Finding The Zone on Demand

I’ll apologize up front for this post, it may be a little mind bending for some of my readers.  I am going to talk a little bit about getting into the Zone for photography.


Athletes define it as the moments in sports where they transcend normal physical limits and function at a level above great! In photography I believe it’s where the minds eye and satisfying results meet in the final picture. The zone used to be something I couldn’t summon on demand, it happened in my mind only when opportunity met with an artistic mood.

There are a few times I can vividly recall being photographically in that magical place. Sometimes I would find it for a few minutes when I would set out upon a drive in the north eastern Kansas countryside with my Fuji S3. One time I found it with my D2X for a few days at Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.


I found it when shooting stills for Last Breath at an abandoned dark warehouse. Most recently, I found it while walking in San Francisco with my Nikon Df. I am more apt to find it when I am on my own, doing what I want, not feeling hurried and not feeling pressured. I’ll feel as if I definitely don’t have to force the photos, the scenery will be naturally visually stimulating, interesting and the mood usually carefree.


That said though, I have found it shooting for pay a few times. I liked working with amateur models and also working weddings. The last weddings and models I worked before giving up semi-pro work were all times of feeling competent and just enjoying the moments. There is a belief that great art is predominantly stimulated via the artists pain and sorrow. I believe that can be true, but that it can also come from these places (moments and moods) I have described above.

For me it’s seeing the pictures before I take them in the post processed state. It is curious how I can take a picture in the zone and wait several months to process it and recall upon viewing it what I was thinking and hoping for in the end result. Having taken hundreds of thousands of photos by now, I can tell you that many times the vision is not realized in the result, the mind can be over optimistic at times. There are times I knew the result and I simply lacked the skill to record or render the vision.

This is a hard thing about the zone in that what seemed so certain can often fail. I can not tell you if it is the same for others, the creative process can be mysterious at times.

As I have said before, a lot of masterpieces have been created in times of deep emotional pain. I was reminded in a seminar I attended recently of how some believe creativity stems from the sub-conscious, however, I can’t say I fully agree with this. Some creativity stems from full awareness and consciousness. There could be arguments on the quality of creativity stemming from each conscious state, however, counter arguments could be mounted either way.


To suggest that creativity only stems from the subconscious ignores the notion of choice and makes it more mysterious and perhaps less inspired. Some would argue that the idea comes only from the subconscious and it’s delivery only lives in the conscious.

Even in my book “The Awareness Journey” I breach the notions of conscious and sub-conscious and its role in our decision process and how much stems from societal programming we receive as we grow up throughout our lives. I still believe this and what for me negates the total notion of sub-conscious creativity being the only origin, is our ability to decide and reprogram our sub-conscious and this break the logic chain.

This is one of the massive mind benders of reality, awareness and our evolution! The mere fact that we can focus on changing the laws and dynamics as we understand them to realize new realities suggests that evolution is more a product of the active conscious than sub-conscious. The only problem in this is that we can create another non reality in doing so and thus the notion of true reality is a slippery slope.

So I realize that is a mouth and mind full loaded with implications. You may even be wondering where I am headed at this point with all this. In jest I will counter with I am dabbling in a little real time conscious creativity in exploring this topic. Just kidding!

It has occurred to me lately that I have been increasingly become more able to someone creativity and in doing so gained this awareness. So this all begs the question for many, is creativity something truly mysterious and a gift from the ether of neverware, or is it a product of logic and a mere window when mind where we brush the edge of our human self defined limits?

Let’s return to our athlete. Often athletes train to arrive at elite levels of performance. An athletes physical condition doesn’t really change from day to day, and yet a days difference can mean finishing 5th verses setting a world record. How can this be the way of things?

The logical answer is that ones mind does change daily, in fact it changes frequently and within mere sub-seconds at times. I would offer that the zone can be the now when there is focus and all the noise is tuned out.

As I write this I am cruising at 33,000 feet, and am deafly aware of the white noise this airplane is creating right now in the cabin. And then there are moments when it seemingly disappears, even though it’s still really there.

This realization allows us to understand the the zone is truly a state of consciousness as there is no person magically switching the noise off and on so I can create these words. When we have a migraine headache, we are brutally aware of changes in volume and light and it becomes difficult to think.

The zone is obviously harder to achieve when we are distracted by health or preoccupied life’s problems. Photographically I can coax myself into the zone by recreating emotions that are often connected by my environment. Air travel has often been an enabler for my blog entries, as even though I would tell you I dislike travel in general, it does allow me to find the zone quite easily. Less so now today where I would be able get in my truck, grab a coffee to sip and explore the numerous seemingly never ending gravel roads of eastern Kansas, I can still get there at times in that way as well.

This links back to another post I made some months ago on photo opportunities and craving new environments to unleash ones creativity and knowing how to see things differently within the environments that are available to us. Perhaps you can gain something from this post and find your own awareness of how to generate the zone.

And as the flight draws close to home now, as does the awareness of the background noise, I think it’s time to wrap this post up! I will end by saying that focusing on a subject, thinking of new ways to see it, capturing your ideas and then pondering on them will allow you to begin to see that subject differently and possibly inspire the creativity and ability to slip into a zone.

Mood channeling is another way, if you have found success in an area, subject or venue of thought, try to recapture that mood and stream of thought and channel off it.

For athletes I would offer that they remember those moments where they were at their peak and very best, the feeling, environment and thought process, it is in that way they can create the zone and ride high again. They tend to manufacture visual representations of success in their minds and then channel from it during their performance. It is no less true for you and your exploration of this awesome pastime we call photography. Scan your subjects or scenes and visualize the potential in your mind and then record it. Click!

As a bonus to blog readers, your invited to an early preview of, a new website dedicated to manual focus lens discussion and reviews!  Join early, its free and you can help shape the new website.  I regret if you are a Mac user that the registration link and process is not working right now and I am working to get it fixed!

This entry was posted in Talking Photography.