Why I Click - Lens Lessons and why play helps

written by "Royston Fernandes" PMP, ITIL

Writer’s block. Missing Muse. Call it what you will, but I hadn’t written for a while during the latter half of 2014. Scary stuff when you consider some of us post twice or thrice a week. Of course I knew why. Apart from juggling the demands of work, I was spending an increasing part of my ever diminishing discretionary time behind my Canon 70D’s viewfinder. Although I am merely an amateur photographer, it occurred to me that whether it was capturing the golden glory of autumn or capturing the catch lights in a model’s eyes, there might be some valuable perspectives (bad pun – I know) gained from being behind the lens. After all, in a previous post – Brain Games, I had written about the benefits of having a hobby and the linkage between hobbies and productivity, even efficiency. Apart from re-emphasizing this linkage, the real value proposition isn't necessarily a specific hobby, but the powerful self-awareness and eureka moments that can occur during the pursuit of a hobby and thus increase self-awareness and its direct impact on both personally and professionally.
On such thoughts, posts are born.

The great photographer extraordinaire, Ansel Adams put forward, what to many shutterbugs, is the most fundamental tenet – You don’t take a photograph. You make it. This means you watch for the quality, quantity, color and the direction of light. You compose, you do post-processing and you do all that to evoke a reaction and tell a story. 
Art does indeed mimic life, for that lesson is applicable in the professional world as much as it is on a photo shoot. This is a key differentiation - to truly excel, master the key success factors of any objective and marshal them into a cohesive, powerful and highly effective force that transforms an otherwise standard result to one of commanding brilliance and beauty. Whatever task you’re working on, be it big or small, if your name is going to be on it – taking the time to think through the critical factors may make the difference between a mediocre result and one that is truly evocative of your style and distinguishes your accomplishment. Takeaway - Create the conditions for success.

Photography can at times, be considered a subtractive art. After all, that’s what those telephoto lenses (that considerably lighten your wallet) ought to help accomplish. Zoom in on what’s important. Eliminate what isn’t useful to the picture. Whether it’s the subject’s green eyes or that grizzly bear in a forest, it’s up to you to guide the viewer to what you want to be seen and maximize impact by discarding what is superfluous to the frame and focus on what’s relevant. In the film noir shot below, what fascinated me was the interplay of shadows and I chose simply to focus on that.

It’s more than just being crisp. Example - what is truly relevant in a resume? Is it really that you created a billion reports or that based on your analysis of the troubled projects, you identified the top ten issues, created a recovery plan and executed it to realize a savings of 100k. You get the picture (last pun...I promise). Takeaway -What you frame engages.

You can have the latest Canon 5D Mark III with 22.3 Megapixel full-frame CMOS, 61-Point High Density Reticular AF camera (with apologies to Nikon users). You can also have a super-fast EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM lens (Santa – there's just 346 days left you know). But, as most good portrait photographers will tell you, a critical factor in making a memorable photograph, to evoke the ever elusive "oohs" and 'ahhs,' is the ability to engage with the model.

When your subject is relaxed, and don't view the camera as a starting gun, their facial muscles are relaxed which in turn relaxes their jaws and makes for a natural smile. After all, you don’t want Aunt Elsie’s smile to resemble the one she wears when she's about to be seated in the dentist's chair. The ability to put your subject(s) at ease and thereby capture a natural expression is a critical skill. It can be daunting considering that very often, you are meeting the subject for the first time and need establish a genuine rapport swiftly even as you're getting the equipment ready, keeping a watch on natural light, watching the shadows etc.

Skimmed milk masquerades as cream, so this can also be a fantastic opportunity when you relentlessly re-invent yourself. For me it was overcoming a tendency to be a bit of an introvert for the first few minutes. Once I got past those few minutes, I could blather on merrily. So I deliberately signed up and participated in a variety of shoots in different locations. Because whether you are interviewing or are meeting a client for the first time, or shooting a subject, its in those first few minutes that you’re sized up and its those first few minutes that count. Solution ? - Stay uncomfortable and trust your gut. The more frequently you get out of your comfort zone, the faster and better you adapt to new situations. Takeaway - The better and faster you adapt, the more authentic confidence you assert.

Photography, like other avenues of art offers a unique glimpse and an opportunity to define yourself and express yourself and the world around in a profoundly individualistic manner. At a photo meet during last summer, a few of us were shooting a model in brilliant summer sunshine. The colors were vibrant, with the cool blue of Lake Ontario as the background - it was everything you'd want in a summer portrait. Everything, except that I wanted something unique. Something that didn't necessarily scream summer but reflected the wistfulness I saw in the subject's gaze. So while everyone around, captured and later processed their shots in vivid colours - I kept mine in black and white. And what follows was the result.

In a world seemingly obsessed with numbers, be it Big data or BMI, shares or likes, ROI or GDP, its easy to lose sight of what truly matters. Being human. Take for example Chris Arnade, the trader who quit Wall Street after 20 years to photograph drug addicts and prostitutes in the Bronx. Be warned. The story isn't pretty in the conventional sense. It is raw. It is dark. It is the tragic , infrequently exposed, frequently glossed over, side of life. It is however, profoundly human. It is also the triumph of human compassion. Or the story of Jeremy Cowart - the award winning photographer who's shot the likes of Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson and Hayden Panettiere and how he processed the loss of his brother through photography. Skim the surface and you'll miss the indomitable courage of the human spirit, the sheer grit and victory of authenticity through adversity. Takeaway - Authenticity matters.

So What ?

There's a plethora of benefits that can be gained from photography or from the pursuit of any hobby. In my opinion though, the best metamorphic bang for your metamorphic buck are as follows :

Firstly, perspectives gained heighten self-awareness and emotional intelligence, thus serving as a strong platform for building essential leadership skills. Secondly, they spur a significant increase in creativity and actionable insights that allows you to address personal blind spots.Why creativity ? Because creativity is recombinatory, it essentially involves an old idea colliding with a new one and the recognition of patterns. Think of it as training or priming your brain because the neurons that wire together, fire together (Hebb's Law - not mine). Lastly, valuable resources of time and energy potentially expended in managing & maintaining carefully crafted exterior impressions - can now be redirected and channeled into far more authentic and rewarding activities.

To take it a step further - this kind of self-awareness are emphasized and starkly visible within Deliberately Developmental Organizations or DDO’s. As this HBR (Harvard Business Review) article outlines, DDO's foster a culture that views work as an essential context for personal growth. A culture in which valuable resources of time and human ability aren’t squandered in managing & maintaining carefully crafted impressions while masking unaddressed "weaknesses".

In a DDO, the root causes almost always are about people’s interior lives—about unwarranted and unexamined assumptions and habitual ways of behaving. - Robert Kegan, Lisa Lahey & Andy Fleming

If we accept the premise that an organization's everyday operations form an ideal environment for personnel and personal development, irrespective of rank, we may yet discover a way to integrate rather than endlessly attempt to balance life and work. Connecting the seemingly disconnected. Making business personal. Now that's something to smile about.

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