I’m as guilty as anyone. I read tons of books on technique and post-processing. I take endless workshops to “better” my skills. But, here’s the problem… I know how to take a technically good photo. I know all the buttons on my camera and what they do. I teach Lightroom and post-processing. But, I still crave inspiration. Oh, that word. Inspiration…. to be inspired. It’s as illusive as capturing that exact gesture we all seek and achieve so rarely.
Webster’s dictionary defines inspiration as “a divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelation”. I’ve decided to put aside all the “how to” books and quit spending my hard earned money on workshops that teach how and not why. Why did I click the shutter? Why do I like that photograph? What is it that made me go to a place and chose that exact instance to capture the 1/250 of a second long scene before me?
I’ve recently discovered the absolute best way to delve into the why of photography is to look at other photographs more often. Simply look at great photographs. Great photographs begets great vision. And vision is what this art we all enjoy is all about. It’s not about the gear, the post-processing (though that helps) or f-stops. It’s about finding your take on a scene and rendering it in a creative way. We have almost over 100 years worth of great photographs out there that will long outlive each of us. Take a look at your favorite bookstore, if it still exists, or the library, and pick up some books of photographs. I assure you that you will be inspired. I was recently teaching a Street Photography workshop for Bellevue College and, while making images in Capitol Hill, I was thinking of Vivian Meier and her photographs. Her black and white images of the dark streets of Chicago. On another trip to Crystal Mountain this past weekend, I saw a scene that mimicked an image by the great Jay Maisel. I took advantage of my exposure to his image and took my own.
Seeing what the masters have done can give you tons of ideas out in the field. And, believe me, you’ll remember. Find yourself in a meadow with wildflowers, think of Monet and his paintings. It goes on. Below are a couple of examples. The images I remembered from books and my own image that was influenced by theirs. Are they as good, I’m not to say. Is it copying? Not really. More like influenced.
Some recommended books to get you started:
Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs
Elliott Erwitt: Personal Best
Michael Kenna: A 20 Year Retrospective
Sebastiao Salgado: Workers: An Archaeology of the Industrial Age
David DuChemin: Seven
Yousuf Karsh: Karsh: A Sixty Year Retrospective
Fred Herzog: Photographs