The Athletic Creative: Finding the Zone

The other day I wanted to grab a shot in the gorgeous fog we had. It was early morning and I was half-way rushing because I had a lot of other things I wanted to get done that day. I was also in the middle of a run. (Yes occasionally I take my camera in the stroller for those just in case moments!) I asked my daughter who was happily playing a game in the stroller to get out and stand in a clearing. Ha! She was happily playing, sitting comfortably under a blanket in a running stroller. Of course she wanted to get out in the fog so I could grab a few shots of her. So I told her it would be quick, adding to my frenzy to get some shots. I don’t think I have to go on with the story for you to know the ending. Nothing worth keeping – at least for now. (We did get out the next day and I got a couple good photos). But that morning, total failure. And it was prime opportunity but my fault.

Foggy Morning

For the rest of the day, I kicked myself because the fog was beautiful and serene, and I completely failed to get the shot. We’ve all been there: failures, mess-ups, things that don’t work the way you want. It happens. A lot. But in the midst of those bumblings and failures we have successes. If you’ve experienced enough successes and failures, I believe you have a similar mindset to an athlete. You may not be athletic, never played a sport or running definitely may not be in your vocabulary, but if you are a serious creative, you have an athlete’s mentality. You are an athletic creative and I know you have a zone.

I call you an athlete because as a photographer, or any kind of creative,  your mind works like an athlete’s. You want success like an athlete wants success – even if it is only for personal reasons. You also have to pursue your craft like an athlete, minus the sweat.

I kicked myself after that run. I knew trying to get a shot was a wash because I had no focus. My run was also a wash because I had no focus. It is a key ingredient to success: focus. How do you get that focus? A successful athlete’s mind focuses easily by getting in a zone – a mentality that provides focus.

When I ran competitively, if I was in the zone I was in a happy place, having a lot of fun and it always seemed easier. I also found more success here. And the more I found the zone, the more I wanted to run. Same goes for photography. The more I find the zone when out shooting, the more I want to get out and do it. Most creatives, photographers, and athletes will tell you they have those moments where they get lost in their craft, in the midst of a zone, and that those moments are worth working for.

If you need to find that euphoria, the ease to practice, or focus, then this post and exercise is for you. If you want to find motivation to get out there and shoot, you’re in a rut, or you want a different way to get better, read on.

Foggy Morning 3

The Zone

What is the zone? Have you felt it? Know it well? Not sure?

It’s a place where I believe we have more successes but you have to practice. Whether you are an athlete, creative, or photographer (who is also a creative), when you are in the zone you have a feeling of focus, ease, and freedom. There is only one thing you care to worry about at the moment and you block out the rest of the world.

When I raced, I rarely heard the crowds cheering or even my coach because I always found the zone. In fact the one time I really remember hearing her during a race she was screaming to ‘just race! get in there and race!’. I was in there but the problem was I wasn’t in the zone. I was only running, not racing and there is a difference. I realized it so I snapped into what I knew was the zone and started racing.

With photography I’ve experienced the same effect even when working with people. I don’t worry about the technical stuff (hopefully I’ve thought it out before (planning helps)) and I’m not thinking about whether I’ll fail or succeed. I’m only thinking about the immediate time, place, and people that are in the midst of what I’m doing.

This is what my zone looks like. What it feels like is a blur. I’ve lost time, but somehow there is a feeling of patience, freedom, no fear, and an ease that leads to almost a sense of euphoria. And afterwards, I almost always have that euphoria. I am happy. This is what my zone feels like.

Foggy Morning 2

The Exercise

Now I want you to get to know what your zone is like when are creating photos. It takes time, patience, practice, and awareness.

To get there you need to practice and it’s the only way to get there. You have to get out and shoot for long periods of time to get to know how it feels. It take time to get there especially if you haven’t felt the zone for a while. It takes patience with the world, but mostly with yourself. Don’t let yourself get frustrated, instead let you mind wander. It takes awareness of the feelings you have for what surrounds you.

Now let’s get to it! This works for anyone including the beginner. Even if you aren’t super comfortable with the technical workings of your camera, its ok!

No matter how comfortable you are with your camera, I want you to only shoot from your soul. There are a few rules to help you find your zone.

First, find a day and time you can take that you won’t be distracted or feel like you have to rush:

1. If you aren’t super comfy with your camera then go out only with your phone camera, a point and shoot, or your eyes.

2. Choose a subject or place where you are comfortable. For this first outing you don’t need to push yourself creatively – you only need to find your zone.

3. Go alone. Or if you must go with someone else, make sure they won’t be a distraction. For me, that means leaving my girls behind because they are a big distraction.

4. Give yourself 1 to 2 hours minimum. Just like running a race, you have to warm up and it could take you up to a 1/2 hour to warm up.

5. Patiently work. In the warm up you can shoot however much you like but as you get 15 to 30 minutes into shooting, slow down. Look first and only when you see something you absolutely love then shoot.

6. To help yourself, choose only 1 aspect or feature to look for and shoot. For example, choose leading lines, a color, backlight, a face. Doing so will set you up for success, but you have to stay focused.

7. Get lost. Don’t worry about the rest of the world or time. Literally lose yourself in the craft. If it is people you are shooting, get lost in them – talk to them get to know everything about them. If it is landscape get to know every inch of it. Keep your interest in what you are shooting and care.

Foggy Morning 4

What Will Your Zone Be Like?

Really, only you can say but typically these are the general feelings and thoughts when someone is in the zone:

When you start seeing the things you love and are shooting them, you are in the zone.

When you’ve forgotten the time, and are enjoying the moment, you’ve found the zone.

When you have forgotten the technical or aren’t worried about failing, then you are in the zone.

When you start seeing that one aspect you are looking for everywhere, you are in the zone.

I promise you when you find it, you’ll know it, and it’ll keep you coming back for more. Let me know in the comments how you reach the zone or share on Instagram a photo from the zone using #discoverbreadcrumbs