10 Great Albums To Educate and Inspire Your Photography

The vast majority of photographers I know are big into music, and I think it inspires most people's photography to some extent. When I used to photograph a lot of concerts the style of music, genre, etc had a big influence on the photos I took, and since I started photographing music has always been a big source of inspiration. When it comes to photography, I prefer to listen to music in album format. You can gain a lot by looking at the flow and sequencing of an album in its native order, and I think that a lot of principles and styles that go into a record can be applied to photography as well.

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1) My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy - Kanye West

Despite his recent political stances, I am a bIg fan of Kanye and have been for a long time. While It isn't necessarily my favorite Yeezy album, MBDTF is, in my opinion, the most conducive to creativity. The beats on it are absolutely incredible, and each song brings an awesome new theme to the table. It isn't the most cohesive, but whenever I listen to it I have no shortage of interesting new photographic ideas.

 

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2) The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill - Ms. Lauryn Hill

This album proves that art doesn't have to be washed out and soulless to be successful. Any hip hop fan worth their Nikes knows this one and doesn't need it explained to them. Its great, and you should listen to it.

 

3) The Blueprint - Jay Z

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Despite it's status as an undisputed hip hop classic, I don't think Jay Z's "The Blueprint" gets enough love in modern rap culture. While Jay's raps are without a doubt very good, to me the real kicker is the instrumentals. Produced in large part by Kanye West before his rap career, the soul beats on "The Blueprint" are among my favorites for sure, and the record pushed a lot of boundaries at the time of its release, securing its position in rap history.

 

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4) Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City - Kendrick Lamar

How do I begin to sum up this masterpiece? Its great in so many ways. The beats are hot and Kendricks rhymes are probably the best on this list. However, the main reason I recommend this album to photographers is the narrative quality of each song. The album as a whole tells the story of growing up around gangs, violence, and drug culture, and that alone is very powerful. But even though a lot of people reading this can't relate to that sentiment, there is so much that can be learned about the art of storytelling on this record. Every photographer should strive for projects that create a narrative as strong as the one in this album.

 

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5) Donuts - J Dilla

Like so many great photographs and photo series, J Dilla's album "Donuts" is far greater than the sum of its parts, both within each song and as a whole. His classic chopped up vinyl style spits tracks that take a thousand tiny parts of different sources and puts together cohesive and soulful nuggets of sonic awesomeness. A big part of this albums appeal to me is the "mythology," so to speak, that surrounds it. In it's creation Dilla was in the late stages of TTP and Lupus, and thats important to the context of the album. With this information, songs, titles, etc take on new meanings and really help put the album on another level. 

 

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6) Woodstock - Portugal, The Man.

The most pop-inspired work on this list, PTM's latest album is a really good, very upbeat record. The perfect mix of modern sounds and nostalgic vibes, It's a good listen and a great soundtrack for your next photo walk.

7) Sales LP - Sales

By far the most obscure album listed, this small-time band has a super solid album that is incredibly underrated. While their sound is similar to a lot of small indie-pop groups, their execution is flawless, and uses simple elements to create a record who's cohesion and solidity I have to admire. It's lofi, chill, almost jovial vibe often helps me relax and focus my creative efforts.

 

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8) Blond - Frank Ocean

I'll be honest and say that there are several parts of this album that I'm not thrilled with, but Frank's use of minimalist beats and staggered vocals are, to me, genius. While some songs feature watered down themes and the album has little narrative structure as a whole, there are several standout songs like "Solo"(and its reprise), "Nikes", and "Nights".

 

9) No One Ever Really Dies - N.E.R.D.

Kind of just a hype album to me(imho). Listen to this one in the car on the drive to your shoot.

 
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10) The Score - The Fugees

This incredibly unique hip hop album is probably my favorite from this list, and what I like most is the way it challenged the conventions of music, and what "sounds good." It is very solid both lyrically and instrumentally, but uses unique elements, and helps you remember that aesthetic perfection isn't everything. Too many people get into the mindset that there is a recipe to making good photographs, and listening to "The Score" reminds me to value vision, creative voice, and originality over aesthetics alone.

 

 


 

Bonus:

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The College Dropout - Kanye west

I was originally going to have this one in place of "M.A.A.D. City" on #4, but I felt that, while the narrative was strong in "The College Dropout", it went on too many tangents compared to Kendrick Lamars album where most of the album is based on the narrative. What I really like about the college dropout, though, is how it drip feeds information about Kanyes story through the skits and monologue. His use of extra tracks in this way is a great example of how one can learn to use ways other than their main art form to communicate ideas.