Dedicate yourself to a regimented program and gifts may just seem to come your way

Dewitt Jones publishes a daily photo on his Facebook page, a project with unexpected rewards.

Post a new iPhone photo on Facebook every day? What have I gotten myself into?! Truth be told, more than I ever imagined. I wrote about how I made the decision to commit to this little project in my column “The Beauty Seeker” in the October 2011 issue, how I felt that if beauty was worth dying for, I sure as heck should be taking and sharing a lot more photos.

I decided it wasn’t fair to just go back through my files, pick one of the thousands of photos I’ve taken and post it to the Net. No, the sharing was important, but more than half the reason for this project was just to notice and celebrate the beauty in my day-to-day life. True, some days I’m in very beautiful places, but many days I, like everyone else, am at home or in a restaurant or Costco or Walmart. Could I find beauty there as well?

In my head, I kept hearing Minor White’s famous words, “When I go out to shoot I don’t ask, ‘What will I take today?’ But rather, ‘What will I be given today?'” As a pro, I knew I could “make” a photo every day, get in the right place, set something up, move things around until I made them into a photograph. But could I actually wait and trust that every day I would be “given” something to photograph? Could I just show up each day in neutral, without judgment, and wait to see what happened?

So I began. At first it was darn difficult not to look at this as an assignment. I’d wake up each morning with my mind churning, “You’ve already missed sunrise, probably the best light of the day. You’d better make sure you find a good place to be at sunset…or YOU WON’T GET YOUR SHOT!”

I didn’t want to completely turn this voice off (I’ve certainly used my intellect for years to help me take pictures). But, in this case, I didn’t want it to dominate the experiment either. If I could easily make time in my day to be in a great place for sunset, so much the better, but if it didn’t look like it was going to work out, then I wasn’t going to turn myself into a pretzel to “make” it happen.

I wasn’t going to try and put myself in the place of most potential; I was just going to see the potential in wherever I was. To do that, I was going to have to take my “noticing” ability up a notch or two.

This, indeed, was the first great gift this project has “given” me. Over the past few months, I’ve had to let go of all the subtle little judgments about what makes a good photograph and instead just keep myself open to beauty whenever and wherever I happened to find it. A cart path during a golf game, an escalator in an airport, my cat sitting on a bunch of bills—all were moments of beauty if I opened my eyes to them, all were gifts worthy of becoming a photograph. I’d find myself smiling, realizing that I had spent years prowling around forests delighting in shots of trees and rocks and flowers, but until now had never found the same delight in carpet patterns, silverware on a restaurant table or the body language of folks in the grocery checkout line. Notch by notch, my “noticing” kept climbing.

And having my iPhone with me every day, everywhere I went, I definitely took more pictures! Long ago I realized how little I really shot when I used only my “big boy” cameras. I had upped the number of shot photos by a factor of 10 when I began to carry small pocket cameras with me. With the iPhone, it went up by another factor of 10. Turns out my “big boy” cameras were seldom with me, my pocket cameras were often with me, my iPhone was always with me.

Great—taking more photos than ever, visual acumen rising like a rocket. But something else began to happen that was far more interesting and a little hard to talk about.

Things began to ask to have their picture taken.

I know that’s weird, but let me try to explain. When I “make” a photo, it’s my intellect that’s in control. I’m way too full of myself to actually listen to the landscape. Even when I “take” a photo, my left brain is talking loud enough that, while I’m definitely aware of the landscape, I’m still not really hearing it. But when I wait and listen for something to be “given” to me—not always, but sometimes—some very strange things happen.

Last week, I pulled in my driveway after a long day of teaching. I’d had more than enough photography for that day. I was looking forward to just letting my eyes rest and perhaps a quiet cocktail on the porch. As I stepped from the car, I actually heard a voice. “Over here,” it said. I looked up and saw backlit hibiscus at the other end of the drive. I found myself thinking, perhaps even murmuring, “No, don’t even think about it. I’ve had enough for today.”

I thought, “I’m not really hearing voices. As a photographer, I see the light, I know there might be a good photo down there. It’s just my mind telling me this. I don’t have to go.”

The voice became more insistent: “Get down here.”

Okay. I walked to the end of the driveway and raised my iPhone up to what was a perfect composition. No work, no effort. It was just there, a gift given. A gift received.

Voices, intuition, dumb luck, talking plants? As I sat on my porch and looked at the image, I thought, “You know, I really don’t care. I don’t have to know. Something is happening and I’m having too much fun following it. I’ll just try and show up every day with all my receptors open. No brakes. No judgments. I don’t want to miss any of the gifts.”

Dewitt Jones posts daily photographic images on his Facebook page, www.facebook.com/dewittjonesfanpage. Check out his new Celebration website at www.celebratewhatsright.com.

Dewitt Jones is one of America’s top professional photographers. Twenty years with National Geographic photographing stories around the globe has earned him the reputation as a world-class photojournalist. As a motion picture director, he had two documentary films nominated for Academy Awards before he was thirty. Dewitt has published nine books including California! and John Muir’s High Sierra. His most recent book, The Nature of Leadership, was created in collaboration with Stephen R. Covey.