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Have you ever thought about what keeps you going as an outdoor or nature photographer, and what it all means at the end of the day? Or perhaps you’ve felt that something was missing from your experiences, or your images but can’t quite put your finger on it.

I’ve thought about these things deeply, and I think they’re extremely important on many different levels. A recent post on the Minimalists blog really resonated with me, and I wanted to share it here with you. While I recommend you read the entire article, here’s the part that really sums it up:

“I’m going to enjoy the experience first and embrace the impermanence of the moment. And if an unobtrusive opportunity arises to snap a single photo, then I will. Maybe. Or maybe not. It’s okay to be on the mountain—to be meditative—without proving to everyone else you were there to see it.”

I speak and write often about the experience of landscape photography being at the core of why I photograph and who I am. And I really do believe that it makes a difference, in fact, it makes all the difference. Being in the moment and aware of what’s happening around you, without the distractions of “getting the shot”, can often provide creative possibilities that might otherwise never appear.

The art of seeing is an act of discovery, and for that we need space and sensitivity—free from the mental baggage we often carry around. That’s hard to do when we’re lost in the pursuit of our “latest and greatest” image. Or when we’re wrapped up with the technicalities our expensive gear trying to make sure we “get the shot”; our trophy.

How about when we feel we’ll miss a great opportunity unless we take as many shots as possible, while the “essence” of the moment goes unnoticed. Believe me, I’ve been there and didn’t even know it because I was too busy thinking and doing instead of just being.

“What we think, we become.” – Buddha

If, as Jay Maisel says, “you don’t choose the picture, the picture chooses you,” then photography shouldn’t become a “hunt”, and we the predators. Your time in nature should be an opportunity to reflect and appreciate, to think about why you’re there instead of somewhere else, and figure out what it is you really want to say.

When we’re out in nature as photographers it’s so easy to become prisoners of our expectations, more focused on our fantasies of what can be rather than on what is actually happening. We’ve planned and waited, invested in gear and other expenses, and prepared as best we could to achive our goal; a great image.

But are we really seeing or just performing a well rehearsed exercise?

Perhaps if we change our perspective that means we don’t get to the point where we press the shutter. That’s ok, what’s the rush? Have you wasted your time otherwise? Or have you learned instead to trust your instincts, develop your intuition, and understand why you’re pressing the shutter in the first place?

Ultimately in my opinion, this can make you a better photographer and a happier human being. And that’s simply because the time you invest will give you more in return than simply photographs. It will connect you at a much deeper level to your subject, and to yourself. Approaching photography this way can give you freedom, and peace of mind.

“Our thoughts create our reality—where we put our focus is the direction we tend to go.” – Peter McWilliams

In future posts, I’ll talk about specific ways that you can incorporate these ideas into your photography, and how it’s specifically made a difference in my own work.

Have any thoughts or feedback? I’d love to hear your perspective. Thanks for reading!

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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Robert,
    great points. “the hunt” is one that resonates with me. i’ve not been “hunting” very long but i’m just as guilty as the next as an enthusiast whose only been exploring photography for the past couple of years. its just not what I find that moves me to take a photo. I thought it was until this realization. therefore, i’ve given up on “the hunt” and now I feel there’s a whole new world and a breath of fresh air to my photography. thanks for the insight as always.

    1. Thanks for the feedback and your personal insights – it too me a while also to realize why I was missing so many opportunities, although I came home with the “shot”. It’s a journey for sure, and though it’s a cliche, it remains as true as ever especially today in our world of ubiquitous photography. Keep me updated on “your” journey.


  2. Yeh, for me it’s a paradox, a quandry; I’m very mindful (no pun intended) of simply being, and yet at the same time having the creative itch and desire to “get the shot”. Yet in the moment, I can’t do both, not very well, at least not yet. Maybe it will come — I wouldn’t be surprised if it did, when taking “the shot” becomes almost second nature and being can still permeate the experience. I’m guessing that’s where you’re at, because of your countless hours of experience. And it shows, it comes through in your compositions. Thanks as always!

    1. Thanks Hillel for your comment – perhaps you can change your perspective, and rather than look at it as either/or, it’s more about letting go of the expectation. You’re experiencing the moment while letting the creativity flow, and more importantly the inspiration. Yes it does become second nature with time and practice. It goes hand in hand with allowing the camera to be a tool, nothing more. I’ll have more to say in detail in a future post – thanks for the support as always.


  3. Very good points, Robert — to let go of the expectation. That’s something I’ll have to work extra at, because right now, that’s probably what’s distracting me the most. And yes, the camera should be nothing more than a tool. Thanks again!

  4. Good points. The pictures in your memory are always the best pictures. If you’re not in the moment, you miss those. Without those memory shots, you can’t get the others. I forget this too often in a desire to capture what I’m seeing.

  5. good thoughts- the photos really do choose us- so many itmes I’m out waderign around either in car or on foot, and not seeing anything, and being frustrated that a ‘I can’t seem to see anything’ worth photographing, then all of a sudden wham- a scene ‘presents itself’ and I know it has to be taken- I didn’t seek it out (other than wandering), it just presented itself in thel ocation I was in at the time- I won’t be letting go of expectations though- As I expect to be presented with these shots every day I go out- but the difference now is gthat I go out specifically looking for key elements like light gesture and color, and it’s easier now to see them now that I know WHAT to be looking for, and when I don’t find htem, I’ll wait for them to find me-

    1. Great perspective Bob, thanks for sharing and joining the conversation. And yes letting go of expectations is one of the great insights that any nature photographer can experience. Things are always changing, and being open to that change, in any form, lets you see more and find more to photograph. That’s not easy at all, but within reach of anyone.


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