How we can be inspired by different genres of photography and art

I’m a night photographer. Maybe you photograph weddings, portraits, sports or photojournalism. Babies. Landscape. Travel. You name it.

But I know that you and I can be inspired by a photographer’s approaches to lighting and composition and emotional impact too.

Inspiring images seep into us, take hold, and never let go. So even though when I saw these three photos long ago, they stayed with me. I believe they influenced me, even if subconsciously, and certainly not overtly. What’s interesting is that all three of these photographers often photograph people, something that I rarely do with my photos. But no matter. They’ve made an impact on my photography all the same.

Sebastião Salgado

inspired by Sebastiao Salgado
“Exposição de fotos de Sebastião Salgado começa a percorrer centros culturais de BH” by Prefeitura de Belo Horizonte is marked under CC PDM 1.0.

Sebastião Salgado will stay with a community and region for months and months, gaining people’s trust until he becomes “invisible” to them. In so doing, he creates these amazingly poignant, beautiful photos. They’re full of life and intimacy. He has an eye for amazing patterns, as is the case with the above photo.

But it’s their honesty and emotional rawness that made an impact on me, and subconsciously, made me want to evoke strong emotions in people through the way I compose and light. I didn’t realize how much impact he had on my night photography until I read his biography and attended one of his gallery showings.

Inspired by Rembrandt

inspired by Rembrandt
“Rembrandt — Self Portrait as the Apostle St Paul [1661]” by Gandalf’s Gallery is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn is the one person here that had more of an overt influence on my night photography. I heard a portrait photographer talking about Rembrandt lighting. The light bulb, if you’ll pardon the pun, went off. I applied that to the way I “light painted” my long-exposure night photos. They add dimension and depth, along with mood, darkness, boldness and drama.

Herman Leonard

inspired by Herman Leonard
“Herman Leonard (American, 1923-2010). Dizzy Gillespie, Royal Roost, New York City, 1948” by Diversity Corner is licensed with CC BY-NC 2.0.

Like Salgado, Leonard’s work seeped into me. Later, I reflected on Leonard’s work and I realized how much his approach inspired me. Clarity. Light. Brilliance. Intimacy. Interesting angles. And of course, being a musician, I was especially inspired by his portraits of jazz greats.

Inspiration takes many forms

The following photos don’t look much like photos the other artists might create. And I wasn’t thinking about Salgado, Rembrandt or Leonard while taking it. But I wouldn’t be surprised if their inspiration was floating around in me somewhere as I created these photos.

We can gain inspiration from other images. Other photographers. Other painters. Yes. But even when we sit and eat and see how the light falls across the table. An amazing sunset. How our children’s hair glistens in the sunlight. The way certain music makes us feel. How evocative that last movie we saw was.

Many photographers are currently inspired by shows such as “The Queen’s Gambit” right now for the ethereal soundtrack and appearance (they’re using Zeiss Supreme prime lenses and Red Ranger Monstros, if you must know). Several of us night photographers are inspired by science fiction movies.

I’ll leave you with these two photos and see if you might feel where I may have been inspired. Or perhaps you’ll find them inspirational and have them fuel your creativity if I am completely blessed.