23 Nov
2011

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 PlantAbout Ian Plant (389 Posts)

Ian Plant's photographs and instructional articles have appeared in a number of books, calendars, and magazines, including Outdoor Photographer and Popular Photography. Ian writes a regular blog column for Outdoor Photographer online, and he is the author of numerous instructional eBooks and videos. Ian leads several photo tours each year.


11 Comments

  • Cool! I completed underestimated this one.

    • Ian

      Yeah, this one surprised me too. I never would have thunk it would have come out nice.

  • Great shot Ian! Love the blue tones throughout. (Our paths intersected at several locations while at Zion).

  • Beautiful capture Ian. Wonderfully written, great motivation to keep shooting!

  • Simply stunning Ian.

  • What a gorgeous photo, Ian! It does trike me as something of a step out from your usual style, too. I love the feeling when I surprise myself with an unexpected image!

  • Excelente trabajo.

    saludos

  • Ah Ian again you did it. I love your photos as well as writing. You have the gift with words as well as photography.

  • I dig it! Looks like it could’ve been taken deep in the jungles of South America or Africa. Great job.

  • After all that talk about Buddhism I was expecting Asia, not Zion! Amazing Ian, I think this has to be one of my favourites from you lately. Mood is an great thing in an image, not something that stunning light alone can always bring out…

  • I love your writing style and another great teaching moment.
    Thanks Ian!