Five Places I Go to Find Photographic Inspiration

I'd Love to Start Again and Get it Right

Earlier today Rebekah Json on Google Buzz asked me what I do when I’m “uninspired” to inspire my photography. I started thinking about it and realized that the answer was actually longer than a few sentences and so I decided to publish a post on five places that I personally go to find photographic inspiration. Inspiration is a huge part of producing creatively and something that I think about alot. That said, here are five of the primary places I go to find inspiration.

1. The photography of others on the web. I am a voracious consumer of other people’s photography. The internet, and photo sharing more specifically, have opened up vast libraries of images that simply were not accessible 10 years ago. I look at photos on the web every single day. I make friends and contacts on photosharing sites like Flickr with people’s whose work I admire and I’m constantly reviewing what other people are doing. Earlier today I posted a buzz about my friend Marc Evans and his work. The perfection of his neon imagery is hugely inspiring to me. It makes me want to spend more time and care on my own neon images. His work is an inspiration to me. But Marc is just one of many.

I’ve added a bunch of photographers as contacts on Buzz. There too, every day I see wonderful images. A few months ago I started seeing some of the first iPhone hipstamatic images show up on Flickr. I first noticed that by following the work of Anthony Valley.

I’m constantly inspired looking at the big beautiful images of Boston.com’s Big Picture blog. If you want to be inspired, follow other photographers and photography around the web, there is no shortage of talent out there from both pros and amateurs alike.

2. From photography books and museum or gallery exhibits. The web is great, but there is something about the printed page that just makes photographs look 1000% better. I spend a lot of time browsing and buying photography books. Sit down for an hour with William Eggleston’s Democratic Camera or any of Garry Winogrand’s street photography or Lee Friedlander’s self titled book Lee Friedlander or Stephen Shore’s Uncommon Places. Carefully studying what some of the world’s greatest fine art photographers produce is hugely inspiring. And you don’t necessarily even have to buy the books always. Do you have an extra hour this afternoon? Consider going into Borders and seeing the great works of others. Powell’s in Portland has one of the best photography sections of any bookstore I’ve ever visited.

Likewise, keep an eye out for museum or gallery exhibits. I remember the first time I saw Richard Misrach’s gignormous photos at a gallery in San Francisco. Seeing Robert Frank’s “The Americans” at the SFMOMA (for free) was one of the most inspirational exhibits I’ve ever seen.

3. From documentaries on photographers. You may not realize this, but Netflix is *chock full* of *great* documentaries on photographers. I’ve seen tons of these now. I’ve been publishing a profile a day on a different photographer on Buzz. Why? Because I learned about the importance of curating from a documentary I rented on Netflix about one of the world’s greatest curators (and photographers) Alfred Steiglitz. I’d also highly recommend “In the Real World” about William Eggleston or “The True Meaning of Pictures” about Shelby Lee Adams. But just do a search for photography on Netflix and you’ll find a treasure trove of great documentaries worth watching.

4. From other big thinkers. This may sound odd, but frequently I find inspiration from people who are not primarily photographers. Just watching people who live their life with excellence. Andy Warhol’s work ethic was phenomenal. Man that Jack Kerouac could type. But frequently this is closer to home. Maybe this is watching the personal excellence of a blogger/social media expert (and also photographer) like my friend Robert Scoble. Or watching the many many paintings by my friend tobakhopper and his zest for life that comes along with it. Recently I discovered Chris Guillebeau. He’s trying to visit every country in the world by April 7, 2013. He’s already visited 122 of the 192 total! Read his manifesto here. I love reading positive thinking bloggers like Seth Godin. Surround yourself with big thinkers, powerful generous people who are willing to share and people from the past who have achieved great things.

And also avoid the naysayers. Try to keep away the haters and assholes who only want to tear you down. Little thinking small minded mostly jealous individuals. Recently I found this song by Slim Thug “Dedicated to my haters.” As crazy as it sounds I can find inspiration from listening to a rapper prove his critics wrong by becoming even more successful.

5. From inside yourself. Ultimately you can find inspiration in many, many places in the world around you, but at some point you have to simply fall back on self-discipline. There are *definitely* times that I feel totally uninspired and do not want to go out and shoot. Maybe it’s raining, or maybe I’m tired, or maybe I’m just sick and tired of shooting San Francisco over and over and over again (as lucky as I am to live here in such a beautiful place). But sometimes you just have to accept uninspiration… AND GO SHOOT ANYWAYS. And you know what? You’ll find sometimes that the times when you were least inspired are when you capture some of your finest photographs. F8 and be there. Being there the optimal part.

There are lucky shots and situations around us every single day. Unless you are actually putting yourself out there to stumble across them you will miss them. So if you can’t inspire yourself, fake it, force it. Get out there anyways and you just might find that you stumble upon greatness. Afterall, the best photographs in the world have yet to be taken.

So there are five places that I go to find inspiration. How about you? Where do you go to find *your* photographic inspiration?

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21 comments on “Five Places I Go to Find Photographic Inspiration
  1. I regularly visit the Indianapolis Museum of Art. I love to study the way that european painters used light in their compositions. They recently had an exhibit on Sacred Spain that was great.

    http://www.imamuseum.org/exhibition/sacred-spain

  2. Mark Forman says:

    Not surprisingly this post was damn inspiring. I concur on viewing the images of others both still and moving are the greatest direct inspiration for photography. Life is the greatest inspiration-the smile of a child a beautiful cloud in the sky or some odd pattern on the sidewalk in a muted shade of fuschia all great inspirations.

  3. Susan says:

    I’ve been grappling with lack of inspiration lately-been spending too much time in front of my iMac and not enough out shooting, so this great post is well timed!

  4. Ben Goldstein says:

    I have known James Donnelly for many years as a good and honorable member of the community, I also knew he took trips to Thailand and that he liked the company of young men, which explains his interest in NAMBLA, but was surprised and saddened at the charges brought against him and by his subsequent incarceration.

    If it matters to anyone, by young men I am referring to 16+yrs of age, not prepubescent. It’s unfortunate that such details were not included in the police press release while other less relevant ‘facts’ about ‘investigations’ that never led to charges is included, making Jim’s transition back into society more difficult by further heightening the fears already held by many.

    As far as I know, the commentary by his niece is 100% accurate. He is a decent person. Jim has been caught at the very fringe of what is legal under present law; he is no child predator but unfortunately, will be treated like one for the rest of his life.

  5. There is one additional “place” that you seem to have missed on this list. It’s to actually talk, meet and see fellow photographers. There’s nothing like getting inspired than from other photographers as you talk shop. See what they are up to, what inspires them and heck even talk about what gear they are using. As a photographer it’s common to come up against a wall as I go thru it often but I find that hanging out with my friends who are photographers are an inspiration to me to be better and most importantly keep doing what I’m doing in terms of my own photography.

  6. Bradyo says:

    Aloha Thomas thanks for sharing, always looking to better myself and my photos. First heard about you from Leo Laporte the tech guy and only after a year later found your blog. Wish I checked it out sooner. Thanks again if you ever come to Hawaii you always have a contact here, happy shooting aloha 

  7. Margaret (Motts) says:

    I like to go to the galleries and First Friday Art walks. I just recently saw an Ansel Adams exhibit which inspired me a whole bunch. Nature and hikes to high mountain tops on stormy looking days are great places to go also, just make sure you bring protection for yourself and your camera equipment.
    This is a great article I also like the documentries. Thanks Tom.