate that is when you are at the theater watching a movie with your significant other, watching a romantic and/or emotional movie. There is an emotional apex in the movie and it puts you in that kind of state. In that moment you look over at your significant other and you appreciate them a lot more than you did before you started watching the movie. It’s not that you didn’t have those feelings before, but you are unlocking them and using them at that moment in time. That’s what music does for me, I’m proactively and purposefully accessing an emotion while shooting to achieve something I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. A state of inspiration, if you will.

Movies, I watch a handful of movies every week. Movies are the second largest inspirational impact to my work. I can’t watch a movie without a number of photo concepts flash through my head, and my ideas that stem from that movie usually they have nothing to do with that movie’s themes at all. It’s not like I see something and go “Oh, I want to replicate that!” I can’t really explain it, but it could be as something as simple as light coming through a window, a fun colored wall, the way light is falling on an actor’s face, a strong emotion conveyed by a character, a street used in the film… On the fly, I’m building my own little photo shoots in my head while watching movies. If anything, movies invoke emotion in myself and that alone provides enough inspirational fuel so that I can walk onto a photo location and come up with a handful of different ways to shoot it. In fact, the photo at the top of this post is a shot from Inception, a movie that was just as mentally inspiring as it was visually. Movies are an awesome source because they literally force you out of your every day world and place you somewhere else, which I find to be an essential exercise in keeping a creative thought process. While watching movies, your thought process opens up to any possibility, for the sake of entertainment, right? Animals are talking, people are flying, lazerbeams are shooting from their eyes… You don’t stop and go “hey, that can’t happen.” You watch the movie and allow your mind to accept these crazy concepts and scenarios for the sake of entertainment. Well, apply that same principle, but do it for the sake of creative thinking for your endeavors.

Observing every day occurrences in life… super powerful for my inspiration. It can be a person jogging down the street, in the mental zone, you can see the focus in their eyes. It can be a child’s random laughter at the park. Watching an 80 year-old couple holding hands as they walk down the street, knowing they’ve endured the majority of their lives together and are still going strong. These emotional visuals spawn endless amounts of inspiration to capture my visions with a camera.

The best part of these avenues of inspiration is that it’s not taxing me at all, it’s a completely natural process. These are ideas that come to you without effort. I never have to sit down in a quite room with a pen and paper and force things out. I have a running list of things I’d like to shoot, locations I have in reserve, and when that client calls and I’m given creative freedom, I’m already hitting the ground running. My inspiration alone is the momentum I need to spend an afternoon driving around finding locations to make my concepts possible. While out looking for locations, I’m inspired by things I didn’t expect to see, further generating more ideas.

Make It Original

“Bursts of creativity,” is the definition of inspiration. Countless numbers of photographers LOVE the word “creative” when describing themselves and their work, they use it every other word it seems. I roll my eyes at the sea of photographers offering “creative and unique” photo services when all of their photos look just like the last dozen photographer’s portfolios I saw today (and no, the soon-to-be-parents holding their hands over a pregnant belly in the shape of a heart photograph is NOT original or creative, well maybe the first thousand times I saw it done). Use others’ knowledge and work to inspire and catapult your own ideas, don’t give up and mimic others, and then add the ultimate insult to yourself by calling it creative. What did that photographer inspire you to do, hop back in the herd by photographing the exact same thing the exact same way? Is that the end product of your “passion” and “fresh style?” Think outside of the box, make that word “creative” ring true in your work. It kinda goes back to the reason you are breaking out of the herd in the first place, the reason you seek to be continually inspired, to stand out. When you look through that viewfinder, about to take a photo, does what your eye see look just like dozen’s of photos you’ve seen before? Recompose, change lenses, change your lighting, make it your own.

Hitting the Wall

So you’ve hit that point, you just can’t get that ol’ brain to produce for ya. Step away, put the camera down, the pen and paper, the idea of having to come up with an idea, and walk away. It’s your mind’s way of saying this isn’t working. Inspiration and motivators are just around the next corner and you don’t even know it. Go out, get groceries, walk the streets, hangout with some friends (they are superb outlets for ideas), let your mind roam, and that next idea will hit you like a train before you know it.