There is nothing worse than feeling the desire to create something amazing, only to look at the work of other photographers and feel that desire slowly fade into dejection and hopelessness. With the advent of social media, we have more access than ever to the work of our peers.
What used to happen in camera clubs, newspapers, and local art galleries, now happens in Facebook groups, 500px, and Pinterest. Since we have easy access to so much work, it's natural that we should look to our peers when we want to be inspired. One click of the mouse and literally millions of photographs are at our fingertips. The problem with this new ability is that it's far too easy to either be influenced so heavily by the work of other photographers that our own creative process is stunted, or to feel so intimidated by the quality of the work that our own efforts seem to pale in comparison. Long ago, I decided that I would never make any serious efforts at landscape photography while Marc Adamus was still walking this earth. Did that rob me of growth in this area of photography? I'll never know. What I have discovered though, is that there are other ways to find inspiration that fire up my personal creativity and stop me from comparing my work to that of my peers.
Here are five places you can look for inspiration that don't include the work of other photographers.
The Written Word
The craft of writing creates mental images by its very nature, with books and poems being particularly suited to inspiring creativity in image makers. What is so desirable about looking for inspiration in the written word is that a thousand people can read the same words and conjure up completely unique mental images. It's a virtual guarantee that if you create the image you've seen in your mind while reading a poem or a book, it will be totally unique to you as an artist.
When I was in sixth grade, my English teacher had all of us students close our eyes and listen to a piece of classical music. When the music was over, he asked us to write what the music created in our minds. It was incredibly effective as a creative writing exercise, but it is also a great way to let your mind be inspired by something purely emotional without someone else influencing your mental pictures with words. You don't need to listen to classical music to get inspiration this way, you can certainly get inspiration from any song, whether is has lyrics or not. The next time you're listening to music around the house, write down the mental images you get and see if this works for you.
Think of something that affected you profoundly, so much that you've never forgotten how it happened or how it made you feel. Some of the most powerful pieces of art I've ever seen were created out of the personal pain, grief, joy, or hope of the artist. Your past is full of inspiration that is unique to you while also carrying with it the universal connection that anyone who has ever experienced something similar will feel. It can also be incredibly cathartic to connect yourself to your past, or free yourself from it, through the act of creation.
History is rife with amazing stories, mythologies, exotic traditions, interesting clothing, inspiring heroes, and despicable villains. All the inspiration you could hope for can be found in the pages of a history book, or with a quick Google search. This is also a great place to look for inspiration to create imagery that people will immediately feel connected to, since we are all linked by shared history.
Other Art Forms
Searching through the artwork of painters, sculptors, and other artists who work in visual media is a fantastic way to expose yourself to compelling imagery that can inspire you to create masterworks of your own. The best part is that the difference in art form removes the competitive quality that naturally occurs when looking at the work of your peers. It has the added bonus of exposing you to different artistic mindsets, from Monet's love affair with light to Michelangelo's skill with form.
Once you have the idea for your work, it's up to you to develop and nurture it until you've got all the ingredients to create a photograph you love.
Of course there are more than five ways to be inspired, and there is nothing wrong with gaining inspiration from the work of other photographers, but these five ways will remove the danger of intimidation and reduce the risk that you'll reproduce another artists work too closely.
I was expecting, 'visit a museum', but you gave so much more. Great stuff. I often create my own "worlds" from music and novels but it never occurred to me to recreate them with my photography. Thanks!
I'm so glad it helped!
Hi Nicole, great article. Social media surrounds us, so it's not hard to be influenced by what others are doing. I can identify with 'Your Past' as in my youth I was influenced by LIFE magazine - powerful oversized documentary images are what inspired me and still does.
It's definitely tricky, especially when it's possible for our news feeds to be filled with work from friends in the industry.
My own photos are influenced by jazz...
Nicole, Well written and I can totally relate. I have even had to unfollow several photographer's because I find myself comparing myself and will even get jealous of their work.I then have to give myself a pep talk lol. Those are great 5 tips for looking for inspiration! Thanks!
Good article. I´m agree with you. My inspiration are movies, videogames, music and books. I don´t avoid the great photographers, because I have a dream to make pictures like them is a life carreer and a constant learning and practice to become one of them, even if it takes me years to get it. It helps me too to know new editions and photographics trends.
Very Useful to me at perfect situation ! Thanks Nicole !
I'm so glad! You're very welcome.
Any photographic work I do that any other photographer views and finds inspiration, Kudos to him, thank you ahead of time for the compliment. I've had my 2D and 3D artwork outright stolen several times over the years, mostly artwork that I considered 'My Garbage' and that would piss me off; but finding inspiration, I say go for it just make it uniquely yours. I often find inspiration in other photographers' work, background settings, poses, models' clothing choice, etc. but make sure to make it my own as long as other photographers do the same, no harm. no foul. I would love some other photographers to find inspiration in my work that means I've made it, slightly.
I'd recommend going back to the source for inspiration: Life itself, rather than life as already interpreted by a third party. As a portrait artist, I'm first inspired by an interesting subject. I observe the subject and then consider what artistic technique would best present the aspects of the subject that inspire me. I don't get inspired by someone else's technique and then run out to find a subject in life to fit it.
Which is fantastic! This advice definitely wasn't for you, then ;) which is totally fine.
What used to happen in camera clubs, newspapers, and local art galleries, now happens in Facebook groups, 500px, and Pinterest? I'm sorry Nicole but I disagree, I belong to a camera club, I read several newspapers and go to art galleries as do most of my friends and clients. Social media is a choice and anyone who looks to it for inspiration is completely missing the point, it is a tool not a destination. Leave your devices at home, print your photos and put them in a nice portfolio binder and go visit your clients, then join your local camera club, they have so much to offer
I'm not saying that there aren't still camera clubs out there, because there certainly are and I've even taught in one, but I'm pointing to a paradigm shift that occurred with the onset of social media.
It used to be that the only way to see other peoples' photographs was to do it in person, or though some form of mass media, i.e. printed books, newspapers, television, etc. It wasn't possible to sift through thousands of photographs of different photographers all at once. We are inundated.
HA! HA! HA! I needed to laugh at an overly-sensitive nerd who lives in his mother's basement, today. Thank you, michael butler!