Monday, January 14, 2008

slowing down


It often takes me a while to slow down when I start photographing a scene. This weekend we did a flying visit to Zion national park. I flew out to Las Vegas late on Thursday evening and spent the night there, catching up with Amanda, who'd been working at the Consumer Electronics Show. We stayed the night in Vegas then drove out to Zion early on the Friday morning. I was surprised how quickly we got there - it is only about two and a half hours drive from Las Vegas to Springdale in Utah, which is right at the entrance to the park. We stayed at the Red Rock Inn in Springdale. It is in a great location, about 10 minutes drive from the park entrance. The rooms were good and clean and the price was pretty good too. Recommended if you need somewhere to stay in the area. I knew we only had a day and a half in the park, so I was keen to get going. I'd brought a few lenses and tripod and wanted to do some photography as well as hiking the trails. We headed in and drove along the Zion canyon access road - marveling at the amazing colours of the rock and the dramatic cliff faces on either side. It had snowed about a week earlier and there was still patches in the shaded areas on the canyon walls and floor. The Virgin River flows along side the road for most of the way and I kept wanting to stop and shoot reflections of light in the water. Our first real stop was the river walk trail, at the far end of the canyon. We walked in about half a mile and reached a 'trail closed' sign, due to falling ice. I tried shooting a bit, but always felt hurried. Partly because I knew Amanda was waiting on me but mainly because I kept feeling like I was missing something else, somewhere else. Amanda was very patient, but still I felt rushed. My mind kept wanting to jump forward to the next photo op, or worrying about where to be for sunset. Or trying to think where would be a good option for sunrise the next day. Or what it would be like in Autumn. It had been non-stop travel for me from Thursday afternoon to Friday afternoon and I think I was still mentally moving on, all the time. I took a few shots that I actually quite like, but never felt I could really settle in and be present in the moment. I felt the same way the next morning at sunrise - I was in a good location with some fairly uneventful skies, but I kept wanting to be somewhere else, worrying that I was missing a good opportunity further down the trail or over the next hill. I know the opportunities where there in front of me too, but I couldn't seem to bring my attention to where I was - time pressure, location anxiety, combined to give lack of attention. Finally on Saturday afternoon I managed to slow myself down and just enjoy where I was. I sat and looked for a while, enjoyed the view, spent a bit of quiet time on my own, shooting and thinking. We hiked the hidden canyon and emerald pools trails in the morning and had a lovely lunch on a log by the river. Then that afternoon we drove out through the East side of the park in the higher country and I walked off onto the rocks and shot, while Amanda read a book. The sun was warm and the skies were dramatically blue. There were lots of interesting patterns and swirls in the rock and I started to be more present in the moment. It always takes me a day or two to really start getting to grips with being in a location - so having the trip last a day and a half was a challenge to get back to landscape photography. In particular, I seem to get more ideas after looking at shots about how I want to approach it the next time. I find I have to revisit the same subjects a couple of times before I can really start to get the shots I want. Perhaps there is some amount of previsualisation I can work on to help get there more quickly, but even then I think I can create more compelling images with multiple attempts at a subject. That seems true for all my photography, not just these grand landscapes. In part that's why I think projects are such a good idea for improving photography. Coming to the same subject over time allows your approach to it to mature and lets you explore it more deeply. Constantly jumping from subject to subject can only really let you show a superficial aspect of it. People, National Parks, flowers; all the same, all benefit from longer term study and shooting. Zion is a beautiful place and we both had a great time hiking there. I hope to go back and spend a bit more time trying to photograph it. I happened to read a great piece of writing today about finding serenity and calm. It really struck a chord with me and my rush around Zion. What do you find works for you to make you slow down and be in the moment ?


TJ Avery said...

> "What do you find works for you to make you slow down and be in the moment?"

I enjoyed your Zion story because it was very similar to my first trip to Zion. My wife and I spent about 48 hours in the park in 2006. It was a short visit, way too brief, IMO :-)

Slowing down and getting into the "zone", or proper mood for enjoying and photographing the landscape, is difficult for me too. I find that it takes about a full day to un-wind and shake off the "I've got to get from point A to B as fast as possible" feelings. I live in Houston, so it's rush-rush-rush all the time, or so it seems.

I don't know what works. Each trip I take seems to suffer the same effect: I'm stressed and rushing until about 24 hours after arriving, then life just slows down automatically. For whatever reason, it takes those 24 hours (give or take) of being out in nature and absorbing the beautiful landscapes to melt away the residual stress from my "normal" life.

It also makes me realize how rushed and stressed I am living in the city. It's a little depressing to see that contrast, and I start to feel like I'm deprived of something when I'm not visiting a national park or the like.

Maybe the right answer is to move out to a small town (like Springdale) where you can enjoy that type of scenery on a daily basis. Or maybe that's just fantasy :-)

p.s. Your Zion photos are great! I love the focus on the details. When I see Zion photos, they are usually the grand-landscape-type of scenes. Your photos seem to say, "slow down" so that you can enjoy those wonderful details that are characteristic of the park :-)

Gordon said...

Hi TJ - thanks for posting. I think you are right - we just have to be in that environment and let it sink in.

In fact, wanting to accelerate that process of slowing down, seems on reflection, to be exactly the wrong idea! I wonder now about just not taking the camera along on the first day. Go out, experience, think, listen, connect to the place. The camera might actually be a barrier to seeing and experiencing in that first day. You might miss pictures but we always miss pictures. But we might connect more deeply and see more clearly because of that time out from behind the camera, slowing down.

TJ Avery said...

Yeh, "Hurry up and calm down!" :-)

Good points there. It would be difficult to go camera-less because of the anxiety of wanting to photograph something interesting we just saw. But I think you're right - it might just allow a better and faster way of connecting to the landscape.

The other issue for me is that time "in the field" is limited and special. I don't often get to a nice, remote location and then have time for photography. One day or even several hours would eat a good percentage of my total shooting time.

Oh well, we just need more time in the field! :-)

Bob Towery said...

This is a really great post, and I know just what you mean. (although you do need some paragraphs in there.)

I guess what works for me (sometimes anyway) is when I arrive at a place, whether driving or walking, set all the camera gear down and just soak it in. Don't think about iso and all of that. Walk up and back, bend down, turn around. Try to listen to what the place is telling you.

Great images are everywhere, the difficulty is finding them!