Photographers - Are You Stuck In Your Own Story?

Deep snow and encroaching mist almost hide a path, clinging to the side of the mountain, on Huangshan (i.e., Yellow Mountain) in China in the middle of winter.

Photographers are creative beings and artists are curious and questioning souls. Many of us dream of the hero’s quest and believe that our art can help resolve issues and, thereby, benefit humanity. Some seek resolution of the big questions in life. But the purpose of art is not so much to provide definitive answers. It is to ask questions.

The Artist and Negativity

Despite our lofty ambitions, many creative souls struggle with a series of basic questions that can stifle the production of their art and, as a consequence, impede their own creative journey. Examples include the following:

  • What am I going to focus on?
  • What’s my style?
  • Is there an audience for my work?
  • Am I any good?

Turning Adversity Into Opportunity

These are all important questions that need to be worked through, again and again, during one’s career. But such questions are also an opportunity to examine our commitment and to improve the quality of our art. Most important of all such questions provide us with the opportunity to better define our life’s purpose, the reason why we do what we do.

The fact that so many good folk become a prisoner to such questions is sad and probably explained by a lack of psychological maturity. After all, defeat is easy. But a well-lived and happy life involves courage, risk, continued commitment and a willingness to learn from failure.

Making Something Out Of Nothing

Within every subject or scene there is the potential of a great photograph. The artist, whether a fine-art, commercial or enthusiast photographer, has the opportunity to make of that subject or scene a photograph that will stand for something greater than the sum of it’s parts. Our craft is to use subject matter, composition, light, interaction and timing to do so.

We Have A Purpose

This act of creation is, perhaps, the greatest gift the artist has and the most important offering we can make to our audience and to the universe.

A winding staircase illustrates the need to take care along certain sections of the path during winter on Hughashan (i.e., Yellow Mountain), China.

The Balance Of Opposites

We all need a sense of certainty in our lives yet, paradoxically, there’s also a part of us that can benefit from uncertainty.

As a self-motivated and self-funded travel photographer I need to know that most of my plane and rail tickets have been booked and paid for in advance, prior to leaving home. Depending upon how long I’m on the road the same is true for at least some of my accommodation. But food and many of the local attractions I visit I often leave up to chance.

On my two trips to Tibet (1988 and 2000) I made sure I visited the Potala Palace and the Jokhang Temple, but when I traveled to Salzburg I was happy just to wander around and, where it seemed right to do so, ask locals and other tourists what they think would be interesting sites to photograph. 

There’s a lot to be said for uncertainty, for reaching a fork in the road and letting your intuition guide you, one way or another. It’s what makes life interesting.

Being Prepared

As a photographer you just need to be ready to react to chance encounters and beauty wherever you find it. Such things can be very transitory and of the moment.

I made the photo at the top of this post while testing out the Sony a7R II camera on a bleak winter’s day. There were walkers on the path. But, rather than being just a photo of folks on their preambulations, I wanted the photo to explore the notion of the journey. I felt it was best that the space remain open so that each viewer had the opportunity to imagine themselves on that (metaphorical) path.

I waited and, just as the last of the walkers left the path, I was able to make the photo. My patience was rewarded and I feel the photo is so much better for it. 

Sometimes, like during my hike across the top of Huangshan (i.e., Yellow Mountain) in China, you have to look beyond your current circustances to see the path ahead, the way through.

Barrier Or Road Ahead - You Choose

In the greater scheme of things we frequently find ourselves at a metaphorical fork in the road. The problem is, rather than seeing different options for the way ahead, we see a moat and/or a castle wall impeding our progress.

There are still times when I become negative, frustrated or angry when traveling. Usually it’s at times of significant fatigue, particularly when I know I’m being lied to. What I’m learning to do is to separate myself from the event and, thereby, have more control over how I respond to it.

A Way Out of Anxiety, Anger and Stress

Let me share with you a technique I learned a few years ago, which I don’t always remember to follow. But it works!

Basically you remove yourself from the moment by picturing yourself above your body so that you can look down on the scene unfolding below. In doing so you have separated yourself from your physical body and from the emotions you would otherwise be feeling.

The event unfolding is quickly diminished in importance (if not, pull back a little further so that everyone looks smaller and less significant) and it’s then so much easier not to become a slave to your emotions.

Their power over you is diminished, as to are the debilitating affects they might otherwise have on your well-being and the way you relate to others. 

What this technique does is allows you to determine what meaning you choose to attach to a particular moment or event. After all the castle wall or moat was a metaphor, not a physical structure.

Embrace Uncertainty

Next time you come to a fork in the road, where a choice must be made, you might choose to conceive of it as a path to freedom, to adventure and to new beginnings. And remember to trust your intuition. That’s your right brain talking to you.

A scattering of snow, on and around the mountain trail, on Huangshan (Yellow Mountain), China.

We Create Our Own Reality

I believe we make our own reality. Not, necessarily, what happens to us. I’m talking about what we decide to make out of whatever happens to us. And I think that’s a really critical point of difference that’s worth thinking on. Will you do that for me?

I’d like your own story to be joyful and happy. I’d love it if you were able to create a life for yourself that brought joy and happiness to those around you and impacted upon the world in a positive way. I feel the best way we can all achieve this goal is as follows:

Heal Yourself, Heal the World.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru