Walk slow

These are words from the great Jay Maisel, one of the finest photographers around. It’s a simple phrase, even kind of silly. But it partially describes a philosophy that I think has a lot of merit.

One of the tenants of Jay’s approach is to “go out empty”. That is, do not bring any preconceived plan or expectations. Just wander. Actually look at what is there. Let yourself engage with what you find rather than being disappointed because what you expected was not there or it didn’t work out. The “walk slow” builds on that by forcing us to take our time and look more and closer. Notice things you have never taken the time to really see. See details in target scenes. In some cases, wait for a scene to develop. Be patient.

This is exciting and energizing. You are in the moment, alive, fully engaged with the environment around you. You have given up trying to manage the world to make it be what you want. Instead you react to it and find beauty where it is.

This is a very meaningful approach for me. I try to go out empty nearly every day. Explore the familiar area you live. You don’t have to go to an exotic location to find inspiration. I find I can go by something I’ve seen 50 times and this time say “oh, I’ve never noticed that before” or “wow, this light changes everything”. And when you develop the habit of approaching the world around you this way, you can use the technique equally well when you do go to the exotic destination.

Jay also suggests it can be beneficial to get lost. Being lost implies you are off your normal path and encountering new territory, new sights, seeing fresh. You can probably “get lost” in your home town. The other day I was walking along a bike path going around an ugly industrial area. But with the low winter sun and some nice lenticular clouds in the sky, the bare trees were beautiful silhouetted against the sky. I enjoyed it a lot. I wouldn’t have seen that if I rejected the area because it was not pretty.

“It’s always around, you just don’t see it” is another quote from Jay. This makes me sad. It is human nature to only see what you are looking for. Taking this “go out empty” and “walk slow” approach helps us to overcome that. We will be the ones who are really seeing what is around us. And making great pictures!

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