I went on a photography retreat a week ago, in a location I had never been to before, with amazing natural features and unique architectural/cultural features as well. It should have been heaven for me. In many ways it was, with the most mind blowing feature being the ability to see the night sky without interference from city light pollution.
But I discovered that when some things are not what you expect, or not particularly pleasant, they can affect your entire outlook on an otherwise “stellar” experience. I didn’t appreciate just how much emotion factors into my photography.
Here’s where I get just a bit whiny and petty. I don’t travel much in the summer, simply because I don’t like the heat. Without going into detail, I experience several unpleasant effects from heat and my overall attitude suffers.
I’m also not my best in the morning, as my friends will attest, and our itinerary included early (very early) mornings, but luckily not requiring me to be very alert or aware since all activities were close by to where we were staying.
This was September, so I thought my struggles with heat would not be a factor. But we unexpectedly had a heat wave during this trip, which in fact typically does happen in September, but was problematic in a setting where there was no option to cool off and where the insect life paralleled the amount of heat and humidity available. I was not a happy camper, and not only didn’t function well awake but also didn’t sleep well. Hence another negative contribution to early morning alertness.
Why share my complaints? It seems the ability to see the world as interesting, to find a composition that tells a story, and do it competently, all depend on one’s state of mind, at least they do for me. Several times I forgot to adjust camera settings that would otherwise be second nature. The photographs should have been some of my best, but sadly many don’t come close.
I also simply didn’t go to some of the planned locations at the planned times, electing to do something else on my own while others went ahead. I actually found the solitude necessary, which is somewhat unfortunate for a trip where the main purpose was to share photography with others.
Through it all, there were emotional highs too. There were moments where the surroundings just grabbed hold of me, and made me stop and stare in amazement. Several times I just stopped shooting and looked around instead. The next shot I took was typically a keeper, and a favourite.
In retrospect, this bouncing back and forth between joy and withdrawal happens on most trips I’ve taken lately, certainly any whose main purpose was photography. I haven’t appreciated that trend until just now.
I wonder how many photographers are subject to the emotions of the moment? I didn’t see much of an impact at all in my travelling companions, either positive or negative, from the surroundings or the situation we were in. I’m sure they enjoyed themselves, but nobody was openly subdued or otherwise effusive in their commentary or in their shooting decisions, from what I could tell.
So what did I learn on this trip? Taking photographs for me is a purely emotional experience. I would make a lousy documentary or archival photographer. Instead, I need to recognize and harness my feelings more, and learn how to turn them into artistic expression – to convey technically what my mind is saying emotionally. No shutting down or retreating, I need to enthusiastically embrace the gloomy and forlorn and make great pictures instead.
I have another retreat in about a week, this time for fall colours in what we call “cottage country”. Fall does typically make me both awestruck and sad, as I watch a green world turn to burning bright colours, then to drab browns and greys. No doubt I’ll stop and stare again, both at the sky and the life changing around me. Hopefully this time I’ll take full advantage of it, and maybe even remember my camera settings.