The moment you pick up a camera there are decisions to be made. As a photographer you spend minutes, hours and years learning the basics, developing your experience and finding your voice. Throughout this process decision making is central and yet often our favourite photos are taken instinctively, when the decision to press the shutter at the decisive moment, is seemingly taken for us. Let me explain.
The Wedding Photo
I’ll start with a photo. A while back, whilst working as a wedding photographer, I had to complete the formal photos in a hotel bedroom. I had just managed to squeeze in the bride and groom photos after the ceremony before the rains, whipped along by a strong wind, drove us all inside.
The hotel offered us an empty hotel bedroom. A pretty sterile environment, but at least it was dry. I remember opening all the blinds, turning on all the lights and noting that I could bounce flash off the white ceiling to at least get some half decent lighting. This was my least favourite part of the event and it was not quite what I had hoped for.
However, the decision making was straight forward. After having sorted the light I chose a mid range aperture and appropriate ISO to ensure I would get a shutter speed of 1/100. I was ready. Then all I had to do was arrange the guests in their chosen groups and take the photos.
At some stage during the movement from one group to another I took the photo below. I had no recollection of taking the photo, of composing it or changing anything on the camera. When I first saw it after scanning through the photos taken I laughed. ‘When did that happen?’ I thought. I had taken the photo on instinct. You could say, ‘I was in the zone.’
Getting out of the way
As photographers we are in the zone when we are able to apply everything we know, see all the opportunities and create fantastic photos intuitively. Such moments are rare, but we know that they are the product of both hard work, study and practice, and an ability to relax into the moment. To let go of our attachment to the outcome and to allow ourselves to get out of the way, so that the decisions are taken on an almost sub-conscious level.
Trying to make this happen rarely works. I imagine that masters of their craft experience it more often. However, I have many more hours practice before I reach that position. Malcom Gladwell in his book Outliers, suggests that mastery of any skill takes at least 10,000 hours practice. That seems a way off. If I practiced for 2 hours a day, every day it would take nearly 14 years. Ah well, I shall just keep at it, enjoying the journey and maybe along the way such moments will occur with increasing regularity.