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February 2016

1/1600th @ f/2.8
ISO 100
Canon EOS 5DS R

Anything But Now
The problem with living the life of a photographer is that you so rarely get a chance to live in the now. Everything is past or present and very little in between.

The Photography Blog

I sat at my keyboard for 6 hours, forgot I hadn’t had breakfast and realised eventually that I had missed lunch as well. The email that snapped me out of this zombie time-space marathon referred to my life in terms of “somewhere exotic”. Twenty minutes later I’m eating an omelette with a plastic spoon.

For those 6 hours I was not living in the moment. My reality was devoid of “now”, existing only in the space occupied by the past and the future. Nothing in between. 

I’m a photographer and when I have a camera in my hand I am very much living in the “now”, but the amount of time I spend with a camera in my hand is pitifully small. Running a business as a photographer is about lots of things, and only rarely does it actually involve a camera. Most of the time, now is never. 

After a big shoot I typically have an even bigger job to process the files. For every hour taking frames I have at least that much again to edit the images and tune them to perfection, plus the data wrangling and arranging to get files back to the client. I don’t farm out the processing tasks to a stranger in India, I do it myself. The processing is as much a part of the creative process and the shooting, and I learn from my mistakes much more readily by doing these hard yards. It's good for me and good for my clients. But processing can be mind bending as you wade through gigabytes worth of moments from the past. 

Every frame is a frozen time capsule and you are forced to drag your brain back into that point in time, and reinterpret or reconsider. You are also simultaneously projecting that image forward into the future, contemplating how it might get used and whether you’re delivering enough of what your client needed. Is this one frame a hero shot, have I got all the heroes I need, have I got all the texture to complete the set and where are the missing pieces in the series that may mean I need to fill in the gaps tomorrow.

My mind is anywhere but now.

Immense parts of my time are also spent planning for the future. I design shoots, design workshops, design moments. Planning is often like setting up a simulation inside my head and then playing it forward to see what breaks. Have I picked the right spot for sunset for that particular group of amateur photographers to bag a winner? Have I picked the right spot for sunrise that provides my skill set with a sufficient mix of complexity and interest? What happens if a couple of variables and assumptions change between now and that moment in the future? Every simulation is weighted differently and demands more computational power than I spend on almost any other task. 

Even picking which nights to book a hotel can drag your mind away from the “now” and into the abyss. I make a habit of including really lovely hotels for my tour groups, but have to be careful to get them in the right order. I play my mental simulation of moving out of a five-star resort one night and then spending the next in a three-star, and I imagine the faces of the nice people who turn into monsters when subjected to the downgrade.

Just trying to decide what to eat for my late lunch drags my consciousness away to another place. That lady who grills “moo-ping” on the street corner doesn’t turn up very early, but also doesn’t stay too late. If she’s already sold out I’ll have to order lunch from the weird soup guy who smiles at me like I’m a semi-famous British rock star. 

There are many kinds of busy in life, but the worst is when you can’t be in the present moment. If you’re not in the moment you can’t enjoy the moment. And life is all about enjoying the moment. 

We recently moved out of our adorably cute apartment that measures all of 56 square metres, which is something like a couple of garages for you folks who live in the suburbs. It was an emotional departure because I loved my time there and everything that happened through those years, but the sense of loss was offset by moving into a newer apartment with nearly double the floor space. For the last two weeks I would find myself pausing to reflect at one end of the lounge and saying to my lovely lady, “Wow it’s so big”. 

And we’d just smile at other, giggle a little, and embrace the moment for as long as possible.

As I write these words my mind has gone back to that moment again, I am returned to the past and am soaking up that instance with even more pleasure than a stick of grilled-pork from a Bangkok street vendor. I’m at the point now where it’s hard to know if I am living the “now” or just waxing lyrical about it to a non-existent audience. 

So do me a favour please. If you’re reading this now, please drop a comment and tell me where you are and what you’re doing. Right now. I want to know what your “now” looks like, and encourage you to embrace it :)

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This feature was last updated on Friday 02nd December 2016

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