Inspiration. I Have a Camera, What Next? Part 1

by Peter Zack


“Photography, as we all know, is not real at all. It is an illusion of reality with which we create our own private world.”
To me, Photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

–Arnold Newman

ivp9989pppotwtd6This is a topic I want to explore a little and will most likely write more about in the future. I know it’s a challenge for many of us and a very broad topic. We go to the store and find that shiny (yeah it’s black but use your imagination!) new camera we always wanted. Then we shoot pictures of the dog till he hides under the bed. The kids run screaming to their rooms. Your spouse gives you that look when you pick up the camera. Ok now what? The backyard, then a widening circle of the neighbourhood, route to work and the city.

So in that first month or so, you fire of 2384 images. 36 are great shots (hit ratio will be another article soon). You’ve got the dog, the kids, the leaves in the back yard and on it goes. The camera has been sitting on your desk for 3 weeks now with a dead battery. Vacation isn’t coming for 5 months. What to shoot?

We’ve all asked this question. We have dreamed of owning a camera better than the corner store preloaded film unit. Now we’ve bought a nice P&S or D-SLR. It has a ton of features and most seem to be cool but hard to understand. It’s often said that the best photographic education is learning with the most basic camera you can. Film schools do that all the time. A light meter and a shutter button, that’s all you need. They concentrate on teaching the basics of the camera and then learning how to shoot with just those controls. We’ll explore the deeper aspects of camera features later on and that alone can inspire the creative process.

Well it’s true, learn the basics of your camera, composition and creativity, first, worry about the high end features later—they will offer you new levels of inspiration when you understand your equipment and how to take a good shot.


So the question: inspiration.

It’s tough for all of us at times. Some sources are right in front of us. Consider more abstract styles of shooting, or like the shot above, shoot things in isolation from the environment they are in. Try looking at things in a narrow perspective. You might be surprised at some of the unique things you’ll find. The shot to the right is a simple window display that caught my eye one day and I came back at night to shoot this and other things along a busy commercial street.

Get a book of impressionistic art. Google the same topic. Read a novel that takes you to a different place. Look at your own book shelves. What common themes are there? History? Go explore the local old buildings or museum. Listen to music that moves you. Develop your imagination from sources other than other people’s photography. Now that’s not to say you can’t learn a lot from other people’s work. Far from it. You can develop your skills when trying to copy or imitate other shots you’ve seen. But once you’ve tried those things, it’s time to develop your own eye and style. Figure out what you like.

“It takes a lot of imagination to be a good photographer. You need less imagination to be a painter, because you can invent things. But in photography everything is so ordinary; it takes a lot of looking before you learn to see the ordinary.”
–David Bailey

I’m sure a few painters would take issue with this statement, including the guys that throw buckets of paint at a wall. Bailey isn’t quite right anymore since Photoshop software and the like give us the ability to change images a lot more than ever before. But you get the point.

I’ll leave you with an idea before we continue to Part 2 in a few days. You’ve always wanted to be more charitable right? Maybe you don’t have much money to share with others right now but want to be a bigger part of the community you live in. There could be a VA hospital or seniors home in your town. Go ask permission to take some shots inside the building. People shots, images of them with their grandchildren. Fun stuff and tough stuff. You need 2 tools: The camera and a longer lens (preferably a zoom) to take some shots at a bit of a distance and get some nice candid shots.

ivp_9513-31 Tell them, that in trade for giving you a great day of shooting, you’ll return in a week to show them some of your work. Pick the uplifting shots from that day and add some others that you’ve taken elsewhere. Any computer will play a slide show on the monitor, or your camera can usually do it right off the card to a TV via cable. It’s a fair trade. They get something different than the normal routine and you get a shooting subject that can be powerful enough to bring you to tears.

Part 2 will continue this theme and I hope will offer more ideas to get you started. Plus I have a little bonus that I think will be helpful. 8)

– Cheers and good shooting, Peter Zack


8 Responses to “Inspiration. I Have a Camera, What Next? Part 1”

  1. Excellent essay.

    My limited experience suggests “inspiration” can be greatly assisted by a “goal,” or project with a goal. Mine is an image a day posted on a Blogger blog (I call it a ‘Photo-Journal’). Knowing I will be performing in public on a daily basis does wonders for inspiring self improvement. Perhaps this is a future topic.

    Looking forward to the next installment.


  2. Thank you for reading the essay. Yes I agree and that subject (goal) will be discussed in the second part.


  3. Superb writing here, Peter.

    The writing really makes photographers think. It is the captures of images that are ordinary turning them into something extra ordinary standing out. I love your article and cannot wait til the part II

    Photography does take my boredom away and relax me when I try to compose images away from the work issues.

  4. Peter,

    You write very well. You have a great way to make the article interesting.
    Congratulation on a great essay.

  5. What next? Another camera, of course!

    Mostly kidding, of course. I think many of us have various forms of paralysis when trying to decide what to shoot next and an idea here just may work for someone.

  6. Peter, very well done. I love your articles here. You seem to really know what you’re doing. 🙂

    I am being given a most excellent challenge, this weekend. One of my best friends is visiting from NY and has asked for my help with choosing a DSLR and teaching her how to use it. (she’s always used P&S before).

    While I’d love her to shoot pentax with me, and give her some of my excess lenses – I can’t just make those decisions for her – so, I’m beginning the teaching process for her, on one of my old SLRs. I’m giving her my Canon Rebel G and a few rolls of film.

    So, camera resolved – where to begin? Now you know why I really appreciate your article… when’s part 2 coming?

  7. Peter,
    Many thanks for this inspired and inspiring article. Lots of food for thought. I was reading your article upon returning from the camera shop with my brand-new Pentax K20D; now you’ve given me ideas to put it to use.

  8. Very well written Peter – we all go though phases of the proverbial ‘writers block’ some good ideas here – now off to read part II.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: