Right time, Right Place... Right headspace? (Inspiration part 3)

29th June 2017
"Right time, right place" has long been the mantra of landscape photography. Just get yourself to an iconic location, when the light is perfect, and great shots will take themselves. But could there be more to it?

I may be opening myself up further than I should, but there have been days when I have done everything right – done the research and preparation, got myself out and onto location at just the right time, but then…. nothing. I simply fail to engage with the occasion, and I either come away disappointed with my work - or completely empty handed!

I often talk at length about the background planning which goes into my photography. This is indeed important – it gets you out of the door and ‘into the game’ but it only gets you halfway on your photographic journey. Photography is not simply about ‘taking’ photographs - it’s a two way process, where one needs to watch and observe. Listen and feel. Often those well laid plans are jettisoned along the way as new ideas form. This is the photographic process in action. The ‘photographic journey’ has become an adventure! I love the feeling as the ideas swirl through my mind, no longer relying on planning but fully in the now, reacting to shifting clouds and the subtleties of light; exploring the patterns made by nature, be it the twisted branches of a tree, lichen clinging to a rock or water bubbling over a brook. This is how my best work is made, following my nose and trusting my instincts - but it requires a certain state of mind.

The trouble is though, this creative state of mind is difficult to control, and it cannot be switched on or off at will. If my head is not in the game, then my photography starts to become robotic. Shots can be technically well executed, but artistically less so and can fail to capture the pathos of the occasion.

I am fascinated by this apparent failure. I can trudge home and offer up all manor of excuses to myself – the sun was too harsh/soft, the foliage was to sparse/overgrown, the snowfall was too light/not enough etc etc. This is a game one can play endlessly, and yes, it is true, some days simply are more spectacular than others, but is that not lazy thinking?

We can only play with the opportunities we find (of course) – but we still need to make the most of those opportunities. Great weather should not be an excuse for lazy photography. For me, there is an interesting point to consider; why on some days am I able to engage with the world around me, and find the photographs within, and some days I am not? And more importantly how can I increase this chance of success?

The first step is the hardest – to understand your mind and recognize when you are in the right state and when you are not. Creativity is usually automatic and instinctive, and not something we normally think about. I am at heart, someone who simply likes being outdoors, and preferably away from civilization. I love exploring new places – finding out what is over the next hill, or round the next bend on the river, and this is what feeds my photographic inspiration. Normally, simply being out in the open is sufficient to open my mind up, and achieve the sense of serenity which then drives my creativity. However the stresses of modern life, fatigue and tiredness etc. can block those senses.

Over the years, I have found that my creativity is not a constant presence – it flows with good days and bad days like a cerebral tide. With practice this flow can be predicted and even managed. I try to think about my state of mind before leaving the house. If my head is not in the game, then rather than play badly, its better to put the camera away and do something else.

Tiredness and fatigue are also common problems. Early mornings and late evening are not always conducive to a good nights sleep! Yet sleep and rest are what I need to keep my creativity functioning. There used to be a time when I tried to shoot every dusk and dawn I could. I quickly found that I missed more in the rush than I caught. Now, with the help of the weather forecasts, I try to plan ahead and pick either the evening or the following morning. Less really is more in this regard!

Once out in the field, I like to try and take a few minutes before opening the camera bag. Sometimes it is easy to switch off external worries and engage with the present and with the landscape. Sometimes it is oh so difficult – on these days I have to manually focus on the subconscious processes. First, relax and concentrate on enjoying you surroundings. Feel the wind on your face, and ground beneath your feet. Study the light, the warmth and quality of it. Focus on the emotion the landscape is stirring. Do you find yourself focusing on details or are you pulled into the wider view? Hopefully, you can now feel the inspiration take over – time to release the camera from its bag and begin.

For more in this series of musings:
Inspiration part 1
Why I take pictures - Part 2

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