What Inspires You?
Stephen King famously said: “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration; the rest of us just get up and go to work”.
This quote can easily feel like a weight around your neck when you don’t feel inspired, but I think it was meant to focus on the fact that inspiration is nothing without hard work, and hard work sometimes needs to happen without necessarily having inspiration. This is something I think we all need to address at one point or another in our careers/hobbies.
So I’m curious - how are you mostly inspired?
When I first started out, I fell in love with cinemagraphs and quickly became a bit of a ‘duck-hunter’ - shooting anything that moves to try make cinemagraphs out of.
You know how it is - you’re walking around a city and you see flags, fountains, newspapers, reflections, etc. and you just shoot them, because your vision for the work is quite narrow and you desperately try to catch anything that moves.
This type of shooting also often goes without planning, and you might end up frustrated that the lighting isn’t great or the time of day didn’t work, and it might easily just feel ‘average’.
So looking to people who really plan their shoots is a great place to start - like some instagram photographers. I know a time-lapse photographer here in London who plans his shoots like crazy, using sunrise apps and weather apps. But then he also runs out of luck often and would shoot the same thing 2/3 days in a row until he’s happy. Alexandre @ixhumni is another one… the amount of planning and light/weather/location knowledge he throws into his work is insane, and learning from these guys what can make a boring landscape or city shot turn to magic is really invaluable.
But soon after my walkie-shootie type work, I started getting inspiration from other people… I’d either see something in photography and try to put my own cinemagraph spin on it (which I still do sometimes today), and whisky was my focus at the start. I’d try to learn how to shoot whisky bottles properly and have a glass with a bit of a swirl running, and experimented with this for quite some time before I got a bit bored. That even landed me my first unofficial client, where I scored a bottle and branded glass in exchange for some cinemagraphs, which was a great way to get going.
Lea Saban (@leamotion on Instagram) has done similar things with Joby Inc. where she did some promo shots for them for freebies at the start, and it opened up some really good avenues for her work. So finding something and getting your teeth into it, especially if you can do some form of early brand partnership, is a great way to learn and to get some client experience.
But moving on…
I’d also start seeing work by other cinemagraph artists and try to emulate similar projects to try and see if I could pull it off. I think this is an important phase as you learn, and some people get worked up about the difference between emulating and copying - which is a whole new thread worth of discussion. But when you start out, emulating someone that inspires you will quickly show you the areas you need to learn in, whether it be lighting, set layout, editing, looping, colour grading, etc. Important that you can emulate someone and not look like you’re copying or ripping off their ideas, by giving them credit, having a conversation, etc.
The important thing is to then move on and continue growing, so that you don’t stay stuck in the emulation phase, but you start developing your own style.
So over time I started developing some of my own techniques and ideas, but I’d continuously run out of ideas and continuously experiment with new ideas to try and push myself further, see what resonated with people, see if anything got interest for work, and just keep on growing in my work. I’ve found it immensely important to keep on trying and keep on growing - sometimes you might not feel like you have real inspiration, but you could be your own inspiration for a while too, as long as you just keep on trying. Keep on perfecting your lighting or the setup, or the complexity, or colour grading (this is a very important but often missed aspect) and try to borrow techniques from photographers, etc.
It’s worth saying, probably, that I likely have more unpublished cinemagraph work than I have published. That’s likely less than 40% hit rate with work I’ve been happy with, and the rest are either from over shooting, or experimenting with ideas that didn’t work. So it’s important not to undervalue the role hard work plays.
But in my work I rarely looked outside of the world of photography and cinemagraphs to find my inspiration. Until recently. Last year I saw a painting, which gave me a moment’s inspiration and started a whole new chapter in my cinemagraph work.
From trying to turn the painting into a real, cinemagraph version, I started getting a whole bunch of ideas for a personal project that I’m now developing in my spare time, which could be really awesome to see materialise (after putting in a TON of work). But it’s really opened up my mind in terms of where you can get ideas from.
Strangely, it’s also plunged me into the world of comics… I last read comics as a teenager, but I’m now finding some interesting inspiration from there for my personal project.
Professionally, I think it’s invaluable to push yourself through different stages and phases, because when a client does come to you and hands you a brief, you’ll have a whole toolbox full of ideas and experiments that you can rely on, and you just might find that the brief connects with this random experiment you did last year, and it turns out great.
So… apologies for the long post, but I’d be curious where other people get their inspiration from and how they grow in their work.