Inspiration or Ripoff?I see quite a lot of folks taking about inspiration these days. I figured that was a good topic to ripoff, even though it’s a topic that annoys me anytime someone promotes it. That’s because I want my inspiration to be a surprise. I never, ever want someone to tell me they’re going to inspire me, or show me something inspirational. It just seems rather presumptuous. What happens if they show me their pride and joy and I just don’t care about it? Am I supposed to act inspired? Is this really just a way of trolling for a compliment?
There are actually a lot of things that inspire me in photography. Sometimes it’s a set design, a post processing technique, an unusual angle, or just a great application of lighting. People do some wild and crazy stuff in their photographs. When I find an image that really hits me the right way, I want to make an image like it. Then again, sometimes I just like an image for what it is and have absolutely no desire to add it to my own repertoire.
Photographers aren’t the only ones who do this sort of thing. John Mayer got a lot of comments on his song “Heartbreak Warfare” because a guitar lick sounded very similar to “Bad” from U2. His response was something along the lines of, “I know. That was intentional.” He didn’t copy the lick note for note, but he apparently liked the style and decided to use it on one of his songs. Is that inspiration or a ripoff?
Despite my misgivings about anything with the word “Inspiration” in the title, I went to one of Lindsay Adler’s classes about finding your inspiration during Photoshop World. She mentioned a practice that she does, I do, and many others do. That’s to find photos you like and keep them in a folder or on a Pinterest board. There’s an album on my iPad called “Posing.” It’s full of photos where I like the model’s pose, even if I don’t like anything else about the photograph. Apparently I like stuff that’s hard to do, because many models who shoot with me balk when I show them what I have in mind. “I can’t twist my back like that.” I may need to start working with gymnasts instead of models.
I never once thought of that as a ripoff. I’d have a different subject, different location, different wardrobe, different lighting and maybe even a different composition. The part that would be the same, or perhaps just similar, would be the pose.
How many times have you viewed a photograph and said, “Wow! I want to do that?” That’s what I said the first time I saw Trey Ratcliff’s HDR. It’s also what I said when I first saw Joel Grimes’ composites. Like many others, I’ve learned from Trey and then put my own spin on my HDR photos. Though I haven’t done many composites, I suspect that mine will look different than Joel’s. Each of those folks — and many others — provided the seed of an idea, but it’s up to me to put my own stamp on it.
We all stand on the shoulders of giants. Don’t be afraid to find inspiration in the work of others and use it. That’s how you’re going to inspire the next generation.