Some Notes On Finding Inspiration

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Some Notes On Finding Inspiration

What are we going to create today?
Shooting overgrown temples at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, cruising the Nile and shooting the Pyramids in Egypt, taking pictures of almost any colorful thing in India, shooting exotic animals in the Galapagos or exploring the Great Wall of China are just some of the inspiring things I would love to do. Unfortunately at this point in life I find myself retired and living on a rather limited fixed income so all those dreams will have to remain just that, dreams. I still, however love to make photographic images and need to find subjects that will inspire me to create my own brand of images using my favorite tools. So what does one do?

I am lucky that I live in a large metropolis which offers a great many different environments, in the city we have diverse parks, ethnic neighborhoods, financial districts, residential areas, skyscrapers, harbors, coastal places, rivers, botanical gardens, zoos and all sorts of special events, parades and goings on that pop up begging to be photographed. I am sure that looking around the town where you live and being aware of local events you can find many of these things too. Perhaps not in the same abundance as New York City but there will be many things that we don’t have here. Even a small village has nearby countryside, farms and natural scenic splendors that can be taken advantage of.

So you have done all that? OK. Do it again. And then again. I have found that the first time I visit a place I take all the obvious images which usually turn out to be the same images everyone else took too. A second or third visit makes you start to look harder at the place and find the not so obvious pictures that often are the better choices. Take another photographer with you, this is really a good thing to get the creative juices flowing as you each bounce ideas off of each other and maybe enjoy a little friendly competition. You would be amazed how people look at the same scenes and see them in completely different ways. Compare photos after the event and see what I mean.

Watch the weather. I have shot the skyline of downtown Manhattan many times in the 42 odd years I have lived in New York but recently we had a few surprisingly warm days in mid-winter and that caused a lot of fog. I saw that this was predicted also for the next day and resolved to get up earlier and go off to the Brooklyn waterfront, lugging a tripod, where I managed to shoot some very different images than the usual glossy skyline pictures. The buildings disappeared into the mists at their tops and the results were moody and much more interesting and great fun to work with in Photoshop. As evening fell the lights of Manhattan glowed through the diffusing fog and took on a whole new look. Being aware of when the first real snow showers were due allowed me to be in Central Park at the perfect time to capture the flurries swirling around the Bethesda Fountain. These inclement weather events could have been excuses to stay in bed but I made them the inspiration to go out and take great pictures. Go out and shoot in the rain and catch those great reflections in the wet ground and puddles.

In the last few years since I retired I have joined a few photographic “meetup” groups and these days when almost everyone is a photographer I am sure at least one photo club, group or photo-walk meetup site is available where you live. It is certainly worth doing a Google search to find out. There are quite a few advantages to joining groups apart from the fact that you just might make some new friends. In the winter months I often sit home for much of the time preferring the warmth to the cold outside and it becomes difficult to talk yourself into dressing up and going out with no fixed plan as to where one is going. When a group makes plans and you have signed on it is much more likely that you will go off on the adventure than talk yourself out of it. This winter tagging along with groups I have captured many great snow shots in Central Park on two occasions, climbed a small mountain outside of Cold Spring, New York, explored Washington Heights at the very top of Manhattan, photographed holiday windows on Fifth Avenue, the tree at Rockefeller Center and Times Square at night and had a great time doing it. Talking photography with others is another way to learn and get inspired, each of us has much to offer the others and even folks new to the addiction help us to remain excited about what we do.

Joining Facebook has become another source of inspiration, a gentleman from Atlanta, loving New York, began a group called “Show me your NYC.” On a couple of occasions he has enjoyed vacations in New York at which times all the members of the group get together in the real world and go off on Photo-walks all over the city (with some enjoyable stops at the best Pizza places that the city has to offer). Walking a city with a group of like-minded people is very different than being out with friends and family. Those folks though supportive of your addiction will frequently become frustrated with having to stop and wait for you while you take pictures and you usually feel that you have to hurry and grab the shots you want. When out with a group of fellow photographers everyone totally understands what you are about and even if you have to take “just one more” they are happy to wait until you are ready. At the next stop you might be waiting for them. Sometimes you wish to set up tripods and filters and other paraphernalia simply not possible with a group of impatient non-photographer friends.

Look out for the “big” Photo-Walks” like the ones put on annularly by Scott Kelby’s "KelbyOne" who organize the World Wide Photo-Walk, there is probably one near you. Trey Ratcliff and Rick Salmon have both organized one in New York and the Flickr folks have organized them too. These can be a lot of fun and frequently draw over a hundred photographers around here. Sign up for Google+ or Facebook and join several photo “communities” they often have friendly challenges and contests with fixed themes that you can enter. No big prizes but good ideas and they will inspire you to create something for the theme.

In New York and, I imagine in other big cities, there is another advantage of going out with a group. There are many areas where one does simply not feel that safe especially when lugging a few thousand dollars’ worth of irreplaceable camera equipment or even your small but fairly expensive new point-and-shoot. With a group of ten or twenty folks there is safety in numbers so you get to visit areas that might be interesting and colorful to visit but which you would never go to on your own.

Many times people in groups come up with ideas and places to visit that you just wouldn't have known about or thought of. On one occasion some folks on “Show Me Your NYC” were discussing visiting a deserted farm colony that I was totally unaware of. They made plans to do so and I was able to join them and had a fantastic day of wonderful if spooky photographic opportunities while hanging with a great bunch of people. Again something (it involved slipping through a fence with large NO TRESPASSING signs) that I would never have done on my own.

Look at the pictures others are making. These days there is no shortage of places to look at photography. It isn't all great but it is plentiful and ideas are abundant. Browsing Flickr, Facebook or Google+ amongst many other venues is sure to expose you to the work of excellent artists that will inspire you and those, not so great, that will give you ideas that you can improve upon.

Keep your past photographs organized in a catalog program such as Lightroom so that they are easy to revisit. Sometimes when going back into your old captures from a year or so ago you will find something that you missed at first inspiring you to make something new. Again, like when visiting a place for the first time, when we first go through our folders of new captures we frequently grab the most obvious and miss some of the best images with the best potential, even if they require a little more work to bring out their charms. I basically shoot everywhere I go. I would love to visit exotic locales and take wonderful images but I make do with whatever life throws in my path. Whatever looks like it might be interesting or I think I can use later. I have thousands of images of all sorts on my hard drives and a huge library of old slides from my film days. When I’m in the mood to create I just start to browse at random through old images and I always get inspired by something and off I go. Sometimes that image doesn't work and I just start again.

When I have an idea for a new picture I try to write it down because I will surely forget all about it if I don’t. Three years ago I had an idea to do a collage of New York buildings in Photoshop, I kept forgetting the idea and then remembered it again a year later and actually went out and took pictures of a lot of buildings in preparation for it. It took me another year to rediscover those pictures in Lightroom and actually create the collage! Daily life intervenes and it really helps to have a task list. Mine popped up today when I opened Thunderbird to check my email and reminded me to write this article!

I hope you stay inspired and above all have fun.