Photography inspiration is important to each of us. Whether we study classic painters or emulate our favorite teacher, we can’t help but be influenced by the work we see.
I personally find lots of inspiration on Pinterest. And I learned long ago that it doesn’t work to see a pin and hope to achieve similar results with a quick snap of the shutter. Anyone who’s ever tried to take a “simple” photo of a baby on a blanket understands, right? I’ve also learned that the best way to learn from inspiration is to ask myself a long and detailed series of questions about the photo.
Before I go on, let me clarify here. This article won’t tell you how to copy someone else’s work. No one should do that. This article will tell you how to identify what you like about a photo and incorporate that feature into your own personal style. Except for the very first cavemen who painted inside their caves, no artist has ever not been influenced by prior artists. The key is to work on identifying your personal photography style and to take control over which techniques, you incorporate into your work after studying the work of those you admire.
If you are conscious of the influence you incorporate into your mind, you will use that influence authentically. And that’s important.
For example, Jaime Moore, a talented and creative photographer, took a series of photos with her daughter where they recreated photos of strong female role models from the prior century. That concept has been done and no one else should do it. But if you are drawn to this project, or something similar, ask yourself as many questions as you can to determine what about the project or photo inspires you. Questions like:
- Do I like these photos because of the story they tell?
- Do I like them because they make a comment about society?
- Do I like them because they’re a part of a project with a child?
- Do I like them because of their appearance?
- What is unique about the photo that belongs only to that photographer? For instance, the child dressed up as a role model is unique to Jaimie Moore. On the other hand, a child dressed us as superman doesn’t belong to anyone. While a 1st birthday cake smash was obviously done first by only one photographer, the concept has become a pervasive theme in our culture. It wouldn’t be cool to copy Jaime Moore’s concept, but no one would have a problem with another cake smash photo.
After you download the free guided exercise below, answer each question with a yes or no followed by “because” or “by means of.” Explain, in detail, why any given feature speaks to you. And next, ask yourself at least 3 more questions. Ask questions until you get to the heart of your connection to the image.
The more analysis you put into the photo, the more unique your work will be.
Once you get to the heart of the connection, use the rest of the study to help you recreate shooting conditions, composition, editing, etc. Remember to stay true to your own style and use this study to help you learn new photography techniques.
This process will take a long time at first, but you will train your mind to think this way and it will soon become an easy part of your photography daydream/brainstorm work.
Photography Inspiration Practice
And then read my analysis below that led from from my initial inspiration image to the final Valentine’s shot you see above.
You think Valentine’s, you think Cupid, right? And that initial inspiration sparked my imagination. I wanted my image to be brighter and more colorful, so I kept searching for bow and arrow Valentine’s photos. I found three additional photos that I liked. They are all on this board, if you’d like to see them.
My evaluation of the photo concept distilled down into the red arrowhead. I liked it, especially combined with the high key (white) background. Photos or illustrations of kids with bows and arrows at Valentine’s have been around since Victorian times, so I wasn’t worried that I was copying a unique work.
Looking at the shooting settings, I wanted the photos to be mostly in focus. I was ok with the arrowhead blurring out, but wanted both eyes sharp. 2 of my 3 inspiration photos were taken in natural light. However, the best way for me to duplicate the high key effect was with studio lighting in front of a white backdrop. Just like the inspiration photos, I wanted no motion blur. My off camera lighting helped with that, and I used my fastest possible shutter speed.
The color part of my evaluation brought be right back to that red arrow head. The mostly white photos with the pop of red saying “love” was what I wanted.
In terms of processing, I wanted a cleaner look than any of my inspiration photos. Sure, I could have added a bokeh overlay and edited for low contrast and soft skin, but that’s not me. And it would have looked just like the other photos.
Props. Obviously, the bow was important. For those of you familiar with Greek mythology or Percy Jackson, my daughter is more Aphrodite than Artemis. No handmade willow-hewn bows for her. She wanted glitzy and gold. I did what I could….
Pose – the most important thing here is that my daughter held the bow below her face so that it didn’t hide her. Standing her diagonally to the camera, as the inspiration photos did, allowed the photo to show more of the bow and her “tough” stance in holding it.
The white dress continued the Valentine’s theme and also supported the high key look.
As far as my specific needs, I wanted to use this photo for my daughter’s Valentine card so I planned my composition to leave room for text on the right side of the image.
Would you like my ideas on your own photography inspiration process? Use the comments below. Write a blog post like this one and link back to this post on your website. Or write a comment linking to your inspiration photo and summarize your thought process as you worked through the guided exercise. I’ll respond with hints I have about your own style or what you can learn from the inspiration photo.