The legendary golfer, Jack Nicklaus is supposed to have said: “Golf is 90% mental.” So, you are asking yourself, what does golf (a sport I normally have no interest in) have to do with photography, the pursuit that I love? More than I ever thought, actually.
I was having an email exchange with a friend about his photography. I was, in essence, “coaching” him through a creative block he was encountering as he was working on a photography project. The details of what he was working on are not important but the process we went through is instructive since it applies to all photographers.
He is by training a psychotherapist and was once a serious golfer. He wrote to me describing how he was having trouble loosening up to photograph. I wrote him back:
“As for photographing, this means you are trying to hard when write me that you are mentally ‘blocking about ideas to work on.’ You are being too goal oriented! Try walking around and just taking in the visual stimulus. The first thing, very first thing you react to, photograph it. A LOT. Think less. React more.”
He immediately replied:
“That advice is crucial for psychotherapists and tournament golfers as well as photographers.”
Then he continued with a discussion about how the best psychotherapists, golfers and photographers spend little time on the job thinking about the mechanics of their profession. He explained that great golfers, for example, practice their swing so much that it becomes intuitive.
That sounds familiar in terms of photographers knowing their gear intuitively so out in the field they can “just do it.” The pro golfer may analyze his or her swing before and after, but they never try to correct their swings on the course. They refine it over and over in practice till it becomes intuitive because they know thinking about their swing ruins it. The same thing is true for the best photographers.
So how do I keep in practice as a photographer? Like a golfer, I may not get to play (photograph) as often as I would like to. Similarly, most of my photography comes in short but intense bursts, when I am photographing on assignment, during a workshop or on a self-assigned stock photography shoot.
During those brief periods:
• I try to stay in practice by doing a lot of photography, making many variations of the same image, as I experiment with different techniques including varying my positions, lenses and points of focus.
• As my students and assistants know, I work very long hours, starting to work at sunrise and photographing through sunset. In the best situations, I try to look at my work at mid-day, so I can evaluate that day’s efforts.
• I have pared my gear down to the minimum, using what I know works and leaving the rest behind. I do not carry a lot of things “just in case I might need them,” because they slow me down in terms of weight and volume that I have to carry.
• I tend to stick to gear that I know works for me. I am very slow to add new cameras or lenses to my working set-up because it takes so long for me to become intuitive in using that new gear.
The business of selling photography gear, like selling golf equipment, is enormous. If you search on-line, you will see that coaching people through the mental part of golf is also a big business. I think that is because most golfers understand that it is the golfer not the gear that makes the successful player. I sure wish more photographers would appreciate how that is also true in photography. It would vastly improve their photography (and might open up a new market for photography “coaches.”)