Gavin Gough: Motivation

In Guest Articles, Thoughts & Theory by David7 Comments

gavin-buttonGavin Gough and I are trading posts today. You can find my post HERE on Gavin’s blog and his post below. Please extend a warm Pixelated Image welcome to Gavin Gough.

Inspiration – A Beginner’s Guide

“Photographic technique is no secret and, provided the interest is there, easily assimilated. But inspiration comes from the soul and when the muse isn’t around even the best exposure meter is very little help. In the biographies, artists like Michaelangelo, Da Vinci and Bach said that their most valuable technique was their ability to inspire themselves, This is true of all artists, the moment there is something to say there becomes a way to say it.” Ralph Gibson

You know when you’re feeling inspired. Whether or not we’re photographers, we’ve probably all enjoyed that feeling of having a definite purpose combined with the energy to pursue it. It’s a great feeling, the mind is cleared of distractions, obstacles shrink to nothing, the path ahead becomes obvious and, very quickly, there’s nothing easier than taking steps towards achieving your goal, your vision. We are inspired! (More after the jump.)

That feeling of being inspired can come at unlikely and unpredictable moments. I was walking home through a torrential rainstorm yesterday, trying hard to stay dry and failing dismally. I was definitely feeling more soggy than inspired. As I splashed through yet another ankle-deep puddle I noticed what other people were doing in the rain; running beneath colourful umbrellas, peering out from doorways and looking heavenward to check out the clouds; there were a host of photo opportunities right in front of me. In a second, I’d gone from trying to protect my camera from the rain to pulling it from my camera bag to snap some of the unfolding scenes. Inspiration had come and my view of the rainy afternoon had taken a U-turn in a flash.

It’s a wonderful feeling, we’re energised and buoyant and ideas flow quickly and readily. As photographers, that kind of inspiration results in images that excite and engage our audience. Inspiration prompts us to look at things from fresh perspectives and to try new techniques. Inspiration invites us to step outside of our comfort zone and it enhances and enriches our creativity. Oh, to be inspired.

“Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time… the wait is simply too long.” Leonard Bernstein

However, that kind of inspiration isn’t canned or bottled and it’s not for sale online. Most of us probably also know only too well how it feels when inspiration escapes us. There’s a frustration when ideas won’t come and those that we do have seem hackneyed and obvious. How we wish for inspiration on tap. I can’t offer you that, unfortunately, but I can share the strategies I use when inspiration is hiding and offer some suggestions as to how you might tempt the muse back into your creative life.

“You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.” Jack London

There’s a theory, I don’t know if it’s accurate or not, which suggests that if you’re feeling glum then you should force a smile. Using the muscles in your face required to make the ends of your mouth turn up triggers a link in your brain with feelings of happiness. Do it for long enough and your gloom will begin to lift as the brain is tricked into producing “happy” chemicals. Either that or somebody will notice your fixed grin and you’ll get sectioned under the Mental Health Act. The point is that it’s possible to do certain things in reverse, starting with the outcome, thereby creating a situation in which they might have occurred naturally. It’s a bit like jump-starting a car I suppose, get the thing in motion and you can start the engine. That’s also a trick you can use to kick-start your creativity and to invite inspiration back into your life.

“Inspiration does exist, but it must find you working.” Pablo Picasso

Picking up a camera and just going through the motions of taking photographs can be a short-cut to finding inspiration. I recommend that you try to see the familiar things in your life with fresh eyes. I find it useful to think in terms of themes. Go around your house and photograph everything orange, then go around again and look for spiral shapes and photograph those. You’ll start to notice the way the folds in a towel in the bathroom take on a certain shape. You’ll see how the shoes discarded in the hallway form patterns and you’ll see how the stools beside the breakfast bar cast pleasing shadows. Take a moment and look around the room you’re in now and see all of the things that are green. Now scan your eyes around the room again and see everything that is brown. Notice how thinking of a certain theme brings different things to your attention?

Do this when you’re out with your camera and the process of seeing things differently will, I promise you, prompt you to take photographs that would ordinarily have passed you by. And, like forcing a smile, having a camera in your hand and looking through the viewfinder at things from a new perspective will kick-start the inspiration.

The important thing is to be taking photographs. Nothing else matters. We all enjoy debating the pros and cons of using certain lenses or discussing which camera bag is going to offer the best protection for our valuable kit. I’m as guilty of this as anyone else, heck, I write a blog based on such things. Yet, whilst I realise there may be something rather self-defeating in what I’m about to say, reading blogs and articles written by other people who take photographs isn’t a replacement for you actually taking photographs yourself. You can enjoy other people’s work, find their words entertaining and educational, even motivational, but that’s different from enjoying the inspiration required to make your own photographs special.

When we’re forced into taking photographs, perhaps because we only have limited time available to us or because our opportunities are limited in some way then we need to be inspired at exactly the time we have a camera in our hand and not an hour later. The trick then is to look for the beauty in your surroundings. You might think that your location is uninspiring but there will be beauty there if you look hard enough, I guarantee it. It might be in the way the light falls across an object or the manner in which the clouds are forming overhead. Perhaps it will be the curve of the lines painted in the road or the reflection in the cutlery on your dining table. We are surrounded by beauty in so many forms and, as photographers, we probably appreciate this already but I know myself that a reminder is sometimes welcome .

There’s a line in my notebook, written over dinner last night as I put down some initial thoughts for this blog post. It reads “Stop fannying around, pick up your bloody camera and photograph something”. Clearly there are more polite ways to put it and I should add the disclaimer that dinner was enjoyed with some fine Thai beer so I may have dispensed with subtlety but the sentiment is accurate.

Enjoy inspiration when it comes unannounced, it’s your Christmas bonus come early. And when you’re struggling to find inspiration, get out and do the very things that inspiration would otherwise have prompted you to do, you might just find that inspiration was out there waiting for you all the time.


  1. Pingback: Wednesday Linkage | Photography by Greg Kendall-Ball

  2. Visual emersion into the known- and making it fresh all over again. CS
    Well done by both Gavin and David!

  3. Funny how words ending in “ation” can get you photographing, even if you didn’t really want to in the first place! Enjoying both blogs this evening. When will I ever get any real work done?

  4. Just reading these two blogs stirred my passion for looking for an image. Thank you guys, the camera is now in my hand….

  5. Thank you for reminding me that inspiration is all around, we just need to put ourselves into the right frame of mind to see it. Looking for particular colours, themes or shapes sounds like a good tip to remember. I love the smile example and I think it would work. I once saw a programme on laughter which showed how, even if you don’t have anything to laugh about at the time you can still trigger the same emotional benefit from the physical act of laughing. Probably best to do it before setting off on a shoot though.

  6. Thanks for the comments and especially to the f/niners (Zoe, Anne, Rosie) for your contribution. Much appreciated.

  7. I really enjoyed this piece. Inspiration is a wonderful thing when it comes and we are photographing things that really excite us. It is always strange when you find that other people don’t share the excitement! But that never puts me off!

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