Photo Tip: Give Yourself Permission to Wander
You know what’s funny about me and starting new things? It’s funny that when I start things, or most things, I always have in mind that I will eventually quit them.
“There will be an end to this,” I often tell myself when I commence upon dietary restrictions, writing projects, and anything else that I feel uncertain about the meaning or worth of my efforts. This is why I can’t finish a novel or James Frey’s “a million little pieces” for the life of me.
I usually can’t just flow in murky waters. So what I usually do, when I can, is not commit to treading in these waters at all.
Or, usually, I’ll start with an exit plan in mind. So, for instance, when I said last month that I would be giving up chocolate. With that pronouncement, I already decided in my mind that I would only stay true to this commitment so long as a) I was not given free chocolate cake, b) I got eight hours of sleep, c) I didn’t stumble upon an “easy” chocolate recipe that contained ingredients I actually had in my pantry.
I never did get eight hours of sleep, so that commitment went out the window. Of course.
It is in my nature, I realize, to give myself leeway out of open-ended commitments that I think I can’t, or, rather, don’t want, to live up to. I do this because I take my commitments and life very seriously. I do this because I’ve been conditioned to think in absolutes and certainties. Everything means something. Every hobby must lead to a profession. Every good conversation must lead to a friendship. Every start must have a end, a good one, for me to stay motivated. This is my personality by nature. And it’s why when I don’t live up to my commitments, I feel bad and make excuses to explain, to myself, why I didn’t.
I am saying this now because it’s something that I now recognize as a problem. If you’re always looking for destinations, meaning, stated goals, and certainty, you lose sight of what it means to be alive.
You miss the unexpected joy and sense of relief that comes when you decide in the midst of new and unfamiliar territory that you are not lost, just wandering. And usually in wandering, you’ll find a new way back to where you wanted to go anyway, or you’ll find someplace better than you thought. That’s the joy of wandering.
This year, I’ve willingly wandered, drifted into new things– new fitness classes at the gym, auditions, new writing opportunities– without an exit plan or clear exit sign in sight.
And in doing more of this, old things in my life are beginning to make more sense. Like photography.
People often ask why I “do photography.” And when I buy new camera equipment, I ask myself the same.
I want to say because one day I’ll make money from this hobby, but that’s really a lie.
I think the joy of photography has always been, without me knowing it, the wandering part. Yes, I enjoy taking pictures of my children. But more than that, it’s one of the few things in my adult life that I’ve allowed myself to grow in without a clear goal in mind for the end. The journey itself is my “why.”
This is my life tip that can be applied to new photographers or anyone else listening. Wander in the craft and good things will come.
Knowing what good light looks like matters. But more important than that, especially when you’re starting out and none of that stuff makes sense anyway, is this: To get better at taking pictures, you must be willing to continue on when you aren’t yet taking better pictures.
I never had a plan to continue with photography when I started out four years ago. But I kept with it, through bad pictures and a lack of motivation, because I enjoyed the process. My pictures weren’t great, but I kept going because for once, with photography, this new thing I didn’t understand, my desire to tell my story was greater than my desire to give up.
Ah, the beauty of wandering.
Have you ever started something without a clear goal in mind? What was it and how did “it” end up?