Do you ever feel a sense of pressure or anxiety when you set out to photograph something?
Perhaps you are shooting for a client, or perhaps you are shooting for yourself, but with expectations around what you hope to capture. I am primarily a fine art photographer, so I generally fall in the latter category and it’s not uncommon for me to have something in particular I feel very invested in capturing.
The last few years I have been falling in love with underwater photography. I don’t live in a tropical location so I must wait patiently for the next family vacation to a warm destination, all the while dreaming of “the shot” I’m dying to capture. It’s tricky business to put that kind of pressure on my family vacations. I have found myself having some very intense moments when I have a plan in my head for a shot (a certain light, a perfect location!) but the interests of my family don’t align. A few too many times, I pushed aside the needs of my family and I got the shot anyway, but I inevitably regretted it afterwards. It felt wrong to create beautiful art while being unpleasant to my family.
And so, last December during our annual trip to Hawaii, I made a conscious mental shift in how I approach all of it. Leaning heavily on the tools I have been practicing with meditation, I decided to completely change my energy around inspiration, creativity and making art. I began by taking some time in my morning meditation practice to ask the universe to put me — happily and calmly — in the path of the shot I am supposed to get, whenever that may be, whether it’s the shot in my head or not. I’ll show up with my camera, and you, Universe, can have your way with me. It was a new mode of thinking for me because I am used to controlling everything, and this shift required me to release; and yet it immediately felt as if a heavy burden was lifted.
I went about my days playing with my children and their friends in the water, camera at the ready. But this time, instead of fighting the obstacles that inevitably presented themselves (someone is hungry/tired/grumpy at the very moment the waves are epic, the light perfect!), I yielded. My humans needed me. So I put my camera down, releasing any intensity around my thwarted expectations, and allowed myself to savor these people with whom I am so grateful to be in paradise. It felt good to let go of self-imposed expectations, and it was easier and more freeing than I could have ever imagined.
Over time, as I got the hang of this new, lighter way of being, my need to control gave way to gratitude, joy, ease and happiness. And can you guess what those beautiful feelings attract? They attract only good things, because when we live in the space of higher vibrations, we beckon forth more of the same. Like attracts like.
Here is an example. This first image was taken in 2015 in Maui. It’s not a shot I intended to take, but as I was snorkeling at Black Rock with my son I noticed a young man about to jump from the cliff. I dove down and fired off several shots. Later when I looked over my images, I realized I loved that the young man’s body is hidden in a cloud of bubbles with just his lower legs visible. I was captivated by the dreamy quality and the mystery. In the months following the trip, I worked on this image in the digital printing lab. I had some success printing it in black and white but I regretted that my ISO had been so high and that you can’t see both of his feet clearly. It was a good enough print but I knew I could do better. I began to formulate a plan to spend time at Black Rock the next year with the specific intention of capturing the jumpers as they landed in the water. This time I would be ready. I would have my camera settings just right and a new, wider lens to capture more of the scene. I would allow myself lots of time so I could capture many different jumpers thus improving my chances of getting the image in I had in mind — a giant cloud of bubbles with legs descending from beneath.
Now here is the part where my new mindset came in very handy. We had several thwarted attempts to return to Black Rock on our trip to Maui the next year. Every time I had it in my head that “today will be the day”, the kids had other ideas. This is just the sort of obstacle I would have once railed against and fought to overcome but my new mindset really helped me stay open and relaxed.
One day, we got very close to going to Black Rock with several other families. The plan was for the group to have a quick lunch together at a spot along the walk to Black Rock and then continue on to our destination for an afternoon of snorkeling. I lugged my heavy gear all the way to the restaurant, but after a long and lovely lunch, the group’s enthusiasm faded. Storm clouds had rolled in and no one felt much like snorkeling. So, I hoisted my gear back on my shoulder and made my way to the hotel feeling, well, ease and calm. I took a few seconds to notice the new me, releasing and allowing, trusting that I will be in the path of the shot I am supposed to get.
As our group approached the hotel, we noticed the storm had created some exciting waves in the surf just in front of our hotel. The air was cold and windy, but the kids discovered that the water felt warm by comparison and one by one they started playing in the waves. Before long the adults decided to partake as well. Although it was not at all what I had planned to do that day, I loaded my camera in the underwater housing and joined the group. The waves were intense, and as we body surfed, I swam from person to person releasing the shutter. In such conditions, it’s next to impossible to know what you are capturing. You can’t adequately see the LCD screen or know for sure what you are focusing on. You can only put yourself in the path of something, hold the camera steady, and shoot. Release expectations, release control, release the shutter.
After an hour of this, feeling tired yet satiated, my family and I left the beach and returned to our hotel room. I had no idea whether I had captured anything of merit but I was grateful for an afternoon of unabashed joy with my family and friends.
It was during that hour of play that I captured this image of my husband, his legs descending from a cloud of bubbles, just like my fantasy. It didn’t happen in the location I had planned and it wasn’t cliff jumpers landing in the water. The truth is, if I had held onto that rigid idea, I never would have been on that beach, in those waves, at this moment. By releasing control and embracing joy and spontaneity, I captured something far better than my human mind could conceive of. This photograph Inside The Wave is now a fine art print that has gone on to be featured in fine art magazines, win awards, and is represented by a gallery in Seattle. More surprises from the Universe that I gratefully embrace.
It is never easy to let go and put yourself in the hands of a higher power like this, especially when you have placed undue pressure upon yourself to create that perfect shot. The rewards, however, for those willing to open themselves up can be truly amazing.
In a few days time, my family and I will leave for the Amalfi Coast in Italy for a much-anticipated European vacation. I will be packing my very laborious underwater equipment with me. But this time, the only heaviness will be the equipment, not my mindset. I will simply put myself in the path. The Universe will do the heavy lifting.