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Wandering Around Aimlessly ... On Purpose

After much planning and anticipation, you go somewhere ready to take some pictures. Whether you get good shots or not, do you stop there, or do you look for more? Do go beyond even that and purposely wander around aimlessly for a while?

Whether we're aware of it or not, we are constantly identifying and characterizing what we see. Sometimes we deem things important and pay attention to them. Some things we gauge as unimportant and all but ignore them. It's a matter of filtering. If it seems to fit a purpose or opportunity, or pose a threat, it goes on the interesting list. If not, by definition it gets listed as uninteresting and we pay it only passing interest.

When you're on location with the hope of photographing something in particular, part of the filter that gets applied pertains to that purpose. Simply put, you're looking for something, and paying less attention to what you're not looking for.

This may make perfect sense, but you may never have really thought about the consequences before.

After exhausting the possibilities of what they went somewhere to shoot, some photographers will pack up and leave while others will look for other subjects. I guess those really are the only two options. But even those that fall into the second category typically never completely let go of their plans and ideas. The filter may be loosened or shifted, but not let go of. They may no longer be looking for what they came for, but they are likely now looking for something else.

Letting it all go requires slowing down. Giving up on purpose means no longer looking for something at all but rather just looking at whatever you come across. It means wandering aimlessly and encountering things as they are rather than what you want them to be.

Let go of naming things and categorizing them. Give up on drawing boundaries around your visual impressions as those boundaries are what define the things you see as things. Look at what you find simply as shapes and colors with their edges defined solely in terms of those shapes and colors rather than any meaning they might otherwise have. Everything out there will still be the same, but your relationship to it will change. Encounter things on their own terms rather than the terms and filters you brought with you.

If I go down to Mt. Rainier National Park it can be worthwhile to forget about the mountain and just look at the little things by the side of the trail. On the Pacific coast of the Olympic National Park it can provide an entirely new experience to face away from the ocean and look where others don't. When the sun rises in all its glory on the eastern horizon, there are also fascinating sights to be found in the opposite direction. There's always something new to be discovered when you let go of the customary, the ordinary and the expected.

If you limit yourself to what you planned for you limit yourself to the confines of your planning and what that planning was based on. If your planning was based on what others have already shot you limit yourself to shooting what they did. You may do better at it than they did, but your work will retain a derivative quality. Go and shoot what you planned to, but then let it go and encounter the world afresh. Wander around aimlessly for a while on purpose. It's a great way to engage your own originality.

Date posted: February 10, 2013


Copyright © 2013 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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Seeing What's in Front of You
Seeing Beyond the Apparent

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