Time Management

| June 18, 2016

A version of this essay originally appeared in Landscape Photography Magazine.


For art comes to you proposing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments’ sake. ~Walter Pater

Among the reasons I prefer to work alone in the landscape is that I like to work very slowly. Few people have the patience to wait as I examine every angle and possibility, work my camera’s controls manually, consider and reconsider my compositions, and sometimes just sit and observe the scene in silence for prolonged periods before, during and after making an image, if I even make one at all. Rather than rush, I want to deliberately prolong the experience, to appreciate not only photographic opportunities but also the mood and beauty of the place, independent of what images I may bring back with me. I wish to make my time as meaningful and joyous as possible, and to stretch it out for as long as is feasible. At times, when I discover a place that is particularly inspiring, I may even hike back to my vehicle to fetch an overnight pack so I can return to spend a night or two, to see the place in all hours of the day and to not have to settle for a lesser image, or worse—a lesser experience.

Time management is a concept often touted in the business world as a strategy for increasing productivity: using time in the most effective way toward maximizing the quantity and/or quality of products and services. In this age when most people in developed countries are raised not to become creative individuals but as trained resources for various industries, many struggle with the simple concept of managing time toward goals that have nothing to do with any product, but rather with the goal of getting the most out of a rewarding experience. And yet, in art and in life, the proper management of time can sometimes mean the exact opposite of what it means in a business context.

Given that none of us is given infinite time, it seems important that we manage it wisely and in our own best interest. To manage time wisely, in my mind, means not only spending it on the right things, but also in the right proportions: as little as possible on necessities and trivial things, and as much as possible on joyous and noble things. This means rushing and taking shortcuts only in the pursuit of tedious obligations, and expanding as much as possible those times that elevate the living experience.

Photographers often find themselves at a disadvantage when it comes to investing time. Too many are obsessed with short-lived decisive moments, neglecting to acknowledge that these moments are far more meaningful when considered as the momentary pinnacles of a greater experience, and lose much of their potential reward when disconnected from such experiences. In addition, those who profit from the promotion of photographic equipment and services do their best to convince us that we are better off when things are easier, faster, more automated and requiring less cognitive and creative investment; and too many are gullible enough to accept it as truth, and to forfeit without even realizing the greater satisfaction that can be found in contemplative work, in slowing down and being mindful, and in returning home not just with an image, but also with a memory of an experience worthy of recalling with pride and yearning in years to come.

Crumbling Caprock

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Category: All Posts, Featured, Thoughts and Musings

About the Author ()

Guy Tal is an author and photographic artist. He resides in a remote part of Utah, in a high desert region known as the Colorado Plateau—a place that inspired him deeply for much of his life and that continues to feature in his images and writing. In his photographic work, Guy seeks to articulate a reverence for the wild. He writes about, and teaches, the values of living a creative life and finding fulfillment through one’s art.

Comments (4)

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  1. Bob says:

    That puts one in mind of the ‘olden days,’ when making an image required setting up a large-format camera and finding the precise angle, framing, exposure, etc. And, perhaps, walking away with a plan to return under proper lighting conditions. The process required us to become intimate with the scene, to experience not only the location but the act of recording it.

    I often accuse friends (and myself) of photographic promiscuity in the digital age: that is, firing off a bunch of images with the digital equipment, hoping for a ‘good one.’ Your post reminds us to slow down and strive to realize what it is that we really want to record.

    And to remember that we’re fortunate simply to be in this place of beauty, camera or no.

  2. Thomas Rink says:

    One should not forget the time outside photographic outings (when not in the field). This would be time spent on reflection about pictures and projects, or creativity or art in general, or simply reading. For me, this is as important as the work in the field, and in fact is indispensable.

  3. Peter Higdon says:

    Whilst agreeing with the points made here, I would like to add one caveat. Even in the landscape photography genre, there are times when there is no time – and I’m not talking about the decisive moment when the light is exactly right. I have been photographing one particular part of the English countryside in some detail for the last fifteen or so months. I have learnt by experience that during spring in particular, you cannot wait, you cannot go home and think about, and return two days later. Everything changes so fast, that the particular scene may be gone tomorrow; and will almost certainly not reappear in the same form next year. One heavy storm, one frost, and the tree blossom will be ruined.

    For the same reason, when out in the field, one has to work quickly, because there are probably a number of things one wants to capture.

    So yes, think about it. Yes, be creative. But in England, in the spring, you must always assume you have only one chance to capture the scene.

    • Guy Tal says:

      Thank you Peter! You are right of course but I will add a further caveat, which is this: to me the experience of being there and communing with the places and things I photograph is always the deciding factor. If I enjoy working, even when conditions are changing fast, then I consider it time well spent. However, if the rush to get the image in some way compromises my joy of witnessing some wonderful phenomenon or just enjoying a moment of magic when my time is better spent just watching and being mindful, then I say: to hell with the photograph.