Are You Paying Attention?
Years ago, I used to think there was an outside force which would help me get better at my craft. Call it what you willâ€”a muse, a mentorâ€”it seemed to me to be all-powerful and decisive. It would sweep my photographic self off her feet and fly her to a level from where I could make grand leaps in skill and artistry. I waited for this entity with a stash of If Onlyâ€™s stuffed in my camera bag with the rest of the gear.
If Only a photographer more knowledgeable than I would take me under her wing.
If Only I had that dudeâ€™s camera and lens I would make a better picture.
If Only I had more time, I could be brilliant.
If Only I bought this or that gadget I would create stunning stuff.
If Only. If Only. If Only.
It wasnâ€™t until I stopped listening to the If Onlyâ€™s that I finally could leave the plateau I was perched on and start climbing new peaks.
The key was to use both eyes.
Iâ€™m not talking about squinting with the one eye that is not looking through the viewfinder and finally opening it while taking photos. Iâ€™m talking about opening the physical eye, the one that is looking out at the physical world, and opening the inner eye, the one that examines what it is I mean to say with those photos.
The breakthrough was not another workshop, another piece of gear, another trip to some exotic place.
The breakthrough was the realization that the source of those leaps I could make with artistry and skill were within me.Â I really wasnâ€™t paying attention. I was waiting for an external force to change how I see, when all I had to do was lose the anticipation for some artistic liberator, and free myself to an attentiveness to what was around me.
Cartier-Bresson once said, â€œYou just have to live life, and life will give you pictures.â€ I found out, when I started paying attention, that if youâ€™re interested, life becomes more interesting, and so do the photos.
There is no easy, comfortable place to sit and wait for good photos to happen. There is only the hard climb, paying attention every step of the way, and learning. Learning is about change, so itâ€™s never really easy. But what this hard work does is that it gives you the focus you need to receive what comes when you pay attention.
And usually, that means seeing something remarkable.
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