Photo – The Zone

sunrise_8514ais_ndf_7116The Zone

I’ll apologize up front for this post, it may be a little mind bending for some of my readers.  While I have posted it as a Photo entry, this could easily have been a book entry as well.

Athletes define it as the moments in sports where they transcend normal physical limits and function at a level above greatness!  In photography I believe it’s where the mind’s eye and satisfying results meet in the final picture.

The zone is not something I can always summon on demand, it happens when opportunity meets 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 Nikon D2X for a few days at Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons National Parks.  I once found it while 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, and interesting and the mood usually carefree.  That said though, I have found it shooting for pay a few times.  I enjoy working with amateur models and also doing weddings.  The last weddings and models shoots 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 visualizing the pictures before I take them, already in their end 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 end result, the mind can be over optimistic at times.  There are times I knew the desired result and I simply lacked the vantage point or ability to record or render the vision.  This is a hard thing about the photographic zone in that what can seem so certain can often fail.


I cannot 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.  Some creativity stems from full awareness and consciousness.  There could be arguments on the quality of creativity stemming from each state consciousness, however, strong 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 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 and 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 to reprogram our sub-conscious and thus 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.

So I realize that is a 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.  It has occurred to me lately that I have been increasingly become more able to summon 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 neverwhere, or is it a product of logic and a mere window when the mind brushes 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 then the zone can be the now when there is focus and all the noise is tuned out.  I am cruising at 33,000 feet at this very moment writing this, 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 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 with 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 re capture that mood and stream of though and channel off it.  For athletes I would offer that they remember those moments where they were at their 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!


Copyright 2016 Mark Abraham

This entry was posted in Awareness, Talking Photography.