The Everyday Genius of Your Artist’s Voice: Part 2, Preparation

In today’s episode of The Everyday Genius of Your Artist’s Voice, I thought we’d talk about PREPARATION. I don’t hear photographers chatting about this kind of prep… and yet, I find it as crucial as having the right lenses, filters, camera bag, shoes – whatever.

I honestly think of photography in large part as a performance art. You have to be focused, in your body, in your “zone” and in the present moment for the shot to come off. I know anytime I’m not quite there, my results range from not-up-to-par to downright sucky. It’s takes the ability to pull all of your training, vision, desire and focus together in that one instant where you press the shutter in order to create art that properly represent YOUR true voice, signature, vision, whatever you want to call it.

The audio is short: only about 9 minutes today… and the transcription is below, in case you prefer to read. Or do both!
It’s all in keeping with our theme of the everyday genius of your artist’s voice, because this is something you can think about every single day. Like, now. In photography – and beyond. Personally, I know that no matter where I am, or what I’m doing – bringing ALL of my faculties to bear on the project, recording, or photo gives me infinitely better results. Preparation is the key.

Where is YOUR focus… ?

Today’s Transcription

Hi, it’s Karen Hutton – and welcome to the spoken work portion of today’s post: Part 2 of an 8-part series about Finding Your Artist Voice.

Today I’m going to focus on preparation. The internal, focus and mind-set-oriented type that no one ever talks about in photography. Everyone knows to plan their gear, plan for the weather, which lenses to take and to bring water or layers if need be… but I never hear anyone talk about where you have to be on the INSIDE. Y’know, the zone. That super charged moment where all your focus, passion, vision and faculties are aligned and magic just seems to happen.

Given my background, I can’t help but think of photography being in large part a performance art. I mean, think about it. You have to show up at a particular moment, bring all you got, get in your zone, focus, take the picture – using all of your skill, presence, vision and god-given talent to make it the best shot you can.

In that sense, it’s no different than a figure skating, dance or singing performance where you have to show up for a performance, get in your zone, ground and focus and give the performance, using all of your skill, presence and god-given talent to make it the best performance you possibly can. Every performer I know has a ritual for preparation that they do. Maybe it’s a breathing pattern, some stretches, listening to music, repeating affirmations… whatever. Their ONE job in preparation is to get “in their zone” – that place where mind, body, spirit and focus all come together and fire up like a Power Ranger for the performance of a lifetime. But photographers… yeah, not so much.

I give a talk around the country to photographers about finding artistic voice… and I often include the bit about preparation. Then I take them abbreviated version technique I use. It’s the most used, tested, time proven method I’ve ever known to get you in the zone FAST. But it’s inner-oriented, not about gear, sliders, or pretty pictures. At first, their faces go blank, then they looks nervous, some teeter on the verge of terror – then SO RELIEVED when it finally all ties back together. A few have come up to me afterward and said ‘I was a little worried at first, because I coudln’t tell where you were going… but now I get it. Very interesting!”

This isn’t the right platform for the whole grounding/focusing process; it’s something I teach on the first day of my France retreats; Then we go out every day and photograph from that foundation, that point of origin. It’s magical, the way it keeps people “in the zone” way more often and their work becomes more breathtaking by the day.

My point is simply this: You should have a preparation. Some sort of technique, method, process for quieting your mind, becoming more present, breathing and focusing yourself for that ONE MOMENT where your awesome photograph waits for you. If more people did this… there would be better stories.

WHY is this important? Why should you care? Because it’s important to remove all roadblocks to your own success, however you define it for yourself. And biggest, most destructive roadblocks I know boil down to three things: Fear, Doubt and Worry. My dad used to tell me that… that fear, doubt and worry were my only enemies. Turns out he was right! Just about everyone I know goes down the rabbit hole at some point. Hey, I’m not judging – how do you think I know about this stuff? It’s my stuff too!

And in the same quadrant, you could tuck in, anxiety, distraction, frustration, annoyance, excuses, bad mood, and on and on and on. There are SO many opportunities to go down that road, no doubt about it. I mean, aggravating, annoying and not-such-fun-surprsing stuff happens every day. It begs you to fear, doubt and worry it to death. But you know what? You ALWAYS have a choice about how you respond. Always. The trick is to have better tools – and make better choices – so that you’re not de-railed along the way. Or if you ARE de-railed, you have the tools and can make the choices to get back on track.

Here’s the kicker: when Fear, Doubt and Worry creep into the creative process, what happens? You are no longer present. They whisk you off into the past or future and you are no longer present. And you gotta be present to win. That is where art is made, that’s where life is lived. Here’s a simple way to you know if you’ve left the building of Presence into the shopping mall of Past or Future.

  1. Listen to your inner voice. If it’s being critical AT ALL… you’re not present. You may HEAR it nattering away at you in the present moment… but it’s always harping about something that went wrong in the past… or what you’re gonna screw up next (which is future).
  2. If you hear this: What if (as in “What if ___ goes wrong, doesn’t happen, I miss the moments, I don’t get my shot?”) You’re in the future.
  3. If you hear this: “I always _____” followed by some bonehead thing you always do, you’ve just gone to the past.
  4. Variations on this theme may include bad things that always happen or good things that NEVER happen. All of these scenarios take you somewhere else OTHER THAN where you’re standing right now, in this wonderful moment with your camera. All of them are destructive. And they are ALL why having a good internal grounding/focusing/getting present exercise is a REALLY good idea. I might even say crucial – to your personal success.

You may know a way to breathe that brings you into your body. Maybe you meditate and can draw from that. Yoga teaches people how to be present – as do lots of personal, holistic practices. Maybe having music playing through headphones does it for you… lets all your cares take a back seat to the glorious, creative present moment.

The thing is, the present moment is where all those creative, juicy good ideas get implemented. You don’t take a picture today from where standing yesterday – or will be tomorrow – unless you got some time travel skills I don’t know about. And if you do, ping me!

So you have to quiet that critical voice from yammering away at you about what might go wrong next or what was wrong before that’s sure to repeat itself now. Having ways to handle Fear, Doubt and Worry – which can appear in the form of your critical voice or even crazy little mistakes or mishaps that happen for no apparent reason – is SUPER important to creative success. And in THAT sense, photography IS a performance art… which you should prepare for as if you were taking the stage for the performance of a lifetime. Because – who knows, you might just be!

Enjoying this conversation? Let me hear your thoughts in the comments below. To those who are already doing that – thank you! I love ‘em all.
Till next time… may your photographs shine with your soul’s voice!

Watch This

And finally, for no other reason than I love this TED Talks of Benjamin Zander’s: “The Transformative Power of Classical Music”, I’m sharing it. He’s present, he’s creative – and I love his “voice” (both spoken and point of view). Enjoy!


Just catching up? Here are ALL of the episodes in this series:

Episode 1: Introduction
Episode 2: Preparation
Episode 3: Appearance
Episode 4: Cameras & Gear
Episode 5: Art & Business
Episode 6: Art & Business
Episode 7: Post-Processing
Episode 8: Storytelling

Extra: Q&A

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