The Lightning Rod Theory of Photographic Inspiration

Harris 2

Wow, that’s a mouthful. Let me explain:

You hear creative types talk about inspiration all the time. Sometimes, it’s because the muse is talking, the inspiration’s flowing, and it seems as though, artistically speaking, you’re a fount of useful and interesting ideas. Other times, of course, it’s because of the dreaded “block.” You and the muse aren’t on speaking terms, and as far as ideas go, someone might as well have shut off the spigot, because what was once a torrent of stuff now seems to have slowed to a miserly drip.

And think about how we talk about inspiration. It’s the “lightbulb moment,” a “bolt from the blue,” or the “shock” of recognition when it all comes together. Very charged language (pun partly intended)  for a feeling that, when it comes, can definitely be electric.

Let’s take that electrical metaphor a step further. If we’re waiting for that lightning bolt, like Ben Franklin flying his kite in the middle of a thunderstorm, it helps to remember that lightning — both the high-voltage, knock-your-shoes-and-socks-off variety, and the inspirational kind — tends to strike the tallest thing it can find.

Of course, unless you’re fixing to be electrocuted when a thunderstorm comes, you’re likely going to get your ass indoors, or find some cover. It only makes sense. But what works when it’s raining is counterproductive if you’re looking to get inspired; laying low, not getting out there and even taking the small risks, means the odds of a good flash of inspiration are pretty dramatically decreased.

A couple of days ago, I advised you to always have your camera with you. One reason, as I stated in that piece, is that you’re simply not going to get pictures if you don’t have your camera with you to make them. There’s another, more elemental, reason as well. Photography, I’ve found, can be a lot like exercise. The longer you don’t exercise, the harder it gets to exercise. If your only exertion is vacuuming the crumbs out of your bellybutton, it’s going to get difficult after a while to drag yourself off the couch, to say nothing of running a marathon. If, on the other hand, you’re active every day, it becomes much easier to stay that way.

Similarly (yes, there was a point to that bit), if you let your camera gather dust for days, weeks, or months on end, it becomes a lot more difficult with the passage of time to get out there and get photos that don’t look like they were a chore to make. You don’t need to have an angel on your shoulder to take good photos, but if you feel dull and uninspired, don’t be surprised if your photos reflect that. If you make photography a habit, you can make inspiration a habit as well.

Here’s what it all comes down to: photographing every day (or, if you came here by accident, doing whatever else it is you do, whether it’s writing, cooking, or interpretive dance) makes it stand taller in your consciousness, and gives those lightning flashes of inspiration something to strike. The longer you do this, don’t be surprised if those lightbulb moments become much more regular, and much less unpredictable.

The First 10,000 runs on passion (and an awful lot of caffeine). Buy me a coffee.