I recently had the opportunity to listen to and shoot with Bryan Peterson at the Out of Acadia conference in Maine. During his talk (and subsequent excursions out in the park), Bryan talked about the difference between shooting for satisfaction and shooting for joy. According to Bryan, a "satisfactory image" is the bucket list image, the one you can buy at the gift shop. For landscape photographers, satisfactory images are often those iconic locations you have to shoot, the ones that everyone shoots (postcards) but you need as part of your portfolio to legitimize your portfolio.
But, "joyful" images are those you create and thus are unique to your portfolio. They are, in a way, discovered by you and in his talk, Bryan challenged us to discover more joy in our photography because, as he explained, what drives photographers are not the satisfying shots, it’s the joyful shots.
After his talk I thought quite a bit about my portfolio, I found a lot of truth in Bryan's words. Of all of the images I have created over the years, there is one that is undoubtedly my most talked about. It's also an award winner.
This cow was not bringing me joy when I first saw her. I had positioned myself in a field in beautiful Stowe, VT, using a meandering fence as a leading line toward Mount Mansfield with a beautiful summer sunset overhead. While waiting for the light to be just right, dozens of cows came running across the field, right up to the fence I was using in my shot. Curses! They were now in my shot. Cows in the foreground are not iconic! I picked up my gear and starting moving around, looking to somehow engineer a composition that excluded the cows, but wherever I went they all followed. They simply wouldn't get out of the way! After ten minutes, the number of cows mirroring my every moment had dropped to just one. But she wasn't giving up, when I moved, she moved.
By this point, my family and friends were well into dinner and most likely a few local brews back at the condo we rented and I couldn't shake this freakin' cow. She was in the way, the light was fading, and I was angry. My iconic (read: satisfying) shot of a summer sunset over Mt. Mansfield was going to be lost.
And then it hit me, the sunset wasn't the subject, SHE was. She was the "joyful shot" waiting to be created. Once I stopped feeling sorry for myself and realized I was missing the REAL shot, I took the camera off the tripod, cranked the ISO up to 1600, hand held it close to the ground tilted up, and hit the shutter. Once. I would like to say that the matching colors of the flowers and the sunset coupled with the cow staring right at the camera was all planned, but in reality it was just dumb luck... nothing preplanned, nothing thought out. It was simply an instinctive action to capture something different, something no one else had.
Sitting in Bryan's talk in Acadia, more than year after this image was created, I realized that I was in Stowe shooting for satisfaction (the iconic Vermont sunset), but the magic happened when my mindset opened itself up to shooting for joy. As a result, not only has this image become my best selling image (by far) it is one that no other photographer has.
She is all mine, and that fills me with joy.
PS: Recently she became a covergirl having won the AAA Northern New England 2017 Photo Contest.