The Secret to Creative Photographic Inspiration

Posted: February 19, 2019 in black and white, black and white film, fine art photography, photographer, photographs, photography, portraits, portraiture, street photography
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I have a secret.  I’m going to share it with just you.  Okay?

If you want to get inspired to make photographs (or to write, or to paint, etc.) there’s one trick that you must know.  One little trick that is so mind-blowingly amazing, it’ll change your creative life.

Once you know it, you’ll have the key to inspiration forever.  It’s something you cannot forget.  It’s simply unforgettable.  But it is truly the key.

So, this is the secret.  It’s a very elusive thing, something that most people don’t know, so don’t share it, unless you want to let them in on it like I’m doing for you.

Just you.

This is it.  Are you ready?  D’you have something to write with?  You might want to write this down.

It’s so simple, that must be the reason that so many creatives miss it.  It’s sooooo simple.

Here it is.  The secret.  Two words.  I’ll print them lightly, so as if to whisper them.  It is a secret after all, the secret you were seeking.

[Show up.]

That’s it.  Have a good day.  Now go to it.

kenneth-wajda-34-10

Wait, let me expound on that.  Give you a little about what I mean.

I was listening to an interview with Bob Dylan, and he was asked how he wrote some of his early famous songs, and he said he didn’t know, they just came to him.

They just came to him. 

But he had to be there.  Ready for them to come.  He showed up and was ready to receive the song and create it.  He was sitting at his typewriter and had his guitar or piano and he was in the process of working to write songs.  That was his sandbox and he was sitting in it, sand up to his knees.

Related imageThe photograph above is me working at my typewriter.  I write as well as make photographs and some writing I do on a typewriter, in this case, a very lovely Olivetti Lettera 32, which by the way Dylan also wrote with.  So, I wanted to make a photograph of me at the typewriter because I wanted to experiment with some new strobe lights and portable lighting setups.

To do it, I had to show up.

I had to assemble the lights.  Set up the light stands.  Power the lights.  I had to place them and set the exposure.  Get the camera on the tripod.  Once I had them all set up, the playground was there.  The sandbox was ready for me.  All I had to do was anything I wanted.  Now it was time to play.  So, I made several photographs.

I like the look.  The lighting.  That was a fun shoot, and it got me to see how much I could do with my own space, it gave me the chance to work with smaller lighting fixtures, and it was a creative outlet.  I usually use large AC-powered soft-boxes and this was a new tool, these small battery-powered strobes, in my lighting arsenal.

So, I can rephrase the secret: If you want to be inspired, go play.  Take your tools.  For a writer it can be a laptop, a typewriter or a pen and paper and go sit outside at a park under a tree, or a coffeeshop or a pub, wherever you can go to stay in the playground.  For a photographer, set up the lights where you are or grab the camera and go.

Whatever it takes.  The muse will deliver the inspiration when you have the game set up, but often not before.  She’s funny that way–she doesn’t always come around before we show up.  But once we’re there, get ready to write your own Blowin’ in the Wind.

We. Just. Have. To. Show. Up!

I get a lot more street photographs when I go to town and walk the pavement than when I sit at home thinking about what to shoot.  To shoot street, you have to go to the street.  A couple hours at a time.  Wear comfortable shoes.

There’s no such thing as “thinking about it”.  There’s nothing happening when we say we’re not quite ready, we’re still pondering the idea.  That does nothing.  We haven’t arrived to play.

So, there’s the secret.  Wanna write a song?  Grab a notebook and pencil and your instrument and start.  Show up, see what comes from it.

The inspiration comes after you arrive.  Not before.  You can go with no ideas, and they’ll come then.  When you’re ready.

Really.  Go with no ideas.  Go uninspired.  It’s fine.  Just go.

Wanna make photographs?  What do you need to get started?  Lighting?  Go pull out the stands and start setting them up.  As you are doing that, the ideas will come.  At first, try anything.  That something will lead to another thing.  That’s the muse at work!

Large format?  Go load the film holders and put them in your camera bag and warm up the car–you’re going shooting.  Go out and look for a subject.  Maybe the weather looks like it’s not perfect, so what, go anyway–maybe you’ll find it’s exactly right where you go, when you get there.  But you’ve gotta show up.

Now you know, that’s all you have to do.  So simple.  Just two words.  The muse is waiting to work with you.  The creativity happens when we’re in the playground.  Not before.  Not when we’re “thinking” about it, while feeling un-creative.  She arrives when we are ready to be creative.

She waits until we’re up to our knees in sand!  So, go.

Show up!  The muse is waiting.

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