I’ve written lately about how I feel like I am in a bit of a slump, photographically. Many readers have made comments along the lines of “gee, I’d love to have a slump like that.” But I’ve recently come to realize what I mean by what I’ve written. What I’ve pretty much decided is that doing the kind of photography I like to do requires an investment of time, energy and dedication that, for a number of reasons, I just haven’t been committing to this year. And this applies not just to the shooting, but to the processing and printing parts of the process as well.
As much as I’d like to think I can, I can’t just show up at a place and take meaningful photographs. I can take photographs for sure, and many of them may be good technically. But to create photographs with meaning requires more time. I need to get to a place, get my mind and my heart tuned in to what is happening, and sometimes just sit for a while until I start hearing the voices. “Being open to the gifts” is what my friend Les Saucier likes to say. I can’t just pull the magic out of my camera bag, toss it out there and expect to take meaningful photographs.
Mostly what this requires is an investment of time. Time partly to allow things to happen, but also time to get to a place in plenty of time for whatever is happening. Sunsets are a good example. I can’t just show up at a spot 10 minutes before sunset, pull out the camera and start taking amazing photos. Sometimes the best photos come well before the actual setting of the sun, sometimes as much as an hour before, such as when the sun is moving behind a low-lying layer of clouds and casting sunbeams, or highlighting ridgelines as they recede into the distance. Often by the time the sun sets all the magic is gone. Occasionally, the magic is just beginning at sunset, as the real color begins to appear after the sun has gone below the horizon. But I need time to “tune in,” to see what is happening, and to figure out what to shoot and how to shoot it.
The other way that my photography requires an investment of time is in having plenty of time to enjoy myself. Kathy & I enjoy good meals at nice restaurants, both at home and when we travel. That generally doesn’t involve sitting at an overlook with cold chicken and potato salad. Sometimes it does, but not usually. So in order to do a little bit of both, it’s often necessary to have more than just 24 hours in a place in order to really do it justice and to find that balance between sunset on the Parkway and dinner in Waynesville (or wherever). One of the ways that this year has differed from previous years is that we have been taking more 2-day weekends and fewer 3 or 4-day weekends. This results in less time in a specific place, and I find that this takes time away from everything. I don’t like to feel like the clock is ticking while I am photographing. And the smaller window of opportunity that is dictated by a shorter weekend makes that clock tick like a parade of Harleys going by! With less time, success is more dependent on luck than creativity, and I don’t work so well when I am depending on luck.
So what does this all mean? Well, it means several things. First and foremost, I think it means that I need to do a better job of managing my time so that I have the freedom and flexibility I need to do the kind of photographic work I find most inspiring while also finding time to do the other things I love. Photography and fine dining aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Some times of the year they are, so I’ll need to work that out. Sometimes it will mean a nice but late dinner, and sometimes it will mean cold chicken on the Parkway. The other thing it means is possibly traveling less frequently but for longer periods of time. And perhaps staying longer in one place instead of trying to see multiple locations and moving around constantly. I generally shy away from what I refer to as the photographic “death march” and don’t do a lot of good photography while I’m driving down the road. Give me a place to sit and chill for a while and I’m more likely to get inspired.
I’ve done some good work this past year and hope to do some more before it’s done. This year has been a little weird for a lot of reasons, and I’m looking forward to settling back into my usual routine next year. We’ll see where that leads, but I’m hoping it will lead to more fulfilling photography for me, and less of my whining about it to Kathy!