Let’s Get Inspired!

First, I want to thank Scott and Brad for having me back on Photoshop Insider as a guest blogger. It’s an honor to be here, as well as an honor to “share the stage” with so many talented photographers.

Today I’d like to talk about an important element, to some the most important element, in photography: inspiration – how you can get inspired and how you can stay inspired. I cover that topic somewhat in my latest Kelby Training interview, but here I’d like to share with you the detailed list of my “Top 10 Techniques for Getting Inspired.” Feel free to substitute the word “motivated” for “inspired.”

Condensed down to just one word each, here is my Top Ten list: Steal, Search, Share, Join, Learn, Change, Travel, Enjoy, Look and Walk. I’ll expand on those topics in a just a bit. In reading my list, keep in mind that if you play guitar or piano (as does Scott and yours truly), my “Top Ten” list also applies. In fact, the list applies, with a bit of tweaking, to all creative art forms.

Before we get going, however, I guess I should tell you about the Camargue horses pictures in this post. I took them during a recent digital photography workshop that I was co-leading in Provence, France.  All the images, taken with my Canon 5D Mark III and either my Canon 24-105mm IS lens or Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS lens, are pretty much strait shots, converted to JPEGs from my RAW files. All the images, however, are cropped. I feel strongly about cropping, as it gives us a second chance at composition – which is the topic of my Kelby Training class, Composition – The Strongest Way of Seeing.

Two more things about the images before I get to my “Top Ten” list:

First, you could say these photographs are “dumb luck” shots. Heck. I was standing in the water at the right time of day while these beautiful animals were running toward me (guided by riders who are out of the frame) at top speed. Basically, all I had to do was compose, set my exposure, allow my camera to focus – and shoot. Actually, you could say many images, even those by pros, are “dumb luck” shots. The thing is: “Luck favors the prepared photographer.” So be prepared.

Second, seeing pictures of the Camargue horses by other pros inspired and motivated me to try to make good pictures of these beautiful animals.

Okay, let’s talk about inspiration.

1) Steal!
Salvador Dali said, “Those who do not want to imitate anything produce nothing.” I first learned of that quote in the book, Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon.

One way to get inspired, therefore, is to look at the work of other photographers, and then try to emulate their work. If you succeed in your quest to “steal,” that will inspire you to go on “stealing” and creating.

2) Share
Sharing your work, and ideas, on social media sites, such as Google+, Facebook and Twitter is a good way to get inspired. If other photographers like your work, you’ll get inspired by their comments, which will inspire you to make more creative pictures ­– and to post more pictures. Even if you are an established pro, feedback is important. I’m always searching the web for new sites designed for photo sharing. PhotoExtracat.com is my latest and favorite.

Recently, I posted one of my Camargue horses pictures on PhotoExtract, and within a few days it was featured on the home page of the site – which was quite an honor.

Of course, a bad review on a social media site can be uninspiring. But if you are in this game of photography, you need to learn how to take the good with the bad.

3) Search
Searching and researching the work of other photographers is another way to get inspired. That’s what I did before going to Provence.

I always suggest to my workshop students that they do a search on the masters of photography – Karsh of Ottawa, Irving Penn, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Jerry Uelsmann, Gordon Parks – to name a few. More masters can be found here.

Back in the late 1970s, I had the awesome opportunity while editor of Studio Photography magazine (and before some of you were born), to interview Yousuf Karsh, Arthur Rothstein, Andreas Feininger, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Francesco Scavullo – and several other famous photographers of that time. These men loved photography, which is different than someone who loves being a famous photographer (which is a trend today on social media). Search out the true masters. You’ll get inspired by their work – as I did and as I am.

4) Join
A great way to get inspired is to shoot with other photographers. Join a photo workshop, photo walk, camera club or photo Meet Up group. Learn from the pro or leader. Share your shots on site and online. Get feedback. Look at the work of others, especially in the field so you can see how the other photographers are seeing. Remember: the more you put in, the more you’ll get out.

If you have been on a photo workshop and have wondered why you were not getting good shots, this blog post may help: How Come I’m Not Getting the Shots?

5) Learn
“Learning is health,” so the Buddhist saying goes. I truly believe that. Learn a new plug-in and see how that plug-in can help you awaken the artist within. Learn how to use Photoshop, Lightroom or ACR to expand the dynamic range of an image. Learn how to make a great inkjet print. Master daylight fill-in flash, painting-with-light or EDR. EDR, in case you were wondering, is my own name for HDR, which you can read about in this post: Goodbye HDR! Hello EDR?

6) Change
“When you are through changing, you are through.” – Bruce Barton

Change is good – and inspiring and refreshing. If you are stuck in a rut, get some inspiration by trying a different type of photography or by experimenting with different digital darkroom techniques. Challenge yourself. If you meet and exceed that challenge, you’ll be inspired and motivated to try new things.

If you think you can’t change, think about this quote: “If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you can’t.”

Have enthusiasm for all that you do – new and old – and inspire others – which is actually a good way for you to get inspired. “Nothing great was ever accomplished without enthusiasm.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

7) Travel
Traveling to new locations is a wonderful way to get inspired. You don’t necessarily need to travel to the other side of the planet to get inspired, but that can surely help. Making a trip to a nearby city or park can also be a source of inspiration, too. Wherever you go, set a specific goal, perhaps to come away with a series of black-and-white images. With that goal in mind, you’ll see and picture your world in your own unique way, which is kinda cool.

8) Enjoy
Here’s yet another quote, this one by my good friend Hal “Bull” Schmitt, a wonderful motivational and inspirational speaker, as well as a former Top Gun instructor. “If you are not having fun, you are doing something wrong.” Take joy in all your photography – and in all you do. You’ll be surprised at how your attitude affects your images.

9) Look
For photographers, there’s a big difference between seeing and looking. (For musicians, there is a big difference between hearing and listening.) When you are out shooting, look for images. The more you look, the more you’ll see picture possibilities. Don’t only look for interesting subjects, look for good light. It’s often light that can make the difference between a snapshot and a great shot. When we were photographing the horses in Provence, positioning the horses in good light was a main objective.

10) Walk
“If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking. Angels whisper to a man who goes for a walk.” – Raymond Inmon

I’ll leave you with that quote and concept because it says it all . . . and because I am going for a walk.

You can see more of Rick’s work at RickSammon.com, and follow him on Google+, Twitter, and Facebook!