I’ve been thinking about focus a lot lately. Not focus of the lens, but focus of the mind and life. How can I photographically improve? How can I use my time better? What should I be doing different? There are a lot of different aspects of this that I could talk about, and I’ll try to get to several of them in this article.
What comes to my mind first regarding focus and photography is composition. Something catches your eyes and you want to capture it with your camera. You have to consider what it is exactly that you wish to make a picture of. There is something about the scene that fascinates you, but what is it? Is it the light? The color? Design? Juxtaposition? Contrast? How can you best photographically communicate that? Once you’ve answered those questions and many others, then you can go about creating a meaningful image by cutting out everything that isn’t important.
Photography is a lot like sculpting. The sculptor starts with a rock and chisels away everything that isn’t the finished sculpture. The photographer starts with a vast scene and removes everything that isn’t the picture that’s in his or her mind. Focus on what the picture should look like, and then take out of the frame everything that doesn’t belong. Less is more. Successful photography is often about non-verbally communicating as clearly and concisely as possible.
I get asked sometimes how I find time to photograph every day. Life is busy. I have four young kids that keep me immensely occupied. I have to put food on the table and a roof over my family’s heads. There are so many different people and things that require my attention. It’s often easier to not photograph. On the flip side it’s also easy to photograph too much and neglect the more important things around me. I get pulled in a lot of different directions. Finding balance is difficult, but possible.
When you are passionate about something you find the time for it. I’m passionate about my family. I’m passionate about photography. I’m passionate about writing and other things. I make time for the things that I love. Something’s got to give, so I spend less time on the things that don’t matter as much to me.
You have to focus your time deliberately and wisely. If you are flying day-to-day by the seat of your pants you’ll spend too much time on one thing and ignore the others. Everything will find itself unbalanced. You have to focus your time and energy with purpose. You have to set aside a predetermined amount of time to your passion, and focus on accomplishing what you need regarding that passion within that time.
Sometimes things can spill over from one thing into another. For example, I love photography and I love my family, so I can sometimes photograph while I’m doing things with my family, or my family can become the subject of my photography. The caution here is to not let the camera interfere with family time, and not let family interfere with camera time. It’s important to set aside time that’s just for family and just for photography. There has to be a balance. It takes careful planning, but it is possible to accommodate a lot of different things in life.
Everyone should have passions and everyone should have dreams. Your passions will be the focus of your life. Where two (or more) passions meet is where you’ll do your best work. For example, if you love photography and also horses, you should combine the two passions and create your best work. Dream of what you could possibly create by photographing what you love!
I think a lot of people photograph whatever it is that catches their eyes at any given moment. I know that I do this often, and there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with it, but it creates disjointed work. It’s better to focus one’s efforts onto refined ideas. The more specific you can be about what you photograph the better. You could call it specializing, but I don’t think you have to pick just one genre. I suggest focusing your attention on very specific photographic topics and create a cohesive body of work. If there is some subject, object, genre or style that you are particularly fascinated by, focus your efforts on that. I believe that the more specific you can be the more successful you are likely to be.
Richard Steinheimer once said something to the effect of, “Photography is about being in the right place at the right time, and that often means going places that others aren’t willing to go and at times that they’re not willing to be there.” In other words, a big part of photography is luck, but you can create your own luck through determination and preparation. Focus your energy into being in the right places at the right times to capture great photographs. This might entail extra research, it might entail going down the road less traveled (metaphorically and literally), it might entail getting out of bed and venturing out into the cold while everyone else is warm and comfortably sleeping. Whatever it means, you have to be determined to do it.
I find myself too often with metaphorically blurred vision. I feel that sometimes my efforts are going nowhere, that I’m just spinning my wheels. I need to focus better, and that includes my time, my dreams, my efforts, my subjects, my compositions and more. It’s about refining, which means removing the unnecessary stuff that just takes up time and space, and clearing away all of the useless distractions that abound each day. Focus more on the things that matter and less on the things that don’t.