Daily bombardment by images can leave us desensitized to truly inspiring art and cause creative catharsis. Pictures crowd our lives more than ever before. They are on the internet, social media, tv, billboards, pavements and walls. Images are on pretty much every product we purchase. Filling the whole sides of buildings or as miniature graphic icons on our phones.
Anyone interested in growing their photography skills may find this saturation somewhat nauseating.
Narrow your sphere of influence. Purposefully. Feast your eyes on the best and your creative muse will be full and satisfied. Indulging in visual junk food will only make you bloated and unhealthy. Uninspired.
Those Who Have Gone Before Us
Masters of the camera are plentiful. True photography heroes have produced impressive bodies of work in every genre imaginable.
Learn from the best. Find those who have distinguished themselves and whose work stands out and moves you. These days it’s very easy to research and locate portfolios of photographs which inspire you.
How to Find Your Photography Heroes
Make a list of the styles of photography you are most interested in. Maybe there’s just one. Google your results and include the word ‘photographer’. You might search ‘street photographer’, ‘landscape photographer’ etc. The results will provide you with a starting point you can work with and refine. Also, try searching photography specific sites like 500px. Pinterest is another good option. Searching hashtags on Instagram also produce fruitful results. But on these uncurated websites be careful to find the best, most renowned photographers.
Don’t just read camera manuals and ‘How To’ books. Read blogs and books by photographers whose work you admire. Reading what they write can provide valuable insight into how a photographer thinks. How did they achieve a certain look and feel to a particular photograph? What was the process they worked through in the development of their distinctive style? Which equipment did they use?
There are lots of amazing online documentaries you can watch about famous photographers. Sitting down for an hour or so to see and hear how photographers work is a terrific way to learn.
Go to exhibitions. Viewing curated bodies of work, printed and framed beautifully is a far different experience than looking at photos on a computer monitor or on your phone.
Talk to your photographer friends and find out who they draw inspiration from.
Follow any of these suggestions and your inspiration will increase.
New to Photography? Seek a Wider Sphere of Influence
If you’re new to photography and not sure where to start, take a broader approach. Look at books on photography where more than one artist and style is discussed. Draw from the ones who move you the most.
I think the very first photography book I owned was called The Camera. It’s part of the classic Time/Life series ‘Life Library of Photography’. The last chapter of the book profiles ten photographers and introduced me to the work of Ansel Adams, W. Eugene Smith, Diane Arbus, amongst others.
Two photographers who caught my attention in this book are Irving Penn and Henri Cartier-Bresson. I have continued to study their styles and methods over the years. Looking back I think it is the connection with the people they were photographing that touched me the most.
Natural Light Portraiture
Some years later I picked up Penn’s book ‘Worlds in a Small Room’. His use of natural light in his portraits had always captivated me. In this book, he writes about developing his outdoor studio and using it in countries like Papua New Guinea and Morocco. He motivated me to emulate this innovation. I designed and built my own version of a natural light studio and use it in the mountain areas of northern Thailand.
From time to time, as the opportunity arises, I enjoy photographing the various ethnic minority peoples who live in this part of the world, (where I also live.) During the past ten years or so, I have had many enjoyable experiences photographing these people in their villages. The studio allows me to photograph them in their space, within their comfort zone. Using the studio, I have more control over lighting and background than I would otherwise have.
Shortly after purchasing my first camera I was introduced to the photo joiners David Hockney was dabbling with at the time. I saw this video. The idea of making images beyond the conventional photographic boundaries of time and space constraints appealed to me, so I experimented.
Back then we had no internet and information, and examples of Hockney’s photographic montages were hard to come by. I started messing around and chewing through lots and lots of film.
Once I went digital a whole new world opened up. I began to produce video and photos to incorporate into my montages. I am still experimenting more than thirty years after being introduced to this cubist form of image making. The concept still captivates me and draws me to explore wider and deeper.
Be Purposeful in Your Hero Worship
Seek to emulate. Picasso said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” Make the most of what you see in other photographers work. Don’t just admire it, mimic it. Build the techniques and methods you see your heroes using into your photography. Then incorporate your ideas, or things you have seen in various other photographer pictures.
The daily bombardment of images into your eye space hopefully presses you to produce better, more exciting and creative photographs. It is too difficult to do on your own. Find your heroes and pay them homage by developing a style of your own, inspired by the images they’ve produced.