Never Stop Climbing

“When you get to the top of the mountain, keep climbing.” —Zen Buddhism expression.

Those of you who have watched my blog for some time may have noticed my particular fascination with Zen Buddhism, the only religion I know of that tries to confuse people rather than give them all the answers. Sometimes I think that Zen was created by a guy with two much free time, too much booze, too much brain power, and a penchant for making outrageous alliterative wagers such as “I bet I can beget a belief system out of a bunch of befuddling quotes. Booyah!” I suspect that a time-traveling Douglas Adams was somehow involved—he probably was the one pouring the drinks and encouraging Bodhidharma to add something about fish. All of this, of course, is what makes Zen really interesting and oddly applicable to our daily lives.

What delights me most about Zen Buddhism is its susceptibility to being mangled beyond recognition by self-help gurus. Although I’m pretty sure that the original Zen master to utter this little gem meant to give a lesson on the core concepts of Zen: the impermanence of all things, the need to dispense with material goods and desires, the path to enlightenment, etc.—either that, or he was messing with his students—motivational posters hanging in middle-level management offices worldwide interpret this to mean that one should never stop reaching for one’s goals (such as getting a promotion, saving enough money for a cruise, finally summoning the courage to tell your boss to stuff it, etc.). Kind of missing the original point, I suspect, but who am I to judge. Nonetheless, I’ll give it a slightly different spin for photographers: whenever you think you have gotten the shot, think again. Chances are, you’ve still got some more climbing to do.

The bottom line is this: never stop trying to make better photos. Resting on one’s laurels is a slippery slope leading to artistic stagnation. Constantly try to push the envelope, always striving for different and unique angles, more challenging compositions, and increasingly magical moments. I’ve been back to some places dozens of times, trying to improve on my previous attempts. And even with new shooting locations, I try to figure out a way to see things differently, and to take my vision to the next level. It doesn’t always work out. Every now and then, however, I find that I am able to take my photography one step higher than before.

As you can probably guess, the above quote holds particular meaning for me. I think it sums up quite nicely my approach to photography. In fact, I guess it sums up my approach to just about everything in my life. Except for actual mountain climbing. Because that would just be silly.

About the image: I made this photograph on a misty morning in Zion National Park. I decided to take advantage of the blue tones of dawn twilight to create an image driven more by mood and composition than by a display of stunning light. I waited for a moment when the mountain peak came out of the clouds, then triggered the shutter. The result is somewhat ethereal and mysterious, much like most Zen Buddhist quotes. Canon 5D Mark II camera, 24-105mm lens (@47mm), ISO 400, f/11, 1 second. 

Ian Plant

Author: Ian Plant

World-renowned professional photographer, writer, and adventurer Ian Plant is a frequent contributor to and blogger for Outdoor Photographer Magazine, a Contributing Editor to Popular Photography Magazine, a monthly columnist for Landscape Photography Magazine, and a Tamron Image Master. Ian is also the author of numerous books and instructional videos. Ian leads photography workshops and tours around the world to help beginner and advanced photographers explore and expand their personal vision.

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