A Matter of Balance

Balancing Rock, on Long Island near Tiverton, Nova Scotia
Balancing Rock, on Long Island near Tiverton, Nova Scotia

My barber always talks about shape and balance when it comes to a good haircut.  Three of my photos hang on the wall of his shop, and he always refers to those photos when he is talking to a customer about balance.  I’m also aware that he says this partly for my benefit when I’m there, but it also illustrates his point.  He also happens to be one of the biggest fans of my photography. 🙂

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about balance, mostly in terms of managing competing priorities, but also how it relates to my photography.  Visual balance is relatively easy, I think, partly because it is subjective, but also because there is a pretty wide range for success.  Time balance is somewhat more difficult, and is really what I have been spending my time thinking about.

Balmoral Grist Mill Museum in Balmoral Mills, Nova Scotia
Balmoral Grist Mill Museum in Balmoral Mills, Nova Scotia

Whether at work, spending a weekend at home or on vacation, I struggle at balance.  It’s mostly because of the classic “only 24 hours in a day,” but is also because there are so many interesting things competing for my time!  I have to spend a certain amount of my day at work, because they pay me to be there.  And I have to spend most of my time there doing the things they want me to do, because that’s what they pay me to do.  Other than that, my time is mine, but within certain constraints, and subject to multiple distractions.  Those of us who work for a living and have interests outside of work – which I think includes just about everyone I know – constantly face the dilemma of competing priorities.

When we sold our house and moved to our apartment in May, I was looking forward to all kinds of time to work on some projects I had been trying to get to for a long time.  I promised myself time to write more on my blog, process more photos, update my website, make some prints and build a new computer.  I haven’t done any of those things – yet.  But the reason for that is that I have been doing other things that have had a higher priority.  A lot of it has been Kathy & me taking a collective sigh of relief from the drama of selling our house and moving.   And our new place is still mud and dirt, so there’s going to be a lot more time, I think.  Now that we’ve had a nice vacation and I have several thousand more photos to process, I had better stay glued to my chair for a while!

The 'Atlantic Guardian' scallop trawler, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia
The ‘Atlantic Guardian’ scallop trawler, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

On our recent vacation, I faced a dilemma regarding the balance of time for photography and time to enjoy the other aspects of being in Nova Scotia.  With sunrise before 6:00am and sunset after 9:00pm, trying to photograph sunrise and sunset, especially sunrise, was going to be problematic.  I love sunrise, but it comes way too early for me most of the year, so I was satisfied to rise with the rest of the world at 7:00, have a nice breakfast and be on my way at a reasonable hour.  And I managed to sneak in a little sunset activity after dinner in a few locations.  It was enough to satisfy my photographic needs while enjoying the tourist side of things by having a nice dinner every night.  Did I miss some photographic “opportunities?”  Perhaps, but this wasn’t a photography trip, and there is way more to do in Nova Scotia than take pictures.  They have food and wine there!  This was a vacation with Kathy and friends.  So I accepted that, adjusted my mindset accordingly and we all came away happy and satisfied.  Good balance.

Either, Or
Either, Or

I chose to not take a computer with me on this vacation.  Besides the obvious weight and bulk, my opinion is that having a computer along provides a huge potential for distraction.  If it was just a matter of backing up my photos every night and putting it way that would be fine, but then comes the temptation to process a few “just to see what I got,” then there is some kind of software update, while you wait you open Facebook and before you know it you have wasted 2 hours while everyone else is waiting to go to dinner.  No thanks.  The people I care most about are with me, and those who aren’t can wait until I get home.

Boar’s Head Lighthouse, near Tiverton, Nova Scotia
Boar’s Head Lighthouse, near Tiverton, Nova Scotia

We deal with visual balance in photography, and I think that dealing with visual balance helps to deal with time balance, because it forces us to evaluate all of the possibilities and come up with the one (or the few) ways to achieve the balance we are looking for.  Just like I feel that visual balance is essential to good composition, I’m convinced that time balance is essential to a happy life.  How a photograph is balanced visually is a huge influence on how successful a composition is.  And that doesn’t necessarily mean that every photograph has to be IN balance, just that HOW it is balanced influences the success of the composition.  And the same principal applies to how we manage our time.  I’m working at finding that balance in my daily life, so I can find that right mix of time for work, time for me, and time for those who love me and who I love.  I hope to continue to work on that balance for a long time!

Latched But Not Locked, Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia
Latched But Not Locked, Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia

8 thoughts on “A Matter of Balance”

  1. Great post, Tom. I find that lately I’m leaving my laptop behind, not wanting to take it with me to process photos, make blog posts, or anything. I will still take a camera, but sometimes not a tripod. It’s come to only taking those things when I’m specifically going out on a photographic trip. Before, I had everything, didn’t mind getting up at 4:30 AM, taking pictures as it got light, etc. Now, I just don’t feel that I want to lug all of that stuff with me. Just a single camera and a couple of SD cards. I’ll check it out when I get home. 🙂

    I’m finding that I feel much less self-pressure to get out and photograph and carve out that time to do it.

  2. Thanks, Paul. I find it helpful to “define” a trip ahead of time in terms of whether or not it is a “photography trip” or a “vacation.” There is some overlap, for sure. I haven’t given up on sunrise, but sometimes it is difficult to work it in with everything else, especially when traveling with non-photographers. And often I love just walking around a place with a camera with no goal but to shoot interesting stuff.

    I find myself shooting more and more without a tripod, too. Obviously there are times when a tripod is a necessity, but many of the low-light images from this last trip were taken hand-held, at higher ISOs and wider apertures. Once in a while I would sit the camera on a fence or a post, just for a little extra stability.

    I took my tablet along to keep up with my mail and all of my blog friends, but I didn’t take a lot of time to post comments. I do like to keep up, but I don’t always take the time to write.

  3. I can relate to everything you write here Tom, and very good analogies on balance. You are right, balancing time, and balancing visual aspects of a photograph have many parallels. Sometimes I feel I have a bit more control over the photograph part though. 🙂

    I also have the same situations on trips. Except I find that I make the sacrifice of some sleep and get up for sunrise shooting, and I am back in time when everyone else is just getting to breakfast. Then I spend the day on non-photography activities.

    1. Thanks, Mark. I agree with your comments on getting up for sunrise, too. If it wasn’t for the fact that the days were already so long, I might have done that too. Looking forward to the time of year when sunrise and sunset are a little closer together!

  4. Firstly, I like these photos, all beautiful and well chosen to support your post. The brick wall and the door are perfect.

    Interestingly, my favourite photos among my own are the ones where balance is grossly one sided across the vertical (i.e. the left and right are out of balance). I rarely post these anywhere because generally they are not popular and sometimes rattle people too much. This makes sense though because as you indicate in your writing, life feels better when we can balance everything out. Buddhists would tell you to eliminate desires and balance is sure to return. Maybe you could try that Tom 😉

    1. Thanks, Cedric. Remember that “balance” doesn’t necessarily mean “centered,” although they are often one and the same. A dynamic tension that feels good can be in balance, too.

      Kathy & I refer to those “desires” as “requirements.” Same thing with a different name, maybe. But it is the need to accommodate those requirements that sometimes get in the way of the things that give us the balance we desire.

  5. You are so right, our computers are “a huge potential for distraction.” That’s one reason I stopped traveling with mine. There are so many other things better for me to be doing. Great post, Tom.

    1. I suppose if I didn’t have my tablet I might want to carry a computer along for the things I use the tablet for now – e-books, magazines, e-mail, blogs, etc. But the tablet is just so much more useful for those things than a computer, and a taking a computer just to do backups seems like overkill. In general I like the idea of using the computer as a backup device, but for that purpose it is way more hardware than is necessary to accomplish that purpose. Plus I’ve accepted the slight amount of risk in not doing a daily backup in the field and have decided that the tradeoff is acceptable.

      Thanks, Monte!

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