Small Steps toward the Big Goal


We all carry dreams in our hearts. Dreams about our future. For things we want to accomplish. For our creative endeavours. For our love ones. The dreams we dream encompass hopes, aspirations and desires. And our dreams have a big impact on our creativity as well. Dreaming simply encourages the creative process. Dreaming is good. But dreaming can also halt your creativity – completely. That is if dreaming becomes nothing but a dream. If you don’t turn the dream into action, nothing comes out it. I have written about this before, talked about doing the work. And we can talk about creativity till the end of time, but if we don’t do the work, we are not creating.

There is something more to it, though. Because dreaming also has the aspect of dreaming the big goals, the big achievements, the ultimate expressions, the big aspirations of the creative life. There is nothing wrong with that. But big dreams have a tendency to scare us more than encourage us. Going for the big leap is so much more frightening than staying put. But the reality is that creative life is not made in big leaps, but by a lot of small steps – every day. Instead of believing everything has to be done at once, we should rather start out small and take one small step at the time. That’s exactly how babies learn to walk. They continuously practice first by crawling, then getting up on their feet, taking small steps while still holding on to something, then try one or two steps without holding, before they are finally are able to walk, better and better as they practice more and more. And so it is with all big goals in the creative life, too. We must take small steps and continue doing smalls steps, until one day we have achieve what we once dreamt about.

Take the ultimate dream for many of my fellow many photographers – included myself when I was younger: They dream about getting an assignment for National Geographic magazine. But just the mere thought of having to compete with the world’s most accomplished photographers or even just approaching the picture editor of National Geographic seems like too big a leap to even try doing. And it is, if you start out there. Instead look to what you can do today. What do you need to get closer to the dream? Well, first of all some work to show for. Then start doing personal projects, and do something you can accomplish wherever you are. And start doing it today. When you have a body of work, try to sell it to the local publication. If it doesn’t sell, do another personal project. Eventually you get enough experience to move up the ladder and maybe one day even to the top. Small steps toward the big goal.

I have experienced people telling me how they envy my way of working and living, that I am able to travel the world and make a living out it. Again the best advice is to start out small. Do a travel story in your own backyard and try to sell it to a smaller publication. Next time you go on holiday somewhere give yourself an assignment to photograph the destination you are visiting as if it was a travel story. Then move on. Eventually you might get an assignment abroad. Small steps toward the big goal.

If you can break you dream down to small increments then every task becomes really easy. You can do it, no sweat. Do not look at changing you whole life in one swoop. That is too scary and a sure way to stall yourself. No, small steps toward the big goal.

Posted in Creativity, Photographic Reflections, Photography | Tagged , | 47 Comments

Last Week’s Instagram

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Once a week I will show one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. The pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

Posted in Personal Work, Photography | Tagged , | 36 Comments

Photograph Close to Home

Den frodige urskogen langs East Fork Foss River

I have just returned from a longer travel to Thailand. I have always enjoyed travelling. In many ways it was travelling that got my photography elevated to a higher level. It was when I travelled I discover the excitement of seeing with fresh eyes and capturing moments I thought I would never experience if I didn’t travel. Travel and photography got closely related to each other – still is.

As much as I love travelling and photographing while on the road, I have also come to appreciate photographing close to where I live, in my own town, my own mountains surrounding the town I live in, yes, my own backyard. Over the years I have learned that we don’t have to travel to distant countries, or to exotic place, to be able to capture great photos. I would even say to the contrary. However, it took me a long time to understand this.

There is a lure in the exotic. It seems so easy to capture different and exciting pictures when we travel, if nothing else because everything is new, we see different colours and different cultures; we get captivated by what is different from our usual lives. For many years I really believed that I couldn’t possibly dream of making beautiful or evocative imagery unless I travelled to exotic countries, that only those subjects in faraway places merited any attention.

But, truth be told, it’s not the case. It’s our backyard we know the best, and it’s in our backyard we are able to capture stronger and more personal photos if we only start to see our backyard again.

Despite my love for travel, I cannot do anything but make the opposite point: Making photographs of exotic places or people is the low hanging fruit in photography, the easy pick. While there is plenty of value in photographing the unusual, merely filling the frame with something exotic does not make it a good photograph, it makes it only a photograph of the exotic. It’s not really interesting of itself – not in the long run. I admit it’s easy to get blinded by the exotic when you travel to a foreign place. It’s exciting. It’s fun. However, if it doesn’t go beyond the exotic, it’s merely a depiction, and the result is not at all a personal and strong expression which in the end is what characterize a great photo.

It is really easy to look at one’s own backyard and dismiss it outright: not cool enough, not nice enough, not exotic enough. Of course, it’s not true. Just think about those visiting your city or your mountains or your landscape. They find it fascinating and for them it’s exotic. I am willing to bet that most of us have overlooked some attractions in our own cities, the very landmarks we would jump to visit had we been visiting the area.

In many ways, when photographing your backyard, you need to combine how you see the foreign with your knowledge of the familiar. If you want to communicate something more, if you want to bring something new to the table, and put your own thoughts, feelings, and personality into the image, then you need to photograph your subject matter as though you’ve seen it a thousand times and then suddenly see it in a new way. You know your backcountry, the place you live in, your backyard. Make this an advantage for your photographic approach. Hit the streets close to home, take a hike in the backcountry you know so well, with your camera – and try to see it with new eyes. Take you time, let the impression guide you to something that might become the best photos you have ever taken.

Younes Bounhard in his eBook A Sense of Place, writes: «It is up to us photographers to inject the fun and passion into our photography. It is our responsibility to see a place, not the responsibility of a place to be seen. It is up to us to look, to see, to engage and experience a place, whether at home or somewhere more exotic: the foundation for beautiful imagery is the same».

I have literally photographed my backyard over the years. Do you appreciate shooting what is close to your heart, too?

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Last Week’s Instagram

Munchow_1758-001_E

Once a week I will show one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. The pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

Posted in Personal Work, Photography | Tagged | 39 Comments

The Disparaging Gap

En eldre mann i flyktningleiren Tierkidi

Have you ever felt frustrated because the result of your creative endeavour didn’t live up to your expectations? Of course you have – it’s a rhetorical question. Everybody does. Ever so often we all feel we are not able to express strongly enough or good enough what we have on our mind or seeing for our eyes. Whether you are a photographer, like me, or expressing yourself through any other media, we all hit this disparity between what we want to achieve and what we actually manage to create. We have this great idea, but can’t get it out, can’t make it materialize in a satisfying way. Particularly when we start out as beginners we are often encountering this feeling of not being good enough.

There is a gap.

There is a gap between the result and what we set out to create in the first place. Particularly in the first couple of years as we try to figure out our way into becoming a photographer, or a painter, or a designer, or a writer – or whatever it is we are getting into – the stuff we make isn’t quite good enough, it’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambitions to be good, but it’s not quite that good.

I surely remember when I (a very long time ago) slowly switched from photographing nature to become more documentary orientated and trying to photograph people in their various ways of living. It was a very frustrating period of time. I didn’t get the pictures I saw other photographers were able to capture much better than me in similar situations. I certainly wasn’t happy with most of my photos back then. They just didn’t capture some essence of life or were expressive in a way that could talk to others who hadn’t experienced the occasion I was trying to photograph. In retrospect, one reason was the inability to dare getting close enough, but it was also just getting around understanding the way these kinds of photos work in general. It took me many years to get around to the other side.

It has happened later, too. That I feel I am in a rut and not able to create anything worth keeping. As I said in the beginning; it happens to everyone. It’s part of the creative path. On and off we all feel we are banging your head against the wall and don’t get any further. That’s when we have to remind ourselves that it’s just a phase. Especially if we are beginners we will have to accept that it takes time, a long period of time, yes, years to get anywhere close to where we feel this gap between what we set out to create and what we actually end of with making, is diminishing.

The frustrating part when you encounter this gap is that your taste is good enough to tell that what you are making is a disappointment to you, but you just aren’t able to do anything about it. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t get passed that point. They quit. But remember, then, all those who you think do the most interesting work, have been through these phases as well. All of them. They have just not given up, but kept working even when they felt that disappointment for their art work. They went through a face of years when they knew that the work they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it felt short. But they didn’t give up. If you go through a phase like that right now, you got to know that is totally normal. The best thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. And eventually you will come out on the other side. It’s only by doing a huge volume of work you will be able to close up that before mentioned gap, when your work will be as good as your ambitions.

You just have to fight your way through that phase. I know it’s easy to say. I know it is discouraging to stand with your legs stretched out across that gap. But if you know that you eventually will be able to create something that feels completely right, that in itself will hopefully be an encouragement enough to keep up with the hard work even when it feels less than satisfying in the moment.

How has you encounter with this gap been? And how did you get around it? Please share we us your experience.

On a different note, I want to apologize to all of you who follow my blog and faithfully comment on my posts for not having returned your visits. Since before Christmas I have been on the road and simply haven’t been able to follow up. However, I do appreciate every visit, every like and every comment. How no doubt about that. And now that life is slowly getting back to normal again, I promise I will start revisiting your blogs again. I will get back to you all.

Posted in Creativity, Photography | Tagged , , | 55 Comments

Last Week’s Instagram

Once a week I will show one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. The pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

Posted in Personal Work, Photography | Tagged , | 23 Comments

To Live or to Photograph

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Sometimes life gives us a reminder. When we get distracted from what is important in life, it has a tendency to come back to tell us not to lose sight of what really matters. It certainly did so for me a little more than a week ago when I was travelling in Thailand.

For those of us passionate about photography it’s very easy to get caught up in thinking that we have to capture every great moment in life. Sometimes this mind-set goes so far that if we don’t manage to get a photograph to show for afterwards it’s almost as if the experience itself has been diminished. We get disappointed. At times we might even think or feel that the moment actually didn’t occur at all if we weren’t able to capture it.

I have seen too many photographers being caught up in this way of thinking, myself included. Obviously, this is heading down a misguided path. What happens is; we end up living through our photographs rather than the other way around; that is living our life passionately and then photograph it. I strongly believe in the latter. We should not get so caught up in the photographic process that we end up forgetting to actually take notice and experience our life as it unfold for us. Indeed, sometimes we should just put down the camera and let life itself get all our attention.

I remember clearly the first time I learned the lesson. This is more than 30 years back in time. I had been travelling for about half a year in Asia and was going to finish off the trip in Nepal with two weeks of trekking up towards Mount Everest’s base camp. The second day of hiking through the mountains my old trusted camera broke down. I had just gotten out of bed and wanted to photograph the beautiful mountainous landscape that was bathed in a gorgeous sunrise. I took one picture and immediately heard something went wrong. Like something snapped in the camera. It did (it latter turned out that a little spring had broken). My camera would not take any more photos. It was dead (and back then I didn’t bring a second camera or body). The feeling of devastation was complete. Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to take a single photo during the rest of the trekking, I decided to turn around and end the trip right there and then.

Now, just a couple of weeks ago something similar happened to me in Thailand. However, this time I had learned my lesson. We were spending three days paddling on Khao Sok, an artificially created, huge lake in southern Thailand. I used my underwater camera housing when paddling around, simply to protect my gear from the water. Khao Sok is a beautiful place with the lake spreading into various parts of the rain forest like the arms of an octopus. In some parts the mountains surrounding Khao Sok close in on the lake. It creates a dramatic landscape with elegant limestone formations and steep rocks throwing themselves into the lake. Our guide, however, was more interested in showing us the undoubtedly rich animal life along the shores of the lake. He took us into bays and remote corners of Khao Sok, thus, never paying any attention to the majestic landscape further out.

I got more and more frustrated. Yes, tapirs and monkeys are fun to watch, but I hadn’t gotten any photos of the dramatic landscape I hand envisioned beforehand. Maybe it was exasperation or maybe just pure assertion. At the end of the second day I carelessly jump in the kayak, not taking the usual precautions. I lost balance and capsized the kayak. No problem for me, but I had made a big mistake that you are not supposed to do: I had put my camera in the kayak before getting into it myself. When the kayak capsized, the camera rolled out and sank to the bottom of the lake. I was told at 40 meters depth. In other words: no way to rescue the camera.

No need to say that I was crushed. However, while people around me were upset about the value of the camera, that wasn’t really my concern. I bewailed over the fact that I had lost two days of photos and also lost the tool I was planning to use a couple of days later going diving off the coast of Thailand. The gear itself I was quite sure the insurance would cover.

So, yes, it was shattering. But as mentioned I had already learned my lesson. Instead of growling, I put down any thoughts of photographing and decided to just enjoy the last day at Khao Sok. While I was frustrated before the incident because that I couldn’t get the photos I wanted, now I suddenly was able to enjoy the beautiful surroundings, the calm water, the paddling, myself and my companions. I was living my life in full awareness and momentarily instead of trying to live it through my photographs.

Life itself seemed to have intervened. I was rumbling about the photos I wasn’t getting, instead of enjoying what was there all the time. So my camera was taken away from me. And I started to live again. Of course I had other photos from the area, taken with my regular camera when I wasn’t kayaking. And of course I rented an underwater camera for the diving off the coast of Thailand later on. No big deal.

As photographers it’s so easy to think that anything that we can’t capture is not worth anything. But it’s actually the other way around. It’s a fully and enriched life that we live that is worth capturing. And if we aren’t able to capture it, it’s still worth more than any photo in and of itself. I learned that after Nepal. To this day I still regret not taking the opportunity to keep trekking to Mount Everest base camp. With or without photos.

Posted in Photographic Reflections, Photography, Travel Photography | Tagged | 71 Comments