The idea of flow has been around a long time, although doubtful that it’s had so many different names in the past as it does now. Hyperfocus and ‘being in the zone’ are two other terms for it. One of my pet peeves, by the way, is when people take an old concept or idea, slap a new, sexier name (or three) on it, and then pretend it’s brand new. People have known about flow for a long time. It is an experience common to all humans and undoubtedly as old as our species.
At some point in time everyone experiences flow. It is that wonderful feeling of getting lost in an activity. You lose sense of time passing. You forget to eat. And you don’t stop until you are finished or otherwise satisfied. It’s what all artists strive for and what everybody wishes their jobs allowed them to do.
Flow is often described as a state of total concentration, but for me it is more than that. It’s when awareness and action combine with total focus, but in sort of an unconscious way. I find flow very hard to enter into without having a genuine interest in what I’m doing. Anything worth doing is worth doing in a state of flow.
Photography flow is just like flow while doing anything else. It’s complete absorption. Nothing is capable of distracting you or takes your mind off the act of finding the best compositions and the most authentic ways to portray your subjects. There are a few things unique to photography flow that are worth keeping in mind:
- First off, don’t expect to enter into photography flow without some shooting experience. It’s like anything else. The more you shoot, the easier it is to flow along without a lot of conscious thought of what you’re doing. But as soon as you’re comfortable with your gear and the basics of photography, flow is achievable.
- It’s critical to be acutely aware of your surroundings during photo flow. I’ve stressed the value of observation many times in this blog, and I’ll repeat it here. If you want to get better at “seeing the shot”, practice observational skills whether you have a camera with you or not. The goal is to see everything without needing to remind yourself.
- Photo flow is also aided by awareness of position with respect to your subjects. Purposely moving through space, walking closer to the subject, getting very close to the ground, all of this variation of point of view helps to put you in close touch with the scene and your subject. It avoids the bystander role (which in my opinion gets in the way of good photography) thus allowing you to ‘let it flow’.
- Working the subject, good advice for several reasons, can also help you enter photo flow. If you don’t think you’re in the right frame of mind or your mind is wandering, try working the subject intensively. By its nature this tends to eliminate distractions, allowing the sort of focus and concentration that leads to flow.
- Obviously, entering flow is difficult if you’re thinking of things other than photography. Clear your mind before beginning a shooting session, and if thoughts enter unwanted, just let them go on. Don’t follow them to more distracting thoughts. In this way flow is like meditation, which is discussed in next week’s post.
- Focus on the seeing and shooting and leave for later your judgments about how good the shots are. The only thing that should distract you from the act of shooting is a quick review on the LCD to make sure a shot was properly focused and exposed. Avoid lingering over reviews and move right on to the next composition or subject.
Next time I’ll use a few examples to illustrate photo flow and also show how it is like meditation in some ways. Have a wonderful weekend and happy shooting!