Getting Off Autopilot


Getting Off Autopilot

Lanny and I are watching the Formula 1 series on Netflix. At six episodes in, I’m not sure if I like it yet, but at the very least, it is interesting. And, of course, I drive, so on a very rudimentary level, I have something in common with the drivers, right?! I drive a minivan on suburban streets with two kids in the back. But, at the core, it’s still driving!

It’s a little bit the same in the photography world. People all over the world take photos with their phones. But, most wouldn’t call themselves ‘photographers.’

I am a pretty good driver. I’ve never had an accident. I am safe. I usually follow the speed limit. I let people in. I can drive a manual stick shift. When I first learnt to drive at 16, it took a lot more mental bandwidth than it takes now. I had to focus very intensely back then. But now, I can drive the kids to school, while enjoying a coffee, and asking them about their day. Many things about driving have become automatic, muscle memory, which is exactly what I want.

That’s not what Formula 1 racers want. What makes Formula 1 racers world class is that it’s not automatic autopilot. It’s not that they can drive, drink coffee, and have a conversation all at once (although I am sure they all can!). What makes them world class is their ability to focus. What makes them world class drivers is their ability to keep things NOT automatic. As soon as their driving on the racetrack is automatic, they no longer improve.

We strive for comfort. We think comfort equals competency. But, if we’re striving for high performance, we don’t want it to be automatic and comfortable, despite our natural tendency to think that when we get good at something, it becomes easier and more automatic. What we want is intention, intense concentration, and determined focus. None of these things are automatic.

As a photographer, I want to notice with intention. I want to change my settings with intention. I want to stay intensely focused on making the best possible photos. I want to frame my photos with intention. As soon as it becomes automatic, I’m driving that minivan again. I don’t want to be driving a minivan when I am photographing. I want to be a Formula 1 driver — or anyone performing at high levels, who are avoiding doing things automatically.

According to Geoff Colvin, author of Talent is Overrated, “Performance is always conscious and controlled, not automatic.”

Wedding photography is a performance — whether you think of it as such or not. Getting off autopilot will help you push yourself to find better ways to create in the moment.


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