Overcoming Inertia

How often have you walked or driven by something that caught your eye, and immediately began an inner debate: should I stop and shoot that? Is worth the effort? And having NOT stopped, how often have you later kicked yourself for your decision?

Travel photographer Lisl Dennis calls this “Photographic Inertia”, and refers to it as one of the most subtle and insidious factors that limit our ability to react to and to capture meaningful images. At times it seems as though our conscious mind works overtime to conquer our initial impulses. Many times this is a good thing, as when we suppress the urge to escalate a conflict that could end up with us or others around us being hurt. But when this inner dialog prevents us from acting on our impulse to capture an image in front of us, it’s decidedly not a good thing.

The arguments often sound like this: I’m too tired, there’s not enough light, it’s raining, I don’t have the right lens, the people with me won’t want to wait, people will stare at me, people will think I’m silly, it probably won’t look good anyway, the subject will tell me to get lost… and on, and on. We need to simply let go of these thoughts and act on our initial impulse. If it caught your eye, it’s almost certainly worth shooting (figuring out the best way to create a strong image is a whole other issue). Letting go of these inner arguments is critical to appreciating the qualities of colour, light, form and balance within a subject. Appreciating the beauty inherent in something is difficult when you are worried about what others around you will think of the final image, or whether stopping to shoot it will make you late for dinner.

Which brings me to the image above. It will likely never hang in a gallery, or any place other than the wall next to my desk. It doesn’t matter. A simple image of clouds reflected in the water of a marina; viewed upside down it becomes a somewhat surreal abstract, rather than a literal image of two people walking along the marina docks. At the time, I had the “wrong lens” (I wished I had something longer), it was cold, and if I hadn’t suppressed my inner voice telling me that it wasn’t worth shooting, that I had seen similar images by others a thousand times, and that I’d should hurry along to the coffee shop to get out of the cold, I ‘d have missed this image entirely.

Even after acting on our visual impulses and capturing the image, inertia can creep back in to the creative process. The image here didn’t immediately appeal to me when first viewed in Lightroom: the colours were muted, the image was a bit flat and I had been unable to exclude a pole intruding into the frame on the right (the lens I had topped out a 105mm). So it stayed there, sitting quietly on my hard drive for several months, and may have eventually been deleted all together. Instead of deleting it, I decided to give it a second chance: a slight crop removed the pole, and punching up the saturation and tweaking the curve in Lightroom’s Develop module solved the problem with the colour and contrast. Finally, flipping it upside down, seemed to make it more interesting, taking it from the literal to the more abstract.

Overcoming photographic inertia starts with quelling the inner voice telling you the image isn’t worthwhile, that you’re too cold, wet or tired, or that people will wonder what you could possibly see that is worth shooting. To borrow a phrase from Nike: “Just do it!”