In an opinion piece in the Sunday Review section of the New York Times, Gerald Marzorati, a former editor of the New York Times Magazine, writes that immersing yourself in something new and difficult, and improving at it, is a key to better life as we age.
He took up tennis and gained new insights about himself. He also experienced physical improvement.
Marzorati says it should be a difficult activity—a craft or discipline—that takes effort and coaching. It’s more than reading a self-help book or thinking good thoughts.
Much of his insight is consistent with my own learnings in photography.
My activity didn’t start that way. It started as an attempt to get more exercise. As Sharon and I began our daily walks we discovered anew how much we enjoyed being outside as well as being active.
One day we saw a red-winged blackbird on the hiking path and I said I should bring a camera the next time we walked. That started it, and my effort to perfect my nature photography skills have become a daily discipline.
Marzorati says “practice, practice practice” is the foundation for this rejuvenating effort. In photography, subject, composition, lighting, focus, framing, angle of view, shutter speed, and f stop all figure into making a photograph.
So does post-processing and printing which are disciplines unto themselves.
I still need to be more discriminating in selecting subjects. Along with those things I’ve listed above, poses and backgrounds make a photograph.
It’s more difficult to do this in a forest in subdued light than on a shoreline in the sunshine. I also trek in the rain and snow because photographic things happen on rainy or snowy days as well as sunny or overcast days. For some creatures it’s necessary to lie down to get eye-level views. I hadn’t anticipated lying on my stomach in the wet grass in spring or frosty weeds in winter when I started this venture.
I also hadn’t thought about how I would get up the first time I laid down but I figured out a way do so without looking too much like a hippo rolling in mud.
I’m still a long way from where I’d like to be with the photos I’m making. I can see improvement but there’s still room for more. Making photos of birds in flight is much different from birds in trees, or those on shore. Small subjects such as birds are more difficult than large ones.
Wild things move. Sometimes quickly and erratically. I’m told that practice is necessary to make adjustments on the fly, to adjust without thinking. Sometimes when I think about adjusting exposure or speed, the opportunity to make an image is gone.
So, it’s a process of practice and learn, practice and learn. Undergirding this is the need to stay alert, to remember, to be aware, and to be present in the moment. None of this will make me younger. But it does make life more interesting, adventuresome and meaningful.
I’ll have some additional reflections in future posts.