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guest blogger: stuart sipahigil

Good artists copy; great artists steal. — Pablo Picasso

First of all, I have to say it was quite a thrill when Sabrina asked me to write a guest post for her blog. Then I realized what that really meant. Sabrina’s writing is always thoughtful and insightful, so I hope I can measure up. Feel free to temporarily lower your expectations a bit for me. 🙂

Last week, Sabrina and I were discussing what to do when your creative well has run dry. She felt that she’d had a bit of a letdown since her trip to the Maasai Mara in Kenya and was in what David duChemin has called “suck-mode—that place where it seems you always come up empty. “Nothing compares with what I shot in January,” she said. Here’s what I suggested: copy somebody. Find a photographer whom you admire, find a shot of theirs that you love and literally try to recreate their shot. Sometimes that’s enough to shake the cobwebs loose and get you thinking about “seeing” again (because that’s what the problem really is, isn’t it?).

You’ll probably discover pretty quickly that there are many shots that you can’t recreate exactly, for various reasons. It’s probably going to be tough to hang out in Yosemite for days and wait for the same conditions in which Ansel Adams shot “Clearing Winter Storm.” But now that you’ve started to think about it, what is it about that shot that you *could* recreate? What was Ansel trying to show us about Yosemite? About winter? About storms? Why did he choose that particular point of view? Why did he use black and white, rather than color? What would happen if you shot it in color? What if the storm was in the summer? In the spring?

Now we’re getting somewhere! All of a sudden, you’ve begun to draw your own conclusions about the subject and you’ve started thinking about how you might interpret it. Here’s an example of my own. I made the image at the top of this post this past winter when the lake in a nearby state park was frozen over and snow-covered. I’d actually been searching for an image like this for a while. Why “searching”? Well, check out this image by master landscape and nature photographer John Shaw.

See what I mean? While I was out on the ice, I saw the tree trunks and shadows on the snow and I remembered John’s image. It wasn’t the same forest and the contours of the ground more flat than the undulating curves of his shot. So I used the interplay of light and shadow on the snow and the trees protruding through it to create an image that echoes John’s. Not a copy, but an interpretation.

Oh, and how about a “Clearing Spring Thunderstorm?”—my interpretation of Ansel’s incredible image.

I think this is what Picasso meant in his oft-repeated quotation that opens this post. It’s not that great artists actually steal others’ work, but they derive inspiration and meaning from other artists/objects/ideas and connect them in a new and different way. Standing on the shoulders of giants, if you will. So, take a page from someone you admire and see where it leads you. By “stealing” inspiration from those you admire and adding your own twist to it, you can begin find new images that perhaps you didn’t see before—and give yourself a little creative boost when you’re running on empty.

My sincere thanks to Sabrina for generously sharing her podium with me. I’ve certainly enjoyed it. Don’t forget to return here for more of her great writing about her photographic journey. If you’d like to know more about mine, you can visit me at The Light Without.


A footnote:
Rather serendipitously, I am attending a nature photography seminar this weekend (March 27/28) with none other than… John Shaw. I plan to bring along a print of “Winter Lines” and let him know where I found my inspiration. I think he’ll appreciate that (unless his lawyers send me a “cease and desist” letter).



  1. Jeffrey Chapman
    March 26, 2010

    Note to self: Don’t show Stuart any photos. 🙂

    • Stuart Sipahigil
      March 26, 2010

      Oh, you are WAY too late, Jeffrey. I’m already working on this one.

    • Sabrina
      March 28, 2010

      Stuart, I’m really looking forward to your interpretation of that image of Jeffrey’s!

  2. Erin Wilson
    March 26, 2010

    Great post, Stuart. I love those suggestions. I also find it helpful to look at a wide range of art for inspiration. There are particular painters (like Lawren Harris) who cause me to look at shape and shadow, and quilters (yes, quilters) who re-frame colour relationships.

    As for the post-trip photographic let-down… oh, I know this so well! Hope it passes quickly, Sabrina.

  3. Sabrina
    March 28, 2010

    Thank you Stuart for being such a great guest. I hope you’ll come back again and in the meantime, I encourage people to check out your website on a regular basis. Some time ago I added it to my blog roll so please feel free to connect through the link below (the light without).

    • Stuart Sipahigil
      March 28, 2010

      Sabrina, thanks so much for having me. I hope I haven’t scared off too many of your readers! 🙂

  4. John Shaw | The Light Without
    March 28, 2010

    […] footnote: Last Friday, I was a guest writer on Sabrina Henry’s blog and I mentioned that my inspiration for one of my images was from a similar shot by John Shaw. I […]

  5. Ed
    March 31, 2010

    Great post Stuart, and great follow-up with the John Shaw workshop on your blog!


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