Finding Photographic Balance in Hawaii

I recently returned home from a family vacation in Hawaii, where I spent nine days with my wife and daughter during spring break.  As time was ticking down to our departure a lot of friends and colleagues asked me what camera I was taking, what I was bringing as a backup, what lenses I would bring, where I would be shooting, what projects I had planned, etc.  A few were surprised when they heard my answer:  I was only taking a Fujifilm X100F, with an extra battery and a couple of extra memory cards.  That’s it.  No backup camera.  No extra lenses.  No defined plans to shoot (other than one which fell through).  I had no plans to bring a laptop either, just an iPad to edit on as needed.

I think there was surprise because my two loves, photographically speaking, are travel and street photography.  It is fair to say that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, I enjoy more as an artist than discovering new places with a camera in my hand.  It is the foundation of most of my business activities.  It is the basis of my blog, my Instagram posts, my workshops and so many other parts of my business.  I love the work that I do and the life that I lead. 

This wasn’t a work trip though, it was a family vacation, and the last thing I wanted to do was allow photography to dominate my time.  There will always be opportunities to take photographs but our children don’t stay young forever.  These nine days had to be about time with my daughter on the beach, time with my wife by the pool and time as a family enjoying activities.  I think the worst thing that could happen on a trip like this would be that I let my intense drive to make images dominate my focus and attention.  

The key for this trip then, as with most things in life actually, had to be finding the right balance.  I decided to allow myself time for just one photowalk per day, shooting whatever caught my eye during the walk.  All images would be taken in jpeg only and the keepers would be wifi-ed to my iPad where they would receive minimal post processing, if needed at all.  

One friend I spoke to about this plan commented that he could never do that as he would be afraid of missing a shot.  When I asked for examples he couldn’t provide any, other than to say that he felt like he always had to be prepared for any shooting situation.  This of course necessitates him carrying a messenger bag with two bodies and four lenses every time he travels, even to places like Disneyland with his kids.  I think one of the biggest differences between my friend and I is that I am ok with “missing photos”.  Completely ok with it, actually, as long as it isn’t client work.  The truth is that limitation serves to make me more creative so, if anything, traveling light makes me a better photographer.

To be fair, I wasn’t always this mindful.  As a matter of fact, it has only been two years since I wrote this article:

The night photography almost ruined my vacation – A cautionary tale

That night taught me a lot about being mindful and purposeful.  Sure, if I am traveling for professional purposes I will plan my shoots and bring the requisite equipment.  On a family vacation though it is important for me to remember that family comes first and not photography.  Yes, I will still shoot, but only as time allows.  Conversely, the next few months will see me in several European countries, as well as in Toronto, teaching workshops and shooting client work.  You can bet that those trips will be all photography, all the time.  

Balance, for the win.

All of the images in this blog post were captured as jpegs with the Fujifilm X100F, wirelessly transferred to my iPad (usually while sitting on the beach), and processed in Lightroom Mobile as needed.  It worked perfectly and once again I was reminded of how awesome the Fuji X System is.  

With that said, I hope you enjoy this brief glimpse into life on the beaches of Hawaii!

Until next time,

Ian

The Streets of San Francisco – Part Four

“Leaving San Francisco is like saying goodbye to an old sweetheart.  You want to linger as long as possible.”  – Walter Cronkite

Years ago, when I first started going to San Francisco,  I focused on shooting iconic landmarks:  the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, the view of the city from Twin Peaks, Coit Tower, Alcatraz, Crissy Field, Fort Point, The Presidio, Cupid’s Span, the waterfront and the beaches… the list goes on and on.

Over the years I have definitely felt a change though; those early photo focused trips have given way to unplanned days spent exploring with no agenda.  San Francisco is a remarkable city, full of charm and it is the simple things now that bring me joy and inspire me to shoot.  I am content to feel the energy on the streets, meet the people and find beauty in the day to day life of this city that I love so much.  San Francisco is like an old friend now.

With that said, here is the final set of images from January’s trip.  Until next time, my friend.

Cheers,

Ian

To view part three of this series click here.

Is your photography healthy?

It is raining right now, the kind of grey, wet day that Vancouver is famous for.  I am sitting by the water (well, in a pub, but there is a really big window) killing time for an hour until I meet up with my friends from Fujifilm Canada for dinner.  I was going to launch a new five part instructional series this week on the blog, but a recent conversation has me thinking about why we do this crazy thing called photography and I’d like to write about that for a bit…

One evening, a few weeks ago, I was set up for a sunset shot in Hawaii and was waiting for the right light for the image I had in mind.  The air was still warm from the sunny day, there was a slight breeze, and the only sounds I could hear were the waves crashing into the rocks below me.  It was one of the most peaceful moments I have had in a long time and it really reminded me of why I love photography so much: it is a vehicle through which I can be mindful and present.

Mindfulness is something that is easily defined, but it is hard to do.  We are all so busy these days, our minds constantly filled with schedules, shopping lists, dinner plans and all of the other things that keep our lives moving forward.  Distractions abound:  We work on laptops while watching a movie and we check our phones when out for coffee with friends.  It’s kind of crazy when you think about it and I’m just as guilty as the next person for doing it.  More guilty than most, probably. 

But, when I pick up a camera all of that fades away.  The only thing that matters to me is being present in my environment, being present with my subject, and being an artist.  When I am on the street I can spend 12 hours, walk 15km, take hundreds of photos… and the time just melts away.  When I shoot weddings I am “in the zone” for hours.  You have to be, there are too many precious moments to be captured, once in a lifetime kind of moments.  During times like this evening in Hawaii I am simply in awe of my surroundings and I want to take it all in:  the sights, the sounds, the smells… I want to wrap myself in the beauty and peacefulness of a Hawaiian sunset and try to remember it in ways I know a photograph alone can’t always capture.  The benefit of all of this is that I am re-charged after I shoot, better able to manage life’s day to day tasks.  My photography makes me a better person and brings me joy.  It is “healthy”.

The truth is that every success I have had with my photography: every new client, every successful workshop, every print I sell, every everything really, has come from the simple fact that I love what I do and I am mindful when I am doing it.  I don’t follow trends, I just shoot what makes me feel good because I want to be genuine in my work.  I don’t think I could work any other way to be honest.  

Now, this is an article about what motivates you to take photos, and not one about social media, but I think this story has relevance:  I recently had a conversation with a young photographer, someone who contacted me and asked me to review “the plan”.  “The plan”, as it was laid out, involved dedicating 2 hours per day to a website and to social media.  It laid out a schedule not only for biweekly blog posts and daily Instagram posts, but also had a list of “influential” photographers whose social media accounts would be commented on every day.  When I asked the photographer what the purpose of “the plan” was, their answer was that they wanted to be a successful photographer (which to them meant having a large online following and being asked to represent brands).

My next question, which went unanswered, was:

“Ok… and then what?”

Don’t get me wrong, I love social media.  I have made amazing friendships from it, met new clients through it, and have been inspired by work that I have seen on it.  I always strive for a balance when using it though:  I tend to write one or two blog posts a week, I usually only post two or three Instagram photos per week and days often go by where I don’t post on FaceBook.  I think social media can be an invaluable tool and a wonderful way to meet new people, but I can’t imagine anything worse than chasing recognition from others on social media as an indication of success.  I love to write and share new work, but I do it first and foremost for myself and my clients.

The level of photographic frustration this person was experiencing from not being “successful enough” was palpable, and so different than the way I feel about my photography.  This person wasn’t deriving intrinsic pleasure from their photography, but seeking approval from others.  They were, in essence, crowd sourcing their self esteem.   It reminded me of a quote someone said at a conference I presented at last year:

“The gift that is in you will destroy you,

if what is in you can’t sustain you.”

How awesome is that quote?  We have to love what we do.  It needs to feed us and bring us satisfaction… not frustration.  We were given an amazing gift when we found photography: the ability to create.  That is what we need to draw our satisfaction from and most definitely not from a search for approval from others.  By any definition that isn’t something that is healthy.

Let’s think about “The Plan” again for a moment:  2 hours per day.  14 hours per week.  60 hours during an average month.  730 hours per year.  

…730 hours per year.

That is about 24 days per year.  How much art could you create in 24 days?  How many photographs could you make?  That has to be a better course of action: don’t worry about what everyone else is doing, don’t worry about what everyone else thinks, just let your photography be the gift that sustains you.  I just try to do what I love, share my work with others in a genuine way, and collaborate with other like minded people when the opportunity to do so presents itself.

A funny thing happens when you do this, you end up building a community of friends.  Not followers… friends… and it is an awesome thing.  The group of people I have met through my website and my social media accounts are amazing,  I can’t begin to express how much I value them.

Ironically, I recently read this article:

https://petapixel.com/2018/03/21/this-photographer-deleted-his-social-media-with-1-5-million-followers/

…about a photographer who deleted his social media accounts with 1.5 million followers, solely so he could focus on being an artist and do what he loved without all of the distractions that come from seeking recognition.  In the article he says:

“What would happen if I took all the energy that I spent on social media and devoted it straight towards what makes me feel really good: photography and traveling to new places on foot?”

What was the end result of his experiment?  His business (based around his website) grew organically because he focused on his work.  Crazy, right?  He focused his energies on the things he loved and the things which brought him intrinsic satisfaction… and he saw a net gain from it.

Again, that this isn’t an article about the perils of social media, that is just one example of things that can make our photography unhealthy.   Life is full of so many things that distract us, trends that tempt us, micro bursts of adulation that lure us into believing that they should be pursued and, of course, the daily responsibilities that we all have.  I think it really just comes down to this:  do you get intrinsic joy and satisfaction from your photography and from your art?  I hope that you do.  I hope that we all do.  And, if you don’t for whatever reason, what changes can you make so that you do?  

…just a few random thoughts on a rainy day.  I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Cheers,

Ian