Why Overthinking Kills Your Photography Flow (And What To Do About It)

Flow is that state where everything just falls into place and unfolds almost by itself, with next to no obstructions.

It’s as if forces greater than ourselves mystically align and elevate us to a different plane we rarely experience.

Once we get a taste of it though, it’s something we strive to return to regularly.

In my younger years I recall playing games like Super Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo, and the Burnout and SSX Snowboarding series on the PlayStation, and often hitting this kind of flow state.

It feels as if you’re controlling your character almost telepathically somehow – or perhaps it is controlling you!

It’s no mystery why I enjoyed playing these games into the early hours.

I’ve experienced similar states when dancing. In my early 20s it was commercial dance clubs, then especially later in salsa clubs, where dancing with another person and both being in that flow together somehow elevates the experience even higher than if your were dancing alone.

And most recently, this flow has arrived in the slower and more gentle – but no less endearing – guise of photography.

Walking in the countryside, camera in hand, just looking for beautiful compositions amongst the rambling fields and lanes is a wonderful state to immerse yourself in.

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Except when you can’t seem to find the flow.

In the last 13 or 14 years where I’ve been photographing with intention, I’ve know photowalks of beautiful flow, as well as many of great frustration that have stuttered and spluttered, resolutely resisting any kind of fluidity.

More often than not, what ruins the flow (or cuts it off before it’s even begun to gather momentum) is overthinking.

For me, with photography, overthinking usually sounds something like this in my head –

“Ok, I have about an hour and a half, so where shall I go. I could go to EC, my favourite local haunt, but I wonder if I’ve visited there too often recently, and my photos are becoming too predictable and samey?

So I could go somewhere a bit further, and that I’m less familiar with. But then that will take longer, so I’ll have less time actually walking and photographing…

…And which camera will I take.

I have my DSLR where I can use a range of lenses. Maybe a modern AF? An older A series Pentax? A classic M42?

Or maybe I’ll just grab my Pentax Q, which gives me similar images in a much smaller and lighter package. Which I have three lenses for.

Shall I stick with the classic 50mm prime? Or the more versatile if not as sharp 27-83mm zoom? Or just attach the unbelievably compact Mount Shield lens with its quirky lo-fi charms, and which makes the Q almost invisibly tiny.

Or should I bypass all of these decisions and just take my trusty Ricoh GRD III with its fixed prime 28mm lens…”

Although these questions can be rattled off quickly, the subsequent (over)thinking around each of them can expand into five, 10, 20 minutes or more, all eating into my precious photography time.

Worse than that though is that it’s already broken any kind of flow before its begun.

Then when I do get going, overthinking can still spoil the fluidity.

“Should I shoot colour or b/w? If colour, should I go with a natural, muted, or vibrant palette? Or something more extreme like a cross processed look?

What about depth of field? Set it to something deep, then concentrate on getting the composition of the whole scene nailed? Or go far more shallow, with one subject the central focus, and everything else blurred into the background?”

And so on…

All of these endless questions are arch enemies of flow.

And since finding and experiencing that flow is one of the major reasons – if not the major reason – why I photograph, then I’ve had to try to find ways to reduce the number and complexity of the questions however I can.

Hence why this year I’ve spent most months shooting just one camera.

And why I’ve favoured digital compacts that offer an excellent user experience and can be set up once to then use virtually as a point and shoot.

And why I’ve given up on colour for now and have a fairly consistent moody b/w look across all cameras I use.

Overthinking kills your photography flow.

Fortunately there are steps we can take to radically reduce overthinking, and give ourselves the best possible chance of enjoying that beautiful flow more often.

How about you? How often do you feel that photography flow, and what do you do to make it more likely, and more often? 

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking.

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4 thoughts on “Why Overthinking Kills Your Photography Flow (And What To Do About It)”

  1. I think of it as Zen algebra; when you recognize how all the multiple variables of a situation come together to give you the answer.
    Overthinking can ruin anything.

    1. Love that phrase Marc, Zen algebra!

      I think in some ways this is about mastering getting out of the way and letting the “answer” come through the space you create naturally.

  2. Dan, I like your blog, it gets me thinking. On reflection, it’s been many years since I had this “Flow” with photography. I used to experience it a lot in the Darkroom, I would suddenly realize that many hours had passed. I have seldom experienced it in recent years with film, and never with digital since I’m always stressed out about how to work the equipment. I guess the closest I’ve come recently was on my vacation after I realized I couldn’t shoot film at all (I had left the 120 take up spool at home, and the nears film store was impossibly far away) got bored with my tele-zoom after 10 minutes, and spent the rest of my trip shooting with only the body-cap lens. I have already been considering how to simplify my photography, but this puts a little different twist on it. I will think about this some more tonight over a glass of wine, but right now I have to go get the hay in. I hope it’s cooler where you are!

    1. Thanks Jon, glad to have you here and your input.

      That is a great way of gauging when we’re in the flow – we completely lose track of time.

      And yes we have to simplify our choices. There’s no way to get in the flow when we have to make a dozen choices with every photograph. Even something like a zoom lens can give us too many choices, which I’m sure is why you’ve found the fixed body cap lens is more fun to use. I have a similar “mount shield” lens for my Pentax Q – fixed focal length, fixed aperture and fixed focus – and it makes the camera ridiculously small and simple to use.

      A bit cooler here now, we had a crazy day last Thursday when it was 31° in our living room and reading 42° on our garden thermometer in the sun!

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