There are times when the images just don’t happen. The places you shoot feel lacking, as if the colors are a bit duller, the shapes and lines softer and the people are absent. Your inspiration’s dried up, and your keeper rate has gone way down. What do you do? Shooting more will only yield greater dissatisfaction. Perhaps you try something new, but that, too, feels lifeless. The emotion’s gone from your photographs, and you want to find a way to give them the vibrance and the impact they once had.
The saying goes that “nothing happens in a vacuum.” The same can be said of photography. You learn the technical side by constant practice, and you learn the artistic side by developing a discerning eye through the pursuit of emotion. The first part is unfathomably easy. Anyone can learn to use a camera, but it takes time to go from snapshot to photograph. Your work is informed by your own judgment, and more importantly, it can be informed by other photographers.
Seeing the work of other photographers is perhaps one of the best ways to jumpstart your own creative endeavors. There are reasons why certain photographers are talked about over and over again, why they’re exhibited at galleries all over the world, and why at least some of them live on in film.
They key to reinvigorate your own work is to find work that invigorates you. The photographs that speak to you may not speak to others, or at least, they may not inspire the same reactions. When you come across work that holds your attention, deconstruct the images in order to understand its moving parts.
What makes the image work? Is it the composition or the way light plays across the frame? Is it the juxtaposition of elements? Are there people? If so, how much of the frame do they take up? Are the photographs candid or staged?
There are many other questions that can be asked, but the point is to figure what moves you and why it moves you. Once you’ve done that, then there’s a good chance you’ll have the creative energy to go and create work of your own.
Of course, the danger in putting stock in others’ work is that you run the risk of creating derivative work. If you read too much of one author, there’s a good chance anything you’ll write creatively will mirror that author’s style. I’ve had that problem on several occasions, and while that may be good practice, the important thing is to push through.
Don’t stand in the shadow of other photographers. Step into the light and make your own work.