#1356. GAS and Flow

By Jens | Opinion

May 02
 

The past year has been rather chaotic for me with regards to my hobby photography. It began rather poorly with all my gear being stolen, but I’d eventually replace it. A fresh start can provide interesting opportunities and I often daydreamed up to that point what I’d change if I had the chance to do so. But what followed could be better described by a maddening buying spree fueled by GAS and me losing almost any interest in the hobby. After having read Pascal’s articles on flow (Part 1 + Part 2) I realised how much my following journey could be linked to that concept.

 

To back things up a bit, I had been using mainly manual lenses with an older body in the form of the Sony A7R for close to 10 years. I knew that the body had its quirks, but they didn’t bother me in particular. I rather enjoyed the ability to properly make use of my late father’s lens collection, something my previous camera denied me. At times I wished for a few features or two, but it was the camera that turned photography from a mere interest to a proper hobby. Hence I’d see everything in a positive light.

 

I would have never imagined how disruptive the new camera and glass would prove to be, when I entered the store to buy a new one not sure yet what I really wanted. Eventually I went for what appeared to be the safe choice – the Sony A7R V had just been recently released and it seemed like an upgrade on almost every aspect. On top of that I added a rather small set of modern lenses, since I didn’t feel like hunting down my old collection on places such as eBay. So far so good.

There is always that initial high after a larger purchase and for the next few days I’d marvel about all the technical advances. The natural interest to explore all the settings and customisation options however soon started to take a life of its own. The sole purpose of most images became testing a setting or limit of the camera / lenses and this is when the misery started and the handling of the camera became more of a distraction than anything else. Almost immediately after taking any picture I would evaluate it solely on its technical merits and completely forget to look at it as a whole. My mind was more occupied with settings than anything else.

 

Additionally I was watching and reading tutorials where experienced photographers showed some of their best work. My lukewarm test images were awful in comparison – which made me feel bad in return. I knew it had little to do with the gear, but I’d switch to the next area of photography and used it as an excuse to buy more. GAS was in overdrive and any new purchase was usually just a short fix stimulating my interest in tech at best.

In short I pretty failed on all ends to achieve any kind of flow – the complexity of the camera along with all the gear proved increasingly a distraction more than anything else and I’d jump from one genre to the next. The worst part was that I didn’t even have any fun doing so and the camera was sitting on the shelf for weeks at a time. Pretty much the reverse from what I hoped and expected.

 
[Sunrise near the port of Hamburg]
 

Even though my photographic journey would take a few twists and turns in the coming months I’d eventually get back on track. The biggest lesson was the importance of the image subjects. When I pick the camera up there is always the hope to find something that would make a nice photo, but trying to force the issue rarely works for me – maybe it’s simply a matter of self-consciousness. Once there is an actual personal connection it completely changes my perspective. A picture could be mediocre by objective standards, but I’d value it nonetheless or at least the experience.

Already small things might be sufficient to achieve that – I started taking pictures of the birds in my urban garden. Spotting details that were hidden to my naked eyes sparked my interest to read up on them and I’d watch my surroundings much closer afterwards. Granted most birds are fairly common ones and won’t impress anyone, but they don’t have to either.

 

The second lesson was getting comfortable missing a shot. I tried to be prepared for everything on my first vacation. On every excursion I tortured myself trying to bring as much gear with me as possible. Granted I can’t say that I appreciated that lesson in particular at that time, but after chugging around 4+ kg for several days my shoulders were sufficiently sore that I was forced to reduce my kit. I’d eventually realise that the keeper rate increased. Everything was simpler and more importantly it felt like a hobby again and not like an assignment.

 

The importance of simplicity for me was further emphasised after I purchased a manual lens – immediately the camera was a much simpler device to use. And with it came a routine and rhythm when changing each of the settings. There is a difference between directly changing something or trying to communicate your intent to the camera via complex settings. Besides, if I’d decide to take a picture of a scene it would slow me down and as such I’d take more care on things such as framing. Granted many of the modern lenses have an aperture ring and MF and as such it was purely on my part, but with those options deactivated there was no temptation to switch anymore and it would be easier for me to concentrate on the scene in front of me.

   

In conclusion I learned to minimise my distractions and this is what really helped me to regain joy and passion for photography. I would never have used the word flow to describe that state as it sounds a bit too esoteric for my liking, yet no matter how you phrase it, the result is the same and the logic behind this concept can be applied to almost anything.

I hope my GAS is now much better – buying gear is fun after all and can lead to new adventures, but it’s not an end in itself. 

dosis sola facit venenum” (the dose makes the poison)
by Paracelsus

   
[Travel Impressions]
 

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  • Jon Maxim says:

    Hi Jens,

    This article really resonated with me. Like you, I have been down the GAS path, only ten times more. I now have several different brands AND models of cameras and have driven myself to distraction. All the steps you have been through (including the joy of manual lenses) are what I have experienced too. I have been toying for some time with getting rid of cameras, but which one(s)?!

    …and (we have to blame Pascal Jappy for this one – because I cannot blame myself) just before I get rid of one, I need to try a Hasselblad… To quote Mr. Burns, the millionaire in The Simpsons referring to his fortune, “I’d trade it all for a little more.”

    All I can say is that your approach has definitely borne results. Your images are wonderful and you have a great eye for composition. Your “Travel Impressions” really show it.

    P.S. Pascal, I hope you realize my reference to you is very tongue-in-cheek. The truth is that, as Jens points out I should be paying more attention to your articles on flow.

    Jon

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Jon, all in good humour 😉 I too feel the travel impressions are wonderful, and told Jens privately. And I do hope the articles on flow prove useful. It’s a hard topic to tackle as it easily sounds like online-guru mumbo-jumbo. But if you can find anything in there to get you into that zone where the rest just disappears for a few minutes, it’s a nice experience that does a lot for our creativity and our wellbeing 🙂 Cheers

      • Jon Maxim says:

        Hi Pascal, A thought has occurred to me. Have you ever encountered or explored “Miksang” (aka “Contemplative Photography”). I first learned of it from my daughter who was taking a course on photography at OCAD, our art university in Toronto. I think it fits right in with your explorations of flow.

        And, no, I do not think it is a “online-guru mumbo-jumbo” topic. Anyone with even half a brain can see its merits, if they take the time to think about it. (I know, I know, who has time any more? )

        • pascaljappy says:

          Hi Jon, I have heard of it but never looked into it seriously. Thank you for pointing out the link with flow, I think you may be right there. That could be the subject of a future series, after sturying the topic more closely 🙂 Cheers

          • Ian Varkevisser says:

            Hi Jon/Pascal

            I can recommend looking into the concept of “miksang” photography too.

    • Jens says:

      Hi Jon,

      good to know I got off lightly – feeling much better 😉 Thank you for the kind words.

      I’ve read many of the articles here and could follow their logic, still experiencing something is altogether quite different – it makes it personal and not unlike with photos this adds much value to it. Blaming the gear would be wrong or rather too easy, even if it played some part – it’s more the tricks it played on my mind. I know that it’s very unlikely I’ll manage to be as focused as I’d like to be, but I’m convinced that using concepts such as flow can be helpful to get a different view and can act as a nice visualization.

      Cheers

      Jens

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    Hi Jens,
    I think you should blame also Sony…
    For their — if rumours are true — complex and jumbled menu systems.
    ( I only know it through my RX100 — and it’s full of smart tricks I didn’t know existed or what to do with. It took me some time to eliminate stuff and find a simple enough subset.)
    And you additionally had to fight with so many years of Sony’s added stuff…

    I recognise the symptoms you so vividly describe! I have had them myself to some degree (my limited budget limits me) when I’ve changed cameras — but not with so many camera generations in between. I give myself time to play around with it and take snapshots until I feel I can trust myself to use it as a tool…
    – – * – –

    I do like your photos, serious compositions and photos with humour beside each other — or fused together!

    • Jens says:

      Hi Kristian,

      I was perfectly happy with the old Sony A7R and I believe very few were lauding the menu system or ergonomics. Either I’m a bit weird or it simply doesn’t matter that much to me as long as I can make it work for my purposes. I made it a distraction once I was constantly worried not to use the camera to its full potential by missing the optimal settings. And by that logic I was searching for the best accompanying gear until I was completely lost.
      I believe it always depends on how you approach something.. the trouble was that I was concerned about the missing part / my mistakes.
      However once the manual lenses helped me to ‘detox’ it became more of an additive process and I was more appreciative of the options. And that’s where I think analyzing it with the concept of flow can be helpful (I didn’t at that time).
      How much can I blame Sony for my approach and mindset? I guess it’s fair to say that Sony cameras facilitate getting distracted, but sometimes it helps just by being aware of such things so you can try to counteract. At least for the time being this seems to help me.

  • Philberphoto says:

    HI Jens. I am a fellow Sony owner, and in a simillar posititon to where you were. I want to buy one more lens, which will tick two boxes: telephoto, and AF, as I have neither. So, should it be a 70-200G f:4.0 macro, or a 135GM f1,8? Really, I’d love to own both, but know full well that I only rarely change lenses in the field, so owning and carrying both will not yield much extra at all. And then there is a special offer, where Tamron will throw in a 28-70 f:2.8 as bonus for the purchase of a 70-180 f:2.8. Tempting…. And Then I could also buy a Laowa 15 f:2.0 and a Laowa 35 f:0.95, both on my LustList, and a Tamron 70-180 f:2.8n for not much (10%) more money than either Sony lens. Or wait for the soon-to-be-announced new Sony 85 f1.4 GM. Or….. and this has no end. Litterally no end….

    • Jens says:

      There is always the temptation for the next lens, but I guess that’s not brand specific problem at least :). And all the lenses have their raison d’être

      • PaulB says:

        Jens

        Please don’t go there!

        I am a photo-junkie and I have a serious case of NLS (Next Lens Syndrome). Having a mirrorless camera, like a Sony, simply adds fuel to the fire, since almost any land can be used with the right adapter. The urge to go into a camera store to look at the used gear cases is like gravity to me and lenses are like Crack!

        It is a good day when I can go into a camera store and resist the Sirens Song coming from the used cases.

        PaulB

  • PaulB says:

    Hi Jens

    I feel your pain. On all three sides.

    I have lost a favorite camera; mine had a great fall. Been through the process of deciding on a replacement. And suffered through what seems like endless test loops to decide how something works (or why it doesn’t).

    Ohh! I almost forgot the fourth side, dealing with the GAS that comes from reading or watching the endless stream of reviews online. It seems the grass is always greener on the reviewer’s side of the fence.

    Ultimately, like you, I found that letting the emotional side of the brain take over and making the camera capture what your subconscious says is there, is more enjoyable than just trying to see what can be done.

    Also, I really enjoyed your images, and I will look forward to seeing what you share with us in the future.

    PaulB

    • Jens says:

      Thank you for the comment. Luckily breaking gear is something I failed to so far, even if I seem to try my best at times. At least after jumping through all the hoops we found some personal insights that helped us focus on what made that hobby great for us in the first place – not the gear.

  • jeanpierreguaron660@gmail.com says:

    Your story is one that fills most ‘togs with blind terror! But I’m glad you’re feet are finding the ground again, and your eyes are seeing the opportunities all around you. When I read this passage – “most birds are fairly common ones and won’t impress anyone, but they don’t have to either” – I thought it would be safe to jump in and comment.
    Ask Pascal – notoriously, I do NOT use a cellphone as a camera – so I just about gagged at all the shots of cellphone junkies admiring themselves. Rarely in my whole life – well at least since I turned 10 and got my first camera – have I ever had less than two cameras, commonly at least three and currently six of them.
    “dosis sola facit venenum” is quite true – even water kills, if taken in sufficient quantities it can dilute your blood till “bang, bang, you’re dead!”
    But getting back to photography – I am glad you are now a reformed character, “over” your recent attack of GAS. Because you have “the eye”. The selection of images you’ve chosen is rather eclectic, but quite remarkable. I was fortunate enough to get some training in the proper use of our eyeballs many years ago, from some of the First Nations people in the Northern Territory of this country (Australia), which was like attaching something like NASA’s “booster rockets”. You seem to have reached a similar stage, without their help. Now I can’t tell which of your photos I like best – just thank you for sharing them, I guess, and hope to see more, in future.

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