I had the great fortune to travel abroad for the first time since 2009 this spring. I finally crossed Ireland off the list of places I wish to visit before I die: Ireland, Iceland, Italy, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Indonesia, India, and the Ivory Coast. I created this list many years ago when I thought about the reality of my getting to visit ALL the countries on earth…. Besides all the countries starting with the letter, “i,” I liked that this list included a geographically and culturally diverse group of places I’d never been to, and that it seemed doable.
So, Ireland. I met up with my brother and father there in early April (we each flew in from different US cities on different days). It was our first time traveling together internationally, and thankfully we travel well together. We are all adventurous, practical, and flexible when it counts. I was there for 11 days with them and I brought along my gear, including laptop, with the intention of photographing my heart out. And photograph, I did.
Visiting Ireland was a real treat for my eyes – not just for photographing but because it is so verdant. Ireland is known as the Emerald Isles after all. I lived in Portland, OR and Seattle, WA for about 6 years total and miss the lush green of the Pacific Northwest. I recently learned that the color green is the easiest wavelength of the visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum for the eyes to see. This is probably one of the reasons it feels so therapeutic for me to gaze upon the dense greenery and such. It literally feels like my eyes are being bathed when I am in environments that are greener. The humidity/moisture inherent in those places that support more vegetation, is likely another explanation.
Visual benefits aside, traveling to Ireland was also a great opportunity to step back from the hum drum of my life in the US and get some perspective. Here are a few of the things I realized during and after that trip:
The importance of not working. Whether for a luxurious 11 days or even one day. It was so nice to be on vacation – not just from my profession but also my daily life back home: bills, laundry, even cooking to feed myself. It felt like a marathon getting things done or in place before I left for Ireland, and once there I could feel that the pace of Irish life is decidedly slower. I returned home refreshed and resolved to reserve time to slow down and recharge more in my life back home. The trade off with being self-employed is that while I get to set my own schedule, I’m often putting in more than the “standard” work week of 40 hours. There is always something to be done. After getting home from a day of classes or shooting, I would find myself responding to e-mails or photo editing. With limited time and energy, I was starting to burn out from the hustle.
As a result, I decided to take a break from classes for the summer, which would have made my life hectic with the shorter intensive academic session. Even before the spring semester ended, I began taking one day off a week to get away from the computer and to rest from doing photography related business. Instead of packing things into my schedule, I focused on really prioritizing what was important to get done and by when. It’s a work in progress, and there’s an ebb and flow to opportunities; sometimes I take on an extra job here, or spend a day with a friend from out of town, but overall, I’ve been more intentional about how I spend my time and refueling so that I won’t burn out.
The importance of photographing on a regular basis. Everyday if possible. And changing it up. The first few days in Ireland, I felt like I was reacquainting myself with my camera. Although I’m a working photographer, I don’t spend a lot of time actually photographing. They say that 90% of being a photographer is spent beyond the camera: marketing and planning, business administration, photo editing, client follow up, etc. In addition to reacquainting myself with my camera, I had to readjust to photographing different subject matter under different conditions.
The importance of photographing and editing for myself. Most of the photography I have been doing for the past year or so has been for class or paid assignments, which has been great for learning and making a living but doesn’t necessarily feed the creative spirit. If I’ve learned anything from working with and listening to other more established professional photographers, it’s the importance of photographing for myself, for fun. The importance of play and reconnecting with what makes me love photography. Staying inspired and passionate about my craft.
Also, the sort of photography that pays the bills may not be the same as what I love to photograph. Travel photography is certainly different from photographing in the studio, which is where I’ve spent a substantial amount of time this past year for class or work. And photographing for myself means I only have myself to please. I have room to experiment and explore a bit more. When I returned home from Ireland, I had more than 1400 photos to wade through. As I culled them down, I realized that I could also edit my images how I wanted—use an edgier filter, crop in/crop out, desaturate images, etc—and that was extremely satisfying and fun. I had a lot of fun making silly GIFs.
My trip to Ireland was really a great reminder of the importance of time. All of the above have to do with how I spend my time. More than anything else, I really treasured the time I had to create memories with my brother and father while traveling in Ireland. I don’t live in the same urban area as they do so my time with them is limited to trips home to SoCal for holidays or other special events. And every visit home, I see that my parents are growing older, as we all do. So it was a blessing to be able to travel with my dad because who knows how much longer such travel will be feasible with him? Who really knows how much time any of us have on this earth? It was such a gift to spend time with my brother and father outside of our normal environments and schedules (read: the responsibilities and worries of work, distractions of technology, i.e., our smart phones--my brother and I did not have international plans), and to be really present with each other in ways that we aren’t typically when we’re at home together.
Finally, although I’ve spent this blog post writing about why it is important to take breaks from work, I’m also extremely grateful to be doing work that I love and making a livelihood from it. By remembering how precious my lifetime is, I want to spend as much of it as I can with those I love and doing what I value—photography, volunteering or giving back, and traveling.