Seeking Inspiration

I find it easy to take pictures when I’m somewhere new; some place that I haven’t visited frequently; some place that allows me to explore with fresh eyes. It’s not so easy to come up with fresh images of places that are familiar and I have photographed often. I live in Runcorn, Cheshire and the most prominent landmark here is the bridge over the River Mersey. There is a local facebook page and I’ve seen so many images of this bridge that they all start to look the same. Unfortunately, when a landmark is well-photographed it is difficult to come up with something even a little bit different.

We get jaded and blind to the familiar in our world.

This is why it’s a good idea to occasionally challenge yourself. By that, I don’t mean that you must set yourself a difficult task – just set yourself an objective and then go out and take the pictures that you need to fulfill it. I find that having a purpose in mind, when I set out camera in hand, focuses my eye and mind so that I look at the world in a different way. This different way makes it much easier to see suitable images and come home with something that pleases me.

For instance imagine that your task is to create a set of six postcards that make your home town look like an amazing place to visit. Then go out and produce those pictures. You can even go as far as having some postcard sized prints made. Maybe you could put your black and white head on and set off to produce 10 B&W prints taken within a ten mile radius of your home. Go out at dusk with a tripod and see what happens.

I recently set myself the task of creating the idea of an idyllic walk along the canal. A bit like the postcard thing I mentioned earlier but all taken along a familiar stretch of canal that I had never bothered to photograph because it wasn’t that exciting.

Thinking about the essence of canals and leisure is that sense of freedom epitomised by the narrow boat. They chug along at around walking pace and create a real sense of time slowing down and nothing really mattering anymore. The world of hi-tech can seem quite far away. Unfortunately there are narrow boats and narrow boats. Some are spic and span and look worthy of the effort of getting the camera out, others are tatty and dripping with rust. The problem is that if you want one moving you have to take what comes along. On this particular walk I had three pass me by. You will also rarely find people that look like attractive models sitting in them. It’s not the same as a photo shoot for a magazine cover where everything is carefully chosen. This is a case of making the best of what shows up.

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The good thing about narrow boats is that the engines are quite loud and they move slowly so you get to hear them coming in plenty of time. I found this gap in the vegetation, crouched down to the level of the boat and waited. I took three shots, this one had the boat positioned in the best place. Bright sunshine at midday is reason the image is a little contrasty. We all know that this is not the best time of day to take pictures, but we also know that sometimes we want to take pictures even though the light is a long way from perfect. If photography had been my main reason for being out then I would have waited until later in the afternoon. But exercise was my main purpose and I had taken my camera simply to make the exercise more interesting.

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There were patches of wildflowers growing along the bank, and this orchid caught my eye. There is nothing in the image to suggest that this is anything to do with canals. It is just an average image of a flower. But this is where the idea of setting yourself a project comes in. If you are creating an album, or even a poster made up of several images, then you can take shots of small details, but because other images in the album create the impression of place you know where the flower is even though nothing in the image gives that away. It’s a bit like making a movie where you begin with a wide shot that establishes location, then a medium  shot to give a bit more detail, and finally a close-up. Do the same with your project images, wides, mediums, and close-ups. The variation creates interest for the viewer.

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Landscape shots are generally landscape format, but the height of the tree and the curve in the canal lent themselves much more to a portrait orientation. Notice how the buttercups create foreground interest and the gentle curve of the canal leads your eye into the frame. Notice also how the foliage has been used to hide an uninteresting sky.

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Canals are an 18th Century invention and consequently you will come across stuff that’s been lying around for a long time. Here’s a mile post that hasn’t been painted for a long, long time. Although I liked the full colour version I wanted to create a sense of the age when this was first planted here. I spent a little time in Photoshop playing around with the colours until I came up with something that created the feel I was looking for.

There is plenty to photograph, even in familiar surroundings. All it takes is an idea, or a theme, to get those creative juices flowing and give you back that sense of purpose and fun.

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