Finding photography inspiration without direction is often challenging. If I am not commissioned to photograph subjects for a client, I am often hard pressed to come up with fresh material on a daily basis. For that is what I do: photograph every day. It can be far less demanding to see the Eiffel Tower on a trip to Paris and take some great images, but to work on my own photographs day in and day out in a familiar place requires commitment. What do I shoot? Where does the inspiration come from?
It is true that I live near New York City. I am an architectural photographer and the City presents a plethora of subject matter. But how do I keep the work fresh? Furthermore, how can I relate the shots to the bigger picture? I used to walk the City and take random photos of appealing architectural details and buildings. I liked what I saw so I shot it with abandon.
I still enjoy incidental photography, taking pictures of what attracts me when I notice something interesting and/or beautiful, but I have become more selective in the architectural photography I shoot. I try now to relate my photographs to specific places, architectural styles and/or architectural function. For example, a beautiful staircase is not simply a series of descending or ascending steps. It is built with railings, treads abd walls to allow passage from one level to another. I try to tell the story of the staircase in the context of its function, design and visual appeal. Where do I find a staircase that has visual appeal? Inspiration comes from various sources.
Resources for Inspiration
I frequently study the work of photographers, painters and other visual artists. In the work of those whom I admire, (Ansel Adams, Clyde Butcher, Turner, Brancusi, and many more) I find the elements that create a great image. Unexpected uses of line and form give me great ideas for my own work. A Florida Everglades scene photographed by the incomparable Clyde Butcher illustrates the way that horizontals and verticals punctuated by diagonals work well to form a dynamic composition. I am forever in the library looking at photography books. Further, Google Image Search has a host of the black and white and sepia architectural photographs that can give me ideas. I search it every day.
As an architectural photographer, I pore over architectural plans regularly. In my years as a structural draftsman I learned how things are built. This background and knowledge is helpful in getting architectural images that represent architecture and its construction. MOMA frequently has architectural plans on display. Those of Mies van der Rohe inspired me to seek out the powerfully sleek lines of the “modern” buildings that are of or relate to the architect’s vision. The plans for ancient buildings, Greek, Roman and such, are also informative. Getting into the architect’s head through blueprints has a wonderful way of translating into a guide for my images of architecture.
Inspiration comes in many forms and from many sources. What I have learned in doing architectural photography is to be open to new ideas and to see the possibilities that present everywhere. I may look at a cereal box and fuse the rectangular shape into a composition. Later, a structure will recall that form and I can juxtapose the simple rectangular shape with more complex buildings behind, in front of or next to it. The “simple” shape then takes on its own character rather than appearing in the image as a linear box. The ideas keep coming because inspiration on its own may arrive in erratic bursts, but going after it consciously day by day makes for a rewarding journey and consistently better photography.