Archive for the ‘flow’ 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.

WHAT FLOW IS (AND IS NOT)

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.

FLOW & BETTER PHOTOGRAPHY

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.

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Friday Foto Talk: Macro Photography “in Flow”   5 comments

Morning dew in a Montana mountain meadow creates dazzling jewels in the light of the rising sun.

This series on flow and photography has taken on a life of its own; but don’t worry, it’s almost over!  If you haven’t been following along, flow is that state of intense focus where we lose track of time.  Check out Part I and Part II for tips on how to apply it to photography in general.  The rest of this series has applied flow to various genres (landscape, travel, etc.).  This week it’s macro and close-up photography.

Macro is probably the easiest kind of photography in which to experience flow.  There is something about focusing on the small that helps to capture and hold our attention, often for hours.  Macro can also require a lot of trial and error, at least for me it can!  If you don’t become frustrated too easily this can bring about intense engagement with the process.

Pasqueflower is a unique part of the alpine bloom every summer on Mt. Rainier, Washington.

Pasqueflower is a unique part of the alpine bloom every summer on Mt. Rainier, Washington.

Awhile back I did a series on macro photography, so check those posts out for a much more comprehensive tutorial.  The tips below are specific to achieving a state of flow during your macro shoots:

  • Look and Think Small.  It’s hard while on a walk to concentrate exclusively on finding macro subjects.  It would take hours to cover a mile!  But you will find macro opportunities if when you’re hiking along you look out for the odd bit of color, a contrasting shape or texture, or a little movement in the corner of your eye.  Both thinking about and looking for small subjects brings you into the present, and that facilitates flow, even before you take a single shot.
This brown basilisk in a Guatemalan forest almost escaped my attention.

This brown basilisk in a Guatemalan forest almost escaped my attention.

  • Work it.  When you do find something interesting, stick with it for awhile.  That is, work the subject.  Change settings and camera position to vary depth of field.  Vary angle and distance to get different backgrounds and compositions.  And don’t stop there.  Once you’re in “macro mode”, it’s easier to find other subjects, or as with flowers, other examples of the same subject.  Stay on your hands and knees, keep the macro lens on, and don’t worry about time.  Enjoy the flow.
After a few shots of this frog's whole body, I moved in closer and closer until I got a shot that empasized his watchful eye.

After a few shots of this frog’s whole body, I moved in closer and closer until I got a shot that empasized his watchful eye.

  • See the (small-scale) Light.  As photographers we are constant observers of the light.  But when you’re shooting close-up the patterns we are used to change.  All of a sudden you’re able to take advantage of the fact that your field of view is greatly reduced.  This makes it easier to get effective shots in light that would be difficult when shooting larger scenes.  So be a student of light on a small scale too.  Watch how it plays across confined spaces, and how larger elements like trees can help shade or spotlight your subject.  As with the first point above, this will help keep you in the present and accentuate flow.

 

A water lily in the middle of the Okavango Delta caught the light beautifully as we passed in our mokoro (dugout canoe).

A water lily in the middle of the Okavango Delta caught the light beautifully as we passed in our mokoro (dugout canoe).

  • Be Patient.  To one degree or another, patience is a requirement of all photography.  But when you’re waiting out the wind in a field of flowers or approaching an insect or other small creature inch by inch, you learn the real meaning of patience in photography.  Mastering patience is a key part of making flow a more frequent experience.

This was a recent shot.  I sat patiently waiting for one of the dragonflies buzzing around to land in this natural spotlight.

Macro photography is such a natural when it comes to flow that, even if you don’t normally do macro you’d do well to try it.  That’s because the practices that lead to successful macro photos will help you with the kinds of photography you do enjoy.  And because flow is relatively easy to experience with macro, you can more readily get into it next time you’re out, whatever kind of shooting you do.  Thanks for reading and have a happy weekend!

One of many desert five-spots in Death Valley, part of the so-called super-bloom of last spring.

One of many desert five-spots in Death Valley, part of the so-called super-bloom of last spring.

 

Friday Foto Talk: Photographing People ‘in Flow’ ~ Candids & Travel   Leave a comment

While shooting landscape in southern Utah, some hikers "rudely" inserted themselves into my photo. The nerve!

While shooting the landscape of southern Utah, these hikers “rudely” inserted themselves into my photo. The nerve!

If you haven’t been following along, I’ve been doing a little series on the idea of flow in photography.  Flow is that state of hyper-focus that we’ve all experienced, perhaps not enough in the modern era of distractions.  Last week’s Foto Talk looked at people photography in general, but was biased toward portraiture.  This week is a follow-up that focuses on my favorite kind of people photography: serendipitous candid shots done either traveling or while engaged with another subject (landscapes, as above, for example).

Two young Malawian boys who somehow didn’t become members of Madonna’s family.

Serendipity & Candids

Serendipity implies little or no thinking ahead.  But it’s okay to have a general approach.  It’ll vary depending on whether you know ahead of time that you’ll be photographing people.  And whether or not you like shooting without first asking permission.  But serendipity means at the very least that your subject(s) don’t know they’re going to appear in your photos until very close to the time you press the shutter.

  • Why should you do this kind of photography?  Say you’re traveling, whether on a short weekend trip close to home or half-way around the world.  You naturally want pictures, right?  Suppose on this trip you head out on foot to look for interesting stuff to photograph.  You might think you’ll be shooting buildings and “the sights”, but in most places you will come across people as well.  You already know they usually make the best images from a trip, and that’s because people speak to us of the place where they live much more strongly and eloquently than any building or mountain can.
I didn't even think about a shot of this Rasta woodcarver on the shores of Lake Malawi until he took a smoke break. I think he represents well the chill atmosphere of the lakeside part of that country.

I didn’t even think about a shot of this Rasta woodcarver on the shores of Lake Malawi until he took a smoke break. I think he represents well the chill atmosphere of the lakeside part of that country.

 

  • So whether or not your goal on a shoot is to photograph people, be ready anytime you’re out in even a lightly populated area.  I don’t always follow this advice, being somewhat shy most of the time.  But traveling in foreign lands is different; I’m much more outgoing.  I’ve learned that approaching people is easier than it seems.  For one thing they may be just as curious about you as you are of them, and for another many people want to help visitors, and that includes helping them get good photos.
Usually I have trouble approaching girls this pretty, but she and her friends turned out to be full of fun and easy to shoot.

Usually I have trouble approaching girls this pretty, but she and her friends turned out to be full of fun and easy to shoot.

  • The first question photographers who want candid travel shots ask themselves is, “to ask or not to ask first”.  While I do shoot the occasional picture when someone isn’t expecting it, I normally ask first.  But don’t make the mistake I made at first, which is to go right up and ask to shoot their picture.

 

  • Instead of letting your camera get in the way right off the bat, spend a little time with people before asking to shoot.  Minimize the fact you have a camera (I know, easier said than done when you have a big white lens!).  Be curious about them, advice that applies to all photography subjects.  And if you’re not genuinely curious, shoot something else.

 

  • As with all people photography (and in fact all photography), have fun!  When you approach strangers, joking around and even making a bit of a fool of yourself are sure-fire ice breakers.
This cute little Sherpa girl, who was shy at first, had such a big playful personality that I had to force myself to stop and get pictures.

This cute little Sherpa girl, who was shy at first, had such a big playful personality that I had to force myself to stop and get pictures.

 

  • All this engagement takes more time than if you simply shoot and move on to the next subject.  You may miss a shot or two by focusing on the person first and the pictures second.  And you’ll probably get fewer photos.  But the images you do get will hopefully be better, and most important they will mean more to you.

 

  •  Now it’s time to ask for pictures.  You can simply smile and ask, or you can take more of an indirect approach.  You could point out the aspects of the setting, light, or of your subject that attracted your attention and made you approach in the first place.  Whatever you do, be honest about what you want and respect their decision if they decline.
At first, this beauty in a remote little Zambian village said no. I didn't push, just photographed her friend who had said yes. Luckily she changed her mind.

At first, this beauty in a remote little Zambian village said no. I didn’t push, just photographed her friend who had said yes. Luckily she changed her mind.

 

  • There is one more issue that inevitably comes up when doing this kind of travel photography, and that’s how to express your gratitude if they say yes.  Your subject may request money, especially if you’re a tourist in a foreign country.  If it’s obvious that you are better off financially than they are, it becomes even more of a temptation to pay.  I generally don’t pay for pictures.  But there are a few exceptions, such as when someone has organized a way to direct a little tourist money to local people and I really want the pictures.  But I do believe that paying results in a less desirable relationship between photographer/tourist and subject/local.  I also think there are too many other ways to show gratitude (see below).  But ultimately whether or not you pay for pictures is a personal decision.
While I didn't pay this young Sherpa in a Himalayan teahouse directly, I did tip him well.

While I didn’t pay this young Sherpa in a Himalayan teahouse directly, I did tip him well.

 

  • Showing gratitude and sharing your pictures is about more than just showing the back of your camera.  While traveling I carry a small portable printer (Polaroid Pogo but there are others).  I print a wallet-size picture direct from the camera and it’s always a hit.  If they ask for emailed pictures, always always follow up.  I recommend you use low-resolution versions that are good for computer display.  Another great way to show gratitude if your subject is a vendor is to buy something.
Happy kids aren't hard to find in Cambodia, but I got great reactions from this group along Angkor Wat's moat when I handed out pictures. They are holding them and note my little red printer at lower left.

Happy kids aren’t hard to find in Cambodia, but these “urchins” along Angkor Wat’s moat were quite excited when I handed out pictures (which a couple are holding).  Note my little red printer at lower left.

That wraps up people photography & flow.  I hope you enjoyed the pictures.  Granted, some of the above points are not specific to the idea of flow.  It is good advice whether or not you experience flow while shooting candids.  But all of will help create a comfortable atmosphere, and to help both you and your subjects relax and have a good time.  It doesn’t guarantee experiencing flow but it sure helps.  Thanks for reading and have a grand weekend!

The sun sets on a southern Thailand beach as this fire-dancer practices for the evening performance.

The sun sets on a southern Thailand beach as this fire-dancer practices for the evening performance.

Foto Talk: Flow & Photographing People   4 comments

One of my favorite portraits, from Cambodia.

One of my favorite portraits, from Cambodia.

The series on flow continues.  I’d apologize for not posting this on Friday as usual.  But I have a pretty good excuse.  I was busy running away from a little storm called Hurricane Matthew.  Flow, or “being in the zone”, is that state of hyper-concentration and engagement that we’ve all experienced.  Check out Part I for ideas in flow with photography, and Part II for its connection with meditation.

 The goal of these last few posts is to apply the idea of flow to various common types of photography.  I started with, beginning with Landscape and continued with Travel.  You’ll find useful tips on each genre covered, some of which may not seem to have much to do with flow.  On the other hand, I’m not offering comprehensive tutorials on each type of photography here.   The posts don’t cover many of the basics, for example, concentrating instead on more subtle stuff.  I want people to not only make great pictures but to have great fun doing it; to experience the satisfaction of being able to shoot anything and everything well.

Whew!  I didn’t plan that tangent.  Now let’s look at photographing people.  Shooting any live subject, including pets and wildlife, is in many ways quite similar to people photography.  But for brevity’s sake I will focus on people here.

Candid portrait of a Nicaraguan vaquero.

Candid portrait of a Nicaraguan vaquero.

I believe one not often mentioned reason that novice photographers gravitate toward landscape is they believe it to be simpler than photographing people (which they’ve done a lot in snapshot mode).  It seems to be more straightforward to produce professional looking results when shooting landscapes, with rules that are easier to follow (do this and then that, and you’ll get beautiful pictures).

Of course this is not really true.  With either type of photography your goal should not just be technically good photos.  This is what so many of those people who have gotten into photography in recent years stops with.  I’ve said it more than once in this blog:  an excellent photograph elicits emotion and/or tells a story.  Since your viewers are human, it’s easier to reach into the emotional parts of their brains when you photograph people than any other subject.

This young Mayan girl from the Guatemalan Highlands was easy to approach.

I ran into this young girl on a hike in the Guatemalan Highlands.  I think her smile speaks eloquently of the natural playfulness and warmth of Mayan people.

People Photography Tips

  • As with all photography there are really no rules when photographing people.  The only “rules” are those that cover all social interactions, with or without camera.
  • In my opinion there are only three keys to photographing people:  (1) be curious about your potential subjects and what they’re up to; (2) spend a little time with them rather than expecting a quick shot; and (3) relax and have fun with them.  Notice I didn’t mention lighting.  Since light is important in all photography, it goes without saying.
  • Number 3 above is probably the most important thing when photographing people.  For me it’s critical that both photographer and subject have a good time.  That way the posing takes care of itself and is most natural.  Best of all, experiencing flow is easiest when you’re just shooting and playing around with someone.  Sure, shooting a professional head shot is going to be more structured, but even there you can make things relaxed, thus capturing a more natural facial expression.

I met this young Nordic couple at a nature reserve in Nicaragua and we had some fun times together before I asked to shoot their portrait. It made a difference.

  • Next, think about the kinds of images you want.  Do you want a portrait or something more candid and active?  How obvious should the surroundings & background be?  Do you want an image with the frame completely filled, as in the image at top?  Think about that stuff ahead of time and be very familiar with your gear.  That way when it’s time to click the shutter you can concentrate on your subject, not technical matters.  You’ll also have a better chance of experiencing flow while shooting
  • Most photography teachers will tell you to talk to your subjects, that silence is awkward.  While I agree, the nature of your interaction will depend on the situation.  You need to decide when to be interactive and when to slip into the background.  It’s a feel thing.  For example if you’re shooting a group, being a part of the fun and then quickly switching to passive observer role to shoot might get you a great candid.

Moving away and being passive observer is sometimes necessary, in this case to let the horses as well as the girl be themselves.

  • Since some interaction is always necessary, what should you talk about?  Be curious about their lives and keep it light.  Joking around, being self-deprecating, even making a bit of a fool of yourself, all that can help.  It’s fine to talk about the photography & what you’re after.  It can help keep them engaged.  But unless you’re shooting a pro model you can easily overwhelm and even bore your subject.  You don’t want forced and unnatural poses and expressions.  Finally, complimenting your subject will obviously make them feel good, leading to better pictures.  But pouring it on is usually (and correctly) viewed as being false.
Although she's a model, I found talking and joking with her made it easier to move in closer for this shot, necessary since I had a 50 mm. lens.

Although she’s a model, I found talking and joking with her made it easier to move in closer for this shot, necessary since I had a 50 mm. lens.

  • While I believe photographers tend to control posing too much, some direction is called for.  You have to move people around for the best light and background.  But you can do that in a sneakily natural way.  “Hey, that looks like a cool spot to get a few shots.”  Or, “a shot of you in front of that (background) would look good, wouldn’t it?”  They don’t have to know that you’re going to blur it.  Again, the thing is to make your time together come first and the photos second, in order to ‘let it flow’.

I will follow up on Sunday by looking at a distinctive sub-category of people photography: those serendipitous opportunities we often encounter while traveling.  Have a wonderful weekend and happy shooting!

After a fun afternoon with these two Botswanans, they couldn’t help but be relaxed and happy at sunset. Rare for me, I used a flash and balanced its output with the background light.  That usually takes a number of tries to get right, so a slow-paced, relaxed atmosphere was key.

Friday Foto Talk: Flow & Travel Photography   6 comments

Rising pre-dawn to climb Tajamulco, highest peak in Central America, a half-asleep state gave way to flow as the sun rose.

Rising pre-dawn to climb Tajamulco, highest peak in Central America, a half-asleep state gave way to flow as the sun rose.

Flow, or “being in the zone” is all the rage these days.  It’s considered to be how creative people create.  While that’s true, flow is not that uncommon.  We’ve all experienced it.  I heard a radio interview the other day and the guest referred to flow as something experienced by people at the highest level.  I think that’s too narrow a way to think about it.  Any time you get 100% engaged in an activity and lose track of time, you’re in flow.  Flow will help you progress toward expertise, but being very good at something isn’t a prerequisite for flow.

This series, which started with the idea and concept of flow, has moved on to how to foster the state in different types of photography.  Today let’s look at travel photography, which consists of shooting a wide variety of subjects in unfamiliar places.  I call the entire western U.S. my home area and by definition travel takes me to countries outside the U.S.  My travel photos lean heavily toward cultural subjects, including people, but includes landscape and wildlife.  While traveling I photograph far more people (and fewer landscapes) than I normally do.

A bit of a cliche, but prayer flags and the Himalaya are just too big a part of the scene in Nepal to pass up.

A bit of a cliche, but prayer flags and the Himalaya are just too big a part of the scene in Nepal to pass up.

When you’re traveling and shooting there is no shortage of distractions.  So flow is not that easy.  Here are a few tips:

  • Observe & Engage.  Just as it is with other kinds of photography, keen observation and then intense engagement with your subjects is a sure route toward experiencing flow.
  •  Filter & Focus.  Traveling can overwhelm the senses.  It’s one of the great things about it.  But in order to do your best photography focusing on the subjects that you want to shoot is necessary.  The kind of concentration required to capture images with strong subjects can help you experience flow while doing it.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t get a few overview shots that establish context and show the place you’re in (you could also do this with video).  But it’s easier to get into flow and capture good images if you zero in on one subject at a time, filtering out the rest.

With huge views of the Nepali Himalayas outside this teahouse, I shifted focus to smaller things.

  • Quality vs. Quantity.  Let’s be honest.  Travel can be hectic at times.  That’s probably inevitable.  But your whole trip doesn’t have to be this way.  If you plan an overly busy itinerary, you shouldn’t expect to experience flow while shooting.  And you should expect more snapshots than quality images.  You simply can’t have both quality and quantity, and this goes especially for traveling.  As you plan your itinerary, choose one or the other and be happy with the consequences of that decision.

 

  • Slow Down.  I prefer to plan a light itinerary and cover less area in more time.  This way I get to relax and spend some time with subjects.  When I take the camera out in some new place, randomly exploring with no real destination in mind, flow comes much easier than when I’m rushing to move on to the next place.  Leaving real time for deep exploration is a key to successful travel photography (and travel in general).  Of course during the trip there will always be those times when you have to hurry to catch a train or to check out.  Just don’t let that pace infect your entire journey.
Angkor Wat's West Gate is an easy subject to like, but it took patience and time to shoot it with pedaling commuters and the sun in the right position.

Angkor Wat’s West Gate is an easy subject to like, but it took patience and time to shoot it with pedaling commuters and the sun in the right position.

  • Make it About the Journey.  While it’s important to get to your destination in order to spend time exploring and shooting, the journey is at least as important.  Sometimes it’s more so.  You’ll encounter some of your best photographic subjects while you’re traveling from one place to another.  So a second key to travel photography is being ready at all times to capture images.  You may prefer your phone for this, or a small point and shoot camera.  It doesn’t matter, just keep observing and shooting things that are interesting along the way.
I was rushing to a waterhole where the game was supposed to be when I stumbled upon this cheetah stalking the grasslands: Etosha, Namibia.

I was rushing to a waterhole where the game was supposed to be when I stumbled upon this cheetah stalking the grasslands: Etosha, Namibia.

  • Be Flexible.  This is good advice anytime you travel, whether shooting seriously or not.  But consider this:  you can take yourself right out of your game if you get uptight about the inevitable changes and screw-ups that occur during any trip.  Being upset about things that are outside your control means you’re not about to enter flow anytime soon.  I won’t claim to be perfect in this regard.  But isn’t it better to look upon an unforeseen left turn in your trip as an opportunity to photograph something unexpected?  Go with the flow so you can experience flow!

I didn’t plan on attending this rough ‘n ready rodeo on Omotepe, Nicaragua. But I let my hosts drag me there and didn’t let their fun with my flag get in the way of a good time.

  • Be Outgoing.  Some of the best travel images are of people, often showing something of their unique culture.  But unless you play at being a paparazzi, you’ll need to break out of your shell and approach strangers in order to get good people shots.  Luckily, most people around the world (not all) are happy to be approached by tourists.  You may be rejected occasionally.  Don’t let that stop you.  All it takes is one great interaction to make your travel day.  Once you’re with an interesting local talking and laughing, all the time shooting great candids, photo flow can’t be far behind!
This Himba boy in northern Namibia was cute in how serious he was about standing tall and noble.

This Himba boy in northern Namibia was cute in how serious he was about standing tall and noble.

By the way, a future post will go into more depth about photographing people in strange (to you) surroundings.  Thanks so much for reading and have a wonderful weekend!

At Tikal, the ancient Mayan city in Guatemala, rainy weather and the late hour made it feel empty and helped me to experience photo flow.

At Tikal, the ancient Mayan city in Guatemala, rainy weather and the late hour made it feel empty and helped me to experience photo flow.

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.

Friday Foto Talk: Meditation & Photo Flow   10 comments

Sunrise at Reflection Lakes, Mt. Rainier National Park

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.

Macro is custom-made for slipping into flow.

Macro is custom-made for slipping into flow.

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.

Meditative on the northern California coast.

Meditative on the northern California coast.

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!

Being alone near sunset in the desert dunes with the fractal patterns and stark light you can easily slip into flow.

Foto Talk: Letting it Flow   4 comments

 

Beach grass on the dunes under a crescent moon along the Atlantic coastline.

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.

A historic building all by itself along the Santa Fe Trail in New Mexico.

A historic building all by itself along the Santa Fe Trail in New Mexico.

A rock formation called the Lighthouse in Palo Duro Canyon, Texas.

A rock formation called the Lighthouse in Palo Duro Canyon, Texas.

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’.
A hoodoo in Bisti/De Na Zi wilderness, New Mexico.  What does it look like to you?

A hoodoo in Bisti/De Na Zi wilderness, New Mexico. What does it look like to you?

 

 

  • 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!

A recent sunset somewhere in New Mexico.

A recent sunset somewhere in New Mexico.

Travel Theme: Flow   6 comments

A small creek in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge rolls through a mossy forest.

A small creek in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge flows in a rolling way through a mossy forest.

I don’t usually go for the theme post, at least those invented by other bloggers.  I figure it’s sorta cheating, letting other people decide what you will blog about because you don’t have any ideas of your own.  Or something like that.

Since I want to avoid being dogmatic about it, occasionally I’ll go along with the crowd, join the party, however you want to phrase it.  But only when the theme intrigues me.  This time it is the concept of flow, Ailsa’s idea on her great blog Where’s My Backpack.  I love flowing water of course, but that’s an easy approach.  Hmm…

If you’re interested in any of these images, just click on them.  You will be taken to the high-res. version where you can view price options by clicking “Purchase Options”.  The images are copyrighted and not available for download without my permission, sorry.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks for looking!

Spring melting at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah brings a heavy sediment-laden slurry down from the red rocks.

Spring melting at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah brings a heavy sediment-laden slurry flowing down through the snow from the red rocks above.

 

The upper reaches of East Fork Hood River in Oregon tumbles down Mount Hood's slopes.

The East Fork Hood River in Oregon tumbles down through its canyon near Mount Hood Oregon as a spring flows out of its banks to feed it.

 

Sand dunes in Death Valley National Park, California forms textured shadows as the wind blows hard and the sand flows over the surface.

Sand dunes in Death Valley National Park, California forms textured shadows as the wind blows hard and the sand flows over the surface.

 

This flowing rock in southern Utah's Coyote Buttes area was originally formed into enormous dunes, now solidified into rock.

This flowing rock in southern Utah’s Coyote Buttes area was originally formed into enormous dunes, now solidified into rock.

 

 

A close-up view of sandstone strata in the slickrock country of southern Utah, very near the location called "the wave".

A close-up view of sandstone strata in southern Utah, very near the location called “the wave”.  The sandstone appears to flow on different scales, though it is solid rock.  Originally of course, it was formed by flowing currents.

A small stream deep in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge flows through a green-lined channel.

A small stream deep in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge flows through a green-lined channel.

 

One of the easiest ways to get into a "flow", that feeling of timeless, effortless doing, is cross-country skiing.

One of the easiest ways to get into a “flow”, that feeling of timeless, effortless doing, is cross-country skiing.

 

The clouds rapidly flow out of the basin containing Mowich Lake as night comes on and temperatures drop, revealing Mount Rainier standing above.

The clouds rapidly flow out of the basin containing Mowich Lake as night comes on and temperatures drop, revealing Mount Rainier standing above.

 

The Sandy River flows and eddies, throwing golden reflections from the setting sun back up at Steelhead fishermen.

The Sandy River in NW Oregon flows and eddies, throwing golden reflections from the setting sun back up at Steelhead fishermen.

 

The upper Columbia River in Washington flows smoothly but powerfully during spring's high flows.  On the opposite bank lie giant current ripples, formed during an ice age flood bigger than any we know about in earth history.

The upper Columbia River in Washington flows smoothly but powerfully during spring’s high flows. On the opposite bank lie giant current ripples, formed during an ice age flood bigger than any we know about in earth history.

 

 

Standing atop the columns of a basalt flow, cooled and hardened millions of years ago, in Washington's Channeled Scablands.

Standing atop the columns of a basalt flow, cooled and hardened millions of years ago, in Washington’s Channeled Scablands.

 

Golden light from a setting sun is reflected from the churning, flowing surf at Cape Kiwanda on the Oregon Coast.

Golden light from a setting sun is reflected from the churning, flowing surf at Cape Kiwanda on the Oregon Coast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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