Go Out Empty

I often advise us to go out empty. This, at least, fits my working style and my personality. I don’t always follow my own advice. And regret it.

Go out empty

Go out empty is famous advice from the great Jay Maisel. What he meant is to not have preconceived ideas of what you want to photograph. Instead, be mindful (I doubt if he used that expression) and react to what you find.

That way you will get the maximum good from the situations you encounter instead of being disappointed with not finding exactly what you wanted to find. What’s there might make an interesting picture. What’s not there, well, that doesn’t make much of a picture.

When he lived in downtown Manhattan, Jay was famous for going out on the streets every day just wandering and taking pictures. He would occasionally get great images. Sometimes nothing. But even with nothing, he was not disappointed in not finding what he was seeking, since he wasn’t seeking anything in particular.

I have been to New York City and I will be quick to admit that the streets there are far more interesting than the streets of my small little town. But still, I believe the principle applies wherever we are.

I believe the basic premise of what he is advocating is to find joy in what you are shooting. Really look at it, Discover the interest. Be receptive. Inspiration is overrated. Shoot interesting things.

No planning?

Does that mean we should never plan anything? No, there are times to plan. Even Jay would plan carefully when he was doing commercial shoots. For instance, he shot the first Sports Illustrated Swimsuit covers. He had a crew and models and scouted locations, etc.

When someone is paying you for results, you have to deliver what they want. This will involve careful planning and preparation.

What I am discussing, though, is what most of us “fine art” photographers do when we are shooting for our own satisfaction and creativity. Different people have different personalities, but I am in the group that does best when reacting to scenes rather than trying to set them up.

Falling into the expectation trap

I advocate going out empty and I usually do it. But on a recent trip I fell into the trap of setting expectations for what I wanted to photograph.

I was in central Florida visiting family. One afternoon I was able to slip away for a few hours to visit a favorite nearby place, Lake Louisa State Park. It has lakes and beautiful trees and swamps and incredible red water.

A few times before I have found and photographed some gorgeous trees. In my mind, that is what I wanted to revisit and explore. It didn’t work out well. This was summer, not winter, and the foliage was very different. Some trails had been re-routed and I could not find the trees I wanted. And it was miserably hot and raining. Not al all pleasant or condusive to what I wanted to do.

I was very disappointed until I reminded myself to explore what is there, not get stuck on what wasn’t. It was actually beautiful when I let myself see it. With the storms, the sky was very different from what I had seen before. The rain give a different look to the tree trunks and foliage. After some false starts, I was able to get some interesting shots before the thunderstorms and pouring rain chased me out.

Don’t do what I did

Do not fall into the trap of letting preconceived ideas block your creativity. Be mindful of where you are and what is there. Get into the flow and work the scene. Make something out of what you find. Look at your surroundings fresh and discover the good that is there.

Today’s image

The image today is from this aborted trip to Lake Louisa. It was during the calm before the storm. That really is the color of the water. It contains lots of decayed vegetation that has flowed slowly through the swamp and turned that color. Not what I expected to shoot, but beautiful and interesting.

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