How Do I Think of This Stuff?


When I first joined the Silicon Valley crowd in 1980, not too long after that I started an annual ritual (trust me, this has implications on your photography, but let me roll the story my way). That ritual was to disappear into the woods for as much time as possible once a year. Away from news, the TV, the telephone, the fax (you remember, them, right?). Basically get as far from civilization as I could and just enjoy myself.

I didn't think about the products I was working on or the micro-decisions that I needed to make about them when I was on these excursions. Instead, I just allowed my brain to tackle "the big picture." In point of fact, I tended to let my subconscious mind tackle that, not tie up my aware mind. My aware mind was drinking in the landscape and taking photographs. 

I always came back from these trips refreshed and learned to accept the processed results from my subconscious. It's amazing what our brains can do if we let them, but we seem to like to tie them up with lots of trivial jobs so that they can never get to the big problems. 

It was on one of those trips (to the Galapagos) that I had one of those super epiphany moments. After 10 days of sailing around a stunning place and early in the morning after the most incredible New Year's party I've ever encountered (another story for another day), I was standing on the deck of the boat watching a full moon come up over one of the most beautiful landscapes in the islands when my brain went: incoming messages from the Big Giant Head. Sure enough, my subconscious brain had been chewing on a lot of problems, and it solved five of them in seconds, all big. Bye bye girlfriend, bye bye book manuscript, bye bye columns in MacUser, bye bye presidency of the company I had started, hello new opportunity.

That happens if you let it, and every one of those decisions was the right one. 

These days, I still try to find a couple weeks a year where I'm off mostly by myself and also offline (Sorry, Internet Service Can't be Found). It's on trips like that my subconscious mind is thinking about things like the camera industry and where it stands. Imagine what happens when I come back from such a trip and new information comes in that seems to substantiate what my brain told me. That's how some of these industry articles happen.

Now, I said that this has implications on your photography. It does. It's technique time, and I've got a tough one for you: take a vacation, including from photography. 

That's not as easy as it sounds. Taking a vacation, we all do that, though not everyone does it optimally (you really need at least three days to unwind from your everyday life and two days to get prepared for re-entry, so one-week vacations give you almost no relief space; I've seen people come back from one-week vacations more tense than when they left). So, let's plan a nice two week vacation.

Here's the problem: you're going to take your camera and take pictures, aren't you? You've not actually taking a respite from something, you've just replaced one activity (work) with another (photography). Add in a spouse and family that wants lots of your attention, and you're right back in the same position that you were at home: lots to do, lots of demands on your time, no real brain rest. 

Of course, most of you reading this are trying to juggle your work with your hobby (photography) with your life in general. Good luck with that. Not many people can keep that many balls up in the air. 

So you need a break. If you can't take a real vacation without photography, take a vacation from photography. Give yourself two weeks. No looking at photo magazines or Web sites. No picking up a camera. No looking at pictures. No talking to others about photography. No browsing your Lightroom catalog. I mean a full break. No photos, nothing photographic.

At the end of that two weeks I want you to ask yourself one thing before you re-immerse yourself into the imaging world: what did you really miss? What do you really want to do most photographically right now? What camera and lens are you going to pick up and where are you going to rush to take a picture? (Okay, that was three questions, but they're all basically the same question.) Trust your brain's answer--it's been churning on that question without you knowing it, and I'll bet it's the right answer, too.

The watched pot never boils. So stop watching the pot for a couple of weeks. (Bonus points for knowing who wrote the play, The Watched Pot; extra bonus points for knowing the real name of one of the authors; super extra bonus points for knowing my connection to the play.) 

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