And So It Begins. Again.

In Creativity and Inspiration by David40 Comments

With the submission of my final words and images for Vision & Voice, my part in this most recent book is now pretty much over. Done. And I can breathe again. But it shouldn’t surprise you that I’m tired. Drained. A little empty right now. In just over one year we’ll have released 3 print books – 2 of which are heading for at least 10 foreign language editions – and 10 eBooks. And clients still insist on hiring me, so there’s that too. πŸ™‚

So now is the perfect time to do two things. 1. Start the process of re-filling the bucket of inspiration that I’ve just drained, and 2. Start the next book.

So without tipping my hand and telling you about the next book just yet, let me tell you about my bucket.

Right now it feels empty. But creativity is one of those things you replenish by the very act of using it, giving it away. So re-filling the bucket isn’t a matter of sitting back and waiting for someone to come along and fill’er to the brim. The muse doesn’t work like that. It’s a matter of going out to find her. Writer Jack London once talked about it as going out with a club to track her down and drag her back. That’s a little too neanderthal for me, but the notion is sound. You gotta go find her.

So I’m starting over again. Going back to square one. In my case square one is a frame of B&W T-Max 35mm film in my Pentax Spotmatic, the first SLR I ever owned. I’m going to go back to where it all started, free from the room full of gear and the preoccupations that come with making a living at this, and I’m going to shoot a roll of film just because. Because I like the sound of the film winding. Because I love the still-familiar feel of that old camera in my hands. Because I love the way the shutter bounces a little at 1/30. Because I love not being able to see the image the moment I take it. Because I love the imperfections, and the anticipation, and the fact that it’ll take a week – or more – before I can get the prints back. Sometimes jumping a rut requires steering hard to one side, and for me that’s going back to the beginning.

I’ve also packed my Hassleblad for Italy, along with a bag of expired Velvia film. When the gang has all gone home and I’m sitting in Venice alone I’m going to wander for a couple days and just shoot with an eye on enjoying the process and no thought to the end product. I can’t wait.

What are you doing to keep the bucket filled?


  1. My digging for inspiration seems to be different every time I need it. This time I’ve been inspired by reading some philosophy from Plato, the Allegory of the Cave. Sometimes I find the most inspiration away from my craft, which makes sense.

    PS… love shooting film, I prefer it over digital any day!

  2. I find practicing the the Transcendental Meditation technique regularly fills my bucket. I get deep rest and the brain functions more coherently, the ruts of neurons firing in old habituated ways are washed away and there is a fresh slate on which to draw. I also find that harmony and visual relationships become more evident. I feel beautifully connected to the world.

  3. Sometimes for me, its just a matter of picking up my camera, and allowing myself to get ‘lost’. Going to some of my favorite haunts and capturing whatever catches my eye. But I got luckier than usual last week; I attended a workshop that really got the juices flowing for me. Definitely not something that I do regularly — maybe once a year — but it was just what I needed for now.

  4. I’m doing exactly the same thing. I feel a bit burned out and don’t have another contract job till June (unless the product thing comes back up). So I’m trying to get my hands on a film camera again. I had a 120 roll camera a short time ago but had to sell it… I want it back. Or an f4. Or anything that runs something with emulsion. I’m about to pick up a little crappy 35mm SLR and some c41 B&W…

  5. I get on my motorcycle and ride. The same high that I get when I’m photographing is present when I’m riding. I feel as though I am ‘in it’ I am in touch with the world around me and all the senses are tingling. I reminds me how much I love that feeling and how much I miss it when I’m exhausted and burnt out or it isn’t there for whatever reason (like winter).

    I reflect when I ride and let the world inspire me. Smells, sights, sounds, feelings and textures. Everything I aspire to portray in an image. After a while the creative muse starts tugging and I follow.

    This week, after attending a long weekend workshop where I beat the dead horse of the ‘best gear is what you have at the moment’ over a lengthy lunch conversation with my camera club mates (this is my way of thinking, apparently some don’t align themselves with it) and why one needs to create their own challenges (like shoot with only one lens for a month), on the ride home i concluded I needed to buy a roll of film. It started with a smell. Something out there triggered the memory and I got excited.

    So the muse followed me home. Now as I type I am inspired to create more challenges for myself. It will be almost two years before i can go to school for photography (looking at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography’s summer intensive in 2012 due to just having a baby last year), so I have a running list of challenges that I can pull out of a hat. I’m excited about this and very happy to hear others and how they track down their muse.

    Thank you for the blog, very glad I found it. Have fun chasing inspiration, its a wild ride.

  6. ahhh… a bouncy shutter on a Spotmatic brings back fond memories. I like to take my old Nikkormat out for a walk now and then, sometimes without film. Oftentimes just arranging scenes through that funky old viewfinder without actually shooting anything gets my juices going again.

  7. Great blog and question.

    I like to go back to my Pentax 67 and use the standard 105mm lens. I shoot with it wide open at f/2.8 to give a really shallow depth of field but still try to create a feeling of place. I like to experiment with different films and developers. A huge departure from my Canon but I enjoy every moment.

  8. Interesting read. Thank you.

    Rather than “…begin, again”… I hope you are aware that Pentax’s current DSLRs (K-x and K-7) are set-up to help you keep the romance of their legacy glass alive. Get a cheap M42 adapter, set the mode to “Manual” and your 50+ year-old glass can be made to dance like new, again. Plus, unlike before, it is image stabilized, too.

    Works great for me! It’s easy and fun to do. Check it out!


  9. Good question David. Seems to be a problem of everyone. To re- fill the bucket regularIy is essential for everyone, but we are all different, and so the ways are different… Interesting to read about the different ways.
    As for me: I love my job – but as it is a challenging job that confronts me with suffer and pain every day I also need to take good care of my bucket… besides the wonderful man on my side and my children (I love being on my way together with them!) and a couple of really good friends I simply need time free of demands… time to re-focus on the beauty that is everywhere in the world – and of course photography is the best tool to do this. Just for myself, with no demand for perfection, but with slowly growing knowledge and vision (and gear…) – and if there is no time to go out with my Nikon I read your blog and your books πŸ˜‰ Keeps my vision growing!
    Enjoy your time in Italy – beautiful country with wonderful people (…and food and wine!)
    Ciao, Anja

  10. What a great time for me to find you and your blog! I am an aspiring digital photographer, who just today, went through a box that my 98 year old grandfather gifted me. He died last year and I have been putting this off – not sure why. Maybe because he has been the creative force behind me when no one else was. But what a delight as I went through this box…oil pastels, charcoal, papers, doodles, drawings, AND a Minolta srt 101 camera with a 1.7/50mm.
    Your post today was so inspiring and the camera is going to be dropped off at the repair shop to get checked out tomorrow.
    Square one is going to be a wonderful place to be – thank you.

  11. I usually try 2 things: 1) I ignore photography blogs/magazines/etc. and look at things like Wallpaper magazine or flip through fashion magazines which have some incredible concepts and 2) I play with my Holga!

  12. It sounds like the real workshop begins after everyone else leaves. I think I can still make it to join you in Italy πŸ™‚ Then again, it might the “alone” part that really gets you replenished. Have a great trip and we’ll see you in May.

  13. That’s a good looking Spottie.

    Been thinking about getting some film and running it through my LX. One of the few things I miss about film is something you didn’t mention; I love the scent of a freshly opened film canister. Smells like possibility.

  14. apart from reading some wonderfully inspirationals blogs (yours as number one) every morning over breakfast i open a new page in the phaidon vitamin P book (not the photography one but the painting one) and look and contemplate the page of paintings in front of me – colour, shape, composition etc. I also love going to art galleries to fill my inspiration bucket and taking photos of my beautiful grandchildren at just their moment lifts my soul
    thanks for all your great words

  15. By working on personal projects and shooting what I love, be it dark portraiture or motorcycle speedway. πŸ˜‰

  16. For the first 2-1/2 months of this year, I worked double shifts. On one social network, I wrote (sort of tongue-in-cheek) that I’d lost my way. But the reality was that I was lost. In spirit, I was drained and running on empty. Then, on my days off, I started getting out more. Leaving town and heading into the hills, to the ocean. I felt recharged. Just immersing myself in the outdoors – in environs that I love – helped heal me.

  17. Great reminder… today… I’m going for a walk with my wife and my dog. Taking a few minutes to slow down and remember what really matters and maybe… seeing something in a new way or for the first time

  18. I have 5 “pocket” film cameras with me and one digital…hey if 11×14 is good enough for you, then 35 mm film rocks…if you need bigger shoot MF or sheet film…

    Funny, when I shoot film I never look at the back of the camera – everything turns out fine…sometimes even great…looking at the back of my 30D has never produced a great shot, only a slightly better tweaked one…

  19. what if we are standing in an ocean but with the head in the ol’ bucket? πŸ˜€

    well … more serious: i empty my bucket to keep it full. the more i do the more ideas come. if i do less, the ideas won’t come. so when i have no time at all i do most of my creative work. when i have time to be creative – it usually won’t happen.

  20. It’s the everyday for me, shooting the stuff around me that usually goes unnoticed. It’s finding that out of place flower in the corner of the yard or finding that old basball glove in the closet. When I can take the everyday and shoot something I would normally miss it’s more satisfying than anything.

    I’m a new poster by the way, long time reader though.

  21. Currently I am filling my bucket by reading everything you have written. And shooting daily of course. I’m consistantly amazed by how much you inspire me. THANK YOU!

  22. a) loaded up the Hasseblad with b&w film, been trying to take photos of tree-forms & shapes in the area (with some success in winter, now need a spring set)
    b) dreaming of going to the Nice Place(TM) this weekend(yay!) and shooting a bunch of time-lapse video of the sunrise and maybe some LF as well.

  23. i found a ca. 1938 zeiss ikon nettar folding camera in my parent’s basement(!). it will need some repair jobs, but it feels like a nicely filled bucket, and i am really looking forward shooting with this old lady.
    the next bucket is represented by my pets – there’s just no chance to get bored with five cats and a dog running around the house.
    and there’s still another bucket: i’m starting a blog about homeless people and their pets. this is a real adventure to me and i am r-e-a-l-l-y looking forward doing this!

  24. from a technical perspective….in addition to what I wrote above, I just gave up my 17-85m and 70-300m canon lenses and bought one 24-70m L. This is a move to quality of glass and eventual better composition restricting my focal distance. When I am forced to move around more, i end up being more creative….

  25. I think I’m learning that filling the bucket comes from living deeply…appreciating life around and exploring the vast riches of why we’re here and what we live for. the camera becomes a vehicle for capturing what moves me eternally. Filling the bucket happens when I’m moved by a story that presents me an opportunity to participate for a better end.

  26. I recently took a trip to Mexico and made up my mind to only shoot and process images with my iPhone. That really required me to think differently, and in a lot of cases (due to the limitations of the camera), I just had to let a photo opportunity pass me by.

    It was liberating and inspiring all at once. I turned it into a little e-book and sold it for a dollar to everyone that went on the trip with me. It was a great, great bucket-filler experience.

  27. Well, reading your blog, e-books and dead-tree books are the best tools I have to fill my creative bucket. πŸ™‚ That’s depending on someone else to fill my bucket, though, so what do I do to proactively to be creative?

    4 things keep me from rutting. One is a 365 project, which is a great creativity kick-start. Another is shooting subjects with uncommon lenses – telephoto landscapes, wide-angle portraits and macros, etc. Third is looking at images online – Flickr explored, photographers’ galleries, etc. The last is shooting film in an old Nikon FM2 and manual lens. For me, knowing there is no Photoshop, no post process (unless I want to scan negatives) is a wonderful constraint to help me create a nice image in camera. Traveling is always great for creativity, but I don’t get to travel much.

  28. In my current step on the path, will fills my bucket is seeing the work of other great photographers. I recently saw the Eggleston show in Chicago which filled me with emotion. Next week I travel to NY to see the Cartier-Bresson show. For me, seeing prints in the flesh is always enlightening and inspiring.

  29. I know what you mean – my 86-year old father just gave me all his old film stuff to sell/donate. But the Nikon FM may just stay with me, both for the occasional simple joy of exactly the tactile and anticipatory moments you describe, but also as a reminder of the man who got me started 40 years ago in a home-made darkroom/basement pantry.

  30. By using the aforementioned Zeiss 50mm. One focal length, manual focus, for the month of April. Slow down, recompose, focus – or even un-focus – take photograph. Look up, open eyes, lather, rinse repeat.

  31. Sounds like a great trip. Have fun and good luck hunting down that muse! She can be a tough one to corner.


  32. Interesting going back to film, I look forward to seeing the results. Out of date Velvia, hot weather, airport x-ray machines, its all coming back to me now!

  33. Two buckets need constant filling…the one that only the Almighty can fill through my desire to know Him, and the one that He fills with creativity through knowing Him. Strange how this world, this universe, that God created is an ever changing palette of beauty…and how we tend to continually blot that beauty out.

  34. This sounds lame…but I’m going to actually carry my camera with me every day.

    I’ve gone from ‘kind-of-freelance-getting-gigs’ to working the 9-5; a situation that’s not going to change for at least 6 months. I’m sad.

    But! Enough of the self-pity. Carry the damn camera and see what presents itself on the commute, I say!

  35. Going on a three week road trip in the middle of the Australian outback. Wide open spaces, loneliness, red soil, blue skies, Milky Way, does it for me. Have a great time in Venice.

  36. Beside reading this Blog πŸ˜‰
    I’m only using one lens at the moment and shooting Black & White. Not that I feel that inspiration has drained on me, but because I want to get more creative, and I love the results of this…

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