It’s something psychologists call “short-term mood repair”—it’s the process of avoiding hardship or tough decisions by engaging in behavior that maximizes short-term happiness. Short-term mood repair manifests itself in many ways, including procrastination (avoiding difficult or unpleasant tasks), rationalization (convincing oneself that bad decisions or actions are actually good ones), and shopping sprees or chocolate binges (restoring mood through material or caloric consumption). For nature photographers, short-term mood repair often leads to missing great shots.
Ever decide to sleep in instead of dragging yourself out of bed to photograph sunrise when conditions look bleak? You’re engaging in short-term mood repair: you avoid the potential unpleasantness associated with leaving a warm, comfortable bed by telling yourself that sunrise won’t be good anyway, you’ll just be wasting your time, and that you really need the rest. Somewhere, deep inside, you know that you should get up, but the voice becomes fainter and fainter as the chorus of rationalizations grows stronger. Soon, you’ve convinced yourself that snuggling deeper under the covers is the best course of action. And chances are, you’ve probably made a good choice. But every now and then, those clouds outside break at the last moment, and you’ve missed the sunrise of a lifetime.
We are most susceptible to the siren call of short-term mood repair when we are tired, depressed, or experiencing unpleasant conditions. I don’t care who you are, after several days of trying to photograph in cloudy, cold, wet, or muddy conditions, you’ll be ready for a chocolate binge too. These are the moments, however, when we most need to stay the course, and push through the difficulties.
Don’t get me wrong—short-term mood repair is something that helps us maintain psychological health, so it’s a good thing to indulge when the time is right. Just learn to recognize when it is happening, and make a conscious decision as to whether you want it to dictate your decision-making process. When you’re in the field trying to make great images, put short-term mood repair on hold. Remember, avoiding the occasional unpleasantness of outdoor photography can often restore your mood in the short term, but getting a great photograph will definitely make you feel better, both in the short term and the long term. So get out there and shoot!
P.S. I’ve got a few recent posts on my personal photoblog that you might find interesting:
A Week in the Life: A look at the darker side of being a nature photography pro.
Top 10 New Year’s Resolutions: A few humorous suggestions for better living.
Best of 2010: Five of my favorite images from the past year.