This is the second in a series on the state of flow in photography. Check out Part I for introductory ideas and general concepts. Flow, known also as being “in the zone”, is a mental state most of us are personally familiar with. While it includes intense concentration, it’s a whole lot more. Photo flow, at its essence, is not any different than flow in any other endeavour. As with, for example, flow in writing (especially nonfiction), photo flow is marked predominantly by an intense engagement with your subjects.
Meditation & Photo Flow Compared
I mentioned in the last post how photo flow is like meditation. But there are also contrasts. The point is not to have a blank mind, as in (zen) meditation. It’s to shoot without thinking too much. Photo flow is marked by intense engagement with the process, and that involves conscious thought, punctuated by many small decisions. It’s too active to be synonymous with meditation; but then again, flow can be thought of as a type of meditation.
I think of flow as a very relaxed, largely unconscious focus, one in which your body may be anything from very quiet (while writing for instance) to intensely active (I’ve entered flow while climbing mountains & skiing powder). Meditation, on the other hand, normally implies a quiet body, one that mirrors a quiet mind. I realize that people think of things like long-distance bike rides as meditation, and I can understand the comparison. But in general I believe flow not meditation characterizes those sorts of activities.
So how does flow most resemble meditation? It’s when you’re actually tripping the shutter. Just like anyone who excels at something, good photographers think about photography for a good chunk of any shooting day (if not every other day!). But they don’t think about it at the moment of capture. As that quote machine of a photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson put it: “Thinking should be done before and after, not during photographing.”
Next week we’ll look at some examples of photo flow in landscape & nature shooting. Thanks for looking, have a great weekend and happy shooting!