Twelve-by-Twelve: A Photography Exercise in Paying Attention

I posted a blog post on Faster Than 20 today where I shared what I’ve learned so far from seven years of collaboration muscle-building experiments. I was trying to figure out what photo I could share with that post, and my sister suggested that I find a good photo of ants. It turns out I made a good photo of ants in Santa Fe in 2015, so I decided to use that.

Seeing that photo reminded me of the exercise that preceded it. I was in Santa Fe for a five-day National Geographic photography workshop in Santa Fe led by the amazing Lynn Johnson. That day, when we arrived at Ghost Ranch for a day of shooting, Lynn assigned each of us a 12-foot-by-12-foot plot, and said that we could take as many photos we wanted of whatever we wanted for the next hour, but that we had to stay within our squares.

We were surrounded by gorgeous landscapes, which turned out to distract more than help. You can only take so many landscape photos in a 12-by-12 square before exhausting all the possibilities. The real goldmine was right in front of all of us, but in order to see it, we had to slow down and pay attention to what was right in front of us.

It took me about 20 minutes before I realized there were several cow patties in my plot. Paying attention is hard, even when you’re trying!

I think about that exercise all the time. (I think about that workshop and the wonderful people I met there all the time. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done.) I haven’t done it since. Maybe I should.