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Intuition and Experience

Evening Reconnaissance Mission

Originally uploaded by merlinmann

Merlin Mann, who writes an entirely engaging blog on the creative process, posted this shot on Flickr to illustrate a new post on the process of learning photography. Normally, I don’t post about other folks’ work, but Merlin’s comments struck a chord.

I mean, we’ve all been there. Driving down a freeway at 75 mph. Something catches your eye. You drive on, not sure what registered in your brain. And if you’re lucky, you turn around and go back to see. And photograph. Or you’ll be working on location. Concentrating on an idea that you had back in April. And something else catches your attention. Occasionally, you’ll be rewarded with a great photo that teaches you the power of listening to your inner brain. 

I’ve learned to pay attention to these little moments. Often, they’re the result of self-assignments filed away months earlier. A good example of this is my shot “An Aspen a Day“. I had it in my mind on a fall trip to Yellowstone and the Tetons that I was going to find and photograph the quintessential group of aspen trees changing colors. Every time I saw an aspen tree, it was time to stop the Jeep, set up the camera and tripod and make some images. As you can imagine, this slowed down the travel process a good deal.

By the end of the second week, I was getting more selective about where and when to stop. Karyn and I were driving north out of Yellowstone toward Beartooth Pass and we drove past this gorgeous stand of trees. I kept driving, as I didn’t see a good place to stop. Five miles up the road, the little nag wouldn’t stop. Finally, I turned around and went back. I spent almost an hour with this group of trees, and in the end was glad that I had listened to my intuition. It’s what helps me get better.

Merlin’s post reminded me that the process is what builds experience. Fear of failure or fear of looking foolish often keeps us from pursuing our goal of more creative photographs.