You'll hear a lot about finding your passion, your mission in life, your calling, and such, today. These can be important things. It is sad if you spend a lifetime living something you don't care about. I have been lucky to have been able to pursue photography and spend a lot of time in nature, both my passions, through my life.
But I think there is more to this than simply finding a passion, a mission, a calling. This can change through life, as Tara Sophia Mohr has talked about in her blog post, Nothing Was Wasted. I also heard Wayne Dwyer talk on a PBS special about having past lives and thought, "Uh-oh, he isn't going to talk about reincarnation." He wasn't. He was talking about how we change over time. The body we had at 5 was not the body we had at 16 which is not the body we have now. We change and our approach to life changes, too.
I think this is important to us as photographers. I have loved photography, nature and nature photography since I was a kid. I have always been interested in all aspects of nature photography and have "done it all" over the years.
But now I find I am a lot less interested in "doing it all." My experience with photography and nature has greatly affected me over the years and informs much of who I am. Yet, this changes.
This became really obvious to me when I saw the cover design for a book on close-up and macro photography I am doing now (which will be out in the spring). This is a book that will be published by Peachpit Press and I am hard at work on it now. They have to have covers done early because of the Internet. Amazon.com wants a cover very early, way before the book is published. The blurbs could change, but not the image.
I was really surprised that the folks at Peachpit chose the spider. I just didn't think they would go for a spider on the cover of a book like this, even though I really liked the photo (or I would not have submitted it). I have done a lot of books. My first book cover came a long time ago with a book about Northwoods Cooking back in Minnesota. That was exciting, but now, my relationship to the books have changed. They are less about what they can do for me and more about what they do for photographers and nature.
So to have a jumping spider on the cover of my book was so exciting. My work has more and more gravitated to landscapes and close-ups. That is not to say that other parts of nature are not important, just that I find I do my best work when I focus on these things rather than shotgunning all over the place photographing everything.
And these are not any pretty landscape or close-up. For me, the landscape needs to provide setting, context, place and environment. The close-ups need to show off the wonder of the detail, the small, the often overlooked. This seems to be my present "calling" and the more I focus here, the better my work seems to get, or at least, it becomes more satisfying at a deeper, soul-filling level.
Spiders are often overlooked by people except when they want them killed or removed. ("Rob, there is a giant spider in the bathtub. Can you get rid of it?" from my lovely wife, and the spider is not particularly giant, just a lost wolf spider looking for something to eat, so I scoop it up and take it outside.) Jumping spiders are the "cutest" of spiders, but for me, having a spider on the cover of this book really helps me connect people to another part of nature, regardless if they buy the book or not. Just seeing the cover connects them to a jumping spider.
Have you thought about what your passion, your calling is now in nature and photography? Photography, nature photography is fine, but that's a pretty broad category. I find that I feel that I have done more, that I feel more satisfied, when I connect with a more personal calling in my photography. I know, not everyone is going to love jumping spiders, let alone spiders, but that doesn't have to be "everyone's calling" as a photographer who loves nature.
I can tell you from personal experience that when you try to "do it all", you end up scattering your focus, your resources, your skills. I have long suffered from the "shiny object" syndrome, the idea that you get attracted by the shiny objects of life: "Wow! Photographing deer. I just need a different lens." "Wow! Photographing birds. I just need to go to a new location." "Wow! Photographing the salt flats at Badwater in Death Valley."
None of those things are bad, and I will still photograph birds, deer, and Badwater, but with a different mental lens than simply chasing shiny objects. I have no interest in doing the shots that everyone else does, not because they are wrong, but because they are wrong for me. I want a connection to my subject, to the landscape, to the close-up, that means something to me on a deeper level, something that fits my calling of connecting others to nature beyond the obvious, beyond the already photographed, beyond trying to spread myself thin by trying to "do it all" and yet not doing anything as well as I could.
I am going to be starting up a podcast later this fall. Stay tuned for more information! If you have any thoughts on what that podcast should include, let me know. As you can probably guess from this blog post, I want to tell you about things I am passionate about and I don't want to repeat what other people already are doing.
The photos, from the top, are a daddy-long legs (harvestman) on a crabapple tree branch in Maine, a jumping spider from Illinois, aspen and an ant on an aspen tree trunk at 10,000 feet in the Great Basin National Park, Nevada, California evening primrose in my native plants garden at night (they bloom at night), and a bumblebee on a purple coneflower in the amazing butterfly and hummingbird garden of Richard and Susan Day in Illinois.