Earlier this year, some online artist friends, instead of doing New Year’s Resolutions, were choosing a Word of the Year, one word that represented something that they would focus on throughout the year.
That made me stop and think, if I were choosing one word for the year what would it be? I pondered that for a few days and then started to just scribble down ideas. What poured out very quickly was “slow down, take time, stop, breathe, be, what is essential?, what will matter in 10 years?” Gee, I thought, guess I need to slow things down.
I can get so excited and enthused about ideas, as well as easily distracted, that I sometimes am simply rushing from one wonderful thing/idea to another wonderful thing/idea. Doesn’t sound like a problem but when you don’t savor being in the moment or stop to celebrate accomplishments or simply stop to think, life can become too frantic, under appreciated, and (this is a big one) unintentional. I was so struck by this, that I designed this postcard that I now have posted all around my house and office, to remind me of that. It really is helping in so very many areas of my life. I feel like I’m actually more “productive” (hate that word) by slowing down and focusing more, rather than rushing to do more.
For a very long time, I have been fascinated with long exposure photography. (No, I didn’t change subjects, hang in there.) Very basically, it’s a way to create photographic images where the camera’s shutter is open for long periods of time, from 30 seconds to possibly hours as opposed to the typical 1/125th of a second that records most images. There had been a couple of failed attempts at it a few years ago. Then, I had tried it a bit last fall and written about it here and explained in more detail what is involved. Mostly, I didn’t make myself get out and try it. I am definitely one who works better with some sort of accountability, especially in the learning phases. So, I signed myself up for an online class in Long Exposure Photography that started at the end of January. We have online videos and tutorials that can be watched whenever, assignments to go out and try on our own, due dates (that’s an important one) and then wonderful online critiques of all our images.
What struck me one day, as I was standing in a pasture on a relatively balmy 35 degree morning, taking 4 minute exposures of a barn while the wind blew the fluffy, morning sun-kissed clouds across the sky, was that this also was slowing down. Often, when capturing images, they are quick shots, fleeting moments caught in a literal split second. One of my strengths as a portrait photographer is a quick finger on the shutter when that perfect expression (not necessarily a smile) shows up, always watching for it. When shooting in a new place to which I’ve traveled, I often try to capture those quick glimpses of life in that place. I have an ability to quickly pick out interesting scenes in all the newness of the experience but that brings with it a certain hyper vigilance. There is always a hurried effort to “get it”.
In contrast, with long exposures I am forced to slow down a great deal, and not just the actual shutter time. I must slow down. It is a different way of shooting entirely and I need to, at least at this point, be very methodical about making sure I’ve set everything up properly… find the right scene, time of day, weather conditions, and position, set up the tripod, mount the camera on the tripod, attach the remote shutter release/timer, determine the “normal” exposure, calculate the long exposure, put the darkening ( neutral density) filters on the lens that causes the light to enter the camera more slowly, cover the eyepiece so that no extra light enters that way, set the timer, wait for the exposure, wait for the camera to process the exposure, check the results, repeat. The camera takes as long to process the image as the original exposure took, so if it was a 4 minute exposure (the shutter was open for 4 minutes), the camera then takes another 4 minutes to process that exposure. So you have 8 minutes of waiting. That is all vastly different from other ways of photographing. It’s all quite a bit like meditation through photography.
Here are a few of my initial attempts with the long exposure images. The clouds and water have smoothed out because their movements have been recorded over the whole length of the exposure. (The background image on my postcard is also and long exposure image that I talked about in this post.) As I’m learning and practicing, I’m still pondering how I can best use this technique in a way that is unique to me.
Intention is the thing that most strikes me as the benefit of slowing down. Whether creating an image or taking time to write out an agenda for my work day or planning what our meals will be for the next few days, slowing down creates more intentional living. I am (more than before) in charge of what happens each day which creates a calmer demeanor and a greater feeling of being in control. I’m not a control freak but being a bit more in control means that I am not living life in reaction mode. I am deciding (mostly) the path I choose for my days and weeks and longer. I am more intentional by slowing down. I have, by no means perfected this slowing down/intentional living thing. I still have my moments of following random bunny trails that hold some shiny new idea but my postcard and my experiences with the long exposure photography serve as reminders of the benefits of slowing down.
So that’s my “how to” for being more productive, more intentional, just more.
What is essential?,
What will matter in ten years?”
As with everything in life, it’s a journey.
This blog post is part of the monthly blog circle of which I am a part. Our theme for this month is “How to…”, so if you would like to have a good dose of how to do all sorts of things spend a bit of time visiting the blogs of these other creative women from all over the world. The next woman in the circle is the writer/poet Karrlin Bain ( http://karrlinbain.blogspot.com/ ).
If should just get lost along the way, here is the entire list of women and their blogs that are participating this month. Enjoy!