I am older than most of you. In some cases, much older. Every day for me is a miracle. I’ve had medical problems that sound like I’m a character in a horror movie. Sometimes, when you’re an old man with medical issues, life is a little hard. But then you remember — you’re a photographer. You get paid to transmit emotion with a camera and all of a sudden you feel like you’re 18 again!
Despite the freak show that is my life, when I grab a camera and go out into the field, looking for birds to make famous, all is well. When I remember my calling, to speak for the creatures who have no voice, I feel nothing but happiness.
When I’m home, I’m always tired. But when I’m in the field, I can shoot a full 12-hour day with no problem. When it’s nine degrees below zero in Alaska and I’m laying on the ice, if I have a camera in my hand, I don’t feel the cold, or my arthritis or any normal pain. When I climb the stairs for exercise at my office, I feel like I’m going to die. But when I have a camera in my hand, I can sprint up a hill with the best of ’em. If it’s hot outside and I’m so sweaty that I can’t grab onto anything else, the camera seems to fit my hand like a glove and I stop noticing the discomfort from the hot weather.
In short, no matter what’s bothering me, physically, emotionally or spiritually, when I am shooting, I don’t feel any of it. I guess that’s the ZONE everyone talks about. Whatever you do with your life if there’s an activity, a person or a place that gives you that feeling, hang on to it, because that is where life really happens for you.
Tips for being “in the zone”
1. Focus on the one thing that matters most to you. Don’t multitask here. Multitasking is the enemy of BEING IN THE ZONE.
2. Create an environment for yourself that removes distractions. For me, I often work from a bird blind and by nature, that environment is simple, plain, and uncluttered. It helps me focus.
3. Devote regular and scheduled time to your passion. It’s a simple thing. Spend more time being IN THE ZONE. You will end up with more success.
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines “being in the zone” as “flow” — a state of heightened focus and blissful immersion. In his Ted Talk (at 14:30) he describes the experience like this:
“There’s this focus that, once it becomes intense, leads to a sense of ecstasy, a sense of clarity: you know exactly what you want to do from one moment to the other… And the sense of time disappears. You forget yourself. You feel part of something larger.”
Watch Mihaly’s TED talk
There’s something magical about my job as a photographer. It’s a fountain of youth. With another birthday coming next month, I’m painfully aware that there are fewer tomorrows for me than yesterdays. But for some reason, it doesn’t bother me when I am shooting. I can’t even imagine any future day being a day without photography.
With a little luck, on my last day, I’ll find a beautiful songbird, or maybe another raptor or even a heron or two. Whatever it is, I will endeavor to make each photograph from today forward as if it will be my last photograph. This is my hope for you, too.
One last tip
Don’t bring your anger or your distraction or your anxious moments into the field. Bring your camera and an open heart – filled with joy. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find a way through your pain and your life will improve. You’ll maybe even get lucky enough to make someone else’s life better.