Balancing The Pendulum – (Or, What To Do When Pursuit Of Product Kills The Pleasure Of Process)

photography by dan james
photography by dan james

With every creative project we embark upon, there’s an element of process – how we create – and an element of product – what we end up with.

Too often, the pursuit of a perfect end product can hamper, and even destroy entirely, the pleasure we gain from the creative process.

By raising our awareness of this balance, we can choose the creative work that’s the most rewarding, most meaningful, and most enjoyable.

I wanted to share a personal example.

Over the last couple of years I’ve been shooting photographs almost entirely with 35mm film.

Through reading, experimentation, and learning, the process has become ever deeper, and ever more sensory.

Without getting into the technical details, when I use a film camera, it’s a very engaging and involving experience.

When I’m looking through the viewfinder at something I find beautiful, and the right elements come into focus, the moment can be (and often is) quite breathtaking.

All I see and know is within those four edges of the frame.

The rest of the world is forgotten, and my whole being and focus is right here and right now.

It becomes something far greater than pointing the camera and clicking a button. It becomes an immersive, engaging, almost spiritual experience.

I’ve mentioned to others in our tribe before, that what the final photograph looks like, or even whether the camera even has film in it or not, becomes almost irrelevant.

This is all about the experience of using a vintage SLR camera and lens, and the pleasure that brings.

It might be 90 – 95% process, and only maybe 5 or 10% product.

Recently I invested in a digital SLR.

Because it’s one that I can use my collection of vintage lenses on, much of that precious sensory experience of using a film SLR camera remains. I’m seeing similarly memorable images through the viewfinder.

Only now when I click the shutter button, I have the option to immediately see what I’ve captured on the camera’s little screen.

With this form of photography, the pendulum has begun to shift back towards product.

Still 80% or maybe even more is about the process – that experience of rambling and exploring for new beautiful things to capture, and using tactile and (partially) vintage equipment to do so.

But now I’m also more interested in the photographs I make, and a part of me certainly wants them to be worth keeping, worth sharing.

A further shift towards product would be to ditch the old lenses with all their charm and character, and use the kit lens that came with the digital camera.

An ugly hunk of black plastic with auto zoom, auto focus, auto everything.

I believe it even makes tea, and ties your shoelaces if they come undone whilst out photographing…

I would be focused mostly on the end product – the images I produced – so the pleasure of the process would be far less important, and subsequently it would be far less enjoyable.

Which, for me personally right now, defeats the whole reason for photographing.

So for me, this current balance I have found between process and product, with a heavy leaning towards the process, experiential end, is working very well.

I’m completely in love with photography, with wandering out in the countryside or roaming unseen city streets with a beautiful old camera and/or lens in hand, seeking out memorable images and scenes.

It’s one of the most rewarding, engaging, meaningful and soul restoring activities in my life, and indeed that I’ve ever had in my life.

That wouldn’t be happening if I was interested only in the result, the end product, marching about just pointing and shooting.

Enough about me.

I’m curious to know, where’s the process/product pendulum for you with your creative work right now?

Are you interested more in the process of creating, or the final work you create?

More vitally, how much are you enjoying your creative life?

Are you thrilled, excited and highly motivated, desperate for the next opportunity to immerse yourself in your materials and equipment?

Or just going through the motions churning out work that on the surface is almost perfect, but somehow lacks something deeper and more significant in the act of creating?

If it’s the latter, you might like to think of ways you can adjust that pendulum.

What’s the first step you could take today?

Come over and continue the conversation in our community.

Thank you for reading. Please share these words. Subscribe for free updates.