Look at Pictures and Do Stuff !!

Where do you get your photographic ideas? Where do you draw your inspiration from? Does it come to you naturally without any sort of process that you are aware of? Or is it a real slog to arrive at an idea and then carry that idea out?

I remember when I was in school, a good few years ago now (!) I used to get very frustrated during maths when others around me seemed to carry out their various tasks with apparent ease, revision and the subsequent exams seemed to be effortless whereas for me it was a bit of a nightmare – I just didn’t ‘get it’, (although if any younger readers are going through a similar situation then don’t worry too much, I can say that about 90% of the weird and wonderful equations and formulae I tried to learn at school have never been used again since that time!!)
Photography is a bit like that – you either ‘get it’ or you sometimes struggle a bit.

Although I think that there is some leeway here. To understand exposure, flash techniques, lenses, cameras, Depth of Field, focus, lighting etc etc then hit the books and it is explained in excruciatingly boring detail. Read and study it enough and you will ‘get it’, but the difficulty then comes in the application of this in the real world.

Don’t get me wrong, a firm grasp of all of these things and more won’t hurt you photographic process at all, it will help, but don’t follow it to the letter at the expense of your creativity. So where do you learn about photography? How do you pour fuel on your creative photographic fire? There are two answers in my opinion and both are relatively simple – LOOK AT PICTURES and DO STUFF!

Depending on what ‘genre’ of photography your passionate about, be it photojournalism, documentary, sport, portrait, still life, wildlife, macro, whatever, then look at pictures others have taken (I must point out at this point that you shouldn’t try and copy the pictures you see pixel for pixel – so to speak, unless, I guess it’s for your own viewing pleasure or education, that would be boring). But look at them, hundreds of them, thousands even, the internet is a big place and don’t forget newspapers also, after a while all these pictures will sit in a sort of ‘mental hardrive’ that you can draw upon for ideas – for me, my passion is photojournalism, when I look at these pictures I ask myself questions about these pictures things like how was it composed? How is it lit? How did they get the perspective they did? Where did they stand? And then I ask further questions if it’s a photo-essay..Is it done simply? (often the best way to get a point across), does it flow, showing contrast and variety? Does it work better in colour or black and white? And on it goes (NOTE: I won’t go into photo-essay projects too much here I’m working on another entry to look at this subject).

But the more you look at and then ask questions of these pictures the more you will develop and improve as a photographer – Please note that none of these questions really ask about the kit used – what camera was that taken on etc – who cares! The only time kit issues make an appearance I think should be if you try and work out the lens used to obtain the perspective that the photographer achieved, or if you try and reverse engineer a lit photo.

My second way to keep your creative juices flowing is to ‘DO STUFF’ -push yourself, learn the basics, develop them, practice them, improve on them but at the same time keep thinking of personal projects you can do. For me, I have at the time of writing this SIX projects that I am working on – some are still very much in the early planning stages others are a little further along and with some I’m taking pictures already. It doesn’t matter if you have a specific end use for them at this stage, great if you do but don’t stress if you don’t, as it develops you might make a contact through the course of doing the project which opens other doors. The planning and thought process involved are a big attraction for me with these documentary projects and that’s before I get to the picture taking stage.

Remember: Be flexible, remain motivated, keep inspired, look at pictures, look at some more pictures and then get out there and take some!

Below are 4 pictures I have taken as part of a project I’m currently doing on ‘Allotments’ – I decided from the start to shoot in black and white, I also decided to shoot it all on prime lenses – 14mm, 20mm, 24mm, 50mm and 85mm depending on subject. I wanted to try and shoot in a different style – quite harsh and contrasty, I still don’t have a confirmed end use but I could try and go for an exhibition, maybe get it published as a photobook, maybe a gardening magazine I don’t know yet – but it doesn’t matter at this stage it’s just good to be putting an idea into practice and taking some pictures.

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