Inspiring Your Photography

cover from our new book, Inspired Photography: 189 Sources of Inspiration For Better Photos
Whatever the end result of a photography shoot, whether it’s a bunch of images that pick up comments on Flickr, generate praise from friends and family, or win sales to stock buyers, magazines or even art collectors, all images start from the same place.

They begin with a spark of inspiration.

That inspiration will be different for every photographer. Some photographers will pull their first DSLR out of their box and immediately point it at the flowers in the garden and the leaves on their trees. Others will only be interested in capturing faces, shooting portraits and turning people into works of art that reveal personality and reflect character. For some photographers, it’s city scenes and urban decay that are most likely to have them changing their lenses and playing with aperture settings.

That inspiration, whatever it may be, is the vital element that runs through every great photographer’s career, from the landscapes of Ansel Adams’ images to the male form in the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe. But while that initial spark is always natural and instinctive, it’s not always easy to maintain the enthusiasm through years of photography. Once you’ve shot the same scenes or the same subjects in a hundred different ways, once you feel you’ve mastered a technique or entirely got to grips with a style, what do you do next?

Ansel Adams, Photojournalist

While the first spark will happen automatically, future explorations might require a bit of prompting. The right prompts though, can really push photographers in exciting new directions and deliver surprising results. If Ansel Adams hadn’t been moved to take time out of the American wilderness to document life in a Japanese internment camp during the war, for example, we wouldn’t have this powerful collection of documentary images. If Robert Buelteman hadn’t chosen to put down his camera and look only at the images of the natural objects he was photographing, we wouldn’t have this incredible collection of unique Kirlian photographs.

Few photographers though can count on something as dramatic as government internment to provide new photographic ideas and not all photographers know about Kirlian photography, so over the last few months we’ve been putting together a new book describing 189 points of inspiration that photographers can use to start brand new photographic journeys.

The book contains ideas for actions and for styles, for city scenes and for country views, and always for inspiring, exciting photographs. In fact, when it came to the image themselves, we really pushed hard to include as many creative, artistic and original photographs as we could. (It was an exercise that provided a useful insight into the habits of photography buyers, as well as the prices they pay. Photographers might complain, perhaps justifiably, about the low rates charged by microstock firms for the smallest Web-use licenses, but start looking for licenses for top images in sizes big enough for print, and even microstock prices soon start to approach those of traditional stock.)

Hours of Creative Exploration

Each idea includes a summary of the concept itself, a description of some of the different ways a photographer might approach the subject so that they can make their own unique contribution to the form, and directions for further research.

The ideas are as varied as we could make them. Some are simple, such as joining a Flickr group or taking a photography class — both easy ways to pick up ideas and inspiration. Others might require some specialized knowledge or at least the willingness to obtain that knowledge, such as underwater photography or high-speed photography. And while some subjects, such as the night sky or gas stations, can lead to a collection that takes a lifetime to build, other ideas, such as shooting for contests, illustrating poetry or focusing on an antique market, will help to turn a quiet weekend into hours of creative exploration.

Clearly, we don’t expect any photography enthusiast to use every one of the 189 ideas in the book — although trying might be fun. But if it prompts a photographer try even three or four concepts that they might never have considered, if it means that a photographer never looks at his camera and wonders what they should be shooting next, it will have fulfilled a large part of its job.

The rest of the job is up to the photographer.

Unlike our other photography books, Inspired Photography doesn’t offer advice on marketing or sales. Instead of thinking about the last stage of a photograph’s life, the point at which it leaves the photographer and begins a new use in the hands of a buyer, we wanted to look at the beginning of the process: the idea that forms the image.

But that doesn’t mean that the beginning has nothing at all to do with the end. The ideas that inspire photographers the most are also the driving forces that define their look and the shape of their careers.

When commissioning editors examine the portfolios of photographers they’re considering hiring, they don’t just look at the tear sheets and the professional shots. They also look at the photographer’s personal projects because it’s that work that will tell them not just what the photographer has shot in the past but how they think about all of the photography that they’ll do in the future. It reveals their style, their approach and the kind of aesthetic that they’re aiming to reach every time they take a shot. As top microstock photographer Yuri Arcurs told us once, when his buyers need an image, they look for his portfolio because they want a “Yuri Arcurs” photograph.

Before you can create the personal projects that are most likely to inspire a commissioning editor to hire you, before you can settle into producing a line of images that define your brand as a photographer, you first have to know what inspires you the most — and that means trying out different ideas and looking for surprising new directions.

A photographic journey should last a lifetime, and while it might not have a definite destination, every turn and every direction should show you something new. You can find (189) new photographic directions on amazon.

2 comments for this post.

  1. Dave Said:

    I know that finding inspirational can be difficult. I look forward to having a look at this book!

  2. Denver Photographer Josh Tilton Said:

    I really love the last paragraph. I think that is a great way to view your photography and have the patience that the craft deserves! I'm really enjoying your blog posts Dean! Thank you!

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