Of all of the articles on the site, this is perhaps the hardest to write. Every other is full of hard facts whereas this article is full of wishy-washy personal thoughts and views. Not scientific at all.
Hopefully though this might create a little spark of inspiration of your own to help you 'create something from nothing'.
I'd like to start by what I think isn't inspiration. That's where work is seen, thought to be good and copied. That's plagiarism and it's to be avoided at all costs. I love looking at the work of other creative photographers, artists, sculptors, potters, dressmakers, etc and I'm always inspired by great work but I never want to copy it. If anything I aspire to create work that's better but never the same.
Having seen or heard something that gets your attention the hard part is to take that inspiration and create something new without copying it. I ask myself, what was it about that thing that caught my eye and what can I do to create something better? It might be a style, a subject, a context, just something that stirs some imagination in your soul.
So where do you find the elusive inspiration? Well, as a photographer you have perhaps the most choice to find things that get those creative juices flowing. The Internet is awash with collections of images. You will of course know these but I'll list them anyway, Flickr, Pinterest and Instagram to name but three. You probably have your own favourites but these are typical websites where you can see some stunning imagery. Also a lot of not so good stuff so at times you have to search through some chaff to find the wheat.
If you're a stock photographer it's a good idea to look at what the stock agents put up on their home pages as these are the kinds of image that clients are looking for so are probably selling. As long as they aren't a fad, these styles can inspire your next shoot. Of course, don't copy but be inspired!
Pinterest is a great place to find good photography. Do a search here for book covers and you'll get to see a wide range of commercially licenced imagery. If you are interested in a particular type of photography, still-life for instance, then adding this to your search will narrow down the results and show you screens of images to inspire your particular creative interest.
I like to reverse-engineer photographs that catch my eye, for instance, portraits that have been lit by flash, I try to work out the lighting setup by using the rims of light, shadows and reflections as clues to where the lights were placed and what type of lights were used. The same techniques can go in to any type of picture, a sports photo where blur has enhanced the movement (what shutter speed?) or a food picture where a shallow-depth-of-field (what aperture and lens?) has highlighted a part of the picture. As I write this I realise that perhaps greater inspiration comes from looking at a picture in some depth like this. Deconstructing the setup means you have to delve deep in to the design and layout of the image. A mere cursory glance at a picture is unlikely to reveal the level of detail you need to fully understand how it was made. What we describe here are inspirations of the technical kind yet can still help you with your future projects.
As you are looking to create pictures that people want to buy, then you should maybe look at what pictures people have already bought. Look on the front of a magazine where you will see an image a designer has selected to place on the most important part of that publication, the cover. Ask yourself why did they use that? What makes it stand out? how was it created? What do I need to do to make work that is of that standard? Take a look in your local bookstore or indeed one that's online and see all of those covers. Most will feature a photograph. There's a pile of inspiration right there! If you're an aspiring sports photographer, viewing the sports pages of most newspapers reveals the types of images they want and use to illustrate the latest sporting drama. Sports photographers win awards for their work so look at the collections of images that feature in these awards to see what top-quality sports photography looks like.
How about a visit to an art gallery to see how painters use light on their subjects. Painters like Rembrandt used light brilliantly to create stunning portraits. Inspiration can come to you in so many different ways. Just visiting somewhere you've never been before, seeing a view for the first time can inspire you. As a creative person it's important that you train your eye to see things not just as they are but as possible subjects. Spotting things that are unusual, out of the ordinary, interesting, exciting, scary, beautiful, dark, frightening, mysterious and other such adjectives. The best images provoke a response in the viewer and this has to be first seen by the photographer creating the captured scene. You have to learn to see the scene before you even lift your camera to your eye. This is perhaps the hardest part of inspiration, training your eye to see the opportunities of a picture, idea or concept. To some this comes naturally, to others they have to learn it and by being inspired by other's work you can help your own creative skills to grow.
There are a number of techniques to get the creative 'mind-juices' flowing which may work for you when you're in a creative rut. Of course they may not, there are no guarantees. Doing mundane tasks is supposed to free up parts of the mind to think about creativity. Another is to do your usual tasks in a different order, for instance making a cup of coffee. If you always put the milk in first, try putting the coffee in first.
For those times when you do have an idea, ensure you have somewhere to record it. I keep a note in my phone and I also have a pocket notebook. Keep a notebook by your bed to scribble down those bits of inspiration that come to you at night. Chances are, if you don't write them down you will have forgotten them by morning.
You will probably agree after reading this article that it's a very difficult subject to put into words. It's a wishy-washy subject that depends very much on your own circumstances, skills, vision, desire, emotions and expertise. Thankfully though because creativity is made up of so many different aspects of a person our work is likely to be unique as long as we don't copy what inspired us in the first place.
Shoot,upload,repeat is the mantra of many a stock photographer who aims to make as much money as possible from their images. See how that's possible here.
Our interview with the ex-editor of The Telegraph Magazine who tells us about her career and what it's like to work on a busy picture desk.
All of our career interviews with filmmakers, filmmakers, broadcast TV and related visual-media professionals.