Don’t Fight the Waterfall

A Taoist story tells of an old man who accidentally fell into the river rapids leading to a high and dangerous waterfall. Onlookers feared for his life. Miraculously, he came out alive and unharmed downstream at the bottom of the falls. People asked him how he managed to survive. “I accommodated myself to the water, not the water to me. Without thinking, I allowed myself to be shaped by it. Plunging into the swirl, I came out with the swirl. This is how I survived.”

Photography at its core is exactly like the waterfall. If you fight your subject, you drown and you lose. Unless you’re photographing flowers or landscapes, you’re probably taking pictures of something with a brain. We humans are programmed from birth to form an attachment and fascination with faces, so photographing people or animals are popular choices. While we love them, these subjects often have a mind of their own when it comes to sitting still while you click the shutter incessantly in their direction.

I recently took pictures of a beautiful family. The older girls, two wonderful, sweet preteens, were visiting during Spring Break and because they were going home soon, their parents wanted to get a family picture taken.

All went well with the family pictures. The two youngest members of the family were a little nervous, but played along with a little coaxing. As soon as the family pictures were done, I did what I typically do during a session: I broke the family into smaller groups, first the siblings, then the parents and so on.

The youngest member of the group was the only brother, a spunky, but somewhat shy, 2-year-old. He reluctantly sat for the family pictures, but as soon as his mom moved out of the shot, he became nervous and overwhelmed by the lights, the distractions and just plain being in an unfamiliar environment. At this point he did what young guys usually do: he started to cry and dug in his heels, refusing to sit in front of the backdrop with his sisters. Mom started to get tense, Dad started to bargain with him, the older sisters tried to coax him back to sit with them, but he refused. His mini-tantrum began to translate to the rest of the family and if you try to take pictures under these conditions, you see it written in giant slanted script as anxiety and irritation on everyone’s face. So, rather than contribute to the melt down, I took his mom and dad aside and told them not to worry. We would get what we could in the studio, then let him run around outside while I took his picture. I saw mom visibly relax because she was not longer under pressure to try to calm the little guy down and he was able to plunk away happily on our piano. All the while, the girls happily gave me relaxed and beautiful smiles.

With everyone happy, we went outside where I got, in my opinion, some of the best images of the whole day! As a photographer, I only have so much control over any situation and this actually suits me just fine. Part of what I love about photography is people being who they are, letting their personality and character sparkle and shine. In letting go, I am rewarded with beautiful images!