Lately the call of the forest, the promise of the experience of the outdoors, of new discoveries yet to be made, pull at me and don't let go until I pack up my backpack and find the roads to the places where I feel more at home than in my house. The promise of being in nature on my own, so I can restore and reset is just too alluring to dismiss. I pack my backpack with the things that will make me feel comfortable, like some food and extra socks and I add those things that will lead to being creatively uncomfortable, just a bit...
Always preferring to go on foot than parking close by, I walk many miles, sometimes with Kayla, our dog, as company, most of the time alone. The alone in the forest is the type of alone that excites me and whilst I find a place to park the car, I foster hopes of some solitude. Much needed solitude to turn off the background noise of recurring thoughts and worries, of too much rationale, too many preconceptions and too little openness to experience. The latter being something that I seek and struggle to find at times, especially when I am surrounded by people. An introvert by nature, I need time alone to restore, but also to create, to create from a sense of connection with the landscape instead of being lead by my the thoughts and predetermined outcomes.
To take a preconception, a preconceived image, into nature means that your brain is primed to just look for something specific. You look for what has been formed in your brain as the perfect outcome and walk through nature on a mission. I have learned through the years that this feels like logging around a heavy burden which undoubtedly leads to many frustrations and will easily smother all kinds of joy which can be had whilst being in nature and being creative.
The muse does not visit minds that are closed off, she calls in on you when the channels are wide open. Creating becomes more effortless and the artist is lead by what is and by what is created more than by the preconceived images in his or her mind. Creating from preconception always feels like forcing something into existence instead of letting things happen. Some people tell me that they need these preconceived images so they can make the most of their time in nature, but I believe that being open to experience, to be willing to discover something totally different than the preconceived idea and to connect with nature and to look and really see it, will undoubtedly be more joyful and will lead to more creativity.
And so I get out of the car, strap my backpack to my shoulders and walk for hours without seeing anyone and for the first time in many years I feel whole and incredibly blissful. I smell the incredible scent of autumn in the forest, it brings back memories of my childhood that I spent in this wondrous place. I find joy in looking at the intricate patterns in mushroom hoods and linger a bit longer under a tree that is sprinkling its leaves around and feel the leaves falling on my head. I make new discoveries, I even take some pictures, with just one prime lens. It is not foggy, the conditions are not to be considered perfect for woodland photography, but life is perfect in this moment in this forest. I can't use my willpower to make nature bend to any preconceived image I might have conjured up, I can't force fog to happen, I can't make harsh sunlight go away and yet I make images that I feel happy with.
Whilst my feet carry me deeper and deeper into this familiar forest I see things I had never seen before. "Was this tree always there, it must have been, it is centuries old by the looks of it? How many times have I been here without noticing it? Had I taken my busy mind into the forest too many times and had I just looked inward instead of outward?" I stop and stroke the bark of the ancient beech tree, humbled by its age and by the power of thoughts that had closed me off so much that I had never seen it before. I feel the smile on my face, the happiness that comes from noticing the unexpected, the loosening of the grip that mind can have over me and the connection with this place that has always been my home. The trees are witnesses to those who walk past without seeing until someone stops and notices. I become the witness and notice how brain activity can be so powerful that it prevents us from noticing, from really seeing and from being truly creative in an open and receptive kind of way. How often had I taken willpower and a burdened mind into this place, how often had I not noticed, how often had I overlooked the truly miraculous in my chase to capture a preconceived image? I wander further and further, I don't really know where exactly I am anymore, but I have not lost my way. I breathe in the scents of autumn and the air of solitude and I feel that I am exactly where I should be right now. I vow to never again have willpower as a companion on my wanders through these mysterious places. Nature deserves witnesses, deserves to be noticed and experienced, so it has a chance to survive in spite of us.
It reminds me of how being open is essential to being creative and to achieve this sense of openness one needs to find out what kind of state of mind is conducive to being receptive. Just last week the conditions were perfect, a dense fog created a mystical atmosphere in the woodlands. I had planned to go to one place and ended up in another, which is something that I am prone to doing. I only plan so I can sleep the night before, stopping my brain from coming up with tens of possible locations. Then in the morning all plans are abandoned and I go wherever I feel I need to go. The mist was glorious, the forest magnificent, but with many, many people around I struggled to find the much needed focus and openness and finally felt that I needed to give up. The image I created first thing that morning, when I was still alone, is the one I feel most connected to and this is because I was then still in a state of openness and awe.
Finding out what makes you feel open enough to create and enjoy is essential to making the most of your time in nature and of your time on this planet. This will vary from person to person, from introvert to extravert, from thrill seekers to those who feel a need to withdraw, from those who prefer the company of others in creative endeavors to those who need to be alone.
I have a two half day individual workshop spots left for this year. Check my workshops page to find out more.
As always I would like to express my gratitude for your interest in my work and writing. I highly appreciate it. I aim to keep writing these essays without sponsorships from third parties as much as possible, but of course writing these takes a lot of time and effort and if you feel compelled to support my work, please consider buying a print or my eBook The Magic of Forest Photography. I would be very grateful.
My print shop went online recently and contains all portfolio images and all the images from the book Woodscapes and Praxisbuch Wälder Fotografieren. The prints are available in many sizes and on Xpozer (my personal favourite), canvas, aluminium dibond and many more. Thank you so much to those of you who have already ordered a print!