The Comfort Zone

The day had finally arrived. The day that I dreaded. The day that scared me silly; that one that would challenge all my photographic assumptions. This girl was shaking in her boots. If you have been following along in my “Find Your Eye” journey, you know that we have explored our style in various ways – by creating an inspiration file, by shooting familiar places, by exploring the art of others. Well, this week’s lesson was the source of my fear and dread – because this week we were challenged to walk outside our comfort zone. To shoot a new subject, new location, new situation. To put ourselves out there creatively; to take chances; to become a beginner again.   Here’s the thing – I don’t do well outside my comfort zone. I like my zone. I’m good in my zone. It’s warm and fuzzy here. I know who I am and how to shoot. I know where to go to find my shots. And it isn’t as if I haven’t grown here, inside my domain. Looking back, I can see significant improvement in both my creative and technical abilities in the past two years. I have explored new subjects and my work has taken me in different and exciting directions. But I have definitely avoided certain  photographic challenges – people, things that move, the “golden hours”, night photography, sweeping vistas, shooting in manual. Avoidance was no longer an option, not if I wanted to take full advantage of the learning experience of this course.So, I set off on a different kind of photo excursion. With the following challenges as guidelines:

    • Shoot during the evening “golden hour”
    • Compose “wide”. My typical composition consists of fragments – closely cropped, partial views of my subject. My goal was to try wide shots that incorporated a feeling of context.
    • Use my tripod to take nightime photos

My primary reaction to this ordeal was one of frustration. Frustration with myself, with my equipment, with the world around me. I floundered and struggled – where to go? what to shoot? Everything about the experience was strange and unpredictable and uncomfortable. I took 78 shots on this sojourn; short of the 100 shots that Kat asked us to take.

I didn’t think much of the hallowed “golden hour”. Maybe it was because there were no clouds to create a dramatic sunset. More likely it was because I don’t know how to take advantage of that perfect light. Composing “wide” was also not a success. Some of this is related to the limits of my equipment and my inability to throw the background out of focus, unless I am in macro mode, leading to cluttered backgrounds.

And yet, amazingly, in the middle of it all, there were tiny sparks of enthusiasm, of excitement, some “what if I tried this?” moments. Baby steps. Tip-toeing out of my comfort zone. Seeing new possibilities.

Through the frustration, I was also grateful. Grateful for being pushed. For being challenged. For discovering the “blue hour” – that transition time between when the sun has set and the full dark of the nightime sky.

Three “keepers” out of 78. Not bad for stepping out into the unknown.

Thanks to Kat for the push. To my fellow classmates for their continued support.

Also, in Kat’s fine series. “Exploring with a Camera”, the current topic is Night Photography – check it out for great tips on how to shoot at night.



Posted on August 26, 2011, in Photography and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 41 Comments.

  1. Wow! I love these images! So brilliant and full of color. Enjoyed reading about your comfort zone and how you stepped out of it. Thanks for sharing your beautiful art!

    • Deb,
      Yes, these images were quite a surprise! I was SO frustrated when I got home that evening that I didn’t even look at my images until the next day – I figured the whole foray was a complete waste of time. So you can imagine my complete surprise to find that I actually had a couple of winners.

  2. Your pictures are beautiful, the colours really stand out and the blue of the sky is a great contrast. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    • Becs,
      Thanks so much! I was very surprised to discover how the nighttime sky became that brilliant blue. And even more surprising (knowing my love of editing) the bridge image is pretty much SOOC – just the basic RAW edits. I was really rather flabberghasted. Just goes to show – stepping outside our comfort zones can yield amazing surprises.

  3. You are right, our comfort zones are a really great place to be. Sometimes we don’t even realize *how* comfortable we are until we step out of it, just a tiny bit. All of these photos are wonderful, and although they were of you stepping out and looking for a new subject, they are still truly you. Keep pushing, you will be amazed when you look back and see your comfort zone has gotten bigger!

    • Kat,
      Thanks for the gentle push! I know that I wouldn’t have made this attempt without it. And I can see how having a bigger comfort zone could be a good thing – more room to move around and I could redecorate.

  4. You write from your heart and it has inspired me….you express yourself with the same care you take with your photography. Deeply felt words, challenges to your safe side and wonderful photographs to document. I think your photographs are fabulous, truly beautiful and still inside your “new view” I can find the original “YOU.” And that is a compliment.
    I have no doubts you will challenge yourself more often now. Warmly, Sharon

    • Sharon,
      Oh, this was a hard one for sure. But oddly exhilirating at the same time. Schlepping around with my tripod, trying to figure out how to work within these new parameters – not my idea of a good time. And yet, I really do love these photos. Maybe because getting them was so difficult.

  5. Brenda! These. Are. Wonderful.
    You are amazing. Reading your post, my expectations were not high. Then I saw your photos and my mouth dropped open.
    I hope you will keep stepping outside that fuzzy comfort zone of yours!

    • Lee,
      Well, you do realize that I shared only the 3 images out of the 78 that had any redeeming value, right? The other 75 were not pretty.

      But I suppose that is the whole point. These three would not have been possible without the other 75 and the whole frustrating, baffling experience.

  6. Yup, I got that. But I recall, back in the day, reading that professional photographers often took a dozen or more rolls of film to get one good publishable picture. So you’re in good company! 🙂

    • Lee,
      I, for one, am very grateful to photograph in the digital world. Very glad that pushing that delete button 75 times came with no financial impact 🙂

  7. Brenda, it looks like you should get out of your comfort zone more often!! these photos are sensational, and i mean it. i particularly like the glowing windows. it’s interesting that you still took some abstract shots, although at an unusual time for you! i have found the same with my experience, and have seen it in others, we may have got out of our comfort zone but we still look at elements in a picture that we are more comfortable with.

    • Florence,
      You are so correct – even though I was pushing myself, I couldn’t completely leave behind what attracts me in terms of subject matter and composition. But I am glad that I made the effort to test out some new elements – because it gives me that much more to work with in the future. Making my comfort zone just a little bit larger, leaving room for more creative options. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  8. Brenda, your shots are beautiful–colorful, impactful, and thoughtfully done. I also appreciate your detailed description of the experience because you articulated so well how difficult it is to step outside one’s area of expertise. Still, you did it and ended up with a few wonderful images.

    • Wanda,
      Thanks so much for stopping by and checking out my walk on the wild side 🙂 All in all, I am so very happy with my three shots and what it took to get them. Great effort equals great reward.

  9. These are great photos! I really love them. You did so well to step out if your comfort zone and you’ve resulted in photos that reflect your style. thanks for sharing this.

    • Leanne,
      Another lesson I have learned from this experience is that even when we try something new, something outside our comfort zone, the results still reflect who we are and how we see. Thanks so much for joining me in this journey.

  10. Oh, my gosh! What wonderful shots! The colors and lines are so powerful! I really love that first one. I think stepping out of your comfort zone was a very productive exercise for you…if only we could all do so well when we try new things. I enjoyed reading your narrative too. Well done all around!

    • Gina,
      I did surprise myself with this one. My dread was very real – I just knew that Kat was going to push us to shoot things that we didn’t want to do; subjects or types of photography that we avoid, for whatever reasons. The fact that I ended up with some good photos is rather astonishing, considering how frustrating the entire experience was. Ha! Guess I learned my lesson on this one. And now my comfort zone is just a tiny bit bigger.

  11. Brenda,
    These photos are gorgeous, a great combination of the “new” and the elements that I’ve come to recognize as yours. Honestly, having 78 pics and keeping only 3 doesn’t strike me as unusual. Whenever I write and edit, I swear I toss several times the number of words that I eventually keep. Process, process! Isn’t that part of the fun? (sometimes!)

    • Lisa,
      Yes, I do have to continually remind myself of the importance of the journey, not just the destination. While this exercise was extremely frustrating while in the middle of it, isn’t that always the way with attempting the new? And I am grateful for the three – they show me that I can expand my comfort zone.

  12. How fantastic! I love the evocative feel of these photos. I was trying to channel you today as I stood before a giant wooden roller coaster with architectural scaffolding – you capture geometry so beautifully – but unfortunately the world was waiting and I had to abandon my unfamiliar subject. I did have a “What would brenda do” moment!

    • JJ,
      Oh, I would have loved to have been there – architectural scaffolding, wooden roller coaster – it sounds heavenly! Next time perhaps you can capture its geometry. I will send you good vibes.

  13. Excellent!!! I especially love the top one!

    Bravo for stepping out of your comfort zone! The areas I feel least competent in are night photography, people (unless they are my grandchildren!) and landscapes. I tend to crop tight and go for the details- not the big picture- so I am inspired by your stepping out! I think I need to do this Find Your Eye thing!

    BTW, shooting at the golden hour has helped me take some better family photos (two birds, one stone). . .

    • Melinda,
      Well we certainly share the same photo phobias! Like you, I am NOT a big picture photographer – details are also my thing. If I really had wanted to push my envelope, I would have chosen people as my subject. But that would have been like going to a foreign country.

      I highly recommend Kat’s Find Your Eye courses – a new series is starting up in Sept/Oct if you are interested. I have learned so much and the interaction with fellow classmates has been very valuable.

  14. ditto on the comments! these are fabulous! especially like the first photo. the colors and neon straws against the blue sky are amazing.

    • Christine
      I have always been enamored of these “towers” – something so sci-fi and futuristic about them. So it was a real treat to end up with an image that seems to capture their essence.

  15. I loved your post because I can relate to the comfort zone. I am trying to make myself take photo walks and explore new things, and hopefully when I take Kat’s class later this month I too will leave my zone. I also enjoyed the shots because it was good to see images from northeast Ohio. Really loved the Hoover shot!

    • Shelley,
      Welcome to a fellow Northeast Ohioan! Thanks so much for stopping by. I can tell you that you will greatly enjoy Kat’s classes – even when you have to leave your comfort zone 🙂

  16. These are great images Brenda, and it really sounds like you are enjoying the Finding Your Eye series!

    • Lisa,
      Thanks so much! The course has been engaging, thought-provoking, enlightening and frustrating! But I suppose that is the way of all true learning.

  17. Great shots & great post! I am the same way, I struggle with stepping outside of my comfort zone and I get frustrated easily. But when you get a few successes amidst the frustration, it seems to make up for it a bit… Great job! (Visiting via Shutter Sisters)

    • Chelsea,
      Welcome! I do hope you will stop by again.

      Yes, I am rather lucky that those three photos were the result of my evening in the dark or I probably would have sold my tripod on Ebay 🙂 I think most people have a hard time leaving their comfort zone – after all, comfort is part of the name. But looking back, I recognize that I am better for the experiment, even with the frustration.

  18. Hey Brenda-
    Just getting ’round to reading of other’s experiences. Appreciate your kind thoughts on my blog.
    I love the honesty you shared with stepping out of comfort. It is difficult to stretch. I have several “want tos” in the wings that I keep procrastinating…but why if they’ll make me better?
    I actually see “your style” in the images you’ve shared. The crop of the tinsel town, the lines in the football stadium, both remind me of some of your abstract images. They seem to float more color into your style, but the shapes remind me of some of your shadow shots.
    I love the last image…again patterns. I’m drawn to windows and to that “golden hour” light that you say you’re unsure of. Too bad we can’t shoot together. You could teach me the way of all shadows and I could show you the fun of late day light.
    Wonder what our next challenge will be.

    • Susan,
      I greatly appreciate your thoughtful comment. Yes, leaving our comfort zone is so difficult – even when we know that we will be better because of it. And yes, I may have shot at a different time of day using different tools/techniques but my love of line and pattern still came through. Isn’t that interesting?

      I can see from your images what a master you are of the “golden hour” – it would be fun to teach other about our photographic strengths.

  19. It’s very hard to step out of our zone! You’ve done a wonderful job of stepping out, photographing and journaling! Each of your images are beautiful. Each one is so different from the others, showing you really worked hard at this assignment!

    • Cathy,
      I’m not very good at voluntarily leaving my fuzzy, warm comfort zone. I am grateful for the push from Kat and for the support of all my classmates as we explore together.

  20. I love the Hoover window shot. The windows in old buildings draw me in every time!

    • Jessie,
      Windows seem to be my next great photographic obsession. I find myself being more and more drawn to them – for their reflections, their urban beauty, how every one is different. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting – I do hope you will come by again.

  1. Pingback: Trip the Light Fantastic | How to Feather an Empty Nest

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