I’d been scanning the iceberg struck horizon for hours when suddenly the clouds grew thin enough to let the sun through for a brief moment. The sun and the light it cast on the surface of the water completed the picture. It was there only for a moment. And then it was gone.
There are so many moments like this in life. In these times, there’s a narrow window of opportunity and only those who stay alert recognize them and are able to take full advantage of them. Of course it helps to have the right tools for the job and solid training, good instincts, and fast reflexes. But none of these will do you any good if you aren’t aware enough to recognize the many opportunities before you.
Photography (and its extension in motion pictures), relies on the power of the moment more than any other medium. Sure music, dance, and theater also require precise timing, but the moments they present can be created and recreated. You can practice until you get the moment right. But with the historical photographic moment, you get one chance and then it’s gone.
To be sure, not all moments are equally fleeting. Some moments last longer than others. And certain events do reoccur more than once and even recur repeatedly. Sometimes you do get more than one chance. Sometimes you don’t. It helps to know how long a window of opportunity you have and if you’ll get another chance. When you do have more than one chance, depending on how much time you have between each recurring event, you may find it time well spent to observe carefully on your first opportunity before acting on your next opportunity. This is perhaps the best preparation of all. When you won’t have another opportunity, you need to think fast and when you don’t have time for that you need to trust your instincts. No matter how many opportunities you have, to succeed you need to stay alert.
Maintenance is key. It’s harder to stay alert if you don’t take care of yourself. Sleep, diet, and exercise all contribute to your being. (And never underestimate the power of motivation.) Start with the basics, but don’t stop there.
Just as you can practice to hone your reflexes, there are things you can do to develop your awareness, such as studies and meditations – and there are many ways to do both (too many to mention here). You can learn to bring yourself into heightened states awareness more consistently, quickly and intensely. This too requires practice. It’s time well spent. Like anything, the more you do it, the better you get at it – especially if you stay alert while you do it.
What can you do to increase your sensitivity?
What can you do to increase your understanding?
What can you do to increase your emotional responses?
What can you do to increase your ability to sustain your awareness for longer periods of time?
My free August desktop calendar features an image from Antarctica.
In 2005 I made the voyage from Ushuaia Argentina to the Antarctic Peninsula to colead a photography workshop with five other instructors – Michael Reichmann, Stephen Johnson, Jeff Schewe, and Seth Resnick, along with 45 participants. It was tremendously stimulating to be in the company of such diversity and observe our varied creative processes. The journey was the fulfillment of a long standing wish to visit Antarctica, made as a young man while watching my mother shepherd the production of photographer Eliot Porter’s book on the region. With so many influences, I knew the key to personal success lay in finding my own voice amid so many.
Antarctica is so exotic it seduces you instantly. Because everything was interesting and different to us, many participants joked that, “You couldn’t make a bad picture.” But I knew a key question that success hinged upon answering was, “How different were our pictures from one another’s and from those that had been made before ours?”
It was natural that we wanted to maximize our time shooting with only seven days on the peninsula, three were lost in transit during our crossing of the Drake Passage, the roughest seas in the world, and our first trip could be our last, as it was a rare opportunity. When we weren’t sleeping, we were always on the lookout for more photographs. And we slept only a little, because the days were long, as the nights were little more than a period of twilight after an hours long sunset and before an hours long sunrise.
At one point in my journey, I realized I had reached a saturation point and needed to look inward to process the overwhelming stimulus, reorient, and reconnect. It wasn’t rest I needed most. It was reflection. During one of only fourteen opportunities, instead of going to shore to photograph, I made a few exposures from the ship decks – one of which worked (this one) – and I went down below and wrote in peace and quiet.
It was time well spent. During that time I was able to ask the important questions, connect the many new pieces I had found to this puzzle, clarify my understanding, returning with renewed energy and purpose. Later, when my friend Seth Resnick looked at my finished images he said two things that were music to my ears. First he said, “Where did you find that one?” He had been standing next to me when I made the exposure; we had seen entirely different things – and that is the way it should be. Then second he said, “Your images are so you!” That was my goal. I wouldn’t have reached it without a lot of passionate, smart, hard work and more than a little reflection. And for both, I needed to take a break.
Taking a break isn’t easy in an era and culture that prizes productivity so highly. But there are times when you need to take a break. But … Why? When? How often? And, what do you do on a break? While there’s no one answer for every individual and situation, you’ll find lots of advice on the subject, some good and some bad. Take the good, leave the bad.
Do be mindful. There’s more than one kind of break to take. We need to take breaks to recharge our batteries; to energize we need rest, relaxation, and entertainment; these are usually but not exclusively longer breaks that don’t involve productivity in another area; the goal is renewed energy. We need to take breaks to find a fresh perspective; walk away from the problem or sleep on it; these are usually shorter breaks that often involve productivity in another area or switching gears sometimes making unexpected connections; the goal is insight. There are many other reasons and ways to take breaks.
The time to take a break is after you’ve thoroughly researched a challenge and put your understanding through systematic tests to confirm it and clearly identify the most promising avenues for further inquiry. Then, you need to walk away from the problem, clearing your mind entirely of it, so you can return to it with a fresh perspective. Generally, in the time in between, your subconscious has put the pieces … it may even find that ever elusive missing piece.
Curiously, many great breakthroughs in history have come when people sleep on it. Valuable insights have been found during sleep for individuals as diverse as Alexander Graham Bell, C J Jung, Mary Shelley, and Jack Nicklaus leading to discoveries such as James Watson’s uncovering of the double helix structure of DNA; Friedrich Kekule’s visions of the structures of the carbon atom and benzene molecule; Dimitry Mendeleyev’s creation of chemistry’s Periodic Table; Elias Howe’s invention of the sewing machine needle; and many others.
What are the benefits of taking breaks personally?
What are the benefits of taking breaks professionally?
What break frequency is optimal for you?
What break duration is optimal for you?
What activities during breaks are most regenerating for you?
What activities during breaks are most stimulating for you?
What activities during breaks are most enjoyable for you?
Are you good at distinguishing between taking a break and switching activities?
What do you need to do to really take a break?
What can you do to clarify your goals for your break?
A voice inside my head was grousing, “There’s nothing here. It’s not good enough. You’re not good enough. Someone else has done this before. You’ve done this before. You’re uncomfortable. You’ll have better luck next time.” I’d heard it all before. So I changed my inner dialog, “There’s something here; you just have to find it. You know how much you like the surprise when you do. You have a unique sensibility. You’ll bring something new to the situation. You can do it. It will be great. You’re enjoying this.” If I hadn’t shifted the tone of my self-talk I would have given up before I got started, instead I stuck with it, for hours, and succeeded, many times. Refraction LX was just one of that morning’s successes.
You’ve heard it all before too. “You’re just like … you always … you never … you’ll never … why try …” As Carla Gordon said, “If someone in your life talked to you the way you talk to yourself, you would have left them long ago.” We’re told that to improve and reach our full potential that we have to be our own worst critics. It’s true that there is a time and a place for this – but it’s limited. Don’t make it a full time occupation. If you do, you may never get where you need or want to go.
Professional athletes and performing artists have coaches and directors who not only train them but also encourage and inspire them as well. So do many CEOs and salesmen. So do many people from many walks of life at different times in their lives and stages in their careers. They may even engage different types of coaches at different times for different needs. When was the last time someone coached you? When was the last time you coached yourself? Even if you’re lucky enough to find the right creative coach who can help guide you to perfect practice, they can’t do all the work for you; you have to do the work too; after all, in the end, they’re training you to do it yourself. You can’t afford to wait and find your perfect creative coach. Instead, become that person.
Energize yourself. Affirm your abilities. Take note of your previous accomplishments. Set tangible goals for the future. Chart your progress along the way. Provide yourself incentives. Reward yourself. Celebrate your accomplishments – both verbally and visually, privately and publicly. Be specific using precise language. Give yourself pep talks. Frequently use positive affirmations. Don’t think you can do it? Tell yourself you can. And then do it. Watch your self-talk – and change it for the better. It’s a mindset. If you want better results create a better mindset.
When you talk about yourself or your work, do you use positive or negative words? The words we use can be very revealing about our orientations, attitudes and beliefs. Many times, when we speak about ourselves, if we speak about ourselves, we downplay our abilities and accomplishments. It’s true that no one likes a raving egomaniac. But, there’s a real difference between arrogance and confidence. Confidence is attractive and inspiring; arrogance isn’t; neither is insecurity. Don’t let your insecurities get the best of you. Be careful not to talk yourself down, cut yourself off short, or fall completely silent. Instead, learn to speak simply and directly about yourself and your work and above all share your enthusiasm. Not feeling it? Act as if you do. With just a little practice you will begin to feel it. It’s true we should all beware of over confidence. And, critical feedback, the right kind and the right amount, is useful for improving performance too. Peak performance and growth take the right balance of positive and negative feedback. But ask yourself, “How balanced are you?” If you’re like most people, you’re not very balanced at all. Change this and you’ll tip the scales in your favor. This takes constant monitoring and recalibration but you’ll soon see substantial changes that make it not just worthwhile but invaluable.
How important is this? Consider how much money is spent every year on motivational resources like books, videos, lecture, workshops, and more. The figures are enormous. That’s how important it is to other people. Ask yourself, “What’s the price of not doing it?” That’s far greater. Don’t pay it. Just do it.
What is the state of your current self-talk?
How many ways can you improve your self-talk?
How many ways can you make your self-talk more energized?
How many ways can you make your self-talk more meaningful?
How many ways can you measure the results of improved self-talk?
Sometimes those little extra touches make all the difference in the world.
On my first voyage to Antarctica, I was thunderstruck by its immensity. The vast untouched silent spaces were overwhelming. It was a supreme challenge to suggest this sense of scale in the comparatively small images I was producing. This was even more challenging in an environment without human figures or man-made objects.
One of the ways I approached this challenge was to make images filled mostly with space and populated by tiny objects. You can create a powerful sense of scale if you can present large things as being tiny without creating a sense of distortion at the same time.
Some objects bring magic with them. Include the sun, moon, or evening star and you’ve added a magic moment. The bigger you make them, the stronger the magic moment becomes, but no matter how small it’s always magic. Did you ever notice how when a tiny figure is included in an immense landscape picture that the images becomes about the person? I’m always amazed at how something that occupies 1% of the total image’s area can make such a difference.
I marvel at how we overlook the dramatic distortions inherent in making small images of very large things, like mountains. On the one hand, this strikes me as funny, in both senses of the word – comical and strange. On the other hand, this is magical; you can hold the earth in your hands. Suspension of disbelief is responsible for much of the magic of looking at realistic images.
Initially, this image was made without the moon, which was added later. The moon makes this image stronger in many ways, taking it up a notch. The moon also changes the nature of this photography. Without the moon, this image can be seen as a literal, historical document. With the moon, this image becomes an aesthetic object with a heightened emotional emphasis; a poem rather than a piece of non-fiction. While both versions hold up, I prefer the version with the moon. I choose which version to show based on what’s appropriate for a given use. For instance, I show the version without the moon in my editorial body of work Antarctica. The same means are not appropriate for all situations.
What small things could you include to make a big difference?
Which small things make the biggest difference?
Does how you include them increase or decrease the contributions they make?
Is their inclusion appropriate for what you are trying to accomplish?
Seth Resnick loves wine. So does Greg Gorman. The two of them have taught me most of what I know about wine. Through them I’ve come to appreciate wine in new ways and with a new depth of understanding. They know that if they drink wine with me, I’m going to ask a lot of questions, to learn as much from them as I can and to appreciate the wine I’m drinking with them even more.
On many of our Digital Photo Destinations workshop adventures, Seth and I share wine with our participants. On our 2013 Antarctica South Of The Circle Voyage we bought enough wine for the entire group to try a new wine at the start of each evening meal. As we embarked from Argentina, we selected only Argentinian wines, mostly reds, found at our favorite wine store in Ushuaia – Quelhue. Something that we looked forward to each night the wine started conversations, lifted spirits, and strengthened our community.
Here’s a list of the seven best wines we had during our voyage; each ranked on a scale of 1-10 (10 highest). You might enjoy them too. I use the iPhone app Wine Notes to record my impressions and usually include a picture of the person I drink the wine with along with the label in each entry as part of this journal. These are my only opinions (with input from Seth). Be mindful that I like my wines like I like my people, with character.
9.1 Malbec Achaval Ferrer / Finca Bella Vista Perdriel 2007
A truly elegant wine from old vines in volcanic soil riddled with complex flavors that are so beautifully blended they are hard to separate and keep changing from beginning to end and through its extremely long finish. It’s often appropriately referred to as a “chimera”.
8.9 Cabernet Sauvignon Luigi Bosca 2010
Big, bold, full-bodied. Beautifully balanced structure with a great beginning, middle and end, with a long finish. Red fruits, cherry dominant with hints of chocolate, coffee, and cinnamon and distinctive earth flavors.
8.8 Malbec Tapiz Black Tears 2008
Smooth full body with great mouthfeel (maybe a touch chewy) and solid structure and tannins. Big berry flavors, currant dominant. Complex layers. You can taste that it came from volcanic soil.
8.4 Tannat Quara 2009
Really big, complex, and earthy (especially on the nose). Fast, but lingers long with hints of cinnamon and tobacco. It’s unusual to find this grape on it’s own instead of blended.
8.4 Cabernet / Malbec D V Catena 2010
Red fruits (cherry, raspberry, strawberry) with a hints of mint and eucalyptus. The smoky earth flavors from ashy volcanic soil gives it rich character.
8.4 Cabernet Sauvignon Gascon / Finca Escorihuela Gascon Reserva 2009
Elegant, rich, full, classic cabernet that doesn’t hide the earth it was grown in.
8.3 Malbec Tomero Gran Reserva 2008
A classic Malbec in every sense.
Wine is just one of the things that makes our workshops unique.
Only 9 spaces are left.
My daily log of my most recent voyage to Antarctica is now live.
Feb 10 – 20 Seth Resnick and I lead an intimate workshop aboard the Sea Spirit to cross the Antarctic circle with many highlights along the way including sites we’ve visited many times before Deception Island, Half Moon Island, La Mer Channel, Plenneau Bay, Cierva Cove, Neko Harbor, Paradise Bay and others we’d never seen like Torengsen and Cuverville Islands. The locations never look the same twice, changing dramatically with season, weather, and light. On this voyage, at first calm and sunny, the weather turned windy offering many moody images.
Plus, you can compare them with images and stories from 2011 and 2009 too.
My free screensaver features beautiful images and fascinating facts on Antarctica.
Antarctica is stunningly beautiful! Explorer Roald Amundsen said, “The land looks like a fairytale.” The coldest, windiest, driest, highest, most isolated continent contains 90% of earth’s ice and 70% of its fresh water, regulating global climate and sea levels.
As I set sail on my fifth voyage to Antarctica I’m wondering what the light and weather will be like this year.
In 2007 we had weeks of low hanging clouds and low lying fog.
In 2009 we had high thin clouds that diffused the light with a golden glow.
In 2011 we had rain, sleet, hail, snow – if it was wet it was in the air.
Now, in 2013, I’d love to be surprised with something different. But what would that be? A combination of the intense color of 2005 and the sculptural form of 2007?
Each voyage, I’ve hoped for at least one calm passage across The Drake. They have a phrase to describe this body of water - “lake or shake”. I’ve only seen the “lake” in the colorlful photographs of Eliot Porter and I’d love to see it with my own eyes and make my own photographs. Though I’d be happy to continue “paying the price” to visit Antarctica, I’ve had enough “shake”, which is one reason we plan to fly to Antarctica in 2014.
My free February desktop calendar features an image from Antarctica.keep looking »
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