What’s the most important thing for a photographer to have besides a camera? It’s something that you need more than gear, more than the best camera, more than knowledge and know how. It’s something that the best photographers had/have loads of. Without it your photos are destined to be mediocre snap shots at best. It can be found (and lost, and found again) everywhere in anything and at any time, yet it can still remain illusive. It’s inspiration.

“Of course, there will always be those who look only at technique, who ask ‘how’, while others of a more curious nature will ask ‘why’. Personally, I have always preferred inspiration to information.” – Man Ray

Motivation isn’t inspiration. A lot of people confuse motivation with inspiration which is easy to do, the English language can be a confusing and terribly tricky thing sometimes.

Motivation is encouragement to do something you don’t want to do.

Inspiration is encouragement to do something you do want to do.

We need to be motivated to do things like go to work. If we don’t go to work we won’t get paid, if we don’t get paid we can’t afford to pay the rent or mortgage, we won’t be able to afford to eat and survive or participate in things we enjoy. Photography motivates us to go to work so that we can pay the rent or mortgage, so that we can eat, so that we can survive, and most importantly pursue our passion.

Inspiration is what we need when we want to do something but don’t know where to start. But where do you get that inspiration from?

The most obvious place to start looking for inspiration is photography books, photography web sites, blogs, videos, other photographers, TV shows or documentary movies on photography or photographers. Inspiration can also be sourced from other things outside of photography like TV, movies, music, books, nature, art, design, people, fashion etc…

Inspiration can even be sourced from things you don’t like. For example bad photography inspires me to make better photos and to try and become a better photographer so that one day I might be able to have an exhibition and sell some prints so I can fund a photography book which I can sell to support myself and continue doing what I love; photography.

Even boredom can be inspiring, if you get so bored of doing nothing and being bored then you will want to go do something. Hello camera, hello photography, you will relieve my boredom let’s go out some time!

There will be some times when you won’t be able to find inspiration despite your best efforts. That’s ok, stop looking for inspiration and go do something else, wait for inspiration to come find you. If you try and force your photography, force yourself to shoot and be creative then your photos will turn out terribly half arsed at best. You probably won’t enjoy photography like you used to, you will most likely end up hating photography and cease it altogether possibly forever.

There was a point where I gave up photography for a few years because I wasn’t inspired, I just couldn’t find the inspiration to pick-up the camera and shoot so I sold my camera and my gear when I decided to give up on photography. Life in general was pretty mediocre. Then one morning a few years ago after a long night shift at work I was witness to one of the most glorious sunrises that I have seen for a long time. I wished that I had my camera, but I’d sold it and all I had with me was my Nexus 4. As Chase Jarvis says “the best camera is the one that’s with you” (I didn’t know this at the time), so I shot with what I had and edited the shot in VSCO on the train on my way home. That sunrise gave me the inspiration I needed to get back into photography.

Melbourne sunrise
The sunrise that gave me inspiration to take-up photography again. Shot with a Nexus 4, edited in VSCO.

I wasn’t looking for inspiration to take up photography again, it just found me. I just got lucky, I was in the right place at the right time and found inspiration there. Before inspiration found me I had no direction, I didn’t know what genre of photography I enjoyed, I couldn’t even name two photographers that I liked. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my photography. Photography was something that I just did because I liked to make nice photos, the thing is photos weren’t even nice. In fact they were pretty terrible. Since then I have taken up photography again I am more passionate about it than I was before. I now self study photography, I have discovered photographers that I like, I have found my photographic genre/niche; street photography, I have direction, and I know what I want to do with my photography.

Now I stay inspired by buying books not gear, I study great photographers and their pictures. I don’t yearn for gear like I used to, instead I yearn for photography books and inspiration. Inspiration is more important than gear. Get inspired instead of getting poor buying gear that you probably don’t need. Gear won’t make you a better photographer, inspiration will. Inspiration will do more for your photography than any gear ever will.


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