The Bane of Expectations

Today I left the apartment with fervor, energy and drive that I haven’t felt in a while (at least a week!).  Motivation is a costly commodity when the temperature is 38 degrees and the wind is gusting at 30 miles per hour.  I like to get out and do the photo thing but let’s face it, I’m a wimp.  If it’s a choice between taking photos or keeping all my appendages intact, I’ll just go pull something out of the big box of books and turn the heat up.  But this afternoon I poured out the door like a bucket of water over Niagra falls; I was ready to take on the day and whatever it happened to bring.

As with weather, I’m also a wimp when it comes to parking.  I’d rather park somewhere a mile or two away than bother with a parking garage.  As I got out of the car at the Indianapolis Zoo and headed across the river on foot towards Lucas Oil Stadium I could feel the wind pushing at my back like an impatient mother trying desperately to give birth to an overly plump child. I knew that the walk back was not going to be a pleasant one.  Regardless, the car was safely parked, I had camera in hand, tripod and other equipment on my back and I had a destination.  Frozen face of the future be damned.  It was now time.

Then I arrived at downtown and saw all the… stuff.  Here was the city I had photographed at least a dozen times and it was all made up for a monumental event.  It’s almost as if the place looked at me and said, “OK, Mr. Smart-guy, I’m waiting.  Take my picture already.”  And, as happens to me anytime that an entire city anthropomorphizes and mocks me, I found myself rather locked up artistically.  Rather than relaxing and just letting the photos come to me in a natural way, I ended up playing a complex three-dimensional game of “where’s Waldo” in which Waldo is that perfect shot that I just have to get and if I don’t get it then I would look back on the day a month from now and be furious with myself.

And really, I think that’s exactly the problem with such events.  If I just show up at some random spot and glide around for three hours I know with absolute certainty that I’m going to find something I really like.  I can summon something from nothing without much forethought or difficulty.  But when you go to an event wherein people EXPECT you to get good shots it’s a much different mindset.  It’s almost as if because I know there’s something to be found I end up impatiently looking for it and missing the more natural or artistic bits that are all around us at all times.  As a result, I always see the photos I come back with after an event as rather disappointing because I never feel that I found that ineffable “it” that was lurking waiting to be captured.

Despite my disappointment, I come home and post my rot online so that at the least I can say that I documented the day.  Inevitably though, somebody will come along and notice something in the album that really does have more to say than I thought.  The hangover of expectations, it seems, not only saturates the act of taking the photos but also finds its way into post-processing and would last forever except for the input of people from outside my own skull.   I’m a terrible judge of my own work in general and the issue of expecting something from a situation seems to make it much, much worse.

Clearly though I need an attitude adjustment.  If I choose a random direction and drive then I see photography as a fun recreation that can turn any locale into hours of fun and produce something I like at the end.  If I go somewhere on purpose then photography becomes a gauntlet of challenge thrown down that must be picked up and accepted at all costs.  I find myself walking faster and faster in an attempt to locate that redeeming photo op that will make the miles of walking all worthwhile.  I won’t deny that I’m often a hopelessly competitive person, but in this case I’m just competing with myself in a pointless and circular way that does more to burn calories and wear out my jeans than it does to advance my art.


Filed under photography

23 responses to “The Bane of Expectations

  1. Writers Are (almost) ALWAYS Long-Winded hehehehe
    Fo SHO Fo SHO!

  2. The Talmid Rebbe

    I’m reminded of one of my favorite sayings of my father’s. You can look around forever for that perfect deal, or recognize a good deal for what it is and get on with life. Is this settling? Or living life to the fullest?

    • This reminds me a lot of the book “The Paradox of Choice”, which talks about “maximizers” and “satsificers”. The book’s conclusion was that satisficers were generally happier. Satisficers being of the ilk of getting a reasonable deal and getting on with life. One could wait forever for the “perfect” deal yet having nothing all that time…

  3. You can never push the creative side of life! You can never tell when the perfect time is so you have to go out and shoot anything just in case it is perfect timing.

  4. Reblogged this on Here is my 2 cents! and commented:
    You can never push the creative side of life! You can never tell when the perfect time is so you have to go out and shoot anything just in case it is perfect timing.
    This blog post proves this.

  5. Keep hope alive, you’ve got the attitude! The best shot is not far away but believe me, you are wonderful!

  6. Your post made me think of this TED talk I listened to a while ago. It’s about ‘flow’, that state of complete absorption. In another talk, Philip K. Howard said: “Self-consciousness is the enemy of accomplishment.” As in, if you ask a pianist to think about every note she plays, she’ll be unable to play properly. I wonder if that’s what you experienced.

  7. Great post, a good insight into what makes a photographer tick! I am an amateur photographer, but have always been able and willing to sit in one spot for hours on end, waiting for that perfect shot to materialize. Whether an approaching storm from the cottage at the Eastern limits of PEI, or anywhere else, patience is more often than not one of the requirements for good photographers.

    • Over the years I’ve chatted with some photographers when looking at their work for sale. A question asked a few times, “How did you get that shot?” Answer: “Lots of hard work and patience. Going back to the same place once a week for a year.”
      I’ve grown to understand that now, but used to be surprised—persistence wasn’t a quality that immediately jumped to mind when thinking of a photographer.
      Patience can go a long way!

  8. Laura

    Ah, those pesky expectations…

  9. Expectations are a tricky thing. Having high or low expectations about any event, situation or relationship in our lives consequently produces an inner adjustment; focused in a concrete outcome. When that outcome does not manifest itself as we planned in our minds, we feel downcast, disappointed and depressed. If we have low expectations we’ll never raise the bar to allow ourselves to receive more or to be believe we CAN actually achieve more. Either way expectations places us in state of tension.

    I particularly liked the river/bridge pic you took. I am able to see through the clouds a silver line which indicates that in every situation not matter how difficult or disappointed, there is something positive to be learned about ourselves.

  10. Expectations. Ah, yes. They are a bane, for sure. Like you, I came home from my Super Bowl photo spree with an odd assortment of photos that didn’t capture the full of my experience. I kept saying, “Why didn’t I get a photo of the ice sculpture guy actually DOING the sculpting…that’s what fascinated me.” Or, “I was so close to the Marriott but I didn’t bother to walk the extra couple of blocks to get a decent shot of it. Wimp!” I see my photos in relationship to my friends’ photos (Instagram’s and photos shot from phones and uploaded to Facebook) and I second guess myself and question my ability to see what’s really around me. They were there having fun, I was there on a mission–and I fell short. I took roughly 150 photos while wandering about and only felt like 15 were of any interest or any good and even they were redundant. BUT I got one shot that I am pleased with and I’m content with that. You captured a number of human-interest shots that I would die to have! And you wove a wonderful story around your photos. I thoroughly enjoyed your Super Bowl post. I look forward to your night photos–and the accompanying story. 🙂

  11. Yesterday driving home from a day trip I say the snow geese swirling in for their landing and yes they swirl like a tornado. I had every intention in dropping the family off and driving back to the fields. But a warm fire called instead. Guess I am NOT that photographer LOL!

  12. Great post – especially about expectations of getting “the” shot. Also not passing up the artistic for “the” shot. Thanks for reminding us to slow down and experience the moment and not look for the end product.

  13. winsomebella

    Random directions on occasion can refresh and rejuvenate. Thoughtful post 🙂

  14. I haven’t made it to Indy yet for the Super Bowl experience…I have a couple of friends who went over the weekend and had a blast!!

  15. Did you just call your photos rot……no can do. Sounds like a better day is around the corner. Why not?….

  16. 😆
    One of my friends used to say that if he plans a big night out he knows he’ll be home by 21:00 but on the day that he goes out for just a beer with someone he ends up eating breakfast somewhere else. Same thing I guess…

  17. “event wherein people EXPECT you to get good shots” — Who is it that expects you to get good shots? Who is it that expects you to get good shots, because it’s an event? Why does it being an event matter, or change anything? Really. Especially when said event has not even happened yet? Why should having a well defined purpose and direction be different from really the same purpose of taking photos, but in a random direction? I mean, did you go downtown with a specific photo in mind that you wanted to somehow make happen and take?

    Everything we “create”, we really only mold and form from what our environment gives us. I think you put too much responsibility for the end product on yourself. What you do really is the smallest part of everything that comes together to produce a photo. Or in my case a painting. It may not seem that way, but it really is. “Creativity” is not a ‘real’ thing I think. ‘Creativity’ is memory, perception, and experience put in a blender. You can press ‘stir’ or you can press ‘liquefy’. I don’t believe creativity is a real human capacity in other words. It is just a tag for mental processes we do not yet well understand. In the future I predict ‘creativity’ will become a misnomer, just as ‘schizophrenia’ has.

    All art truly is a reflection of nature, even my most bizarre. After all, ‘artificial’ is itself an artificial construct, is it not?

  18. Oh! You want to talk about missed photos?!? Last night I saw Jupiter — with my own bare eyeballs. It was near the moon in a lovely composition. But I did not then know that it was not just a star. I looked it up and was amazed at what I had really seen. Planned for tonight to dig up the binoculars and telescope, and grab the camera and get a photo — and it’s cloudy!! Grrrr!

  19. Pingback: Feeding Two Birds With One Seed « The Iris and the Lily

  20. I went to a lecture by a celebrated wildlife photographer on taking pictures in your own garden. He showed us some lovely shots from his garden and we were all getting quite excited until he revealed that he has spent all night in a tent in the rain just to be ready to take the shots at break of day. We became less excited. I am am definitely one of those who photographs what’s around and hopes for the best.

  21. Don’t be so scared of finding the perfect shot. There is beauty in imperfection.

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