Ask yourself: how many times in your life have you deliberately focused your camera? Ten thousand times, more? How many times have you let the camera choose its own focus point? OK, you’ve lost count. Every time you focus your camera the decision you make creates a tiny memory trace, adding to all the others like it somewhere in your brain. As the thousands of those experiences are woven into your neural networks they fade from memory, and you cannot consciously recall them all; but they have an impact. With them will be recorded the context and emotions of the moment those decisions were made. But, you say, you didn’t feel anything when you clicked away with your camera. The result? Those memories are as dead as dead can be – completely inaccessible, lost in the dark-web of your brain.
The problem is that the experience you have gathered is a random collection of memories, some vivid, some not, but all weakly reinforced. At one level, you know how to focus your camera but at another you don’t – all of that experience has not been ‘burnt in’ and so it cannot help you. ‘Burning-in’ is the process by which we tie our practice to an emotion, so we get some passion going – perhaps with music or by telling ourselves stories. We then practise our focusing choosing more and more difficult situations and we don’t mix the practice up. We focus on focus. We check the accuracy of our focus on our camera’s monitor and, as soon as we can, get them downloaded at home. Now, when a challenging, fast-moving event arises, the excitement of the moment will release that deep experience from your non-conscious memory and within a fraction of a second you will have picked up the exact point to achieve the effect you are after.
Katmai National Park, Alaska, August 2012
D800, f5.6, 1/2000th, ISO 640, Nikor f2.8 300mm prime lens. Handheld.