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Antarctica III, The Southern Ocean, Antarctica, 2005 

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.

Questions

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?

Find out more about this image here. 

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Read more The Stories Behind The Images here.

WhyMakePrints

Suffusion XV, Skogafoss, Iceland, 2012

To find what I was looking for, it took three visits to this waterfall.

On the first visit, I made conventional postcards surveying the site with a curious eye; cliffs, grass, moss, waterfall, pool, river, rock, vapor, rainbow, sun, clouds, rain, tourists, horses. The images I made were competent – and nothing more.

On the second visit, I identified my primary focus – the fast-moving complex patterns the water made as it fell in waves through the air. Images that isolated these patterns contained a number of qualities that I was excited about, both something related to what I had been developing in other images and something new. I had found what I was looking for. But, when I evaluated the images I made and developed the material further (enhancing the patterns by combining them and adding new elements) it became clear that I needed more material to make a complete statement. During development, I made notes and sketches to chart my progress and refine my ideas.

On the third visit, I walked up to the waterfall and stood in front of it silently watching for new patterns and making exposures for the better part of an hour. I was thrilled to be immersed in a magical moment, completely focused, and undisturbed. At the end of this session my good friend and colleague Arthur Meyerson asked, “Did you get anything?” “Yes,” I responded, “I got a body of work.”

With so many wonderful possibilities out there, why would you return to the same well more than once? Let me count the reasons.

1       You’ll get to spend more time with your favorite people, places or things.

Passion energizes.

2       You’ll have an opportunity to make the images that almost worked or that you missed.

Make a list to learn from your mistakes and create a working plan.

3       You’ll have an opportunity to improve your images.

Practice makes perfect.

4       You’ll learn more about a place.

By increasing your understanding of the places you photograph your photographs will become more interesting.

5       You’ll see changes in the place.

Time reveals new things, changing subjects and changing us.

6       You’ll see new things.

Having first found the images that come to you naturally, you’ll later find yourself challenged to look for other kinds of images, which will stimulate your creativity and increase your visual versatility.

7       You’ll learn more about yourself.

You’ll be called to identify your habits, changes, strengths and weaknesses, hopes and purpose.

Just because we see new things doesn’t mean we will see in new ways. In fact, it’s often during times when we are engaged by a great deal of new information that we fall back on our habits. When we see the same things again we are challenged to see in new ways and/or deepen the ways we see them.

Questions 

What things would be most valuable for you to revisit?

How many new ways can you imagine approaching a subject?

What do you hope to accomplish when you revisit them?

What can you learn about yourself when you return – preferences, tendencies, habits, core strengths, areas for improvement, etc?

Find out more about this image here.

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Read more The Stories Behind The Images here.

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Procession II, Cushing, Maine, 1999

It took a clear set of plans to make this image – Procession II. First, I had to know what kinds of images I wanted to make, prioritizing some over others. Second, I had to figure out the elements needed for a general composition. Third, I had to identify the specific final composition I wanted to make. Fourth, I had to identify locations I could find these subjects in, travel to them, and make exposures at the right time. Fifth, I needed to photograph one stone from multiple angles in a light comparable with the overall scene. Sixth, I needed to plan the location, shape, and quality of the shadows that needed rendering during compositing. It all came together, after a lot of planning. Without a plan it would have involved a lot more trial and error requiring more time and resources and even then it’s quite likely that I may never have arrived here without a clear vision for where I wanted to go and why I wanted to do it.

There are other kinds of planning that are needed to succeed both professionally and personally. Whether you’re engaged in your creative life professionally or simply as a vehicle for personal growth (an important distinction to make), I recommend you make a creative plan. If you do this, you too will find both your productivity and fulfillment will increase, in a way that’s meaningful to you.

Set a mission (why you’re doing it), goals (what outcomes you want), projects (the big things you do)(set goals for 1 year, 2 years, 3 years, 5 years, and end of life) and actions (the small steps you take to getting your projects done)(detail your 1 year next actions list) for your creative life.

Align your creative mission with your life’s mission. Most people need at least two missions; one for their life in general (which includes many things – health, family, finances, etc) and one for a specific area, like their career or creative life, which may or many not be the same. Make sure that your missions share something in common – something other than yourself. The more you can align them, the more likely you are to achieve them, increase your productivity, and be more fulfilled.

A plan is a work in progress. The best plans are flexible and can be modified. If I don’t learn something new from a process, often something that shifts my perspective significantly enough to start doing something better than before, then I feel I haven’t truly excelled at what I’m doing. I expect to improve my plans. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t waste time making plans. It does mean I can waste time making plans that are too detailed or too speculative. In addition to learning when and how to plan, it’s also important to learn when to stop planning. But do plan. Planning not to plan is planning to fail. If you don’t make plans, life just happens and you may not make the time for the things that matter most. Make that time.

Questions

How can planning help strengthen your creative efforts?
At what stages and in how many ways can you encourage the evolution of those plans?
When is it better to abandon an old plan for a new one?
What are the positive and negative effects of having no plan at all?

Find out more about this image here.

Read more The Stories Behind The Photographs here.

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Illumination XXVI, Jokulsarlon, Iceland, 2012

Motion picture director Wood Allen famously remarked, “80% of success is just showing up.” One wintry night at Iceland’s glacial lagoon (Jokulsarlon) it seemed like all I had to do was show up. The heavens danced with aurora borealis’ green fire for hours. Cascades of light appeared and disappeared dynamically illuminating the heavens with a light brighter than the stars and moon rising above the dormant volcano, icecap, glaciers, frozen lagoon, icebergs, black sand beaches, and crashing surf. The waves of radiation formed and reformed into shapes suggesting animals, birds, fish, flowers, and more. When there’s fire in the heavens every moment is a magic moment.

You’ll score if you just stay in the game and keep rolling the dice. The more you roll the dice the more likely it is that you’ll score. The longer you stay in the game, the more you get to try your luck. You’re lucky to be playing, and who knows you might just get luckier. Sometimes, all you have to do is be at the right place at the right time. Sometimes, it’s that simple.

Questions

How frequently do you show up?

Are you selective about the places you show up?

Are you selective about the times you show up?

Find out more about this image here.

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Read more The Stories Behind The Images here.

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Constellation VIII, Uyuni, Bolivia, 2013

It had been a very long drive. Looking for other exotic locations along the way, we (I was traveling with colleagues Seth Resnick and Eric Meola) had taken the long way around, traveling for five days at high altitude, up to 5,000 meters, through Bolivia’s Altiplano to Salar de Uyuni the largest salt desert in the world. On arrival we began looking for water, which was seasonal and unpredictable. Unsuccessful at first, at first we found only mud beneath a cracked crust, later we found a few wet stains, still later a larger area slick enough to glisten in the sun, much later a larger slick against a mountain that offered limited reflections, and finally, late on the second day we found a large expanse of water. But there was wind and in many areas the water was too deep to access. We waited at our nearby hotel, made completely of salt; the walls and floors and tables and desks and chairs were all made of salt. Returning for the day’s final light, we found the wind had moved the water and then died down leaving a glassy sheet of perfect reflections as far as the eye could see, ringed by clouds. Walking on/in it was disorienting. You felt like you were walking on/in the sky. And then the color began to change and bloom. It was divine. We spent hours photographing, until the light faded and the winds picked up again. We returned the next day, our final day, to find similar almost ideal conditions and later the new introduction of lightning storms and rainbows behind us. We felt exceptionally fortunate.

If there was no rain, there would be no water to hold reflections; we would have been limited to making photographs of cracked salt patterns, a few piles of salt, and the distant mountains. If there were no clouds, there would be little to reflect. Even though this type of weather was typical at this time of year, and this time of year only, there were no guarantees. We had not only timed it just right and planned for enough time to succeed in, we also got lucky.

Stack the odds in your favor and do your research to know when optimal conditions are most likely to occur. There are situations where you can take actions to increase the probability of ideal conditions occurring and there are situations when you can’t – and knowing which situation you’re in is important. In situations where you can’t be more proactive, it’s wise to plan for a little extra time, in case you have to wait for ideal conditions to arise. It’s never easy to know when it’s best to move on and when it’s best to wait it out. Prior experience helps but it will only get you so far. Keep your eye on the weather and seek out local knowledge whenever possible.

Questions

How can you best prepare to make the most of optimal conditions?

What are optimal conditions for the task at hand?

When are you most likely to experience optimal conditions?

Is there anything you can do to increase the likelihood of optimal conditions occurring?

Is there anything you can do to improve current conditions?

When is it better to move forward rather than wait?

When is it better to take a new approach rather than return?

Find out more about this image here.

View more related images here.

Read more The Stories Behind The Images here. 

Find out about my Atacama Desert Argentina digital photography workshop.

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Illumination XXVI, Jokulsarlon, Iceland, 2012

French microbiologist Louis Pasteur famously remarked, “Chance favors the prepared.” Just showing up doesn’t guarantee success. You can stack the deck in your favor by being prepared. To be prepared you have to find answers to a lot of questions – or at the very least know what questions to ask … like where to go, when to go, how long to stay, what to bring, how to use what you bring, what you hope to accomplish, what your priorities are, and what you bring to the situation that is unique, for starters.

To get this image (and others like it), I had to do a lot of preparation. I thoroughly understood the subject; following Yogi Bhajan’s advice ““If you want to learn something, read. If you want to understand something, write. If you want to master something, teach.” I had done all three. I was in the right place; Iceland is on the auroral oval. I was there at the right time: as Iceland is just south of the arctic circle, skies are dark enough for a long enough period of time at only certain times of the year. I brought the right equipment; a sturdy tripod with a good mount and a fast lens were essential, plus there was new game changing camera technology that generated less noise at higher ISOs, which would open up new possibilities. I knew how to use the equipment; using your camera in the dark and focusing on a star doesn’t become fluid without some practice. I performed relevant tests to find out how much time it took before stars trailed and how high I could dial my camera’s sensitivity up before without getting objectionable levels of noise. I learned from my failures; after careful examination of images from the previous week I found out how shallow the depth of field or focus was at very fast apertures and that certain lenses produced unacceptable artifacts. I took stock of my community’s previous accomplishments; I looked at a lot of images of auroras, identifying what made some more successful than others. I made some time for self-reflection; I noted what was likely to make my images more authentic and what would make them more likely to stand out from others’ images, either on their own or through their relation to my other work, and I prioritized what I wanted to accomplish. All of this preparation contributed to my being able to work quickly and make the most of each passing moment in a focused way that was most likely to generate results that were relevant to satisfying my goals.

It was so easy to make dramatic images that night and there were so many other photographers making images around me that the bar was raised, which called me to succeed not just on others’ terms but more importantly on my own terms and not just once but multiple times.

Some preparation is specific to a task and/or a moment. A great deal of preparation is more general and cumulative. Often, one builds on the other. Author Malcolm Gladwell suggests that mastery comes when we put in 10,000 hours. Even if you haven’t put in the 10,000 hours to achieve general mastery you can still master the moment; and if you have put in the time, you’ll be able to master many more moments. I’ve often been asked, “How long does it take you to make an image?” I answer, “Anywhere from 15 minutes to 6 months – but the real answer is 47 years and counting.”

Questions

How many kinds of preparation do you need to do – physical, mental, emotional, communal? Why?

What kind of preparation do you need to do the most/least of? Why?

At what point do you get diminishing returns from continued preparation?

Can you be overprepared?

When does preparation become avoidance?

Find out more about this image here.

View more related images here.

Read more The Stories Behind The Images here.


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