Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Inspiration. Who needs it?!

Almost nobody needs inspiration, it turns out.

Do you want to make a picture of a pretty thing, or an interesting thing? Point the camera at it, and press the button. If you want your picture to be specially appealing, apply some technical know-how, apply some rules of thumb, and pick a gimmick or two out of the gimmick bag. You're pretty much there. Do it competently, and it'll look just like the pictures in the calendars. Arrange to have extraordinarily pretty things in front of the camera, and you might do very well indeed.

Taking pictures of babies and weddings isn't easy. It requires technical skills, problem solving skills, all around ability to do it well. What it does not require is inspiration. The pictures you need to make are all on a list. These groupings of people, these objects, these moments of the day. You might need non-photographic inspiration to get enough light onto the bride or baby, to get the family all in frame at once, or to get a smile out of the grouchy toddler. You won't need any inspiration to imagine the images, though.

You only need inspiration when the desired image is not obvious. It's not a list, it's not a copy of some other image, and it's not a copy of whatever's in front of you. It's something else.

A wedding photographer might look for inspiration, to find that one image that captures the essence of this wedding as it is distinct from all other weddings, as it is unique in and of itself, and special to the people in it.

A landscape photographer might look for inspiration to find that image which looks nothing like the scene in view, and yet somehow exactly like it, but distilled to an essence, a feeling.

My suspicion is that many photographers, even many excellent photographers, don't know that this is even a possibility. Many photographers like cameras more than they like pictures, and many photographers like pictures that pretty much look like the thing they are a picture of. Their highest ambition is to make a picture that really really looks like the thing that was in front of the camera. There's nothing particularly wrong with that. The stuff in front of the camera can be pretty amazing.

Do you look at Ansel Adams' picture of El Capitan and think "Wow, that is one spectacular rock!" or do you think "El Capitan looks nothing like that, and yet also exactly like that?"

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