You were not designed to be comfortable, all of the time…
I shot the Ryedale Grand Prix earlier this year. It’s not my first time shooting the event, so I felt pretty comfortable and confident leading up to it. But familiarity breeds contempt, so I tried to mix things up a little.
It’s natural to try and avoid feelings like nerves and anxiety, but ultimately, they are (side) effects of bodily functions designed to make you perform optimally. It was something my jiu jitsu coach said that really made me realise they’re feelings to be embraced, rather than rejected; he said that he tries to make himself feel nervous, even when rolling (just call it ‘fighting’ if you’re not familiar with jiu jitsu) in classes – against people he is almost guaranteed to beat (like me). After cerebrally navigating the shock that someone would try to conjure up emotions that most would see as inherently negative, I did eventually realise that what he was saying was: ‘you perform better in these states’ – and that would seem to make sense scientifically, when you think why your body realises the hormones which cause the subsequent emotions.
So with this on mind, I was going to approach the Ryedale Grand Prix a little different this year…
Change 1: Fail to Prepare
That wasn’t a typo. I consciously made the effort not to prepare (aside from the essentials, such as getting the kit ready the night before – I’m not totally insane!) But in terms of logistics, I didn’t even remind myself how many laps of the circuit they were doing until I was waiting for the ladies to pass on the first lap!
This level of preparation is totally foreign to me. Ordinarily I like to plan everything, to a ‘T’. In fact I’m part way through writing an article about taking the best photographs, which advocates extreme preparation as being a key to success.
For a little perspective: I’d normally have multiple photo locations planned out and how I was to get there, with almost military precision. Surprisingly though, the lack of planning, encouraged me to see things a bit differently, on a circuit that I was familiar with from previous years. In hindsight maybe I shouldn’t be surprised though; Rather than trying to manufacture shots which I had meticulously prepared, with no regard to uncontrollable variables, such as the prevailing weather conditions (which lets face it, is only so predictable in the UK), or pesky spectators standing precisely where I didn’t want them to, I was generating my ideas with consideration to the actual conditions in front of me.
Weirdly, rather than have the anticipated effect of making me feel more on edge, this change probably had the opposite effect. If anything, I was more chilled out. After turning up later than usual (but still probably early by some people’s standards) I made my decisions on the fly and managed to find new locations and angles to shoot from, on a circuit that I was, if anything, over familiar with.
Change 2: Slow Down
It didn’t stop there though. Probably driven, in part, by the failure to provoke the wanted sense of unease in myself at the race, after the race, with photos offloaded onto my laptop, I decided to try something else, that still makes me uneasy just thinking about…
I ordinarily put a lot of pressure on myself to turnaround images quickly (especially sports stuff – which athletes seem to want before they’ve even finished the race!). Well, this time, I realised that it was the athletes who wanted the quick turnaround, and not me, so I resisted my natural inclination to spend every spare second I had processing the digital raw files.
I probably took twice as long to get these photos uploaded. And, here I am now, wasting even more time typing this [this blog was originally posted on my old website, a week or so after the race and before I’d uploaded the images]! When I could be releasing my latest creations into the world (wide web).
I anticipate that some might argue that change 2 is in fact an attempt to escape the uncomfortable pressure of the quick turn around, as opposed to introducing a new uncomfortableness. But trust me, although you’re right – it does release the pressure of the rush – you’re wrong: There’s definitely a new type of stress. A kind that’s insidious and persistent. It’s a stress that rather than being fully absorbed by, and harnessed to reach speeds you didn’t think were possible, it lets you live your life, normally, with the constant awareness in the back of your mind that you’ve got unfinished business – I’d encourage you at this point to imagine the mental equivalent of being stuck on a long haul flight with a child kicking the back your chair for the duration fo the journey. Annoying right?
For me, the feeling of an unfinished project is something that keeps me up at night. I don’t like leaving things half done – unless it’s housework, that’s a different story. Add to this the fact that with every minute that passes by, the art that I’ve created is depreciating in it’s prospective social media value – and that’s important in a world where the art I produce is valued by double taps and likes, but the more time that passes between production and publication, the less your return on investment.
These two stresses are undoubtably very different, though and I think the change I made has made a really positive impact on the work which I have produced. Looking at things as scientifically as someone with a C at GCSE can: The stress I place on myself to ensure a quick turnaround, will only improve my bodies ability to go quicker, by encouraging my brain to maybe multi-task a bit better, or identify shortcuts and methods I might not have otherwise noticed – and don’t get me wrong, there are circumstances where a quick turnaround and the ability to perform under pressure is crucial; I work at a law firm, so don’t need you to remind me that! But this wasn’t one of those circumstances and the benefits I got from the resisting the rush, felt like I could afford more time to getting the image to a place where I was proud of it.
At the end of the day, this was a passion project. I wasn’t shooting for anyone else, I was shooting for myself – for, what feels like, the first time in a while, actually. & most of all I loved it. & next of all, I can’t wait until Yorkshire 2019.
I ain’t no scientist, but the findings are in…
I accept that my test was hardly scientific and I certainly can’t prove correlation or causation, but I have to say that I’m proud of this set of images. Maybe it’s because of the changes I made to my approach have genuinely resulted in a better end-product; maybe it’s simply the fact I’ve spent more time working with them, so I’ve grown more attached – a Stockholm Syndrome type thing – or maybe it’s because resisting the urge to post them for a couple of weeks has been like holding a secret in that I’m bursting to tell everyone. Whatever it was, I think it’s paid off, and I hope you agree…
Below are some of my images from the day and a link to the full set on my website.
I’d love to know what you think. I’d love it even more if my decision to embrace uncomfortableness encourages you to do something which you wouldn’t normally do, this week – no matter how small. You don’t grow as a person from inside your comfort zone, and if we’re not on this earth to experience as many different things as possible, what are we here to do? (Answers on a postcard, please, to: PO BOX, I don’t have a box, but email me).
If you’re interested in booking me to shoot your event, I can provide quick turnarounds, or super-detailed-carefully-crafted-digital-art. I really do cater to all needs, because there is a time and a place for both. Get in touch and we can talk about what you need.