Tree Bark — Yates Store Road © jj raia

Inspiration is an important motivator in making any kind of art; it’s what gets the creative juices flowing regardless of its origin. It may originate from among our own ideas or thoughts, or from beyond, where something or someone has triggered an internal response which almost requires us to create. Whether your pursuit is painting, writing, sculpture, music or photography, to mention just a few, what drove you to take up the tools of your craft, and begin to form that inspiration toward its physical manifestation, is a uniquely powerful force; one that speaks directly to you, and possibly no one else. And once the message has been received, it can’t be denied and will gnaw at you like an unscratched itch, until it is finally acted upon and satisfied.

Inspiration can come to us from some unlikely places, but what is most essential, is keeping an open, engaged, and inquisitive mind to be able to receive and accept those inspiring thoughts. Utilizing the intertwined powers of observation and imagination can go a long way to actually determine what is aesthetically and artistically possible from our own contemplations or the reality before us, forming the basis for individual inspiration. When we are fully engaged with our environment, a few sounds can be formed into the notes of a melody, and from there become music; an object or scene can be reimagined as a painting or photograph; an emotion can become the foundational element that runs through the pages of a book. It is engagement that opens up the avenues of inspiration and enlightenment.

Weathered Wood No.1 © jj raia

Being open to outside stimulus allows us to be inspired, and the odd places from which they originate is of no consequence. The image at the top was observed during a long walk following a main road not far from home. It was simply the observation of the many trees that lined it, noticing a few with distinct trunk markings that may prove interesting as a photograph, filing that information for future use, and returning to photograph them when the lighting matched what was needed for the final image that came to mind; namely, an overcast for even and diffuse lighting.

The images above and immediately below, were observed while removing nails from two weathered pieces of 12-foot long (heavy) lumber recently replaced on our deck. The preserved wood had twisted and discolored to almost black, and the intention was to repurpose them for another project, and certain shapes and designs within the grain patterns stood out. Only one of the two boards had any of those interesting patterns, and they were immediately photographed just before it began to rain. Using a simple +2 Close-Up Filter allowed the lens to focus more closely, rather than the unavailable option of a macro lens which I have never owned, and thereby fill more of the frame with those engaging patterns.

Weathered Wood No.2 © jj raia

The photograph below began as part of an assignment to feature shadows within the confines of our home. For one of those, I opted to photograph my own shadow on a blank wall opposite a window that faced north. Without any direct sunlight spilling into the room, it was a soft light forming a fog-like shadow on the light gray wall, and by standing between the window and the tripod mounted camera, their shadows were covered by my own. But the image itself, although interesting, did nothing for me. It wasn’t until a few days later, reacting to the knowledge that a friend would shortly be undergoing open-heart surgery, that the thought emerged to add a very lightly distinguishable heart within the human form to illustrate that my thoughts and heart were with him. But other viewers will respond differently, listening to the inner voices of their own unique life experiences as they are layered onto the image.

Shadow’s Heart © jj raia

There is never a singular moment when we know in advance that inspiration will be coming our way, it simply happens. Reaction to that inspiration does not have to be immediate, but it is important to squirrel away those thoughts to be retrieved later when we wish to act upon them. Alternatively, in certain types of photography, action must be immediate, that delay may change the circumstances and the critical photographic opportunity will be lost. In landscape photography, this holds true since the interactions of weather and light on the land are almost never duplicated, so when those elements are truly inspirational, the immediacy of the moment requires us to get out the camera and record those events. I can recall only one instance in the last 30 years (photo below) where conditions were identical on a second attempt at a photograph; and even then, the conditions involved were only being in shade on a cloudless day at the same time in the afternoon, with complete and utter stillness (no wind). On the second attempt a day later, if it was overcast, the color would have been different; and with even the slightest breeze, the image would have been impossible because of the extremely long exposure times. Click Here to read the story of how the photo below came about under identical conditions over two consecutive days.

Aspen Grove – Dixie National Forest, UT © jj raia

Not every inspiring notion results in a spectacular photograph, and there is no claim that any of these are, but the importance lies in understanding that creating something as a result of that inspiration, keeps your head “in the game” and continually engaged. That’s a concept that cannot be overstated!

I have discovered that after arriving at the initial destination of a photographic trip, it may take a day or two to be fully and continually engaged with the surroundings, constantly weighing the photographic possibilities available, and have heard the same from many other photographers as well. So if we can strive to maintain that level of engagement, we allow ourselves to be more receptive for those nuggets of inspiration that come our way, and therefore improve the chances for success.

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