It is in my nature to plan everything and photography trips are no exception. When the dates and location are decided, I make my travel plans, including booking my flight, hotel room and rental car. I then begin to research the general area and put together the skeleton of what will become my itinerary. Next, I look for examples of photographs to put together my “must photograph” list, which I use to fine tune my itinerary – got to be in a particular location at a particular time of day when the sun is shining in a particular direction. When on location, I generally stick to my hard worked plans rigidly, with the weather being the only thing that can change them. Full of excitement and anticipation, I download my photographs at the end of each day. But as I browse through them my heart begins to sink. I am disappointed they do not match the images I had in my mind. The composition is not what I had expected, the light not what I had hoped for.
What I have described happens over and over again, so in preparing for a recent trip to Maine I decided to look closer at my “process” to see what I was doing wrong. I thought I had a fairly robust system, but maybe it needed tightening up even more? Maybe I should stick to a smaller area? Maybe I should focus on a particular subject matter? Maybe, maybe, maybe…… All the more I thought about this, the more tense I became and before I knew it, the trip was just around the corner and I hadn’t done any of my other planning. Yes, I had booked my flights and my hotel after deciding upon a general area, but I had not put together my itinerary and had not researched examples photographs. I had no idea what to expect and this was starting to cause significant anxiety. And then it dawned on me. Expectation was the common denominator in the disappointment I felt when I looked at my photographs at the end of a day’s work. Expectation caused by the images I had already planted in my mind before I even began my trip. Expectations about the subject matter, expectations about the direction and quality of light, expectations, expectations, expectations…. All this time I had been setting myself up for failure. And I never fail to succeed at that.
So, as much as it pained me, as the time drew closer for my trip to start, I decided to leave my planning where it was. I did no further research and simply decided to get up each morning and allow myself to go where my heart took me. And that is exactly what I did. My mind was not filled with the images of others and therefore I did not have to fight myself to create my version of what they had already photographed. I allowed myself to wander and capture whatever grabbed my attention. And it was refreshing. At the end of each day, photographs appeared on my screen that were mine and mine alone. Rather than feeling my heart sinking, I was returned to the place and time I took the photograph and the feelings I had when I tripped the shutter. And when I reminded myself that one of my goals is to consider photography as exploration rather than expectation, I set to work recreating that feeling.