Bringing Inspiration to Life

As photographers it can challenging at times bringing inspiration to life. This article shares a selection of images captured during our trip to Italy in the fall of 2019, as well as sharing some approaches used with these photographs.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 100 mm, efov 270 mm, f/8, 1/8, ISO-160

When in Italy one of the things that is readily apparent is the sense of fashion and style in the shopping districts of the major cities. On the second day of our tour we were visiting Juliet’s Balcony in Verona Italy. This meant we were packed together in a courtyard with hundreds of other people.

I noticed a toddler in a stroller who was wearing some quite stylish sandals. To me they represented how ingrained the fashion culture is in various parts of Italy.

Not wanting to draw any attention to myself while I composed this image, I flipped the rear screen of my camera out and moved away from the toddler a little bit.  I had one opportunity to capture an image before people moved into the space I had just vacated. The photograph above is the result of my clandestine composition.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 64 mm, efov 172.8 mm, f/8, 1/25, ISO-160

We can often find mementos that have been left by others during our travels. The montage of locks in the photograph above caught my eye as our group was on a city walking tour.

To generate some eye flow I used the rusty metal bar as a corner exit (top left). The bright, red lock in the top right corner acts as a visual highlight. This helps direct a reader’s eye down and around the other four locks in that cluster. To create balance I used equidistant composition on the right hand side of the image as well as with the longer lock in centre frame.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 89 mm, efov 240.3 mm, f/8, 1/160, ISO-160

This oriental statue immediately grabbed my eye. I was drawn to the expression on the head. Not wanting to shoot up at the statue, I mounted some stairs so I could photograph it from the same height as the head. I used a longer focal length so I could compose the photograph with image bleeds on three sides. I also made sure to place the statue’s head against an unobstructed background. These composition elements help to direct a reader’s eye to centre frame.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 23 mm, efov 62.1 mm, f/5.6, 1/50, ISO-160

When participating in group walking tours in busy cities I always make time to look down side streets, alleyways, and corridors to see what I can find. I loved the repeating pattern of pillars in this courtyard and the soft, diffused light.

When composing this image I positioned myself so all of the pillars on the left hand side stacked up on each other and blocked out the pedestrians walking down the side street. I raised my camera up and adjusted my shooting angle to help create parallel lines throughout the composition.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 56 mm, efov 151.2 mm, f/5.6, 1/30, ISO-800

I absolutely love repeating patters and I was intrigued by this selection of bottles that were on a shelf with a mirror directly behind them. This made it appear that there were far more bottles on the shelf than actually present.

To create this image I had to position myself on a bit of an angle to the bottles. This helped to capture the reflection in the mirror and create added depth in the image. It was important that the shelf at the bottom formed a straight horizontal baseline. I had to adjust the angle of my camera slightly to help ensure that the bottles appeared perpendicular.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 90 mm, efov 243 mm, f/8, 1/125, ISO-160

Bringing inspiration to life can require finding an unusual shooting angle. While waiting for our tour bus one morning, I noticed this blossom at the front of our hotel. Tried as I might, I was having a difficult time finding a shooting angle that would enable me to separate this blossom from other foliage.

As I moved around trying to get my composition I noticed that from certain angles the front windows of the hotel would act as a mirror and reflect the sky. This was the solution I was looking for to separate the blossom in my composition.

I captured the photograph above by shooting slightly up at the subject blossom, and using the reflection of the grey, overcast sky in the front window of the hotel.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 60 mm, efov 162 mm, f/8, 1/13, ISO-160

As we walked by some high fashion shops my eye was immediately drawn to a black and white outfit on one of the mannequins. I loved the combination of fabrics and the high contrast nature of the clothing.

Rather than shoot the entire outfit, I concentrated on the white glove and frilled cuff. I used the arm of the mannequin as a corner exit (top right). The competing angles of the pattern on the gown and the mannequin’s arm add some additional visual interest to the photograph. The image above was shot through the store’s front window.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 22 mm, efov 59.4 mm, f/8, 1/80, ISO-160

Working with a paradox is another way of bringing inspiration to life. Some subjects just seem to jump out at me and beg me to photograph them. My wife often calls these compositions my ‘strange stuff’. Two things immediately grabbed my eye with this post office box.

The first was that the post office box was covered in graffiti. The second was that there was no graffiti on the adjoining walls. I found this to be an interesting paradox. I used equidistant composition technique with the top and sides to create visual balance with the composition.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 39 mm, efov 105.3 mm, f/8, 1/60, ISO-160

I often initially see photographic opportunities as geometric shapes. It is only after I have been attracted to a subject that I notice what it actually is. These curves were part of a large sculpture, the bottom of which was a pedestrian bench.

Given the numerous people who were around the sculpture and sitting on the bench, I knew that there was no opportunity for a decent image that would illustrate the entire sculpture.

I walked around the sculpture looking for an interesting angle. I then crouched down and found the right shooting angle. I flipped out the rear screen of my cameras and captured this composition as I shot upward at the sculpture, and used the blue sky as a monochromatic background.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 37 mm, efov 100 mm, f/8, 1/60, ISO-160

Often bringing inspiration to life involves bright colours. The puppets in the above photograph were in a street vendor’s stall. I found the primary colours compelling. To focus a viewer’s eye on centre frame I made sure to crop off the feet of the puppets. This has the effect of pushing a viewer’s eye upward.

When examining the colour pallet you’ll notice a backward ‘7’ created by the strong reds in the composition. This helps to guide a viewer’s eye towards centre frame. It took me a little while to find the right grouping of puppets and shooting angle, to only have one puppet’s face visible. This single face is the focal point of the composition.

You’ll also see that I included a small swatch of green fabric in the top left corner of the photograph. This forms a green triangle with the green fabric in the two bottom corners. This triangle creates colour balance in the image. Cover up the green fabric in the top left corner if you want to see how this photograph starts to fall apart without that green highlight.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 30 mm, efov 81 mm, f/8, 1/80, ISO-160

Working with a more subdued pallet is another road to bringing inspiration to life. I was attracted to the simple elegance of the floral arrangement in the photograph above. The burlap fabric up against the stucco pillar adds some interesting texture.

To create more depth-of-field with this composition I decided to shoot it on a bit of an angle and use another out-of-focus stucco pillar as a framing element. This simple composition creates a multi-layered effect.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 37 mm, efov 100 mm, f/8, 1/500, ISO-800

Shapes and contrasts often stop me in my tracks. I couldn’t help but notice how the corners of the three black squares in this composition direct a viewer’s eye to the napkin holder, and how the black spatula adds eye flow.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 46 mm, efov 124.2 mm, f/8, 1/160, ISO-400

At times, bringing inspiration to life means working with garbage… literally! The photograph above illustrates some of the graphics that I noticed on a municipal garbage truck. I was intrigued with the dramatic yellow shape and decided it would make a powerful bottom corner element.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 11 mm, efov 29.7 mm, f/8, 1/100, ISO-400

The photograph above was captured as the evening sun was disappearing. The two women had been out on the pier… one posing at the end of it… the other photographing her.

As the pair walked down the pier they stopped to chat and look out at the setting sun. This gave me the opportunity to create this image which incorporates a classic ‘magic 7’. I moved in close enough to make sure that the pier would not interfere with the line of the horizon.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 64 mm, efov 172.8 mm, f/5.6, 1/5.6, ISO-800

Sometimes being creative with exposure can be needed when bringing inspiration to life. After I photographed the bottles in image 5, I sat down at a small bistro table. I glanced up toward the ceiling and noticed the row of suspended lights illustrated in the photograph above. I really liked the symmetry that these lights created. Unfortunately the ceiling was dark and quite soiled. It was flat out ugly.

Rather than miss this opportunity for an interesting photograph, I decided to significantly underexpose this image. This allowed me to eliminate the ugly ceiling. It also took this grouping of five, bright white lights and turned them into shapes that looked like softly glowing pearls.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 10 mm, efov 27 mm, f/8, 1/15, ISO-400

Our final example of bringing inspiration to life is the beach scene above. This was captured on the same beach as the pier scene (image 14). The alternating white/green pathway struck me as a perfect element to use as a strong leading line.

To make this image work I wanted to create as much symmetry as I could, so I positioned the beach umbrellas as mirror images on either side of the walkway.

Off in the distance you’ll see a small group of 4 or 5 people. Each of them had been strolling independently towards the end of the walkway. After I had my photograph composed I waited for the various individuals in the distance to come together as a group at the end of the walkway. That was my moment to capture this image.

When we are out with our cameras, finding inspiration isn’t enough. Finding ways of bringing inspiration to life is the key.

If you enjoyed the images in this article you may want to check out our Nikon 1 eBook: The Little Camera That Could. It is available for purchase and download. It is priced at $9.99 Canadian. Readers interested in purchasing a copy can use the link below.


Technical Note

Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Image were produced from RAW files using my standard process.

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4 thoughts on “Bringing Inspiration to Life”

  1. Tom,

    My takeaway from your post is that you can find beauty in everything… including garbage. It’s just that we are bombarded with images and imagery all day long that we sometimes are somehow rendered calloused, so to speak, as to repeating patterns, color contrasts and complementation, symmetry and asymmetry, shapes. angles and perspectives.

    I love the padlocks image most, the garbage truck graphics next since I tend to gravitate to images that evoke a deeper theme or meaning.

    IMHO, the best images are the simplest though simplifying a complicated scene is the hardest thing to do. I see it best distilled in your closeup shots of the mannequin and the dainty, satiny shoes of a toddler. By closing in on the details, you tell a more whole/holistic story (though that depends on the imagination of the beholder I guess) that tickles the imagination and piques one’s curiosity more than when the whole subject is shot.


    1. Thanks for adding your perspectives Oggie… always appreciated!

      As photographers I think we sometimes fall prey to what others tell us constitutes beauty, rather than following our own inspiration and creative instincts. I have always found it fascinating how two photographers can visit the identical location at the same time… and come away with completely different images and interpretations of what they witnessed with their cameras. One photographer’s images aren’t necessarily better than other’s… just different. How we see and interpret the world around us strikes at the core of human experience.


  2. Excellent article Tom. Not being an artist by training or nature, I find articles like this very educational and interesting. You have the ability to notice things that I never see on my own. Hopefully with enough “training” I will begin to notice such things on my own.

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