When I used to work as a project manager for Intel, I occasionally heard the advice from upper management, “Don’t confuse effort with results.”
Initially, it seemed like pretty harsh advice as my dedicated team worked 16 hours a day, 7 days a week to help bring a new software application to life for our internal customers. Didn’t our managers (and customers) appreciate our tireless efforts?
Most of them did, yes; but it did not replace their expectations that the software application eventually had to function without “bugs” (flaws/issues), as designed and delivered on (or before) the date our team promised. Anyone who has been involved in software engineering knows this sometimes involves project teams displaying impressive feats of strength and willpower equivalent to Superman moving the Earth…
Although I left the corporate life behind over nine years ago, I see this playing out all too often in the outdoor photography world. As photographers vie for attention on social media channels and elsewhere, this notion of traveling to unknown foreign lands, enduring unforgiving conditions, and torturing oneself to “get the shot” has overshadowed the value of an artist’s ability to observe, feel, and visually express their individual connection with the land.
Don’t get me wrong; as wondering and wandering photographers explore the Great Outdoors, fascinating adventure stories do tend to emerge. And sometimes you need to push and challenge yourself to experience a place to the fullest extent. In fact, famous psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi suggests that the mental state of “flow”—when you feel like you are “in the zone,” and that leads to increased happiness and creativity—occurs when a person concentrates on an important and challenging activity that requires some level of skill.
But just because you walked 17 miles in Class 4 terrain on the side of a mountain while hobbling on a broken foot through the middle of the night in grizzly bear country during the worst summertime blizzard in recorded history does not automatically guarantee that you “nailed it.”
Don’t confuse effort with results.
Maybe you did. Maybe this harrowing experience was so real, rich, and personal that you made a hundred images that were meaningful to you. Awesome. The expressive images you created resulted from you wholeheartedly feeling the fear of the darkness, the cold snowflakes seeping through your leg cast, and the wind burning exposed parts of your skin, though, not because you merely survived the grand adventure.
This personal and emotional connection with your journey and with your environment drives the creation of unique images—and you can accomplish this in your backyard under sunny skies, in Iceland under a glorious sunset, and everywhere in between. It matters not where you are standing but rather how you make the most of what you are standing in front of by incorporating your skills, intimate knowledge, and background.
Maybe you didn’t bring home any images. Awesome. Was the experience meaningful to you? Did you have fun? Mission accomplished.
To drive the point home, I made the image above from our Fossil camp (river mile ~125.5) while on our raft trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Before dawn, I casually strolled about 100 yards on a gorgeous sandy horseshoe-shaped beach to reach this point on the river. I waded across a small riffle and sat on a boulder waiting for the rising sun to illuminate the deep canyon walls in the distance. I inhaled my surroundings. I felt at peace and at home after four days on the river. I felt like each new day unfolded exciting mysteries of geology, history, and adventure. I felt the constant shifts between flat water and roaring rapids.
I intentionally composed to show this serenity, this mystery of light, and the balance of the two water energies. Then I snapped my frame.
With a cup of delicious coffee in one hand (and cable release in the other, of course). In 80-degree weather with a light cool breeze. While still in my pajamas. While waiting for our amazing guides to finish cooking up made-to-order Eggs Benedict for our group’s breakfast. One can only imagine the immensity of the tragic conditions I endured.
But really, I should not confuse effort with results…