In our digital world and the easy access to great photography gear there is just one thing left that differentiates photographers from each other: inspiration. I often get asked how to find inspiration and how to be sure you don’t copy someone else’s images. Let me tell you one thing first: everything has already been there. Read the book Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told Me About the Creative Life and you will know what I am talking about. But it is up to you to steal from somebody else or to develop your own style from your own inspiration, even if what you create has been there before…
This might sound a little strange to you but let me try to explain it with the example of two photographers:
- Photographer A sits behind his desk all day long. Instead of doing the work he is „researching“ all day long on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram what other photographers do. He thinks he can develop his style of photography by collecting enough images of other photographers that he finds appealing. He complaints all the time about the industry, the competitors, his clients and of course his location: because a truly great wedding photographer must live in California as only there is great light. His portfolio is a collection of different styles photographing with back sun, with flash and with three different VSCO filters. He likes all of these looks on Pinterest and just cannot choose what could be right for him.
- Photographer B tries to go out at least once a day even if she is busy editing wedding images. She likes to meet her friends in coffee houses, run through the woods each morning and loves the beach. She has a note book and her iphone camera with her and each time she runs through the wood in the morning and the sun creates beautiful sun rays between the trees she takes an image and shares it on instagram with a note how beautiful this world is. While she waits for her friend in a coffee house she sees a young couple sitting two tables from her. They are kissing and cuddling and he whispers into her ear what makes her giggle and smile. She takes out her notebook and writes down what she sees for her next engagement session. She might not be the first one photographing a couple in a coffee house but instead of copying this idea from Pinterest she has the genuine idea of creating this image. Like this her portfolio is authentic and full of inspired images that speak to her and come from her heart.
So here are my three tips for you for genuine inspiration:
- Take a note book with you and take images of places that inspire you. Maybe you don’t want to photograph strangers in public, but try to draw and write down what you like about the pose, the interaction that you see between them. The more inspiration you find and write down, the more your brain will reward you with new inspiration.
- Surround yourself with beauty because you can only be as good as the things you surround yourself with.
- Have an open mind. This is the most important point but maybe the hardest to. The more you see, the more you feel, the more you walk around with open eyes and try to find inspiration in the daily things instead of other people’s facebook profile, the more you will create a unique style. This is not only valid for photography but for any other art too.
And if you find something online or in a book that get’s your attention and you really, really want to create something like that but you don’t want to become the copy cat than read this quote from „Steal like an artist“, the book that I mentioned above:
“Don’t just steal the style, steal the thinking behind the style. You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes. The reason to copy your heroes and their style is so that you might somehow get a glimpse into their minds. That’s what you really want – to internalize their way of looking at the world. If you just mimic the surface of somebody’s work without understanding where they are coming from, your work will never be anything more than a knockoff.”
P.S.: What does this image mean? During our workshop in France in October this year I walked by these huge windows every day. I saw the huge curtains and the string around it. I looked at it seeing the light and shadows on the texture, making the colors rich and strong exactly what I like when I photograph details and portraits. So on the last day I took my camera to take an image of this beauty to keep inspiring me even after leaving the chateau.