This is probably neither the first advice you’d expect to hear after several days worth of 90-plus degree weather — nor, under those circumstances, is it likely to be the first advice you want to hear. But it’s already said, and I can’t take it back now, so we’d might as well both make the best of it. When the weather’s bad — rain, snow, intense heat, freezing cold, plague of locusts — it can be very tempting to say the heck with shooting on any given day. On those rare occasions that we do brave the elements, it’s usually by hopping a train, bus, or car so that we can at least get to our shooting destination in some semblance of comfort. That’s all well and good (and it’s also better to shoot than not to shoot). However, I’d suggest dressing yourself and your camera for the weather, and setting out on foot more often.
There are a few reasons for this, not least of which is that it’s challenging to shoot from a moving vehicle. There are ways around this, same as with nearly every other photographic dilemma, and I’ll be covering those in a future post. Suffice to say for now that when you’re traveling in a vehicle, it’s often as not a matter of dumb luck trying to get a decent shot.
Leaving that aside, there’s also the issue of finding, and really seeing, your subject matter when it’s hurtling past your window at 65 miles per hour. Sometimes, in fact, it’s as though someone “up there” has deliberately decided to screw with us, putting all sorts of tantalizing things in front of us (all the more so if the photographer’s the one doing the driving). You will see strange, wondrous, and seemingly impossible things just as soon as there’s nowhere to safely pull over and get the shot.
Then there’s simple fitness. Photography’s not the Ironman Triathalon, but unless you shoot exclusively with a camera phone or a compact, the gear tends not to be very light. If you’re not in shape, carrying that stuff around all day can leave you a bit winded. Getting in better shape means having (but not necessarily taking) the option to have more gear with you, and also means having more endurance on a long day’s shooting.
More than anything else, however, the reason I suggest walking more is to reinforce something I come back to time and again in The First 10,000: the simple act of slowing down. Look, life is fast-paced enough the rest of the time. At some point in our day, or at least our week (and I don’t suggest longer intervals than that), we really do need to take the time to consciously slow the ebb and flow of life to something more manageable, more human. It’s hard to tell your eyes, or your mind, to slow down when the rest of you is traveling at or above the speed limit. Sometimes taking all the steps necessary for a good photo really does mean… well, taking steps. Photographing one step at a time, one foot in front of the other.
At the risk of sounding vaguely new agey, a good walk lets you harmonize your eyes, mind, and body, getting them all on the same page, and the same pace. I’ve mentioned before that we need to photograph with more than just our eyesight. Slowing down certainly helps the act of seeing, but it also expands our perception. You photograph differently when you can feel what’s under your feet, whether it’s an uneven gravel path or the gentle settling of your shoes into the soil; you photograph differently when you’re reading the light just as much by the warmth on your skin as by your meter; you photograph directly when your soul is as much in the moment as your body, when it’s moving with you at a pace not dictated by a clock, but measured out by the rhythm of your own heartbeat when it’s quickened by the sights in front of you.