Inspiration in Photography

Inspiration is the next part of the creative process.  Although I have already written one article under the heading “Creativity,”  I did that because I wanted to answer two queries from club members. 


In fact Inspiration being part in the creative process package should be placed first, and be followed and read in the following order – Vision, Creativity, Personal Style.

– Sandy

Inspiration is one of the four interdependent things that go together to enable the artist or photographer in the creative process when making photographs. The other three are, creativity, vision and personal style, they all have to work together in the image making process, and they cannot function independently of each other. To make things simpler for the reader to understand I have split them up as single entities.

How do you find inspiration? This question which may seem benign at first, is important because inspiration is at the origin of any work of art. Inspiration is the spark that motivates an artist or photographer to create new work. It is the spark that, in turn, will lead this artist photographer to formulate a vision for his or her work, a vision that will eventually define his or her personal style.

Inspiration sometimes finds us when we are not looking for it or even thinking about it. I happened to be sitting on my lounge couch not thing of anything in particular when I suddenly noticed an abstract pattern cause by the sunshine on the vertical window blind. For two to three minutes I watched this pattern change as the shadow caused by the sun transgressed across the blind. It was at this point that I dashed upstairs and grabbed my camera and shot off a few frames. This can be described as a flash of inspiration.

Inspiration lights the spark of creativity. Together if well integrated, they result in personal vision for our work. In turn, personal style allows us to express our vision in a unique manner.

Quote by Alain Briot, photographer

What is under your control is your openness to taking advantage of the inspiration constantly making it way into your thought patterns. You cannot pinpoint when or where it will happen. All you can do is be ready to receive it when it happens. Being ready means being able to dedicate time to being inspired, something that in today’s society, and in the life of a majority of people, is rarely the case. There is little room for inspiration today in most peoples lives. However, if your goal is to be a photographer, in short if your goal is to create photographs, you must make room for inspiration to strike.

So the question then is how important is inspiration to you? Where does it fit on your priorities list?  Clearly, I cannot answer this question for you because the answer to this question is personal.  However, I can answer it for myself. My answer is that inspiration is very high on my priorities list.  I can say that inspiration is definitely among the top five, and possibly among the top three priorities. Why? Simply because inspiration allows me to do what I do to make photographs.

Inspiration is Asking Why not How

Inspiration comes out of a personal curiosity accompanied by being able to wait for the answers to come to you. Asking why something is done, or why something happens, or again why something is in the way it is, is very different? How can I achieve this result? How does this software, camera, or other tool work? The person who asks how usually has an end product in mind and usually a very specific idea of what this end product is going to be.

Asking why leads to answers that have to do with motivation instead of technique. Asking why leads to answers that are about the reasons people do what they do. Asking why points to what inspires people, because inspiration is the motivating force behind any creative endeavour. Why is this artist painting only people dressed in black? Why is this photographer so in love with colour?  Why not use a more subdued palette? Why not work in black and white? The answers to these questions, when asked about a specific artist and a specific body of work, immediately generate answers that address where this artist.s inspiration comes from. They lead to answers about what inspires this artist.

Why artists do what they do, why they make choices that they make, and why they create the specific style of art they create is rooted in the source of their inspiration. And the source of this inspiration can only be found by asking why they do what they do.

Of course, there will always be those who look only at technique, who ask ‘how’, while others of more curious nature will ask ‘why’. Personally, I have always preferred inspiration to information.
Quote Man Ray Artist/Photographer
Inspiration without Creativity

In photography, one can find inspiration by seeing a beautiful landscape, building, person. Here we have inspiration without creativity For example, one can stand in one of the great cathedrals of England and be inspired to create a photograph that expresses one.s personal experience. In this situation the photographer feels inspired to go beyond what other photographers have previously created. For this to take place the photographer has to transform inspiration into images, a process that takes place through creativity.

Creativity without Inspiration

Wanting to be creative without feeling inspired is common, and is often the case when first trying new equipment. For example, I can think of many times when a new camera or new equipment made me feel very creative and motivated me to try all sorts of things, without the outcome being particularly inspired. The images resulting from this creative urge were different and new to me.  However, my inspiration was derived from the new equipment and not from a personal desire to fulfil a previous idea. In other words, my inspiration did not come from the subject that I normally photograph.

Inspiration and Creativity without Personal Vision

One can be inspired and have a idea, be very creative in making this idea into a work of photography, and have developed the required level of craftsmanship, all without the desire to follow a vision. Vision is an overriding envelope that encompasses both inspiration and creativity.  It is a blanket that covers the entire photographer.s work, a blanket that often comes later in the life of a photographer, after one has perfected one.s photography and moved beyond the commonplace outcome that most photographers have to go through. For this reason I placed vision as the second step of this process. I placed it there not because it comes necessary at the end of the process but because is often something that photographers discover later in life

External Inspiration and Internal Inspiration

Internal inspiration is discovering new subject matter and also seeing and making images of old subject matter in a new, fresh and different way. We can also use our internal inspiration to look back at our previous photographic work and achievements to point the way to new and different ways of seeing.

External inspiration is achieved by looking at other photographers work and by examining how they approach recording images of specific subjects. External inspiration can also come from what influences are gain from the visual flux of time and space that surrounds us all the time. All we have to do as photographers is to tap into this vast free source of external inspiration. The more external influence that can be achieved the greater our ability to see and record things will be.

Here is where we as photographers are seeing beyond our normal seeing capabilities, by using both types of inspiration to enable us to see in a different way. We are also enhancing our creative abilities and potential to change our way of seeing when making new images.

By allowing our internal and external inspiration to guide our thinking we are following our gut feelings to accomplish new, fresh and better images. Neither type of inspiration is a tangible thing as we can be hit by a spark of inspiration at the least expected moment, either from an internal idea or an external influence. We can suddenly have an inspired thought of internal inspiration at a quiet moment, or when we are partaking in some other completely different activity, that can be an external inspirational influence that has nothing to do with photography.

Great discoveries have been achieved through history when an internal inspirational though strikes us. The same thing can happen with our photography, as some completely different related matter can suddenly conjure up an idea for the possibility for a new image. We have to keep our thought processes open to receive these sudden inspirational impulses.

We have to have confidence in our photographic skills, abilities and confidence in ourselves to achieve our aims and goals photographically.

However, it is an important aspect of becoming photographers, of finding our true source of inspiration and of creating work that is unique to us. How your work becomes unique is in many ways rooted in how you turn your inspiration into creativity.

Work With and Learn From Other Photographers

Watch how other photographers do what they do, and find out how they think about what they do. How different is their approach to yours? What is it they do that you could do too?  What inspires you in their work and in their approach and use effectively in your own work?

Finding inspiration is an engaging subject, and as we just saw there are many ways to find it. Yet there is one more way I have not discussed, and that is where your own internal inspiration, your ‘Secret Flame’ resides. This flame, this spark of energy, this initial internal combustion burst, resides within you. It has been there for a long time, most likely since the day you were born, and it is for you to discover if you do not know about it yet.

Your inner source of inspiration is most likely very different from mine. If it is not known to you, I strongly recommend that you try and find it. Doing so may take some time or may be a rather simple process, it all depends on how close you are to it. For some of us, these origins are buried under years of accumulated responsibilities and concerns that took us miles away from it. Going back to our .artistic roots. as we may call it, can be challenging, time consuming, or both. How your work becomes unique is in many ways rooted in how you turn your inspiration into creativity.

© Sandy Wilson 2016, © Alain Briot 2009

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