Archive for the ‘concentration’ Tag

Flow & Photography – A Summary   3 comments

Lizard tracks on an early morning jaunt across the dunes in Death Valley.

Lizard tracks on an early morning jaunt across the dunes in Death Valley.

It has been quite awhile since I’ve posted here.  I went off social media during the run-up to and then just after that weird thing that happened in the U.S. last Tuesday.  Been working a lot too.  By the way, although I literally felt sick to my stomach on Wednesday morning when I woke up (at 5 a.m.) and turned on the radio, I got past it and am now in the “this too shall pass” state of mind.  For those of you in other countries, just remember that most people here voted against the orange lizard, and that most of his supporters are not racist bigots, or anti-immigrant.

On the day after the election, I was kayaking and saw this bald eagle.  I took it as a sign that everything would be okay.

On the day after the election, I was kayaking and saw this bald eagle. I took it as a sign that everything would be okay.

I have another photography topic to dive into, but I’ll save that for next week.  Instead I want to wrap up the series on flow that was interrupted.  In fact, right now slipping into a state of flow is the best thing to do for those of us who cannot fathom the next 4 years.  If you haven’t been following along, check out the previous posts in the series.

The beginnings of winter, late fall in southern Utah.

The beginnings of winter, late fall in southern Utah.

An intimate scene in a cypress swamp: Florida.

An intimate scene in a cypress swamp: Florida.


Flow, or “being in the zone”, is a state of relaxed hyper-concentration where we do our best.  But unlike the way you will hear it often described, I don’t believe flow is limited to experts in their fields.  Flow is not when we do the best.  It’s just when we do our best.  The good thing about flow is that the more you get into it, the better you are at the thing you’re engaged in.

Flow is also not related to how active we are physically.  You could be in flow while writing, for example.  Your body is not active, but your mind sure is.  You can also be in flow while engaged in intense physical activity.  Climbing, whether on rock or snow and ice, is an example.  While in flow it’s common to lose track of time.  If you’re writing or doing something else that is physically more passive, you can concentrate for long periods and forget or forego mental exhaustion.  Similarly, in a physically intense activity, you seem to be able to ignore exhaustion when in flow.  Photography, depending on the kind you’re doing, may involve both the mental and the physical.  This is part of why I like it so much.

On the beach looking south at the very edges of an approaching hurricane, still more than a day away.

I think the key to being able to work through tiredness and to lose track of time’s passage is the fact that flow is conducive to relaxation.  Now hyper-focused action may not seem to go together with relaxation.  But when you’re in flow you’re relaxed in a unique way.  It’s not like lying in the sun on a beach with the soothing surf in your ears.  But it’s still a relaxed state.  It’s the kind of relaxation that comes when the mind and body work together the way they’re supposed to.


As far as photography goes, flow is simply a way of shooting pictures that is conducive to a relaxed focus, a way that leads to more creative image-making.  For me, it’s difficult to recommend specific tips that will help you experience flow while shooting.  But then again it’s hard for me to be very prescriptive about photography at all.  It’s such a subjective undertaking.  But I do know when I see photographers who are taking it all too seriously, who are too tight.  Flow, to my mind, is an under-appreciated and major factor behind good photography.

Hot spring in Nevada.

Hot spring in Nevada.

I recommend just two things to those who have recently gotten into photography and want to progress quickly.  First, get the most basic stuff down.  Get to know how your camera works so you aren’t fumbling around.  Practice taking pictures and don’t worry about their quality so much.  The goal is to make settings and exposure adjustments second nature to you.

Second, before starting to photograph, get into a relaxed frame of mind.  Whatever you do to relax, whether it’s breathing or stretching exercises, or positive self talk, do it before you shoot.  Don’t make so much of taking pictures that you tense up.  Realize you’re there to make the most of your subjects, surroundings and light.  Some or all of those variables, such as natural light, will be at least partly out of your control.  What is in your control are the choices you make when you shoot.  Just do your best and don’t stress about the rest.

Thanks for reading, have a wonderful weekend, and have fun shooting!

A recent sunset, Indian River, Florida.

A recent sunset, Indian River, Florida.

Friday Foto Talk: Photo Flow in Practice (Landscape & Architecture)   5 comments

Early mornings in beautiful places like Pintler Pass, Montana are tailor made for flow.

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.

Landscape Flow

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.

Though I'm not as much into shooting the stars as I used to be (too popular), I still love stargazing: Snow Canyon, Utah.

Though I’m not as much into shooting the stars as I used to be (too popular), I still love stargazing: Snow Canyon, Utah.

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.

Panther Creek Falls, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington.

Panther Creek Falls, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington.

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.

At Monument Valley, Utah, sand and the light at dusk create a peaceful scene.


Architecture Flow

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.

A building on Portland's industrial eastside.

A building on Portland’s industrial eastside.

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!

Grand Canyon’s North Rim Lodge reflects warm light from the setting sun at Bright Angel Point.

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