Tag Archives: reflective

Golfers and caddies in late afternoon light.

10 Things a Photog Can Learn from Golfers

I’m back in the swing of things.

The other day, with all the Royal Wedding stuff going on online, I decided to take the day off from all things electronic. I went to the golf driving range instead, to hit balls for the first time since being caught up in a whirlwind 18 months of photography taking up all my time.

Getting back into golf, at least into hitting golf balls, was exhilarating. After about 20 balls, muscle memory took over, and I started hitting with some 80 percent accuracy. It was a great feeling, but also got me thinking about how similar my two passions are: photography is not that different from golf. Here’s why.

1. You have to banish fear.

Taking risks and not being afraid to experiment is something golf has in common with photography. If you approach a shot with fear, the fear paralyzes your creativity. You become plagued with the “what ifs”—what if I have the wrong lens? What if I should be at a different vantage point, what if the way I go about this shot is all wrong?

Entertaining all these disturbing thoughts do just that—disturb your concentration, make you stumble over the technicalities, and render a poor shot. Banishing fear, and trusting your skills, gives you more chances of success, because you’re focusing on the positive things that will happen as you take the shot.

reflection of golf driving range on steel golf clubs

Use your other hobbies to reflect on your craft, and learn something new. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

2. You have to trust the hours of practice.

At the moment of truth, taking the shot, you have to trust that the hours you’ve spent practicing have schooled your muscles and your mind to all that you needed to do before you take that shot. Again, doubt will only get in the way. So, trust that your hands know what to do. Trust the hours spent practicing. This helps you relax, and your body can better obey the thought you have as you take the shot.

3. Unclutter your thoughts.

In golf, thinking about too many things when you take the shot interferes with your body’s ability to perform at an optimum, relaxed level. I believe it’s the same with all activity, including photography. Removing the obstacles mentally by focusing only on the task at hand, helps your body to perform the necessary skills to get a shot. Clearing your mind and focusing only on allowing your hands to perform the necessary actions to get the shot you want.

4. Visualize success, then work toward it.

I spend a few seconds before starting my golf swing, to visualize how the ball will travel and where it will land. I pretend my eyes are looking through 400mm lens, and aim my swing toward a single blade of grass in the distance. This sort of visualization is not a new thing; athletes practice it, and I think photographers should, too. Visualization is a proven way of mandating success in the way your body responds to a challenge. Visualizing a shot before you start the process in taking that shot will only add to the possibility of brilliance once it is executed.

5. Be patient.

Golf takes a few hours. You’re always playing with other people, and every one takes their turn to make shots. Photography demands this kind of patience. Waiting for light or an expressive moment is one of the skills photographers have to practice. Honing this patience helps you to appreciate the moment when it arrives. This patience also often gets rewarded; whether you are patient with yourself as a person learning photography, or patient with waiting for the right moment, your shots will show the value of patience in the results.

6. Accept the mistakes, and learn from them.

Who hasn’t made a bad exposure, especially in the early days of learning this craft? Accepting that learning is a process is the best gift you can give yourself as you learn how to take good shots. Mistakes are more memorable than never making one, so you need to accept them as learning opportunities, and a way for the technique to reveal itself to you.

Often in golf, people come back because of that one good shot that felt like a hot knife cutting through butter—what we call a ‘pure shot.’

This purity can be part of your photography, too. From your mistakes, you will learn how to make that super shot. And when it happens, you will feel so good you’ll always want to take that walk, simply for the chance to make a good shot.

7. Invest time in practice.

Yes, reading about photography and watching videos are great ways to learn about it. But nothing beats doing it. Investing time to practice your skills allows you to discover, to feed your passion, and to find joy in making good shots.

8. Use all your senses.

Photography is a visual activity—but it isn’t only that. One of the best ways to learn and love something is to saturate yourself in it.

In golf, it means being able to use more than just the visual to help you make a good shot. Feeling the wind direction and strength. Feeling the weight of the clubhead in your hands. Listening to the sound of a good shot versus a bad shot.

You know how you can tell if your shutter is dragging? You don’t have to look at the shutter speed to tell you that. And paying attention to the entire sensory environment can help you make an image with ethos—the feeling of how it was being there, in the midst of that scene. If you can translate all the sensory information into a visual image, you can make images that transcend time and reach into the human experience.

9. Celebrate the good shots.

Celebrating the good shots in golf gives the golfer a memory of something good—and what it holds is a possibility for next time. This positive memory holds in it the power to make you perform at an optimal level, again.

It is so easy to remember the bad ones—those shots that made you cringe. But it is a great motivator to remember the good ones. These are the ones that will keep you coming back, keep you learning, and ultimately, help you become better.

Golfers and caddies in late afternoon light.

Can you see the caddies in bright pink? Copyright Aloha Lavina.

10. It’s the journey, not the destination.

Remembering that photography, like golf, is a process or a journey will help you to continue taking the challenge of making good shots. Focusing on the shot at hand, you give yourself more opportunity to swing into the flow, and you might find that the result you’ve always wanted will take care of itself.

Photography is my passion and golf is my metaphor, what’s yours?

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A few hours before the first snowfall, Paro, Bhutan.

Photography Doesn’t Fix Everything

for Jodi

I reread this post, about long term travel not being able to fix everything, over at Legalnomads, and thought, that sounds familiar. Last summer I took two months to travel to Burma and then Bali, thinking I needed to get away for some quiet time. Travel for me is a way to get inside my head and de-clutter; I wrote to Jodi the other day, I travel “to get away from my nine to five when it becomes too loud with worry that I can’t hear myself.”

I go away to listen, to remove the white noise that is other people’s needs, and find the voice that’s mine. I need very little really, to be happy, just a lot of silence and space, time to make photographs and write. But sometimes, I get caught up in work that is separate from my passion; more and more of this dislodges me from myself, and I float, an untethered balloon full of nothingness.

That’s when I want to get away. Being away brings a new reality. It reminds me of very early memories when every thing I learned seemed momentous, bright and shiny things I could gather and hold close to examine.

I’m not a sophisticated traveler. I don’t have the brave body of someone who climbs volcanoes or rides on rooftops of buses. Yes, I’ve been stuck in Europe because of an ashcloud, but hey, I was in Paris. Being stuck in Paris did not make me suffer. True, I was caught in a flashflood in the Philippines, but I was ten or eleven years old; it was an adventure full of floating refrigerators, bamboo rafts afloat above city streets, and ignorance about water born diseases. And yes, I live in Bangkok, the center of several coups d’etat and colorful politics. But last May, the closest I got to the burning of Bangkok was through Twitter apart from the days when the redshirts were still partying at Rachadamnoen. No, I’m not the Indiana Jones type of traveler.

What I do have, though, is a camera. I lug sixteen kilograms of equipment across all sorts of terrain, and I build my travel day around making photos. When I’m with my camera, composing images that tell stories of places, nothing can touch me. Words cease. You could speak a whole dissertation to me and think I am the rudest companion; the act of making an image fills me, engages me beyond any other experience.

This is flow, a state when a person is so engaged in something that time and space seem to disappear.

The problem is, you can’t stay in flow indefinitely. When I return to reality, I realize a few things.

Cold and dusty in Phobjikha Valley, Bhutan.

1.     Not everything is beautiful.

With the camera in front of my face, everything is a matter of design. The chaos of lines can be organized into a composition using other things, like point of view, values of light and dark, framing. As a photographer, I can move and things get a little bit more harmonious in the frame. Not so in life. Moving around a problem, I can’t recompose a better image, I only postpone dealing with a mess. I can’t freeze moments that are beautiful and take them out when things get ugly.

2.     Light doesn’t change the way things are, just the way they look.

If the light is bad one day, I can always pack up and go somewhere else, then go back to the landscape when the light is ‘right.’ But in life, things don’t always look better in the morning light, or at sundown. Sometimes things look the same for days, weeks.

A few hours before the first snowfall, Paro, Bhutan.

3.     You can’t Photoshop it out.

In Photoshop there’s a Clone Tool, and it helps the photographer get rid of distracting spots and other things in the image. You just sample one area of the photo, then click over the area you want gone.  If only it were that easy for the little things that distract us in our lives. Countless times I’ve wished for a clone tool to stamp out the little demands that keep me away from my photography.

The closest I’ve come to complete irresponsibility is traveling, especially alone. I love to wake up earlier than the sun, feel the nip of dawn air as I hurry out to Kusumba to catch the sun rising over the fishing village. There is no schedule, there are only images to make, people to study, expressions to savor through a viewfinder.

4.     You can’t just crop.

Similarly, I can’t just crop. Things in my life crowd into my focal point and want to be in the line of sight. No matter how messy, how utterly unphotogenic something is, life doesn’t have selective framing. Unwanted elements seem to find their way into the experience, and I just have to deal with them.

Holding down the roof with stones, Punakha, Bhutan.

5.     Your batteries run out at some point.

Nothing frustrates a photographer more than being unprepared with extra batteries, and there’re lots of pictures left to make. On very good days, I shoot thousands of photos and have to change the camera battery once or twice (especially with the early digital Nikons, whose batteries lasted less than a thousand shutter clicks when I used a Vibration Reduction lens on them).

I work a lot, seven days a week, sometimes 18 hours a day. I have to; if I don’t I can’t do this photography thing and the other things I have to do. So I plod along, and most of the time, I get enough sleep and have time to watch a movie or read a book from cover to cover, for pleasure.

Other times, I feel like I’m standing on a barbed wire fence, looking out over a vague landscape, and although my hands hurt from clinging to the barbed wire, I can’t let go or I’ll fall off.

Hanging on a barbed wire fence, near Thimphu, Bhutan.

It’s not that I’m into self-inflicted pain though others would argue; I just have obligations to fulfill, and I also have a passion that feeds my soul. I cannot run out of batteries, because I must always find strength for one or the other.

When I wrote to Jodi the other day, I said, “the Balinese are so talented at balance, and that was something you needed, and something I craved. So here you are again, ready for more surprises. I hope the basket stays on the head, even when you’re dancing.”

Maybe I was also talking to myself.




A man stares out of a wooden temple near Nyaung Shwe, Myanmar. Photo by Aloha Lavina

I travel so I can collect you

I travel so that I can collect you. Like a book of old stamps, the photos I have taken and the journal entries I’ve scribbled in the pages bearing coffee rings and beer stains flip through

A man stares out of a wooden temple near Nyaung Shwe, Myanmar. Photo by Aloha Lavina

my days of being a vulture–a traveler who collects days not mine.

I gawk at you and take your photo, and in the night when I am sweating underneath a fan too slow, under itchy blankets, under the hypnotic howling of street dogs and strange snorers, I thank God I am only here for a few weeks.

I will Tweet about you and blog your life which makes for great soundbites and compelling writing. It has been getting harder and harder to find thrills. People come to my blog and seek vicarious thrills because it has been getting harder and harder to find that shock, that moment when revelations intersect with vivid disgust or awe.

So here I am, ensconced in your life, for a moment. I will collect you, and what better thrill than living someone else’s life for a few weeks, knowing that soon, soon I can go home?

Woman and red umbrella, Mandalay Myanmar. (c) Aloha Lavina.

John’s Mirror

Woman and red umbrella, Mandalay Myanmar. (c) Aloha Lavina.

“She’s not that nice, but she is quite interesting,” says John, introducing me to a girl he knew who wanted to be a model. He is kidding. Of course. She has asked me if we can collaborate on her portfolio, and I right away say I didn’t have time; I am leaving for Myanmar in a few days. John catches the end of the conversation, and shaking my hand, turns to the girl and adds his joke.

The girl does not know what to do, so she smiles and asks for my business card. As I hand it over to her, I force a smile, but John’s introduction has left me thinking. I am already drifting away from the sangria and Coronas with lime, floating away from the cheese quesadilla which begins to cool and coagulate into an unappetizing mass on my plastic basket at La Monita. The traveler who’s been in Bangkok for 10 days sitting beside me on the picnic style table speaks, and I can see her mouth but cannot really hear all that she’s saying.

Myanmar sounds so silent when I retrieve it in my head. In 2007 I went with five other photographers, in the heat of the Southeast Asian summer. In those days, the names meant nothing to me. I followed everyone into the car every day, and when we piled out, I was already taking the lens cap off and framing someone else’s moments so I could take them home and call them my own. The names meant nothing—where we were, what the people were called, why they wore different headscarves. All they were to me were images.

I remember no names, no locations. When I recall Myanmar, I am struck by beauty and gestalt sensations of vivid light and rich pattern. I experienced the country as an unfolding design: elements of it appeared in small bits every day, until each lyrical surprise became a stunning, vague tapestry.

Leading Lines
In the weaver’s workshop on Inle Lake a woman wove a lungi, a man’s sarong that Burmese men wear, out of 2172 threads. In the low light, her hands repeated the same gesture over and over until before her spanned hours of red. At some point she added a smattering of yellow. As the burgundy wrap grew, the small and seemingly inconsequential yellow line led her eye to itself again and again, and once more, until she finished the fabric. I thought of how her life must be, this woman of Myanmar. Finite lines governed her life. Those lines led her from the early morning when she careful brushes tanaka on her cheeks, to the midday laundry at the riverbank, to the evening when she fetches water for the teapot and soups Burmese love to eat. Night fell. Every day, the shuttle moved from one end of the loom to the other without fail—until the fabric was finished at last, a precise and unfaltering sea of sameness with the one bright yellow thread trapped amidst the red.

Repetition with Variation
When we went to the market in Yangon, all the women had flowers in their hair. It was their New Year’s Day, and the women commemorated another year, another auspicious wish. One of them painted her lips and she cradled a basket of lemons as her eyes darted around in anticipation. Perhaps it would arrive that day, her future. No one knew what hid behind her slight smile, and it was the perhapses and the maybes that moved her hand quicker than usual at a glance from someone.

The flowers in her hair came loose and a strand of hair floated and tickled the air. It was an unexpected and wonderful disorder, and perhaps someone came closer to her, wanting to put the flowers back in place, and tuck away the stubborn strand of hair. Instead people stood around, and I watched her arrange the lemons in her basket. She looked at me, she looked away. I began to leave, hoping that she sold her lemons before they soured, and putting down the telephoto focus on the one woman, my vision widened to take in the hundreds of them in the market place. Each voice, each gesture, each life combined in a cacophony of anticipation. I realized I could not give any thing to every one. Humbled and helpless I stared at the flowers in their hair, glinting in the ripening light like so many small and bright wishes.

The men were fascinating, less conspicuous. They did not wear tanaka. They were gradations of white shirt and lungi. It was almost like they did not want to be noticed and strove for sameness. It was in their stories that I heard the levels of separation. In a society where everyone is encouraged to be a straight line, a slight syncopation attracts the mind’s eye.

The one man lived in the Mingun Home for the Aged. Everything, down to the cheapest plastic toothbrush, depended upon the generosity of donors. Yet he dressed meticulously every day. He cleaned his face and feet. He buttoned his faded green tunic so the collar was neat. His lungi was precisely tied. Every day he walked around the compound, hands folded behind his back, or sat on a chair in the courtyard and prayed with a string of beads. Like the prayer beads, his life revolved around uniformity and predictability, although a visitor only needed to look at the half-empty donation box to realize that his life was entirely variable.

It took only an instant to erase my pity. I emptied an envelope of kyats into the donation box and wished I had more to give. When again my eyes glanced at him, he gave me a slight respectful nod, and I watched him walk and pray, the picture of dignity in a faded green tunic.

There was also the man at the Inle Lake temple with the sack of discarded food. His children surrounded him, clutching old bread in their tiny, dusty fingers. I was the one who looked away from his gaze. A man should never have to beg in front of his children. In this too, there was a dignity I needed to learn.

I discovered studies in contrast. The design demanded an understanding that there was no running water in the floating villages on Inle Lake, but that every other house had a satellite dish. Transportation on the lake was the sampan, a flat one-piece boat made of hard wood. This nimble taxi is traditionally carved by hand and burn-polished to a black finish. Some of the sampans I saw sported smart new Johnson’s outboard motors.

There was the soldier and the monk.

On the way back from Heho to Yangon, two soldiers and one monk boarded our flight during the stop in Mandalay. Twenty minutes in the air, we encountered severe turbulence; the air hostess who was standing as the air pocket hit flew one foot above the floor and banged her head on the aircraft ceiling; people screamed. As the plane rattled in the electrical storm, the soldiers held on to their hand phones. The monk reached for his prayer fan and prayed.

Like a slowly spinning prayer wheel, the patterns from Myanmar churn as I think of returning. And when John puts up a mirror in front of me with his comment, I see myself for the traveler that I was. Did I really go just to collect photos, to collect experiences? Did I lie at night in Yangon sweating under an itchy blanket, and irritated, wished for home? What do I know except how to say mingalaba, hello in Burmese?

I did not even know how to say thank you.