The Value of Inspiration

I’ve been feeling a little exhausted by photography and cameras lately. It’s a funny thing writing a blog about all this stuff, it just becomes relentless. What sometimes helps is a swing in my hobbies between enjoying taking photos and enjoying playing with cameras. I enjoy both hobbies, so when one feels a little less interesting, I usually fall back on the other to keep me going. Sometimes though, my interest in both wains. Cameras seem wholly uninteresting, and I can’t find the motivation or inspiration to take photos either.

Interestingly, whilst in this particular funk, I’ve been given reason and opportunity to remember something important – something my wife would probably rather I spent more time remembering in fact. Photography isn’t everything – and what’s important is the inspiration and reason to do it. I think we all know this really, but for the few of us that a little more obsessed with photography and cameras than is probably healthy, sometimes a little reminder is something to be embraced.

I’ve actually been feeling pretty down about my photography for a little while. I’m not looking for sympathy here, I know the more consistent inspiration will return eventually, but with a lot going on at work, and a recent decision to move house too, photography has just taken a bit of a back seat. I’ve even largely stopped listen to photography podcasts, which really is a sign that my mind has been elsewhere.

That said, for one reason or another, I did find some motivation to listen to the Classic Lenses Podcast a couple of weeks ago. In this particular episode, Simon looses connection leaving Perry and Johnny to their own resources. Without Simon at the helm, the conversation meanders a little more than it usually does and Perry talks for a little while about how when going for a recent trip home to Canada, he didn’t take nearly as many photos as he thought he might’ve. Instead, he just enjoyed his surroundings and the time he spent with his girlfriend. Despite going to a particularly beautiful part of the world, photography had not been his primary focus.

If you asked my wife, she’d probably tell you that everything we do as a family involves photography being my primary focus. Out for the day with the kids – just an excuse for photography. Walking the dogs – photo outing. Shopping in town – street photography shoot. I have a camera on me at all times, so to her that’s my main focus at all times. Sometimes – not all the time – but sometimes, she’s right too – but how much I take photos and the quality and enjoyment of the outcome still all comes down to how inspired I’m feeling.

When I’m enjoying both hobbies, it can take over a little bit – I’m inspired to take photos for even half a sniff of an idea, and inspired to use the cameras for the sheer enjoyment of doing so. That’s not the case at the moment though. At the moment it’s the other way round. I might still be carrying a camera everywhere I go – it’s like a safety blanket – but I have practically no desire to use the things since the inspiration is at such a low ebb.

Unfortunately, being someone who runs a blog about photography and cameras this can get a little stressful. To a lesser or greater extent, I don’t have the luxury of just being able to do what Perry did and enjoy time without photography. There is a need for me to shoot just to feed the beast that is 35mmc. So I force myself, and sometimes don’t even enjoy it at all – and I think it shows in my photography, or at least I see it in my photography.

A good example of this is when I recently went on holiday with the kids. I took a bunch of cameras, as most of us do when we go on holiday I’m sure. Perry certainly took more than he needed, and I did too. In the end though, I only shot 3 of the cameras I took with me. My Hexar RF, with which I took about 10 photos. A Pentax Espio 80 and a Mamiya 7. The outcome of shooting these these three cameras speaks volumes about the point I want to make.

The Mamiya – zero inspiration

I took the Mamiya as it was loaned to me after writing a review about the Plaubel Makina 67. Anais, it’s owner, was quite insistent that I give it a go. I loved the Makina, so he was sure I’d love the Mamiya too. Having shot the Makina whilst on holiday last year, I figured I’d take the Mamiya on holiday as well. That way I could do a fair comparison. Unfortunately, it was never going to be a fair comparison. The difference between this summer and last is that last summer I was feeling pretty good about photography. This summer, as I expect you’re beginning to understand, I haven’t been.

I forced myself to take the Mamiya for a walk on the beach. Now I’m not gonna lie, I enjoyed the walk, and in the moment was fairly happy snapping away, but the results feel fairly uninspired. There’s nothing all that wrong with them from a technical point of view, but because I felt as though I was forcing myself to take the pictures, my enjoyment both of the experience and in the results is less than it might have been had I not been in this funk.

The Espio 80 – some inspiration

Now, when this happens, I often revert to just picking up a point & shoot camera, and as you will see from a forthcoming review of a Pentax Espio 80, to some extent, this does help reinvigorate and inspire me to start snapping again. Funnily enough though, because the condition of the camera wasn’t perfect, I didn’t really enjoy taking photos with it too much either, or at very least, my confidence in it as a camera wasn’t entirely there.

My motivations to shoot were there though. I wasn’t that bothered about taking photos for a hobby, there was a little bit of a sense of wanting to get a couple of snaps for the sake of content for the inevitable review, but moreover I was keen on just making sure I got a couple of nice photos of the kids on holiday. I make a photo book for my wife every Christmas – mostly consisting of photos of the kids at various times throughout the year. I love photographing my kids anyway, but knowing I’m going to make this book just gives me a little bit of extra motivation to get a couple of nice snaps whilst we are out enjoying a particular event in the calendar.

Wales 2019

To some degree, even this shooting of the Pentax felt like it was getting in the way of the day. But having that little bit of inspiration and motivation, and the sense that I wasn’t forcing myself to take photos just for the sake of having content for this website, resulted in me getting some photos that I am really pleased with. I’m pleased the Pentax didn’t let me down too, but I’ll come back to that more in my review.

The Hexar RF – total inspiration

Later on in the holiday, toward the end of one particular day, I was really hit with a moment of what I was consider to be proper inspiration. We were all just relaxing after a long day of doing whatever we’d been doing, the sun was going down and the kids were playing happily in the garden of the house we had let for the week. The light was perfect for the Ektachrome E100 I had loaded in the camera, I was in a great mood, and the kids were too. Getting the camera out wasn’t going to be a distraction from anything else I was doing, or get in the way of anyone else’s happiness. The kids were up for me taking a couple of photos of them, and I was in the mood to take the photos. I didn’t take many shots, I couldn’t be that bothered, but the couple I got were the shots of the whole trip for me.

Wales 2019

The shot above and the photo at the top of this post were easily the best two photos I took on holiday. Why? Because the moment was right and the inspiration was there. My motivation wasn’t for the sake of a review, or even to capture something for an annual photo book of the kids. I was happy what I was doing in the moment, I was inspired by the light and by the happiness around me… in short, I was both emotionally and photographically inspired, and to me at least, it shows in the resulting photography… and even if it doesn’t, well they’re still the photos I’m most happy with from the holiday…

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46 thoughts on “The Value of Inspiration”

  1. Great piece Hamish. Photography is indeed “not everything”; but it does go reasonably well with other things! I go back to traditional archery when I lose the camera/photography bug, or walking the dog. Occasionally I combine the whole three. I took the Zorki 4 out on the street in the busy centre of Melbourne the other day with some Pan 400 inside. It was so much fun! Got me out of a rut. Take care out there!

    1. Thanks Lawrie – “it does go reasonably well with other things” that’s what I tell my wife – it doesn’t seem to wash

  2. Sometimes you do have to just take a break rather than force yourself to do something that you’re not ‘in the zone’ for, i’ve been feeling like this for the last couple of months (since my summer holiday in june) and even though we’ve had a great bank holiday weekend last week I just didnt have the motivation to lift a camera up, at the moment i’d rather go and take a motorbike out and get my hands dirty tinkering with it instead. So seeing this blog was something of a relief for me, there are others who get the photography blues too. I’m guessing the inspiration and motivation will come back soon for all that are in a wee slump. It may be healthy to have a break from one hobby for a time before it becomes a complete obsession, slightly different for you Hamish as you are more immersed in the industry, but for me I’m happy to give it a break until it feels right again, there will still be a camera near me though should that moment arrive unexpectedly. All the best and keep up the great work!!, cheers, Fraser

    1. Cheers Fraser. I did some air rifle shooting the other day. That was brilliant! I don’t need another hobby on paper, but I do wonder if I would benefit

  3. Pierre-Alix Favillier

    Have you tired not having a camera with you all the time?

    if you leave your camera at home and you miss out on a few shots, it will probably make you want to get back to it even more… we are humans after all!

    Funnily enough I decided to do the exact opposite this summer. I went on a 7 day motorcycle ride from London to la Rochelle and back, staying with some family for 3 days in the middle. due to lack of luggage space, I only took my Nikonos V/35mm f2.5. Nothing fragile, no Mint FM3a body or beautiful lens to worry about, just a bombproof rangefinder style and zone focus camera. I thought whatever happens, it wont get damaged and if for whatever reason I lose it, so be it!

    In the end I shot 9 and a half rolls of film in 7 days. everything and nothing. I was almost forcing myself to binge on film, removing the mental brake to be careful and make each shot count. It was thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing!

    I hope you recover from your photography hangover quickly, I was actually wondering when the next episode of the Hypersensitive photographer’s podcast was going to hit us, but reading this obviously not for a while!

    all the best


  4. Hamish, I don’t think it’s difficult for an outsider to see the pressures you can be under. Photography is your business, hobby and you have to fulfil assignments for this blog. I suspect that for many, but by means all, who read your blog, photography is a hobby from which they can dip into and out of at leisure. And it seems you even introduce stress levels when you go on holiday. Why three cameras? One is more than enough, then develop your routine around that one camera, whatever it be. Somehow, I believe this truth came home with your responses to using two of them on your holiday.
    That is what I did for many years when I used my TLR – fixed lens, so I had to make the camera work for me. I did run 35mm cameras at the same time and from time to time did worry myself about which I should take, but even then, never two at the same time. The top results you have to produce are for your business, but otherwise photography for your own pleasure, and especially family holidays, is for images that please you.
    One, non-photographic, comment. Realise that moving house IS stressful, however exciting it may be. This stress is higher than many actually appreciate. It will pass, and hopefully you will feel better an be able to re-kindle your love of photography.
    As one who appreciates the work you put in for 35mmc, I would also be one advocating you give it up if this is itself a root cause. It could be a wrench, but there’s no point continuing if your health is suffering.

    1. My problem is, I sorta thrive on stress – I think I’ve become addicted to it. I like to have too many things going on – it’s not impacting my health now, but I do wonder sometimes how long I can keep it up

  5. I so agree. How about not taking any photos at all on your next holiday, don’t even take a camera, if you dare…………
    You may come back refreshed ready to do battle with cameras and your blog.

  6. The inspiration thing, it’s a worry… My particular problem, when inspiration is missing GAS really kicks in. This means that recently I’ve shot 1/2 a roll of film and about 40 digital captures and bought, Ahem, Cough; A Pentax MV-1, Minolta X-700, Some Canons, couple of Pentax lenses, a Couple of MD lenses, a bunch of FD lenses, a couple of Minox 35s, a Ricoh something-or-other and even an OM 50/1.8 for which I have no body.

    Yes all of this stuff has been cheap per item and I’ll probably make money on it but it’s not healthy, and I’ve really got to find a way back to shooting the 2 long term projects which are languishing…

  7. I think we all go through phases like this, probably just as well as it balances everything else and more important thinks like family and friends for that matter. If we just had relentless enthusiasm for any interest we would be considered the type to be best avoided, I just see it as a leveller.

  8. I presume that you are the same Hamish that did a review of the YASHICA Y35 ? If not then please ignore all this !!!
    But if so I thought that the use of the words crappy and shit and fucking in that review was extremely unprofessional and had no place in a review of a camera. Are not reviews checked by someone before publishing ? Is the person checking yourself ?

    1. I’ll say to you the same I say to the very few people who complain about my use of language: I use it where it feels like an extension of vocabulary to help emphasise my point. This is a personal blog, one that I write for alongside a lot of other guest authors that I edit – it is not to mistaken for a “professional” website.
      Also, please watch this – I don’t agree with mr. Fry all the time, but I totally agree with him on this:

  9. All artists experience the replacement of inspiration by fatigue and boredom from time to time. Nothing to be concerned about, your “writer’s block” will pass. And if you should feel you are losing it totally, just go back and look again at the charming photo of your lovely daughter. No lack of inspiration there, friend!

  10. I can tell when I’m in a photography funk when none of the equipment I have with me seems to be what I “need”. I’m on vacation now at the beach, in fact. I picked my kit out with quite a bit of thought, but when I got here the telephoto I brought was suddenly too short, the mirror lens too soft, the body too heavy, the prime too glowy, the film too slow, etc. I’m starting to snap out of it now that I’ve settled in and relaxed a bit, but the inspiration is slow to come this week. I think I know how you feel.

  11. I’ve found much inspiration in perusing photography books, especially work by artists I like. The result is often a recharging of my creative battery. Watching cinema or viewing other visual arts can also be inspiring. Also, don’t forget about the connection between photography and music.

  12. Maybe you’ve been spending too much time looking for photos, as opposed to letting the photos find you. In other words, maybe you should try just carrying a smaller camera with you on your next outing, but only use it if the opportunity presents itself to you in a rather forceful manner.

  13. Hi Hamish, perhaps another massive gear purge is in order. If there are less cameras around, some of the pressure comes off. How about putting out a call to arms for a camera review or two? Even if it is confined to your Patreon followers. The logistics could be worked out easily either with your camera or a follower’s version. You could double down by supplementing the review with a limited number of thoughts…..

  14. Nice work mate, its great to see such honesty in a world of hype and ego’s. I think a lot of what you have wrote applies to many of us, I know it does to me. Sometimes the quality of images I see from others is so outstanding I actually wonder why I try (mine are inferior).

    A rest can be great, like a holiday, but 1 camera and 1 lens is a great way to remember it, much less stress.

    1. Cheers, yeah, the irony is, I always only take one camera and usually just one lens when I actually go out … it’s just the initial getting out of the house that scuppers me

  15. I feel for you, I get this on a regular basis but have the luxury of being able to just leave the cameras to one side for a few weeks or more until i get that feeling of missing shooting them, then the fun comes back into it.
    I have a favourite shot of my wife that came from a roll with 34 photos of forgettable crap. Generally I just remind myself that its the couple of frames of moments like those in your article, that may otherwise not have been preserved, that make it worthwhile sticking with it.

  16. From time to time, I also feel uninspired. Just can’t be bothered to shoot. When that happens, sometimes it is just better to put the camera back in the bag, and enjoy enjoy the surroundings. Other times, when I am un inspired I seek to deliberately shoot the uninspiring. I intentionally try to take bad photos—weird ones out-of-focus of passers-by, or from ridiculous angles. Or I look for uninteresting nooks and passageways off the streets of Tokyo, dank, dark and full of junk or garbage, that normally I simply walk past. I’ll take a long-exposure with my should pressed against a wall to steady the shot, to capture all the detail in the depths its darkness—detail I cannot see with my own eyes and have to wait to develop the film to know what was there. You would be surprised how often some of these photos turn out to be great shots, sparking new inspiration.

    1. Funnily enough, I’ve been thinking about shooting some lomochrome purple in a pinhole camera for exactly that reason… not something I would normally do, but feels like I might enjoy it at the moment

  17. Thanks for posting this and the you tube clip. As regards language, when one uses the words they want to use to describe what they want to describe, well yar boo sucks to anyone else. No-one is forcing the reader/interlocutor to stay in the conversation. If you, Hamish, describe something as bleeping awful, that’s your call to describe the inanimate. Tell someone to bleep off, well that’s getting personal, and I haven’t seen that on your blog.
    As regards the lack of inspiration, isn’t that part of being human? We have cycles, highs and lows, good times and bad times, and fun times and sad times. Cries and smiles, winners and losers. This is as old as humanity, and to be expected. Winston Churchill, no stranger to bad times is famous for repeating the mantra ‘When going through hell, keep going.’ This too shall pass.
    I do not intend to do anything so crass as to offer advice/solutions for the issue, but rest assured Hamish, you have given enough inspiration to others to get out there and take photos. Thanks, and all the best.

    1. Quite. It’s not as though I am rude to people. It’s that taking offence on other people’s behalf thing – I just don’t really get it.
      Anyway. Thanks for your thoughts – it’s hard to imagine inspiring people with my waffle, but thank you 🙂

  18. Hi Hamish,

    Sounds like you need a breather before you get too jaded. When I get into these slumps I leave the cameras on the shelf and just mentally visualise the shots that might have been. Sometimes, less is more as the big guy says:

    I found this very therapeutic


    PS: love that seaside photo – immense resolution is what I love about that system!

  19. Hamish, what are you going to do when your girls become surly teenagers, and don’t want you near them with a camera in your hand?! Good luck with that, mate! 🙂

    As for inspiration…there’s this website I go to called 35mmc – just a suggestion 🙂

  20. Thanks Hamish.
    Great images always start in the heart.
    The test of the body simply carries them out – my experience as well

  21. Hey Hamish,

    Nice post. I’ve always been amazed at your focus and drive, and your ability to consistently produce good work.
    I spent much of my family holiday desperately searching for ‘relevance’ ‘inspiration’ and ‘validity’ only to find that the photos I took of my family, without really thinking about them, mean more to me than the ‘work’ I created.

    Every now and again I feel like selling it all and calling it quits. I just suddenly feel sick of bloody cameras, photography, and the search for the drive to push forward.

    Then the love comes back, I make something good and the fire is lit again. It’s nice to know that it isn’t just me…

  22. Pingback: The Voigtlander 50mm f/1.2 Nokton Aspherical Review - 35mmc

  23. Hey Hamish, I know this is quite a but after you posted this, but I definitely understand where you’re coming from. I’ve been in a bit of a funk for the past couple of years with my photography just slowly losing interest and motivation to shoot. It’s been quite the slide but I have finally picked up my M3 again this week and took a couple of pictures of some friends and talked to them about my photos and after reading this post, I actually feel a little more inspired to take photos again. Thanks for writing this post! It gave me a bit of insight on my own struggles feeling motivated and maybe I’ll actually start shooting more again.

    1. That’s great to read – I hope it does help you! Funnily enough, writing about it has been helping me a lot. So helping you, helped me… win win! 🙂

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