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Birthdays and Creative Pauses (Short)

Happy Birthday to me (etc etc)
21st Birthday Card - Birthdays
So, my 21st Photography birthday was on Saturday, and to celebrate I had a day off, after one of my busiest months in history, and then watched England just lose to France in the 6 nations (boo).  Someone was kind enough, and sharp eyed enough to notice that the anniversary was approaching, and sent me the rather lovely card pictured above – thank you Mr Andrew Ghosh, I’m deeply touched!

Yeah, another year older wiser and all that, except this year I genuinely think I’ve learnt a lot.  2013 was without doubt my busiest year ever, but I’ve definitely made some progress in the art of managing all the various elements that go into being self-employed, and working as a professional photographer.  Hopefully, if my workload stays sane this month, I’d like to share some of these lessons with you all.

The Creative Pause (Short)

One of the key things I’ve learnt in the last 12 months is the importance of taking breaks, something which those of you who know me will will appreciate I’m not the best at!  Besides the simple act of “not working” and taking time off, which we are hopefully all familiar with, there’s the more professional sounding “Creative Pause” which I’d like to share my experiences of.

There are 2 types of creative pause, the long and the short.  I’ll detail the long in another post, but for now let’s talk about the short one.  A short creative pause is simply a brief full-stop in the middle of a hectic day, allowing you a bit of space to catch your breath and look around.

During a busy shoot, with a lot of demands on your time, lots of technical issues to deal with, various personnel fussing about the place, equipment failures and bad weather, it can be very easy indeed to get swept up by all this, lose your focus, lose your temper, and generally switch to “fight or flight” mode.  Everyone is familiar with the notion that when under stress the body switches to this mode, and whilst it can be life-saving in certain situations, in most cases when we’re on a shoot, the physiological and psychological aspects of your body behaving this way can be very detrimental.  Your focus will narrow, you’ll feel more stressed and anxious, and you’ll probably be quite snappy and irritable too!

Paula Radcliffe Behind the Scenes
Photoshoots can involve a lot of moving parts, a lot of moving people, and rapidly changing conditions – like the weekly 5K park run storming through your impromptu studio!

The best way to fix this is firstly to recognise when it’s happening, which is not always easy, but vital.  If you find you’re no good at self-diagnosis in this regard, have someone you work with regularly agree a polite way of informing you when you’re slipping into this frame of mind – ideally not by shouting about it in front of the entire crew!

The next, and even more important stage, is to relax.  Easier said than done, I know, but in fact there are myriad ways of achieving this, and I’d recommend experimenting with various methods until you find one that suits you best.  You can try progressive muscle relaxation, deep diaphragmatic breathing, mindfulness meditation, self-hypnosis, neuro-linguistic programming, and/or anything else that works.  Personally I use a self-hypnosis program I’ve developed as it can be done very quickly (less than a minute) and it’s very effective in my experience.  However, I’ve had some coaching in these methods, so it’s not something you can pick up instantly.  Probably the simplest and easiest methods to try would be progressive muscle relaxation, and deep, diaphragmatic breathing.

The benefits of taking this little pause are enormous in my experience.  Slowing down and looking around allows you to hit “restart” and remember what it is you’re supposed to be shooting, something which may have drifted away from you during the course of a busy shoot.  It allows you to focus in on details that may have escaped you, as well as letting you pull back to view the bigger picture.  It can let you generate new ideas when under pressure – something I’ve done several times in the past 12 months.

Like any skill though, it needs practice.  Don’t expect to be under pressure, and then with no rehearsal, drop into a relaxed, calm state.  Instead take opportunities to practice whichever habit you choose in more relaxed circumstances, then when you need to call on it, it’ll be a well-developed skill.

I’ll talk more about the Long Creative Pause in a day or two, but for now, practice relaxing!

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