The Best Season is (Always) Now

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“Remember then: there is only one time that is important–Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power.”
— Leo Tolstoy

Do you find yourself looking forward to a particular season of the year? For landscape photographers, autumn’s kaleidoscope of color is pretty hard to beat. As my kids are heading back to school this week, I started thinking about the great photographic opportunities I’d like to pursue this fall. Zion National Park (pictured above) is always high on my list. I’m also committed to capturing more of the autumn color in Utah’s high country this year. And, I scored an online lottery permit to visit “The Wave” (Coyote Buttes, Northern AZ) in October(!).

By nature I’m a very future-oriented kind of guy. I’m really good (gold-medal Olympian good) at setting goals. Not as good at achieving them. My whiteboard at work mocks me daily as the unfinished projects and as-yet unattained goals stare down at me in disapproval. This strong “future bias” has worked its way into my photography, sometimes in unhelpful ways. For example, spending too much time thinking how great my photography will be when I get that dream lens (maybe the sweet Canon 24mm L tilt-shift lens?!), or when I own a $900 Gitzo tripod, or after I’ve purchased all the Guy Tal ebooks on photography, or…. (I could go on for a while).

We’re probably each vulnerable to different forms of the “I’ll be happy when…” trap. Maybe it’s: when I get that raise, or when we get a new house, or when I get my teeth whitened, or after my boss retires, or after I retire. For some, the issue is more one of dwelling unhealthily in the past: revisiting disappointments, second-guessing choices, suffering from the abuses of others. Much of the work done in my business of clinical psychology is about helping people develop a healthier orientation to the past and/or the future.

Recently (in the past year, particularly), I’ve been focusing a lot more on savoring the present moment. I still work hard toward my goals and still let the past inform my current decisions and actions, but being fully present and engaged in this moment has made a big difference. One of the men I admire most in this world, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, explained it this way:

“The happiest people I know are not those who find their golden ticket; they are those who, while in pursuit of worthy goals, discover and treasure the beauty and sweetness of the everyday moments.”

It’s made a big difference practicing this kind of present-moment awareness on a regular basis. Savoring the infectious giggling of my 4-year-old daughter as I tickle her, appreciating that I have a healthy body that can climb mountains with relative ease, watching my wife while she’s not looking and seeing that she’s more beautiful than ever, studying with fascination the veins on a leaf, feeling thankful for air conditioning while my car is stuck in traffic, recognizing that my current camera gear is much better than I deserve…. Even during the inevitable mundane and difficult tasks that are part of life it’s possible to “make room” for the distress or discomfort, “connect” with the moment, and move forward, acting in the present in ways that benefit the future. Someone who has cultivated the habit of making the most of every “now” can look back on a past of great moments lived, and has ensured the best possible future for themselves.

I’m still looking forward to the great photographic opportunities this fall, but as far as life goes, my favorite season is always NOW.

JSW

P.S. Resources along these lines I’ve found helpful in the past year:

The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris

Living in the Now by Gina Lake

Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zin

And one more quote for good measure:

“Present-moment living, getting in touch with your ‘now,’ is at the heart of effective living. When you think about it, there really is no other moment you can live. Now is all there is, and the future is just another present moment to live when it arrives. One thing is certain, you cannot live it until it does appear.”
— Wayne Dyer

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Why Photography?

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A number of people have asked me how I got interested in photography. For a few, the question has an unspoken emphasis: “How did you get *SO* interested in photography?”  My family and a few close friends know that I’ve gone through some mini “obsessions” in my life. Here are a few that come to mind:

1) BYU football (longstanding, ongoing, and perfectly appropriate)

2) Running (ended after completing a marathon, thankfully)

3) Landscaping (including a strong fascination with Japanese maple trees, snuffed out after our dog, kids, and winter killed off most of my precious trees)

4) Home design (still have a dream home floor plan on the back burner – waiting to see if we can ever afford to build it)

If you know me well, feel free to add to the obsession list in a comment.

But in answering the “why?” of my photography “obsession” there are elements that show me why this will be a lifelong pursuit.

The story starts simply enough: A couple brothers-in-law had pretty nice dSLR cameras and I was interested in the creative possibilities of photography as well as documenting the life of my family. In May 2010 I bought a Canon XSi and started reading a few books on exposure, light, technique, etc. It was super interesting and fun, and family and friends liked the photos I was taking. An old friend commented that I had “the eye” :). I also found that my kids’ sports events were even more enjoyable when I was on the sideline taking cool action photos that they and their friends liked using as facebook profile pictures. Photography seemed like a much more productive interest for me than video games or fantasy football.

But there was a fundamental shift that happened when I discovered landscape photography. First, there were a couple very special experiences during visits to Utah national parks (that I’ll describe in greater detail in future posts) that really opened up for me a stronger connection with the wonders of nature and the miracles of creation around us. It’s very hard to describe here, but these experiences helped me feel a much stronger appreciation for life and creation, my connection to everything else in this world, a better awareness of my limited perspective, and the importance of savoring this moment of life.

Many of my landscape images are of impressive, unique, and iconic locations that inspire awe and wonder. These are really cool places to visit. Although I’m relatively new to landscape photography and I have a lot to learn, I resonate with Ansel Adams when he said, “Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.” I hope my photography motivates others to get off the couch and get out into nature, to feel a stronger connection with the Source of all creation, and to seek out and appreciate all the goodness in life.

I’ve also found myself looking at my everyday environment in a different way, frequently looking for moments and scenes that would make a great image. And that’s the thing: in paying closer attention to what’s going on around me, I’ve noticed more and more the wonder inherent in simple, everyday moments. What I’m learning, and what photography is reinforcing for me, is that there are miracles of creation all around us, that every moment has within it the seeds of wonder, and that inspiration is waiting in a tree leaf in my backyard. (And it’s interesting that Photography has taught me to do this better than Psychology.)

So, my best answer to “Why photography?” is that it is a great reminder for me to savor life. Guy Tal, a landscape photographer whose work I greatly admire, stated it better than I can:

“A life of sustained fulfilment, discovery and beauty is far more satisfying than one of mundane meanderings interrupted by the occasional moment of fleeting bliss.”

I hope you’ll follow my photography blog posts and we can practice savoring together.