where stories are told
I have always considered myself a creative. Before I found photography, I knew I had this incredibly restless creative spirit just stirring in my soul, but I had no outlet for it. I am not a painter. I'm not really a crafter (I mean, I do when necessary, but I often think the mess is not worth the finished product!). I am not a poet and I can't carefully string words together in beautiful prose. I am not a dancer and I'm not an actress. So, where does one fit in when they know in their heart of hearts that they have this creative spirit, but who doesn't know what in the world to do with it?
I remember the first time I truly and intentionally picked up a camera with the sole intent on creating something that I thought was beautiful. And it's crazy, because I never put it back down. I never looked back. There was a spark and I felt like "This. Finally. Yes. THIS."
So fast forward a few years and here I am. Still with a camera in hand, acting as an extension of my soul. Showing my work can often feel very vulnerable, because I truly do put so much of my heart into it. It all just feels a little raw and exposed. But, again, here I am.
I thought I would share a few of the things that really inspire me and keep me going when I feel like I have hit the proverbial "creative rut". Sometimes it really pays to just get back to the root of it all and keep diving into the things that truly move you.
1.) Other Artists/ Art Museums
I am so lucky and so thankful that here in Hampton Roads, Norfolk boasts the Chrysler Museum of Art and it is FREE to the public. I often go with the baby to take in the beautiful masterpieces housed within it's walls. It's peaceful, inspiring, and it never gets old to me. Art is vital to our world and our culture. It refreshes my spirit each and every time I go. They also have a glass blowing studio and those artisans absolutely blow my mind (see what I did there? They "blow" my mind! ha!) Go watch them if you have a chance, you won't regret it. It's a perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon.
With light also comes shadows. I am constantly analyzing and appreciating the light in any given space. The most important aspect of a good photograph is light. If you don't have the light, you don't have anything. And I hate shooting in flat light or artificial light. I love dramatic lighting and moody shadows. If you've been with me a while, I'm sure you've heard me make the off-hand comment, sometimes mid conversations, "Oh, what pretty light!" and it's because my brain is always seeking it out.
Color is everywhere, if we just know how to find it. My friend Jennifer over @jc_vaughan on Instagram is crushing it when it comes to finding color in the most unexpected ways. I look forward to her posts every day and I'm always so inspired by where she finds color and how she photographs it. Color is highly influential on our emotions and I love seeing pops of color. Living in a costal community, I'm never at a loss for seeing unique and vibrant colors- every hue and shade imaginable- in nature and manmade.
4.) Street Photography
A few months ago I wrote a blog about things I wish I did more often (you can read that here) and one of the things I wish I did more often was take pictures of strangers and street photography. I LOVE street photography, but I often feel so intimidated by it. I follow so many street photographers on Instagram and it's so inspiring. I love seeing a scene through their eyes. It could be a scene we see every single day of our lives, but do we actually stop and see it? Truly see it? My guess is no. Otherwise, it wouldn't be so impactful. It's incredibly diverse, it's real, it's raw, it's honest. Some street photographers focus on buildings, shapes, colors- they focus on the environment that they are in. Others (like me) tend to photograph life and how we as a society interact within that environment. I've got a lot left to learn when it comes to street photography, but I love it and I love being inspired by it.
5.) My Family
What could I say about this that isn't insanely obvious? My family (all of them) inspire me every single day. They inspire me to be the best I can be, to be compassionate, to be loving, and to always look from someone else's perspective. The way my children explore the world around them- they are fascinated by the smallest wonders of the world. They've taught me to get down close and observe them too. My husband works hard and sets amazing goals (and accomplishes them!). When I'm feeling in a creative rut, all I have to do is stop- and yes, I mean literally stop everything- and be present and mindful of what's going on around me. I have to turn off my brain and just pay attention to these little miracles. Seeing the world through their eyes is absolutely incredible and fantastical. There is magic in the everyday and they help me to find it.
So, what inspires you?
The takeaway is this- if you find yourself lacking inspiration and you feel you need your creativity fueled, do something that makes YOU happy- not what others expect you to do. Henri Matisse said that "Creativity takes courage." So do create something unexpected, even if you don't show it to anyone. Do it for yourself and feed your soul.
I can't lie. There have been times when I have struggled with inspiration. Hasn't every one? I think so. But sometimes, especially for a creative, it can be really hard to feel like you have lost your inspiration. It leaves you feeling somewhat empty. What do you do? I can tell you how I find my inspiration and get that spark back into my soul! After careful thought, I have narrowed down the exact things that can rev up my inspiration and get me going again.
1.) Find the Light
I think the number one thing that inspires me is light. Natural light to be precise. Over half of photography is all about light. Knowing you light, knowing what settings to use in each lighting situation, finding the right light, and having the ability and knowledge to use light to it's fullest extent. And it's not just one type of light I find inspiring or one specific time of day. Allow me to illustrate what I mean. This image was actually featured in a class for documentary photographers featuring Summer Light. Here, the light is directional, coming in from the left hand side of the image. It casts great shadows, yet the light is even and not dappled. Also, you will notice how the light highlights the whisps of hair coming from an unruly ponytail. Had I shot the frame one step after this one, the lighting would have been uneven. But, here, the light highlights the wisps of hair and the top of her skin on her arms which adds depth and dimension to the photo.
Photographers sometimes shy away from full sun. I do at times. It really depends on what type of image you are trying to create. In the image below, full sun absolutely works. The subject is intentionally in the sun- loving the sun! The shadows are natural, create depth, and are flattering to her face (i.e. not under the eyes, nose, and chin). These tend to sculpt her face a bit. But again, these are intentional; settings are correct, and she is working that sun like no body's business.
Intense light and intense, moody shadows are also very inspiring to me. I think one of the best examples of this that I have came from 2 separate sessions. In one, I was shooting a birth and arrived at 4:30am. Upon entering the home, all the lights were off except for one lamp that was placed on top of a baby grand piano. It highlighted mom's features (who was lying on the couch), and lit only one side of each chair that was in the room. Everything else was deeply shadowed. And no, I don't use flash. It was an intense shot and an intense moment for me. That image will always serve as a source of inspiration for me. You can see it here.
This image below shows a boy in his bedroom. The light is flooding in from the window, again only highlighting the things that are facing it. Everything else is deeply shadowed. And I absolutely love that. I love how sculpting and dramatic it is.
Don't get me wrong. I absolutely love sunsets too. And here at the beach, they are really amazing. Light filtering through trees in a wooded area are breathtaking too. You know what? One spot I pass fairly often has the most amazing light and do you know where it is? An EXIT RAMP. I'm waiting for the right session to go there, and it won't be with kids. An EXIT RAMP. I'm serious ya'll. But I find inspiration with light sometimes where I least expect it.
2. Go to Your Favorite Place
So, have you ever heard something to the effect of "Go to your Happy Place"? That's what I am referring to. Going to your happy place. Where is it? Your home? What room in your home? The beach? The woods on a trail? Camping? The Mall? The Library? A quiet spot in the park? Where ever your happy spot may be, I feel like that would be a great place to center yourself, quiet your mind, reflect on who you are and what it is you want to do. Think of ways to get there. Or, think of nothing at all. Sometimes we just need to unplug and turn our brain off for a little bit. No phone, no computer, no talking...just simply being for a little bit. It will come to you; or at the very least it will help you relax which will give your brain time to come up with your next project. One of my favorite places in the world to be is my Aunt and Uncle's "Old House". Oh what a dreamy place! And honestly, I think it was one of my kid's favorite places too. I could sit and just listen to silence... of course you could hear the occasional goat or dog bark, but I could sit on those front porch rocking chairs for hours. Or we could walk down to the pond, feed the goats, go down to the creek, explore the woods, or just play. We would sit around the kitchen table and eat our lunch I packed. The kids would play barefoot in that red Georgia clay and we'd stay until the lightnin' bugs came out. I don't know why that place of all the places spoke to my soul, but it did. It felt old, welcoming, and loving. It felt like a place that was made of memories and I'm glad I made a few of my own there. My brain and my heart needed that quiet place to rejuvenate- so go to your own happy place and feel that sweet relief!
Side note: I also really love going to the art museum. I don't really "get" a lot of modern art, but it's not for me to "get". Our local art museum has a wonderful collection spanning centuries. I always feel inspired walking through those beautiful doors.
3. Look at what you love the most.
This never fails for me. Look around you. What is it you love the most of all? Mine, is my family. Obviously. I talk about them all the time. I look around at what we have created together and I am in awe. I am amazed. I can't believe I am so blessed as to live this life. If I take a few steps back and remove myself a bit from whatever situation I am observing, I will find something I love and want to shoot. Maybe it's the way my son plays with his little Hot Wheels. Maybe it's the way the light is hitting their hair or the way she looks when she's thinking really hard about something. These things are beautiful to me and I cherish them. I will always find them inspiring. But sometimes it just takes me needing to step back to really see it all. I recently read a quote by Vincent van Gogh that said, "I feel there is nothing more artistic than loving people." Yeah, I think he and I could bond over our love for our people.
On the other hand, I also am inspired by doing things that I love. One thing I love to do is go junkin'. Going to flea markets, thrift stores, things of that nature. I always see old and beautiful things. Things that have had a long life, things that have stories to tell, things that have a vintage charm. And that just speaks to me! It'll get my brain going in no time. So, whatever it is you love, I'm sure it will have the same effect. Just take a step back and look at the big picture.
4. Follow people that inspire you.
This is one of my favorite ways and often times the quickest way I use to get my creative juices flowing. I love following photographers I admire on Facebook and Instagram. Social media is an amazing, especially Instagram. If you aren't on it already, you should be! And since IG is all about photos, obviously it's right up my alley. You are able to easily connect with people whereas sometimes on Facebook and other platforms, it seems like a lot of hoops to jump through to connect. People, even celebrities, love engaging and interacting with their followers. And I love opening up my IG app and seeing my feed filled with beautiful imagery. Seeing custom works of art created by other artists and reading what they have to say. Seeing what they create makes me want to go out and shoot the things that inspire me to create my own beautiful artwork.
And it's not just photographers. I follow several interior designers, bloggers, a few celebs (guilty pleasure!), artists, chefs, and of course my family and friends. Pinterest is another great way to use social media to be inspired. I often use it in decorating, recipes, outfit inspirations, etc. Isn't it great? There's always something to learn or see on Pinterest.
And as much as "following" implies solely on social media, I encourage you to surround yourself with people who support you. People who believe in you and believe in your vision. I encourage you to reach out to people in the same field as you and collaborate with them. Brainstorm with them. Talk to people. Listen to their stories. Everyone has one to tell. And I believe that again, this applies to life in general and other professional fields, not just photography.
So friends, in closing I want to leave you with this: as you go through your day to day life and you begin to feel that empty feeling, that feeling like you are in a rut, I hope that these tips will help you to snap right out of it. Especially if you have a creative personality. Sometimes, my mind goes in so many directions I don't know which way to go. Losing inspiration can make me feel like a lost puppy. But, these are the things I do to get my groove back. Carry a notebook. Write those ideas down the minute they come to you. Even if they don't quite make sense yet, they will at some point. Or maybe they won't. Who cares. Just write it down. Let go of the notion that you have to follow the crowd and do what everyone else is doing. Do your own thing. Don't be molded into something you aren't.
"You are not a mess. You are a creative genius. With more ideas than time. And more talent than realized. You are a maker. A shaker. A creative rule breaker. And you make things beautiful. And that is a beautiful thing." - Jennifer Allwood
If you want to see more of what inspires me or my work, come follow me on Instagram @jess.nicole.photography and tell me in the comments below what inspires you or what you do when you need to be inspired?
Jess is a photographer serving families located in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. She specializes in documentary and storytelling photography.
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