Pho­to: Olga Yon­sh

Among pho­to snobs, there is an opin­ion that there are three types of pho­tos that have the right to lack of ideas: sub­ject pho­tos for mar­ket­places, menus on a white back­ground, and pho­tos for doc­u­ments. They most direct­ly dis­play the object depict­ed in the pho­to, and only him.

For the rest, give the pho­tog­ra­phers and the view­er the oppor­tu­ni­ty to feel some­thing when look­ing at the pic­ture. It’s not at all the same for every­one, we are all unique snowflakes.

So over time, view­er com­ments “like a post­card” or “like from Pin­ter­est!” to your pic­tures cease to feel like com­pli­ments and lead to the under­stand­ing that the asso­ci­a­tion of your pic­ture with oth­er sim­i­lar pic­tures is not what this is all for.

Today we fig­ure out where the pho­tog­ra­ph­er can find inspi­ra­tion and under­stand what his own style is, how to come up with ideas for shoot­ing and imple­ment them from dust and branch­es, and how not to burn out.

Idea in pho­tog­ra­phy — what is it for view­ers
Idea in pho­tog­ra­phy — what is it for a pho­tog­ra­ph­er
Where to look for inspi­ra­tion
Steal a book and invent lim­its
Tech­ni­cal and com­po­si­tion­al tech­niques
Find the ori­gins of your cre­ativ­i­ty
Imple­men­ta­tion dif­fi­cul­ties
Ref­er­ences and copy­ing
Trust the team
In con­clu­sion

Let’s con­sid­er the idea from the point of view of inter­ac­tion with two spheres: the exter­nal world — the audi­ence, and the inner world of the cre­ator.

Idea in photography — what is it for viewers

What is the idea in pho­tog­ra­phy, how to move away from the lit­er­al image “here is a por­trait of Masha, Masha is on it, she is beau­ti­ful” and not get lost in the wilds of sophis­tic philoso­phies, killing the desire to shoot with thoughts about the mean­ing­less­ness of being?

Some­times it seems clear what the author want­ed to say, but it is not clear why. Source: www.pinterest.ru

To begin with, let’s fig­ure out whether it is nec­es­sary for each pho­to to have an idea. Let’s turn to the goals of pho­tog­ra­phy and the types of pho­tog­ra­phers.

  • There is a pho­tog­ra­ph­er-arti­san, in which every Masha in the por­trait is a god­dess of beau­ty. He shoots Masha, Masha pays, cry­ing with hap­pi­ness, look­ing at her beau­ty, and advise her friends. This pho­tog­ra­ph­er is absolute­ly under­stand­able to the view­er, and although his pho­to is not par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing to any­one oth­er than Masha and their friends, he does not care too much. He takes his place and does his job well. He is like a crafts­man who makes wood­en spoons. A per­son does not need a wood­en spoon, but it is beau­ti­ful. There is no hid­den mean­ing either. This is a spoon. Eat. There may not be any idea here, only beau­ti­ful pho­tos with beau­ti­ful peo­ple. It’s in demand. This is clear.
  • The same type — an arti­san — takes pho­tos for doc­u­ments and objects on a white back­ground. There is no need for an artist with all his tor­ments. Here you just need to do a good job.
  • There is a pho­tog­ra­ph­er. It may not be under­stood by every­one. This is where art begins and, get­ting into its frame, you can no longer be just Masha, but some kind of sub­tle metaphor for some­thing. Not every­one likes the style of each par­tic­u­lar author, but if they like it, then very much. The author has at least one gen­er­al idea of ​​his style, and not a sin­gle pho­to is tak­en against it. As a max­i­mum, each episode is thought out, each frame is cre­at­ed to show some­thing. The author’s ideas are gen­er­al­ly under­stand­able to a wide audi­ence, and if they like them, the author can be paid to come up with an idea for you.
  • There are exhi­bi­tion pho­tog­ra­phers — every­thing is very beau­ti­ful, there are many dif­fer­ent ideas, not nec­es­sar­i­ly con­nect­ed by a sin­gle com­mon­al­i­ty. Each frame is a sep­a­rate sto­ry. Some­times under­stand­able, some­times not. These guys fol­low news­breaks and often turn out to be the founders of new trends in pho­tog­ra­phy. It seems that here you can buy a pic­ture on the wall, but you can not ask that the idea come up with for you and about you.
  • And there are pho­tog­ra­phers-closed cre­ators. It does­n’t care at all what you think of their ideas, whether they have ideas and whether they are good. They just do what they like and do not ask the world around what the world thinks about it. This can be both the final choice of a pho­tog­ra­ph­er on their way, and a fair­ly com­mon stage in the devel­op­ment of a begin­ner.

That is, in terms of inter­act­ing with the out­side world, an arti­san does not need any idea oth­er than how to do their job well. A closed cre­ator can do what­ev­er he wants, and if he can cre­ate with­out an idea, or with­out explain­ing his ideas even to him­self, no one will for­bid him. The author needs his own ide­o­log­i­cal line, which he will bend and explain, includ­ing in words and texts, and the will­ing­ness to adapt ideas to spe­cif­ic peo­ple. A pho­tog­ra­ph­er-exhi­bi­tion needs a lot of ideas that will in one way or anoth­er “touch” peo­ple for the liv­ing, rel­e­vant or eter­nal.

So if you were wor­ried about “should” you have ideas, the answer is above. Now let’s turn to the inter­nal aspect. When you want to shoot, and what exact­ly is unclear.

Idea in photography — what is it for a photographer

The main thing is not to dig into the search for a great sol­id idea that will express every­thing, every­thing in gen­er­al, so that even ah. Such a search can bring you to the con­clu­sion that every­thing is decay­ing, and the only thing that can be done with the cam­era is to sell it. It’s not worth it. If you have a pho­to­graph­ic itch, then you should imple­ment it. And if some­one from the out­side says some­thing wrong, answer him that he him­self is a fool.

To speed up the gen­er­a­tion of ideas, Olga Yon­sh puts a cat to her head. The effec­tive­ness of the tech­nique has not been proven. Pho­to: Taisiya Roslyako­va

Leo Niko­layevich Tol­stoy said a very sen­si­ble thing about art: “Art begins when a per­son, in order to con­vey to oth­er peo­ple the feel­ing he has expe­ri­enced, again calls it into him­self and express­es it with known exter­nal signs.”

So, let’s trust Lev Niko­lae­vich and take as a basis that the idea in pho­tog­ra­phy can be a feel­ing that the author con­veys to the view­er. Let’s also agree that we will not use the word “beau­ty”, leav­ing it to the audi­ence. As a too abstract con­cept, which dif­fers great­ly in the per­cep­tion of even peo­ple who are close in spir­it, we will agree that beau­ty in itself can­not be a feel­ing and an idea.

But har­mo­ny can. And it is by the har­mo­ny of light, col­or and form that we achieve what the audi­ence will call a good pho­to­graph. With inten­tion­al dishar­mo­ny, we can cause and con­vey dis­turb­ing, neg­a­tive asso­ci­a­tions.

Where to look for inspiration

Any art leaves its imprint on the view­er. Every­thing that you see, hear, read, what your days and your world con­sist of, is reflect­ed in your work. Going to muse­ums, exhi­bi­tions, look­ing at clas­si­cal art and the cur­rent work of con­tem­po­raries is an inte­gral part of your devel­op­ment and food for gen­er­at­ing ideas. Ana­lyze what feel­ings and why the works you see make you feel.

Train your­self to con­stant­ly look for some­thing amaz­ing in the world around you and answer the ques­tion why it sur­prised you. Sur­pris­ing your­self and sur­pris­ing oth­ers are two sides of the same coin, and the world around you is enough to real­ize this point.

Jean-Daniel Lau­ri­er Triffy for V de V O. Mer­al­da, 1985

Don’t be lazy to take pic­tures of some­one else’s that touched you, and write notes on your phone about every­thing that you think at these moments.

Try some­thing new. Any expe­ri­ence that expands your hori­zons can give you new ideas.

Steal a book and invent limits

Com­ing up with an idea is a skill that can be pumped. You don’t have to be born with this skill, but if you’re going into a cre­ative pro­fes­sion, you’ll have to mas­ter it. There are many ways to gen­er­ate ideas. There is a book called “Steal Like an Artist” that can be stolen from the inter­net. There are many more books that describe a lot of meth­ods.

Sit­ting on a stool and think­ing about “what should I do in life” — uuu, it’s dif­fi­cult. Sit­ting down and com­ing up with an abstract shot is also dif­fi­cult. Com­ing up with a shot of a girl with a pad­dle using only green and red col­ors in the frame is easy. Some­times, in order to release a fan­ta­sy, you need to set restric­tions that will wake it up.

Technical and compositional techniques

If it is still dif­fi­cult to come up with even restric­tions, they can be cho­sen among the tech­ni­cal ones. This is a great way to get your­self off the couch when you real­ly want to, but it’s com­plete­ly unclear what to shoot.

Choose one or two tech­ni­cal or com­po­si­tion­al tech­niques that you will use through­out the shoot or dur­ing one day of walk­ing around the city.

Then I was very hap­py to catch this woman in the Traste­vere area in Rome. Today, I would not hes­i­tate to approach her and ask per­mis­sion to take a close-up por­trait. Pho­to: Olga Yon­sh

For exam­ple, on one of my trips to Italy, I took with me only the old Helios-44 lens with man­u­al focus and decid­ed to shoot passers-by against the back­drop of archi­tec­ture, and only in black and white. Of all the many road series, this one from 2016 is still the stand­out and favorite.

Decide to lim­it your­self to only cer­tain sub­jects and go for a walk. These can be pic­tures:

  • “in the frame” (com­po­si­tion­al fram­ing tech­nique);
  • super wide angle;
  • with diag­o­nals;
  • scenes in the side light;
  • only on a closed or vice ver­sa, open aper­ture.

The uni­fy­ing idea will be the very tech­niques that you use.


Devel­op asso­cia­tive chains. Write 30, 50 asso­ci­a­tions to any sub­ject of shoot­ing that you like, but it seems that every­thing has already been shot by oth­er authors. Or which the cus­tomer asks, but you do not know what to do. Write any, the most banal and strangest asso­ci­a­tions. Then choose 2–3 that real­ly turn you on and go. Use mind maps, it’s real­ly con­ve­nient!

A mind map (thought map, mind map) is a graph­i­cal struc­tured dis­play of key infor­ma­tion. Illus­tra­tion: Navika.pro

Find the origins of your creativity

What have you loved since child­hood? What book do you care­ful­ly keep and re-read every few years, or read at 15 and maybe even ashamed that the author is not seri­ous and the work is not a clas­sic, but in a decent soci­ety one must say that, for exam­ple, I love The Mas­ter and Mar­gari­ta.

What kind of music do you like? What do these musi­cians look like? What do their videos look like? What films and car­toons? What’s in them? What is their aes­thet­ic? What is the idea?

That’s all you are. Bring what you love into your work. Maybe all your pic­tures should be about such free­dom and friend­ship, like Uncle Fyo­dor and Matroskin in Pros­tok­vashino. Maybe you grew up with punk rock. Maybe you per­fect­ly under­stand Pip­pi Long­stock­ing, who is now in her 30s and now has to go to the office, but does not want to lose her­self. If you love Tim Bur­ton films, you can shoot for and about those who also love Bur­ton films. This is a huge field of ideas.

Each of us has more than one favorite book and more than one favorite song. And that new thing that you like now, too — reflect. Every­thing that makes you want to get up and take a pic­ture or col­lect an image is yours. Mix every­thing that makes you rush.

I dis­cuss this top­ic in detail in the arti­cle about the port­fo­lio.

Implementation difficulties

Some­times it’s easy to come up with an idea, but the imple­men­ta­tion seems over­whelm­ing. Here I come up with the idea that I want a desert to the hori­zon and in it there are mod­els in clothes from expen­sive brands with geese on their shoul­ders and jaguars on leash­es. And what should I do about it? In this exam­ple, let’s fig­ure out what can be done if it seems that the idea is unat­tain­able, and its imprac­ti­ca­bil­i­ty pre­vents you from com­ing up with new ones.

This pic­ture here does not encour­age you to replace jaguars with white cats, but just hangs because it is cool. Pho­to: GRAZIA Chi­na mag­a­zine cov­er – Issue #457

Try sev­er­al paths. First, cal­cu­late the bud­get of the idea. A loca­tion that looks like a desert in the frame can be found in almost any sand pit. Ani­mal rentals are a com­mon thing in any big city (and each pho­tog­ra­ph­er decides for him­self the ques­tion of the ethics of using them in this way). Clothes that look expen­sive and fash­ion­able may well be sold in the near­est sec­ond-hand store, and the styl­ist to whom you explain your idea will eas­i­ly pick them up for less than rent­ing big cats for a cou­ple of hours.

Clothes should be looked for in sec­ond-hand, and not in ordi­nary stores, because with geese on the shoul­ders of mod­els, there is lit­tle chance of return­ing clothes after shoot­ing safe and sound.

In total, such an incred­i­ble at first glance in the imple­men­ta­tion of the pic­ture can cost 15–20 thou­sand rubles. If this is a dream, you can save up for it alone or chip in with a cre­ative team, where each of the par­tic­i­pants will put this project in their port­fo­lio.

Read also:

Gath­er a team for a pho­to project. 7 answers for those who are tired of shoot­ing alone

Sec­ond­ly, think about what this, not yet tak­en, pic­ture is about for you. And rephrase the idea in anoth­er frame. Our exam­ple, which I came up with while writ­ing the arti­cle, and which does not make much sense, can be inter­pret­ed in sev­er­al ways:

  • as an idea of ​​lux­u­ry and uni­ty with nature;
  • as about an irra­tional, over­dressed world, in which the shoul­ders of the heroes are still crap by a goose;
  • that thanks to peo­ple, hunters (cats) and game (geese) live togeth­er, and this is a metaphor for some­thing.

Or in some oth­er way. And here it may turn out that nei­ther the desert, nor the geese, nor the jaguars, nor brand­ed cloth­ing are the key link of the idea. And you can release this thought into a beau­ti­ful pic­ture with­out spend­ing the annu­al bud­get of a small coun­try on it.

References and copying

This is how you don’t copy. Left from tatler.com, right Olga Yon­sh

At the begin­ning of the jour­ney, every­one copies in one way or anoth­er. Then you will learn how to steal with­out any­one notic­ing. Go through oth­er peo­ple’s pic­tures, save those from which your heart skips a beat, lit­tle by lit­tle this is how the gen­er­al mood gath­ers. Cut off the excess and go shoot.

But it’s already good. On the left is vogue.ru, on the right is Olga Yon­sh

Trust the team

Gath­er a team and give them a raw theme that you can’t get off the ground. You will be sur­prised how quick­ly the pic­ture will take on flesh and blood, both in a fig­u­ra­tive sense and in the form of styl­ish­ly pack­aged mod­els, briskly jump­ing in front of your lens in the very loca­tion that you want­ed, but could not real­ly describe.

In conclusion

Grab one method from here right now, and for­get you’ve read the rest. If you try to use every­thing at once, you will get lost. But any one method, turned into a reg­u­lar habit, will become a source of obtain­ing ideas as need­ed.