The Truth About Inspiration

And how it can hit you 7 months later

The places we dream about.

Some are far away, some don’t even exist.

Some are representations, some are interpretations. 

They can be born from observations, or created from perceptions

Do we choose what we create? Or do we create what chose us?

The Places We Dream About - Angel Fux

This letter is about how to find inspiration to create, and how to let inspiration find you when you don’t.

You may have seen the image above on my social media already, which is the latest image I have produced.

Unlike most of my creations where I have them envisioned already before uploading the photos to the computer, this one came as an absolute surprise.

3 main reasons for that:

  1. The landscape is a daytime image. It was shot around midday on our way to camp. Not only do I almost never shoot at midday anymore, but I really don’t enjoy editing daytime images either. Even less creating composites out of them.

  2. I hadn’t had any inspiration to edit new images for months.

  3. I tend to create images from moments I had strong positive emotions at the moment of shooting. This one was not one of them. This was the day my dad had to leave the trek because he was too sick to make it. It was a sad and lonely day in my mind.

I remember arriving at this scenic place, telling myself it would be nice for a sunrise shoot, but knowing it was too far away from camp to make it happen.

Somehow, I still took my camera and tripod out. While I am used to taking self-portraits myself, I received help for the first time from a group member.

I figured those shots would be either lost, in the sense I would never do anything with them, or they would serve as souvenirs.

Being so focused on my writing and business, I hadn’t created anything since early November, and the few shots I finished had been paused since August or September.

And one evening a few days ago, I had that image appearing clearly in my mind, out of nowhere.

I rushed to the computer, opened Lightroom to find the RAW files, and immediately started working on it.

A few hours later, close to 3 a.m., the image was done.

The reason I am telling you all of this is because although I mentioned in a previous letter that you need to create space for creativity to happen, some things won’t come to you until a certain moment in time.

As I am reading through The Creative Act by Rick Rubin, a concept stuck to my mind: an idea or information will make its way to the physical world only because its time has come and someone stood up to become its vessel.

“As artists, it is our job to draw down this information, transmute it, and share it. We are all translators for messages the universe is broadcasting.”

Rick Rubin

The reason it stuck with me is because I had read that extract a few days before the idea of the image materialized in my mind.

And from there I had two options: bring the idea to the world or let it go and find its way within someone else.

Yes, it is about making time on a daily or weekly basis for these things to happen, but it is also about being flexible when these brief moments of clarity strike.

The question is: how do you know it’s one of “those” moments?

From what I have observed and experienced, you usually know because:

  • Novelty: It is something relatively new, or ideas that are usually not part of your habitual thought process

  • Challenge: It is more challenging than what you are used to doing, but still within your reach and skillset

In my case, the image I shared falls under the second point; making a daytime image into a night composite.

Because many of you are interested in the editing process, here are some techniques I used to bring this image to life and the challenges I had to overcome.

1. Reproducing nighttime

My biggest challenge and one of the reasons I don’t create night composites from daytime images is that it’s very difficult to create a seamless night image from an environment that is opposite to it.

The landscape was taken in the middle of the day so I had to recreate that low-light, blue, cold environment first.

Note: the fact that it was shot on a cloudy day is the only reason I have been able to complete that step. The shot would not have been possible otherwise (mostly because you have shadows during sunny days) or would have looked much different.

Here are the basic adjustments I made in Lightroom to make it happen:

  • Bring exposure down

  • Increase contrasts

  • Decrease the blacks

  • Bring the temperature down to bluer tones

  • Increase tint towards magenta (slightly)

  • Bring saturation of warm tones down

2. Edit the Milky Way

The sky was shot the following night with a star tracker, which makes it much easier to work on details and colors.

I first edited the image quickly in Lightroom, mainly increasing exposure, contrasts, highlights, and whites.

You can see a before / after here:

From there, I then moved the image to Photoshop to process the Milky Way core’s colors separately from the stars, using the StarXTerminator plugin from RC Astro. I won’t go into the details of this process as I already shared it in a past letter that will be republished later on.

3. Blend the two images

The main challenge I had to overcome was how to blend smoothly the sky on the initial landscape image, which was basically just clouds, in a way that would match the stars.

This is something I had already tried in the past with the image below, which was much easier to do than what I was about to try.

And yet, I consider this image to be a good exercise rather than a portfolio image.

So how did I do it?

With different brush shapes, I started erasing parts of the clouds, little by little.

It was mostly a back-and-forth between erasing, re-adding, and changing brush shape, density, and opacity every time.

Once the shape was okay for me, I had to start changing the lighting of the clouds and build dark gradients on them to turn them into night clouds. I went back to past RAW files to observe how clouds were looking at night and started replicating my observations.

This was by far the longest part of the process.

4. Final Adjustments

Once I was happy with the blending, I went back to Lightroom to finish everything off, mostly using masks, adjusting exposure again, and some color enhancement.

Here is a before/after the final adjustments:

Sometimes producing some of your best work means not producing anything for months.

I know it’s difficult to accept though, because you have to live with the uncertainty of “am I going to come up with something eventually? And how long is it going to take?”

Very uncomfortable thoughts to have, especially when you start having an audience, partnerships, or clients expecting you to drop new work every X days or weeks.

And that’s only for the work you have already envisioned to do.

My advice for work you were not expecting to create:

  1. Continue working and improving on what you had planned. It’s the skill stack that may eventually lead you to new thoughts you couldn’t have before because you were not capable yet of delivering on them.

  2. When you have something taking shape in your mind, pay conscious attention to it.

  3. If you feel it’s worth giving it a try, do it immediately or as soon as you can. Otherwise, it will pass and it will be a missed opportunity.

That’s it for today. Hope you enjoyed and if you made it that far, thank you for your time.

See you in the next one,