adventure photography

How I learned Photography - Part 2 - Photographic Inspiration

Where my inspiration comes from. This is part two of a two part question. I answered the first part in a previous blog post, how did you learn photography. In this post I'll answer the question, "where do you get your inspiration."  The answer might surprise you. I don't get my inspiration from Ansel Adams or the great works of other master artists and so on. My inspiration comes from my core. It's organic, and from the heart. Inspiration is what gives us the energy, or the spirit to create. Fortunately, I seldom lack the energy to create, just put a camera in my hand and I'm off to the races. I really enjoy the process of creating.  Lets dig a little deeper into inspiration. By inspiration you may really be asking what's behind my creativity. Being inspired is the energy to do. Creativity is part of the act of crafting, or making the photographs. Seeing light and feeling the energy from the sun for example inspires me. I get inspired when I'm just being. I have found, over the years, that my inspiration happens when I'm paying very little attention, or more specifically, when I'm more or less ignoring what's going in the world, and only narrowly paying attention to what's right in front of my face. This means that whether I'm creating for myself, or for a client, I'm engaged in the subject matter, whether It's a human with a backpack on or a land form, I focus on the subject and my desire to capture it in my own way.

For example, watch a child sometime. They are good examples of how I think I find inspiration. Most children are naturally inspired because everything is new. They dont know enough to know that people are watching them. They don't pay much attention to the bigger world - in fact they don't even know it exists yet, they pay attention to what's right in front of their face. Over the years, as my interest in photography has grown, I've found myself focusing more on what makes me feel, good or bad, and in turn focus that energy into creating images.

Interestingly enough, for inspiration, I almost never look at what other people create - sounds strange right? In fact, I stay away from it as much as possible (I do not recommend this approach, it's exactly opposite what most art educators will tell you to do) but it works for me. I find that my freedom, and knowing who I really am helps inspire me to create unique, authentic, one of a kind photographs. It's all about the moment for me. It's about being able to let go of the rules of life, the hassles and the speed, and let my creativity take over. We live in a world with so many rules that often we have to work hard to allow ourselves - our minds really -  to be free . . .  My freedom comes from being outside and letting go of whatever is causing me to conform. I don't what to know what other people photograph, I don't really care, as selfish as that sounds, it's really true. Photography is personal for me, it's not about creating things for other people - even though some pay me to do just that, I have to be allowed to put my own creativity into the project. My inspiration is what lives in me. I care about adventure, nature, wildlife, real people, hunting, fishing, birds, and freedom. I use my camera as a tool to capture those things that make me feel. . .  The feelings are sometimes good, and sometimes not so good, but the key is to use that energy in a positive way to create and be inspired. It's therapy really, it's just my own organic therapy I guess. I always try to let myself feel, then I turn those feelings into the inspiration.

 Inspiration comes from the heart, and from paying attention to what's right in front of your face. Who would not be inspired by huge clouds, giant bright rainbows, and green fields of flowers all in the same place? Tony Bynum, self portrait. D700, 17-35 2.8 afs, f18, 1/160th, with polarizer. © Tony Bynum, All rights reserved.

In a typical day of photography, I seldom ask myself questions. I almost always just gravitate. I gravitate to the location whether by walking, driving, flying, or boating, and I move into position to take the photograph. Inside my head is a heads-up display, just like what you image from watching Maverick trying to get a lock-on Goose in the movie Top Gun, except without the noise and extra data flashing by. When I step into the "right" location the composition just "locks-on."  I don't look at the foreground much, and I don't measure, or make a funny box with my fingers and hold it up to the scene or anything like that, I just move around until the scene, "locks-on," then I make the exposure. I don't think I've ever had "shooters-block," similar to writers block. I'm inspired by what's in front of me, by the sun, by pain, sorrow, joy and laughter. I'm inspired by my own energy and by life itself. What could be more inspiring than being alive? I'm grateful for that.

If you have a follow up question or comment, please feel free to post again - that goes for anyone that's made it this far! And don't forget to find Tony Bynum Photography on facebook where I often post current photos. Thank you, and good luck!

Tony Bynum


A Ski Photo Cover Shot with No Skier - it's simple.

ski tracks across frozen two medicine lake, glacier national park, montana
ski tracks across frozen two medicine lake, glacier national park, montana

This photograph was captured while working on a wolverine research project in Glacier National Park. The set of ski tracks, actually two sets of ski tracks - one over the top of the other - coming across the frozen Two Medicine Lake from a grand mountain landscape, was captured on the last day of our three-day winter back country expedition. It also landed on the cover of the January/February 2012 issue of Montana Magazine, one of my favorite Montana specific publications. So what is it about this photograph that landed it on the cover of Montana's most popular magazine? The answer is simple...and it, the photograph, is simple. Let me explain in more detail why I think the photographs works. First and foremost is the composition. The tracks lead the eye into the vanishing point where you pick up the bulging base of Rising Wolf Mountain in Glacier National Park, but it follows the Dry Creek Valley and on up to the title "MONTANA" - some would argue it's the other way around, from the title to the ski tracks, but I won’t get into that. The title anchors the ski tracks, almost compressing the photo, thereby drawing you into the image as if you could fall into it. The sky is open and blue, something I have found over the years to be particularly important to photo editors for a clean masthead. Second, contrast and tone. The deep contrast is found between the white snow and the dark, almost black, forest shadows caused in part by the sun angle. Together with the middle tone sky, the contrast and tone all work together to help balance the image. Finally, the photograph lacks an often important element to editorial photography…the presence of a human. I think this photograph works better for that reason by making the viewer ask were the skiers coming or going, and where are they now? Sometimes you don’t have to have every element in a photograph to make it work, sometimes less is more. The primary reason I took the photo was I wanted a photograph to help remind me of our epic, 25-mile mid-winter ski expedition deep into the heart of Glacier National Park. But I also wanted to show the world what Glacier Park looks like in winter. I hope I succeeded. I'll add this photograph for fun. It was taken on the same trip, and it should have its own story, but for now let’s just say that it felt strange packing two deer legs into Grizzly Bear Country. It was the dead of Winter…so thank goodness the bears were sleeping!

I'd like to thank the folks at Montana Magazine for continuing to use me for assignments and for digging into my stock and supporting a freelance outdoor adventure, nature and wildlife photographer! Tony