Care to Share Which Non-Photographers Influence and Inspire You?

Care to Share Which Non-Photographers Influence and Inspire You?

I get it. Ansel Adams inspires you. Perhaps Bresson, and maybe Gursky too. But there's another world of creative geniuses outside the realms of photography where you can draw creative ideas and energy from. Here are two people that influence me.


When I was younger, I wasn’t really into photography. Through my school years and all through my time at university I was far more interested in drawing, particularly sketching, comic characters, and surfing scenes. Through those experiences, I learnt about things such as vanishing points, perspective, scale, and rules of composition such as the golden spiral and the rule of thirds. However, as I got busier in life and I started working and traveling, I found I didn’t really have the time to do much drawing and I was attracted to the immediacy of photography.

As such, I can’t say I had any great photographic influences in terms of particular individuals. To be honest, I’d never even heard of Ansel Adams when I bought my first digital camera in my early 20s, so I can’t really say he was a great influence on me, especially considering he shot in film and mostly around Yosemite National Park in the United States. What I can say with certainty with regards to Adams is that I highly value his desire to continually push himself further and come up with concepts that weren’t common place at the time. His ability in the dark room is legendary, as is his zoning system, which is still used in the digital era today.

To that end, he has been a great influence on me because I admire and respect people who are always pushing themselves beyond the boundaries of normalcy and trying to come up with ideas and techniques that are beyond what is generally accepted at the time or different from what most other people are doing. And that brings us to the topic of influences we derive inspiration from outside the specific world of photography. I’m going to introduce two people today who I admire and explain why they’ve had an impact on me and how they have helped to shape my approach to photography.

Tash Sultana in the studio. Photo: Dara Munnis

The first is a singer/songwriter from Australia named Tash Sultana. She’s only 24 years old now but has already received a lot of critical acclaim and commercial success. It’s not so much that I absolutely adore her music, it’s more the fact that she is literally a one person band. Indeed, if you look at the blurb on her debut album on iTunes it says that she wrote, arranged, produced, and played all 15 instruments during its creation. They include the guitar, the saxophone, the trumpet, the pan flute, the mandolin, and the drums, among others. To see her play is wonderfully inspiring because not only is she adept with a vast array of instruments, but she plays them all so unbelievably well. It’s one thing to play a lot of instruments, but to also arrange them and put them together to make songs that are critically acclaimed and well received by the wider public is an inconceivably difficult task for most, but at 24 she has done it all.

This inspires and influences my photography because it reminds me not to box myself into one particular genre. I have always loved the ocean and lived near the ocean so I can get a little swept up in seascape photography or surfing photography and sometimes I feel like I’m becoming one-dimensional. But when I look at someone like Tash Sultana and see how she finds inspiration in different instruments, it helps me to explore different areas of photography and to push myself to improve in areas that I’m not particularly good at, or find ideas and elements of creativity in genres of photography that I might have previously dismissed or ignored.

The second person who really inspires me is a guy called Steven Sawyer. To those outside the surfing world, he’s probably a name you’ve never heard of, but I genuinely respect him because of the way he’s been able to adapt to, and recognize the world and industry in which he lives. He grew up surfing in South Africa riding a shortboard at a famous surfing break called Jeffreys Bay. He was very talented and had continued success in national junior competitions, but making a living from shortboarding in the current surfing industry is very difficult and very cutthroat. So what did he do? He took up longboarding, which is an entirely different style and approach to riding waves, particularly with regards to the way they’re both judged in competitions. For anyone who’s tried both, you would know that they are worlds apart and it is not simple to switch from one to the other, least of all at an elite level. However, not only did Sawyer make the switch from shortboarding to longboarding, he went on to win the world longboarding championship in 2018.

Not only are longboards about three times as heavy as shortboards, they're about three times as difficult to turn quickly too. The Pass, in Australia's Byron Bay.


This had a great impact on me in terms of my photography because it reinforced the notion that you can’t always steadfastly stick to what you love and enjoy if it’s patently clear that you’re not going to make a living from it (if that’s what you want to do.) Sawyer is incredibly talented at shortboarding but he recognized early that he might not have been quite able to get to that high, elite level in order to carve out a career, so he made the conscious decision to switch to longboarding. And while it’s not as lucrative as shortboarding, he has been able to create a nice existence for himself and market himself and his band through his longboarding success.

This is a reminder to all of us in the photography world that we might have some particular styles of photography that we love and are genuinely passionate about, but if they don’t pay the bills we have to be honest about that and understand that we might have to put those passions to one side if we want to receive a salary from our photographic endeavors. After all, sunsets and flowers don’t pay for many of us, so we need to find ways in which we can use our knowledge and skills in photography to help us put a roof over our heads and money in our bank accounts.

Summing Up

It's natural to draw inspiration from people who are closely associated with your interests, especially with regards to photography. But creativity lives abundantly throughout modern society and there are endless places and individuals to draw ideas from. Today, I've shared two of many who I admire and try to emulate in certain ways. I'd love to hear about people outside the photography world who have shaped your photographic journey. Please leave your comments below.

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18 Comments

Jeff Walsh's picture

Gary Vaynerchuk, Rembrandt, a bunch of cinema directors, and the Rock

Iain Stanley's picture

Gary Vaynerchuk is an interesting one for me. All about the hustle....some of my “digital nomad” friends love him but when I listen to him it seems he never sleeps and wants to work 24/7/365 and then some. That’s not quite my idea of a happy life....

Jeff Walsh's picture

It appears that way because he wants NONE of his personal life recorded. He's mentioned this every time someone asks him nearly the same thing as you said. Also, he message isnt about his life, it's about your life. What level of work and lifestyle makes you happy, and then commit to the hustle to achieve that.

Iain Stanley's picture

Fair enough. He’s far too intense for me, but I could never criticise someone who encourages people to work hard

Chase Wilson's picture

Robert McGinnis, Bob Peak, Norman Rockwell, Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth, Roger Deakins, Bob Yeoman, Robert Richardson, Emmanuel Lubezki, Caravaggio, Vermeer, Frank McCarthy

Seems like I like people named Bob.

Iain Stanley's picture

Must be a Robert Roberts who inspires you?

Kirk Darling's picture

Well, looking at my bookcase: Caravaggio, Vermeer, John Sargent, the Pre-Raphealites,

Adriano Brigante's picture

DJ Shadow, because he's able to find and use literally thousands of obscure samples and combine them into one single album. And despite using all these disparate elements, when you hear one of his beats, you can immediately know that's a DJ Shadow beat.
https://youtu.be/dcxsheROd3E

And Valentino Rossi, perhaps the greatest bike racer of all time. He knows how to take risks in his career (leaving Honda in 2003 with the title, the best bike at the time, and going to Yamaha in 2004, a clearly inferior bike, but winning the title again anyway), he knows how to adapt (to new bikes, new engine types, new rules, new competitors, new racetracks...), and he knows how to keep having fun on the track despite being 41 years old and racing since 1996...
Here's his most brilliant victory and probably one of the best winning overtake ever: https://vimeo.com/350307818

Iain Stanley's picture

The famous number 46. The Spaniards are very dominant these days. But Valentino is still up there battling in his 40s. Amazing!

Adriano Brigante's picture

Yep! And I also forgot to mention that he has built a racetrack on his property ("The Ranch") where he invites young up and coming riders (a lot of them weren't even born when he started racing!) to train and perfect their skills.

Iain Stanley's picture

Helping the next generation is very important

Tom Reichner's picture

The following non-photographers have had a significant influence on me and my creative process and the way I approach wildlife photography:

Bill Belichick, NFL football coach and general manager

Ned Smith, wildlife artist

Mark Ronson, music producer and songwriter

Laurel Barbieri, wildlife artist

Iain Stanley's picture

How so Bill Belichick?

Tom Reichner's picture

Thank you for asking!

There are many things that Bill does, and many attitudes he has, that inspire me to be a better photographer.

Perhaps the thing that has meant the most to me is his insistence on coming as close to perfect as possible, and not accepting anything less. The only thing that will satisfy him him is a Super Bowl Championship. Anything short of that isn't good enough, and isn't satisfying to him.

In wildlife photography, I so often see people make excuses for why their images aren't better .....

"the bird wouldn't let me get any closer without flying away, so I had to do a real heavy crop"

or, "the light was shining on the deer from that awkward angle, so there wasn't any way I could avoid those heavy shadows on its face."

Do you think that if Bill Belichick was a wildlife photographer, he would accept those results and make those excuses? No way! He would look at his images, and say, "these aren't good enough to post anywhere". Then he would work intensely to develop a plan to get closer to the birds, so that he wouldn't have to crop, and he would figure out a way to position himself so that the light on the deer was coming from the right direction, relative to the camera. He would go to the ends of the earth to solve any and all problems with his image-making, and get it right.

With Belichick, it is about two things that go hand in hand - very high expectations, and extreme work ethic. If you are going to demand the very best from yourself, then you must have the work ethic to keep improving until you get to the point where your images are finally "good enough".

Wildlife photography isn't just a fun hobby or a pleasant pastime, it is an all-consuming obsession that deserves everything I have, every bit of my mind and every bit of my time and every ounce of energy in my being ...... and that is an attitude that I learned from the way Bill Belichick approaches his coaching career.

Owain Shaw's picture

John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Spanish writer Miguel Delibes (El disputado voto del señor Cayo) and Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano (in general). The Wire.

For me, all of these have a transcendental social aspect that inspires me in my documentary work.

Adriano Brigante's picture

Yes, The Wire! Especially in the way it portrays the city as its own character in the overall narrative. I absolutely love that show.

Iain Stanley's picture

The Wire? As in the Baltimore drama series? I was so crestfallen when that finished. It hd no influence on my photography, but it held me in its hands for years!

Owain Shaw's picture

The very same. If you have an HBO account, there's never been a better time to re-watch it!