I’m liking this series on flow in photography. Hope you are too! Flow, or being ‘in the zone’, is a state of intense focus where you often lose the sense of time passing. Check out the first two posts in the series for a background primer. This and succeeding posts will go through particular examples to show how flow can help you get the best images whether you’re shooting a grand landscape or ducks in the park.
I’m not surprised that I more easily enter flow while alone and shooting landscapes. I love being in nature and almost always feel relaxed away from civilization. I don’t think we can assume, however, that flow in nature photography is always a piece of cake. Often it’s when we’re alone in a beautiful setting that those oddly irrelevant thoughts enter in and distract us, taking us right out of the moment. And being in the moment, fully engaged with your subject, is the entry point to experiencing photo flow. External factors may get in the way of flow too, as the following example shows.
EXAMPLE – Rain at Panther Creek Falls: Here’s an occasion where I got into flow despite challenges related to weather & terrain. Although it’s a bit overexposed and popular with photogs., I’d been wanting to shoot at Panther Creek Falls in SW Washington. To my surprise I was alone. The fact it was rainy may have had something to do with that, but I wanted to shoot it in a rainy period, for the atmosphere and green of the vegetation. I spent a lot of time wiping water from my lens, as much from the spray as from rain.
I wacked through wet brush on a very steep slope, approaching from the opposite side of the canyon than the viewpoint and trail is on. This waterfall gets its unique character from a large spring that floods out of the steep hillside, and I wanted to see that up close. As I always do with popular spots, I was going for completely different points of view than most every other shot at Panther. I stayed for nearly three hours, working the subject mercilessly. Getting to interesting viewpoints in that terrain was slow going, and all the lens-wiping took time too.
Despite all the distractions of weather and terrain, once I was soaked and didn’t need to worry about getting any wetter, I entered a state of flow. The image above wasn’t the best of the shoot. The horizontal version probably is, but I’ve posted that before. I squatted very close to the water and under the log. The main falls is in the background. There are two lessons here: First, only on a misty rainy day is a shot like this possible; you can’t really simulate it very well with software. Second, flow by its nature means ignoring discomfort and overcoming challenges.
To me landscape and architecture are similar in many ways. By the way, I plan to post soon on the different types of photography and how to use their commonalities to more effectively “cross-train” your shooting. You are much more likely to be around other people when shooting architecture, but flow still feels similar to landscape. Capturing the character of a building, as with mountains, is more likely when you are in the moment; when you carefully observe the subject, its surroundings and the changing light.
EXAMPLE – Portland Eastside: I was just walking along on the east side of Portland, Oregon, close to the river. Many of the older warehouses and other unremarkable buildings in this area have been spiffed up in recent years, and are now occupied by various upscale tenants. It was dusk, my favorite time to shoot architecture. I forgot about judgments and started noticing the more subtle features of the buildings. This is what flow can do, allow you to notice everything around you.
A big challenge for this image was one that is common with architecture: point of view. In order to get the right angle and show off the gentle curve of the building as it follows the curving street and sidewalk, I needed to stand in the middle of the street. Because of the low light, I also needed to be on a tripod. After several unsuccessful tries where I was chased back to the sidewalk by traffic, I was able to get the shot during a lull. I don’t think I was in flow while running for my life. But I was for the important part; that is, finding the subject & composition.
Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!