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Fog and Trees, Hudson Highlands / Olympus E-M1, f5@1/25th sec, ISO 400, 43mm (40-150mm f/2.8 lens), no filters – developed in LR 6.10

“If you would know strength and patience, welcome the company of trees.” – Hal Borland

I’m often asked how to stay inspired when visiting familiar locations, especially when they are places you have visited many times. The answer I provide is often not the answer people want to hear.

There are many things I suggest, but the most important one I believe is simply letting go. Let go of the desire to make a successful image; of the desire to see more deeply; of the search for something more to see.

The harder you try the more difficult it becomes. The more you search for an image, the more elusive it is, especially when you’ve seen it all before.

Making images in familiar locations is not really about seeing, it’s about feeling. There has to be something that resonates with you, and that is what’s new and fresh, and inspiring. And that’s what most don’t want to hear.

For you to feel, you have to open yourself to the experience, to complete awareness of your surroundings and how you are responding. It requires clarity and presence, a willingness to notice each moment.

For that to happen you can’t be engaged in the activity of trying to see something new. In fact, I’d argue that you’re in a better place creatively and emotionally when you’re not trying to see. I promise you nature will give when you’re willing to give to it, versus thinking about taking.

The seeing is unavoidable as long as your eyes are open. It’s the feeling that creates the image, the impression that leaves something memorable in your heart. That subtle shift makes all the difference because you are now working from within, and that’s where creativity begins.

Then you can use all of the skills you’ve developed to translate that into a photograph. Careful use of composition and camera technique, applied in creative ways, yield images that pursue your inner voice, your unique way of seeing. And every once in a while, you come away with something memorable that you can look at.

But you will always come away with a meaningful experience. That starts with letting go of the seeing and making space for noticing how you feel.

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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. I would extend this philosophy even to new locations. I have traveled from my home in New Mexico to several areas well known for their photographic opportunities–San Juan mountains in Colorado, Zion, Olympic National Park, the Adirondacks. The “pressure” to return home with at least a few spectacular photographs is strong. However my approach follows Roberto’s recommendation. I simply enjoy the experience. I tell myself that it is not critical that I produce a great photograph. Instead, I focus on the moment–the sounds, the light, the animal life. I will spend 30 minutes with my camera on the tripod, observing the scene in front of me, waiting for the light to be right. I may not even press the shutter if I can see that the image (even developed in post) will not be what I want. Although this approach results in fewer images, I find that it enhances my trip.

  2. True wisdom Robert, I often went out to places with an image in mind because I saw an image from that area in a book or on the web. Nature is not out there posing for us so you have to go with no preconceived ideas and just react to what touches you. Thanks.

  3. I’ve watched all the presentations you’ve done at B&H more times than I can count. The idea of going to a place and just feeling really resonated with me because I think that will prevent me from just taking pictures without thinking – pictures for the sake of taking pictures.

    One of the items on my ‘bucket list’ is to take one workshop with you because of your philosophy about photography and learning.

    Thank you so much for sharing.

  4. Wise words Robert, I enjoy the visceral / metaphysical approach to landscape and nature photography the most. Seeing versus looking is definitely enhanced by a mindful approach to being immersed in the natural world.

    “Don’t think… FEEL..! It’s like a finger pointing at the moon. Do not concentrate on the finger, or you will miss all of the heavenly glory.”

    Bruce Lee

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