Nick Exposed

A Creative Community Hosted By Photog/Designer Nick Mayo

The Treasure Folder


As creatives we often find ourselves reaching out in hopes of finding this wonderful word. Personally I love surrounding myself with as much inspiration as possible for every aspect of life. Above my desk I have a bulletin board and a white board filled with all sorts of inspiring pictures, quotes, articles and other randomness to remind myself to keep moving forward.

Just this week one of my absolute best friends, an EXTRAORDINARY photographer/artist/creative, and I shared our inspiration folders with each other. As she pointed out, it was like getting to look into each others minds and see the bits that make our creative section tic. I realized what we are inspired by says a lot about our direction in which we are heading both creatively and in general with the other inspirations we acquire. However, at the same time we often miss the many treasures that are within these powerful inspirations.

If your anything like I have been in the past, and have acquired a folder full of inspiring pictures (over 6,000 in my inspiration folders right now), it either just sits there collecting virtual dust or you look through it from time to time and get a stagnate inspiration more often than not, where your inspired but have no clue where to start to put any of it into action. Often at most we get an idea of a subject to shoot or create, yet our folders hold so much more than just these simple ideas.

So the big question is what do we do with all this inspiration we collect?

How do we turn our folders and bulletin boards into a catapult that will launch us towards the next level of creative expression?

How do we transform our collection of ideas into a collection of useful tools?

I like to consider myself a student of life. I have an EXTREME (said in a wrestling announcers voice) hunger for learning, so its surprises me when I miss out on an obvious chance for learning and growth, which is what I’ve realized in the last few days of looking through mine and my friends inspiration folders. I realized we often look for inspiration in the wrong way, which is why we find ourselves staring into our folders with little outcome and results put towards our own work. We leave the folder with only the images in mind, which as creatives we obviously refuse to recreate what others have already done.

So instead we should study each image as if it were the day before finals and we needed at least a B to save our ass from failing the course.

Why does it inspire us?

What about it draws us in?

And the big one.. What can I learn from this photo?

As photographers (and creatives in general) one of the most powerful skills to be had, is developing the ability to look into an image and see further than the “first layer”. You can judge a book by its cover but you cant absorb what it has to offer without cracking it open. When we study our inspiration, we begin to learn what is truly hitting the note that is such music to our ears.

Is it the lighting? If so try to break the image down to the lighting pattern.. Was it specular or diffused light? Was it shot during the golden hour? Was it studio lighting? How many lights do you think were used?

Is it the gesture? Was it candid or posed? What makes that gesture stand out from the hundreds of others you’ve seen?

Is it the composition? Why was it composed this way? Would you compose it different?

Color, perspective, relationship, story, DOF, etc….

Its a series of questions like these that will lead to a true inspiration, that can be applied to each image you shoot from there on out. The beautiful thing is once your force yourself into the habit of questioning each image you cant help but to question each new shot you make, resulting in better pictures. Its an understanding of what a “Great Photo” means to YOU. So get on out there and study that which inspires you, and if you don’t have an treasure.. er I mean inspiration folder yet theres no better time to start collecting these new TOOLS, to take your creativity to the next level.

What are your thoughts on the subject? How do you approach your inspiration?

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20 thoughts on “The Treasure Folder

  1. So wonderful said Nick. It is so true how something like Photography really gets us to slow down and really look and think of something while pondering what it means to us.

  2. Photography is the second…no the moment…it is the instant of our emotions and our eye…we shoot what we love and what we are mystified by…sometimes for me it is both joy and introspection…questions and mostly life…I strive to learn how to take a picture that tells the story…the way of life. Your thoughts and questions are right on…digging deep…the creative part of who we are is all of that and more…I am still discovering that part of myself:)

  3. For the most part I don’t keep a folder of images. I keep a mental list of images or websites I enjoy or that I connect with, but I don’t refer back to the images for inspiration to directly impact how I compose or edit an image. And by themselves, I may not be able to determine how a photographer did something that I liked.

    However, other photographer’s work often inspires me to educate myself.

    For example, I saw a pretty incredible image of the Milky Way over Death Valley recently. As you said, I wasn’t inspired to recreate any aspect of the image, but rather, I was inspired to learn more about star photography so that I might create my own, unique star/star trail image.

    • Thats how I would approach my inspiration for the longest time. But I think my hunger for knowledge has me wanting to grasp more of what it is that inspires me and how I can work it into my scenes. I like to live off of the idea that I can learn something from everything which draws me into the curiosity of what goes into making a shot that I favor. Thanks for the well thought out comment Shannon 😉 Always appreciate your thoughts.

  4. The last two weekends I poured over my extensive folders. Every photo, no matter how random brought back a memory of a time and place and the people I was with.
    I have eight large photo albums, a huge stack of loose photos, a small book of my favorite ever photos and thousands on CD, DVD, memory cards, and several large thumb drives full of…photos. There is a recurring theme, mostly seasonal. I discovered that the photos I remembered as my favorites have stood the test of time and remain in my top shot book. They always bring a smile to my face. Even a photo of rocks still strikes me. There are places I want to revisit with one of my newer cameras. Retracing history of history.

    • Interesting Shez! I was speaking about inspirational folders filled with others work, but I agree whole heartedly that our own work is the best at bringing up emotions of the past. Its as if we hold a time machine between our hands and are able to freeze moments in time, with the near infinite ability to instantly revisit, feeling much of the same emotions that were experienced at the original happening. Thanks for your constant out of the box comments 🙂

  5. Great post Nick, checkout Miksangi!

    • Thanks Gilly. I just checked it out, very cool! I love their concept on a ‘good eye’ – “When steady mind, clear vision and soft heart come together in one single moment, ‘Good Eye’ manifests”

      Beautiful way of thinking 🙂 Thanks again

  6. Here’s an idea Nick. Make digital copies of all these pictures that inspire you and put them on a digital picture frame so that it cycles through all of them each day, and then every time you walk by the frame you will be inspired!! 🙂

  7. Thank you for your thoughts on generating creativity. As soon as I leave your site — I want to look about a bit more, it is so delicious — I am going to Press This to my blog. Good stuff.

  8. bradysbungalo7 on said:

    Reblogged this on bradysbungalo and commented:
    -nick mayo

  9. I think this is a well-written and thought provoking post. I have slowly learned over time not only to view but also to interact with images that inspire me in this way. As a literature student, I have been trained to analyse the written text closely and I try to do something similar with images, although ‘analyse’ is perhaps too scientific-sounding for what goes on. Often it’s a case of just going with the impressions the image gives and then thinking about them more deeply later. Which is where the inspiration folder comes into it own, of course!

    • Well put Rachel! It’s amazing how much more inspiration and learning can be had one we utilize the pictures we’ve already acquired and really dog deep into what makes them tick. Thanks

  10. The subject is my inspiration. Without it there is no photo. A photo can be blurry and colorless and still be great because of the subject matter.

    • Agreed with the subject matter being incredibly important, however I still like to dive into my folder to learn the ins and outs of what inspires me in the photos. Lighting, gesture, DOF, use of creative shutter speeds. So much we can learn from our favorite photos 🙂

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