Let’s go letting go!

For many of us photographers, control is an important factor in our work. Before we create an image, we make decisions on the composition (viewpoint, framing and timing), the exposure (shutter speed, ISO and aperture), lighting conditions (over- or underexposure, or use of flash or studio lighting), perspective (choice of lens), quality of the camera etc. On top of that, the landscape photographers among us are quite happy to wait and wait until weather and lighting conditions are as we want them to be.

We take the shot and it’s off to Lightroom and Photoshop.

There, we can exercise the ultimate control: with the image captured in millions of pixels, we are now able to influence the appearance of every single pixel we have captured, one by one. And, when working in Lightroom, we are able to create virtual copies of your images, multiple versions of which the multiple operations we unleash upon them have multiple undo’s.

Wow! Wasn’t making art something about dipping into the well and seeing what comes up?

In her wonderful book “The Artist’s Way”, Julia Cameron urges blocked artists to regain trust and to “let go and let God”. She describes how too much thinking about art and too much control can stifle the artistic process. Rather then going for an all out loss of control, she advocates a surrendering of control. Much like for instance Dada artists would drop pieces of cardboard onto a large sheet of paper, glue them where they landed and take that as a starting point for their art.

On a trip to Nepal, I was staying in the small village of Tengboche, with a clear view over one of Nepal’s most beautiful mountains, Ama Dablam. I thought its dramatic silhouette would look great against a backdrop of star trails. I set up my camera in the pre-dawn freeze, and, relying on earlier experiments on that trip, I knew a 7 minute exposure would get me the result I was after. So much for the control part…

However, when I checked the image on the LCD-screen of my camera, an unexpected spec of light had appeared. Closer inspection showed it to be a trail of lights, most probably from a climbing expedition setting off from a high-altitude camp. It had been too faint to see with the naked eye, but the camera registered it perfectly well.

I guess that was chance favoring a prepared photographer ;-)


2 thoughts on “Let’s go letting go!

  1. I’m working my way through the Artist’s Way from the perspective of an actor, but it’s so interesting to hear from the perspective of a photographer. I too fall into the trap of trying to control everything in my work, but the truly great performances only come when you let go of control. It’s scary. Thank you for this story. It’s a great reminder of the amazing things that can happen if you let go, even a little bit. Beautiful photo as well.

  2. Indeed, I agree ;-) I have been using this book in my work for many years now, and every time I pick it up, I find something useful! Highly recommended for an enjoyable read is also “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield. Good luck with your Positivity Project!

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