Learning how to relax and better enjoy the processes of making video and photographs.

Photograph of Dani taken with a Sony a99 and a Rokinon 85mm t1.5.  Just for fun.

I am anxious person. I worry about stuff I really don't need to worry about. I'm always at the airport three hours early. I have multiple back-up plans. I lay awake in the middle of the night going over my strategy for shooting the next day's project instead of sleeping. I pack as though half my gear will be run through an industrial metal shredder on the way to my next job, to ensure I'll still be able to shoot when I get there...  If something fails on a shoot I tend to feel personally responsible even if there's no one to blame.

It's a tough way to go through work life. The constant buzz of worry is exhausting and building all the "fault tolerant" failsafes into every project takes time and energy, while sapping the will to improvise and the freedom to create at will. If every move must be made bullet proof it's almost impossible to change gears and operate outside the boxes I've carefully constructed.

It wasn't always this way. When I started I had little money and little knowledge of all the possibilities that existed with which to do a project. I used the same camera for everything. I used the same three lenses for everything. I used the light I had on hand and it never occurred to me, in that time, to go out and buy just exactly the right light and modifier to achieve an exact look or style. I spent a lot less time considering what to buy and how to use it and a lot more time pointing the camera at beautiful things and pushing the shutter button.

And now I find myself going through the same (self) destructive process with video. In order to master it I'm spending hours and hours reading about knee, gamma, black point, crispening, vertical and horizontal detail, bit depth, color depth, signal-to-noise ratios, false color, TCLI and much more. I've vacuumed up whole books on digital theory for video and I have three different books on editing, motivated camera movement and audio design. I find myself worrying about whether a super cardioid microphone will record cleaner indoors interview sound than an actual shotgun microphone. But all I really want to do, if I look deep inside, is to compose beautiful shots and tell stories of interesting people.

I hit the wall today. I've been working on non-stressful stuff like general scripting and outlining for a project next week. I've put together an extensive shot list and that's actually a stress reducing process because planning out useful shots is different then dissecting each shot and trying to decide what gear and what techniques have to be mastered to bring the shot to life perfectly. I've diagnosed myself. I am being destroyed by the plague of perfectionism --- as it relates to "state of the art" gear and "presumed" technical proficiency.

I stopped myself from pulling the trigger ( pushing "buy") on yet another microphone. I stopped myself from buying a Sound Devices audio mixer. I pulled back from buying another camera.

I was on the edge of another precipice and I stepped back and took a deep breath. I rolled out an ensolite pad and got down of the floor and meditated. I focused on my breathing. When I felt relaxed again I got up and walked over to the pile gear I was packing for next week. I pulled out two cameras from the four I had packed and put them back into the cabinet. I pulled out two of the five lenses I had packed and put them back in the cabinet. I repacked the audio kit with only the two microphones I knew I would need. I shut off the computer and went to swim practice. Swim practice reminded me that the more relaxed you are the faster you can swim.

It's a struggle to know where the line is between being adequately prepared (and relaxed) and being overly prepared and stressed to the max. The reality is that it's impossible to plan for every contingency. It's impossible for one person to be an expert in everything. Surrendering to this idea that I don't need to master everything feels more like a victory and less like a lost battle. Just being proficient is usually more than enough...

My new goal is to relax enough to get on a plane one day with one camera, one microphone and one script and to land at my destination refreshed and ready to play. Does anyone have a workshop for that? For unwinding all the layers of trying too hard to be too prepared? To be too well equipped? To be too well researched. I've found out the hard way that an obsession with getting everything right is paralyzing. I'm ready for the workshop that teaches me how to have more fun actually doing the work.


George Beinhorn said...

This sounds like the natural process. I had a client in my writing biz who told me, "I never really accomplish things unless I write them down." Kind of like a pilot's checklist. If you can manage the list in your head, fine, but if not it creates huge stress to try to do it that way. Also, you're in the stage that the I Ching calls "difficulty at the beginning" - believe me, I've gone through this since 1983 when I got my first PC and had to learn WordStar, and since 1966 when I started taking pictures. Becoming fluid with the tools is a pain in the butt, and then there you are. I was reading where Joe McNally (or was it Jay Maisel) described the process of buying a new camera and working the devil out of it until he could do everything without thinking twice. I find it a bit difficult to switch back into creative mode, after filling my head with all of the tech junk. But there, too, I'm thinking, "The only times you did anything creative, you planned it, worked on the concept, enlisted the people, and exercised your will to make it happen. Then you integrated it (and yourself) to where you could do it with a higher goal in mind - helping someone look their best, portraying a beautiful event, illustrating a wonderful conversation, helping something expansive to happen, etc." This article interested me because I'm doing a series of interviews with very successful artists, photographers, dancers, and musicians. And I'm starting to see the same patterns in their work, the balance between mastering the tools and sublimating them in creative activity.

George Beinhorn said...

p.s. Kirk, meant to say something about your request for ideas about the "workshop" for learning to balance the details and the creativity. For me, it's been a meditative yoga practice since 1966, and accompanying effort to understand the way to what those wise old buzzards of the East say is the goal of all sentient beings: to find greater happiness, and freedom from suffering. For Dummies answer: it happens by expanding awareness, i.e., by using body, heart, will, mind, soul in ways that increase health, love, strength, wisdom, and joy. But lest I sound like I know this, believe me, every single day my practice starts anew.

Dave Jenkins said...

Paralysis by analysis, Kirk. I certainly share the problem. I've told people that in his mind, even if not actually, a photographer wears both belt and suspenders.

If all you really want to do is make portraits and can make a living at it, why don't you just dump the other stuff and do that?

The answer, of course, is that you fear you might not be able to make a living at it. So anxiety dictates that you must have multiple strings for your bow.

Certainly not dissing you. I have the same problem.

Dave said...

Have you considered hiring someone to do some of the more technical stuff and you do scripting and directing? Or some other way to spread out the load?

Kirk Tuck said...

I do use editors whenever possible but I like running camera. The point of my essay though is that we (I) tend to overestimate and overvalue the technical aspect of things over the rest of the process. There is actually a point where you've lost any sort of efficiency by learning too much or being over concerned with metrics that don't affect the overall look or success of a project.

I like good subcontractors who can do things I dislike. I'm $3,000 deep into my editor for the month of January, but finding the right people is also very, very time consuming and in Austin you'll find someone this month but next month they'll be in the middle of someone else's project and you'll have to look again. Auditioning new help isn't something I want to do on my client's dime or my client's schedule.

"Tuna" Man said...

I've noted over the several years of enjoying your blog that every once in a while you talk about you're having fun with photography. I'll bet that if your clients realize that what you are doing for them is fun, exciting, and all around wonderful, magic will happen.

The photo you posted today stopped me in my tracks. It was magic. That's what you are so good at . . . making magic happen.

Have fun.

Jim Beinke

Kenneth Voigt said...

Is Ben taking the semester off ? seems like he has been around quite a bit lately......

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Kenneth, Ben has been here since just before Christmas but he's not taking a semester off. He's getting ready to go to Seoul S. Korea to study at Yonsei University for a semester. They seem to be on a three semester per year system. He'll head over around the middle of February and return in early to mid-July. It's a junior year study abroad. Kind of a reward for an unbroken string of Dean's List Honors. Yes, now I will miss him not only because he's my kid but also because he is a very good video editor and he's good with client relations... Ah well, you can't hold on to them forever... (sniff, tear drop on keyboard.)

Kirk Tuck said...

Here is the 411 on Ben's choice:

"Yonsei University  
Private university in Seoul, South Korea
Yonsei University is a private research university in Seoul, South Korea. It is one of Korea's three SKY universities, considered the most prestigious in the country. Yonsei was established in 1885 and is the oldest university in South Korea. Wikipedia
Address: 50 Yonsei-ro, Sinchon-dong, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Total enrollment: 38,213 (Oct 1, 2014)
Mascot: Yonsei Eagle
Phone: +82 1599-1885
Founder: Horace Grant Underwood
Founded: April 10, 1885
Motto: The truth will set you free. (John 8:32); 진리가 너희를 자유케 하리라. (요한복음 8:32)"

Brandon Scott said...

Kirk, I wanted to complement you on the portrait of Dani. It has an intensity that makes it look unposed and so of the moment. Thanks.

seany said...

Kirk your fellow Americans have a wonderful expression "you gotta dance with the one you brung" I'm afraid no matter what anyone tells you or what you read in self help books you are stuck with attitude, personality, you've got.

The good side is it has made you the person you are which from where I observe from is something to be proud of, also I think you will find that the reason you get so much repeat business from your longtime clients is because they value your attention to detail and the fact that they can rely on a first rate service.

The world is chock full of underachievers who just never deliver Kirk, it's only normal to be self critical from time to time but be careful to always look for the positives as well.


Kurt Friis Hansen said...

Wish Ben a happy and eventful stay in Seoul and South Korea. These are wonderful places to visit. Store under "weird and wonderful" - "weird" as in "different" compared to your or my local culture, but worth every effort.

Every young person should be given (or forced to) a stretch on their own far away from the known surroundings.


Anonymous said...

Hey Kirk,
Wish Ben a wonderful adventure from me too. I expect he will get a lot out of this opportunity. In the mid-seventies I spent a year at Osan South Korea with the Air Force. As my work schedule allowed I got out to travel and learn of the country. Used the base photo darkroom to process my black & white 35mm photos. Flew over the countryside in light aircraft rented from the base aero-club. It was a very rewarding experience for me. Take Care. Ron

RayC said...

- My new goal is to relax enough to get on a plane one day with one camera, one microphone and one script and to land at my destination refreshed and ready to play. Does anyone have a workshop for that?

I think it is called retirement.

A pro has to produce, which requires a modicum of duplication. Of course it's also good to have good relationship with the local rental house.