Enjoy the tools you have and get away from the fear of missing out

Instead of looking for tomorrow’s big thing, slow down and master shooting with the gear you have today.

Back in the day, the craft of photography was a lot harder. All the controls were manual. You focused by hand (following focus on a moving subject was an art in and of itself), you used a handheld light meter to take an exposure reading, and you reset the ƒ-stop and shutter speed every time the light changed. Allowing for inflation, the cost of equipment was generally higher, and you had to buy far more lenses as good zooms hadn’t been invented. Don’t get me started; it was just harder.

All that difficulty imbued me with a deep sense of lack. My hands were never facile enough, I never had enough knowledge, I never had the right amount of the right equipment, and I never ever had enough FILM. Ever!

Ah, yes, film, that was the biggest lack of all. A roll of 36 cost 5 or 6 bucks and maybe 10 to process it, so you spent roughly 50¢ every time you clicked the shutter. “How many good ones do you get in a roll of 36?” was a question used to separate the amateurs from the pros. Pros still took great photos (and amateurs spent a lot of money taking bad ones), but there was definitely a scarcity mentality in photography.

How that has changed! Today’s cameras come with autofocus and autostabilization, and they have staggeringly accurate metering systems and a setting called “P” that stands for “Perfect” 90% of the time. They’re lighter and smaller and, for the most part, vastly cheaper. And there’s no FILM! You can shoot 10,000 images in an hour and it costs you nothing!

Add to this all the possibilities that Photoshop and Nik and Topaz, etc., give you. Oh, and did I mention the iPhone and the hundreds of apps you can purchase to tweak your photos?

Abundance. Flat-out abundance. More gear than you could play with in 20 lifetimes all designed to make it easier for you to be creative.

Ah, but what happens when we approach today’s abundance with yesterday’s mentality of scarcity? It’s overwhelming. How can I ever keep up? I buy one thing and instantly there’s a newer model or a new upgrade. I just begin to get Lightroom down when someone tells me about the new PhotoTools. Wait, I don’t yet have one of my camera bodies converted to IR! Always, I’m behind the curve!

There’s a new word in our lexicon to describe what I’m suffering from; it’s FOMO: the Fear of Missing Out.

When we hit abundance with a scarcity mentality, that’s what we all slam into. There’s more around us than we could ever use, yet we keep on grasping, grabbing, fearful that we’ll miss the next new thing.

A long time ago, I wrote a column called “Focus Yourself Before You Focus The Camera.” Maybe it’s time to revisit that idea. I think we need a new focus. I don’t think we can comfortably live in the photographic abundance we’re surrounded by until we can let go of scarcity and zero in on a new focus: sufficiency.

Sufficiency. Lynne Twist describes it in her wonderful book, The Soul of Money: “Once we let go of scarcity, we discover the surprising truth of sufficiency. By sufficiency, I don’t mean the quantity of anything. Sufficiency isn’t two steps up from poverty or one step short of abundance. It isn’t a measure of barely enough or more than enough. Sufficiency isn’t an amount at all. It is an experience, a context we generate, a declaration, a knowing that there is enough, and that we are enough.”

Knowing that there is enough and that we are enough. That’s not just how I’d like to approach my photography, it’s how I’d like to approach my life. If I could settle in sufficiency, then I wouldn’t suffer from FOMO.

Maybe I could even turn FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out) into JOMO, the Joy of Missing Out—to be content with what I have and where I am and who I am, knowing there was more (more technology, more gear, more images, more love, more gratitude) always out there waiting.

Now, that would be a lovely focus. As Lynne says, “Sufficiency resides inside each of us, and we can call it forward. It is a consciousness, an attention, an intentional choosing of the way that we think about our circumstances.”

Okay, I choose…sufficiency over either scarcity or abundance, and JOMO over FOMO. How about you?

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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.