Welcome to the Essential Light Photography Blog By Jim Sabiston

Monday, July 12, 2010

Taking a Moment To Pause

Well, it's been a busy month. We have come out of a series of successful shows, including a last minute invitation to the Bellport, NY show. This turned out to be one of our best shows of the season so far and we will definitely be back next year. The only fixed show date on the horizon now is the Sayville show, which was our strongest last year. Hopefully that pattern will repeat! We have some invitations for various shows come September and October, but we have made no hard commitments yet, as we have to see how our summer plays out. It is also a bad sign that I'm a week into July and I haven't even taken the kayak out of the garage yet.
The Bellport show was unique for the season in that it was a dedicated art show, not a combined arts and crafts show. I find that dedicated art shows are much more satisfying, both for the better sales as well as the more interested, and interesting, audience. People who take the time to attend these shows are there for the art, so the visitors are more focused on what the artists are offering and more inclined to express their interests as they visit your display. This is very enjoyable, as any artist loves to discuss their work with an interested audience.

Aside from the usual inquiries as to locations, technique and equipment, Bellport stood out in that a recurring theme percolated to the surface pretty frequently with quite a few visitors to our display. Several visitors took a lot of time to really stand back and soak up my images and almost all of these commented on a common element within the images: They pointed out that it was clear, regardless of the varying subjects or locations, that I had taken the time to really see and consider the particular moment or scene I was photographing. More interesting, and satisfying to me, is that they stated that this came through as a very strong element throughout my images.

I had taken a moment to pause and really see the subject.

This simple point highlights a critical aspect of successful photographic work. It also reflects what I consider a quality missing in much of our far too busy daily lives. So much is missed in our constant rush of obligations and responsibilities that we take upon ourselves. If we don't take a moment to slow down and step off the speeding treadmill occasionally, too many of us find that our lives have flown by in a blur before we had a chance to actually live them. This is something that I have long refused to accept. I have just as many responsibilities as the next guy, maybe more than most considering my dual careers and long list of interests and activities, but I take the time to break out of the mental monotone that too many of us seem to maintain during the normal day. This takes effort to do. My favorite quote, credited to Jeanne de Salzmann, addresses my approach to this in a very direct way and can be seen on the header of this blog, which should give a bit of a clue as to how important I consider this concept:

"You do not realize enough that your attention is your only chance. Without it you can do nothing.”

This quote speaks to the center of the quality with which we choose to live our lives. A growing concept within psychological circles is that we are truly conscious a very small part of the time. Apparently, we switch in and out of fully engaged consciousness without even realizing it quite frequently. This is not as outlandish a claim as it might seem at first glance. Consider, for a moment, a learning experience such as learning to drive a car for the first time. There are elements of apprehension, joy, maybe even a little fear as you move the vehicle out onto a public road and into traffic for the first time. You are fully engaged in that moment. You are right there, right now. Presently, assuming that you have a few years (at least) of driving experience, where is your attention as you navigate those well known routes? Chances are that you have set the 'chore' of driving to be attended to by a lower level of your mind while the higher levels are attending to something else, possibly something quite mundane – reviewing the grocery list, listening to a favorite bit of music, etc. The complex process of driving a car has been relegated to an automatic process and your attention may be elsewhere or not even engaged at all. This is the mental place where we spend most of our time. Living, or even just seeing fully requires that we break out of this habit as much as possible.

(Click on image to enlarge) A Magnolia bloom seen one morning while walking to work.
It takes effort to do so. Part of the problem is that we slip in and out of being fully attentive so automatically and smoothly that most of us don't even realize it has happened. The direct result is that we can move through the world largely unaware of our surroundings. For the photographer, this is not at all acceptable. We must be engaged with our surroundings as much as possible, as often as possible.

(Click on image to enlarge) A natural color reflection, barely visible, but I noticed it as I walked by on the trail.
My method for doing this has two basic parts. The first is to be engaged with the constant flow of light in and around my surroundings. This constant scanning keeps me alert for unexpected photographic opportunities and works quite well. The second part is simply forcing myself to stop. To pause, even for a brief to take a moment to look, really look and consider the scene before me. This latter point sounds easy enough, but that is often not the case. How often has something caught a flicker of your attention and your reaction was to get back to that when you have the time? Ten minutes later, that moment is likely not even a memory. The power of habit and momentum can be extremely difficult to break. The effort comes in the form of actually making yourself STOP. Stop to look. Stop to consider. Stop to contemplate. Stop to really see.

This is the place that good, even great photography comes from. You must pause a moment. Only then can you fully absorb the scene before you, to fully engage with the world around you and the possibilities that it offers.


  1. Great stuff, Jim. Thought-provoking words and beautiful photography. This post reminded me of the John Lennon quote: Life is what happens to you while you're making other plans. ;)

  2. John,

    Thank you for your comments. I'm enjoying your posts on NPN as well. Good thought provoking stuff indeed!