Recently I was reading a book, Self-Compassion, by Kristin Neff. Today's world often seems a bit topsy-turvy, and it is easy to blame ourselves for not doing better in it. The photography world, especially the professional end of it, can be brutal, yet we often treat ourselves quite poorly in how we relate to such challenges.
Neff has a small section on savoring in the chapter, "Self-Appreciation", that made me think a bit about how we approach nature photography. She says that learning to savor experiences helps us become more aware and more self-compassionate. I think it may do even more for us as nature photographers.
It seems that often photographers become so focused on the photography that the experience with nature becomes secondary. I remember reading recently on Facebook about a nature photographer I knew who went to a location and talked only about how many gigabytes of images he had captured. Really? Is that all that place's nature is worth? Getting the most gigabytes?
That is not uncommon. How often do you hear of a photographer who went on a trip and one of the first things you hear is how many memory cards they used up, as if there were some sort of competition about filling memory cards? Nothing about the experience of connecting with a location or little about why the experience was so great beyond filling up memory cards. I knew a photographer who talked about "harvesting images" that he could work on back in the computer.
Neff describes savoring as "the conscious enjoyment of that which gives us pleasure ... lingering over delightful experiences." Photography can give us pleasure, especially photography of nature, but lingering over filling up memory cards as pleasure? Really? Neff continues, "When we savor an experience, we hold it in mindful awareness, paying conscious attention to the pleasant thoughts, sensations, and emotions arising in the present moment." Is concentrating on gigabytes of images worth holding in mindful experience?
I would suggest a different mindset. I am not suggesting that one does not take many photos (though as Jim Brandenburg proved with his 90-day project, Chased by the Light, that can be valuable, too), simply that if nature is important to us, then it deserves to be savored beyond simply harvesting it in any form.
So how do you savor nature as you photograph it? I think it means slowing down and being open to what is truly in front of you. To me, this opens a sense of wonder about the world and is more likely to get me to say, "Wow!", than simply trying to fit the scene into some preconceived idea of getting a certain amount of photography of the subject and location. Being open to what is truly in front of you means you will stop and see new things as you photograph the same subject. It also means enjoying the experience of being with a unique aspect of nature, of enjoying the photography of that nature, and connecting with that nature beyond it being a trophy of being at a certain location.
The photos seen here are of a small section of shoreline along the North Shore of Lake Superior near Temperance River. Not long ago, I spent nearly 45 minutes at this spot, truly enjoying the experience of nature, the thrill of a "wonder-full" place of winter, and photographing it.
Neff says that psychologists have begun to study the effects of savoring on well-being. She notes that studies "indicate that people who are able to savor the pleasant aspects of their lives are happier and less depressed than those who don't."
So don't be intimidated or encouraged by those who try to impress you with how many gigabytes they shot on their last outing into nature. Be impressed with the nature, savor the experiences, and allow yourself to get involved and connected with nature as you photograph it.