Point being, don’t just leave it to photographers and film-makers – you can find inspiration anywhere. The more you take from that well of inspiration, the more you shoot what pleases and moves you in that odd little way, then the more your work begins to acquire a character and coherency of its own.
Absorb and adapt. Keep reading, keep looking, keep making it your own.
My internet pal Riccardo Mori posted a lovely photo on his Flickr gallery – a window shot with silhouettes and great lighting.
“I’m glad you liked it,” he said. “I thought you might.”
That got me thinking: are my stylistic preferences so obvious? Is it easy to suss what I like? It’s probably pretty simple to know what I like based on the types of photos I post to my own Flickr feed and blog.
While I tend to like lots of styles of photography, I guess there is one that draws my eye more than others. The background on this is my years-long photo book adventure: taking photo books from the masters and studying them to see what moves me.
The first time I really felt the “aha” moment was when I saw Ray Metzker’s work:
That low-key lighting, the deep shadows, the shafts of sunlight illuminating a street scene. It’s dramatic, almost apocalyptic, and I loved it when I saw it.
Metzker’s mentor, Harry Callahan, was an originator of this look:
From here, it’s easy to see the influence these guys had on a modern day, LA street shooter, Rinzi Ruiz (@streetzen here on Tumblr):
Ruiz does a lot of black and white work, but his color work seems extra punchy.
So that’s where the deep shadow, punchy color influence comes from. These photographers are doing it on the street, and on a seemingly grander scale.
I called the above shot “the most perfect photo,” because it has everything I look for: dramatic lighting, beautiful colors, and that special glow. Patrick does a great job of capturing his family and home surroundings, and his work is a continual inspiration for me.
It’s hard to overstate Saul’s influence on just about everyone. For me, it’s more than the style. It’s his special eye – the way he makes each photo a painting, and uses perspective and zones within the composition to tell a story.
William Eggleston was another influence for me. His work in Los Alamos and William Eggleston’s Guide was fantastic, and he helped me see the beauty in the ordinary.
The trick to all this is to not let style get in the way of substance, or meaning.
I keep seeing photographers using that low-key, high-contrast look to great effect. Maybe my style will change, maybe not. Maybe it will evolve, or maybe I’ll stick with what I like. I don’t know.
But I know what I like, and that’s led me to some fun creative spaces.
When I look at someone’s body of work and it tens to be too cluttered and not consistent in terms of subject matter (sunsets, photos of cats, shoes, street photos, etc) I find it quite frustrating as a viewer.
He finishes with this: “I would say embrace depth over breadth. Meaning, focus on getting really good at one thing– than being so-so in many different things.”
As a liberal arts student, being decent at a bunch of things is my bread and butter. It’s how I live my life. I like to do lots of things.
Often, though, I feel that “depth” pull. Why not just pick one thing and do that well?
The trouble is, at least in creative pursuits, it takes time to develop that style and consistency Kim calls for. More often than not, I feel like I’m still developing “my style.”
I’ve thought about the photos I made when I first got into photography, and how uninformed and uninspired they were. I just shot stuff. I went outside and around town and fired away (see the shots in this post – all from earlier work).
It all fit perfectly with that “your first 10,000 photos are crap” mentality, and it’s something that’s true. If you’re not a bit embarrassed by your earlier work, you’re probably not growing.
I notice the same thing in my own work. Used to be, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Now I know more, and so my work changes.
And you know what? I’m fine with that. I’m also fine with that lasting forever. I’m fine with messing around, trying on different styles. Maybe I’ll find one that’s truly “me” and stick with it. Or maybe I’ll keep searching.
Thing is, I like shooting a variety of things. Portraits, still life, abandoned buildings, cars, interesting design, etc. And I love using different styles, depending on my mood. Maybe that’s what makes me a hobbyist.
Kim says, in his blog post, that life’s too short. Find a style and stick with it.
Find a style you like? Great. Want to stick with it? Awesome. Maybe someday you’ll become one of the greats.
I say, don’t let a time limit stop you from trying out everything and anything. Depending on your creative goals, you’ll be fine trying on lots of creative hats.
Follow the Thomas Hawk philosophy and shoot the dickens out of everything, everywhere, using every style, and do lots of it.