Recently I heard a really great quote, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” This resonated with me so much when I heard it I even thought, “now here is a quote I could tattoo on my body.” But I didn’t. I liked it because in many ways this has been my life’s motto even without me ever saying it out loud or tattooing it on my arm. It is why in 1987 I visited India, to push myself out of my comfort zone. It is why in 1994 I moved with my new bride to Kashmir and started a small trekking company. I was not content with being comfortable. Then, when in 2007 I moved back to the USA, it took only two years to realize I was getting too comfortable and so we moved to Malaysia.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t enjoy pain. I don’t like feeling overly hot or wet for a long period of time. I am not Marine. It’s not that I like being uncomfortable. It is just I don’t like the predictable. I thrive within the unknown. I find joy in doing new things.
How is it, you may ask, that you then return to India year after year to run photo treks? Isn’t that routine? That’s and easy one. India is never routine, it is never the same. The only thing predictable and dependable in India is its unpredictability. For a photographer this is heaven. Every day is different. Every scene changes. Right when you start to feel comfortable, India pulls the rug out from under your feet and you land right on your butt. Sometimes hard.
For instance – I have been trying to get to the Kashmir Valley with a group since 2008. Evey time I make plans something happens. One year it was riots, so we went to Ladakh instead. Another year it was something else. This past year it was major flooding. I even tried to get to Kashmir two weeks back but it snowed so much that every flight was canceled till the day I was scheduled to leave India!
India is a lemonade kind of country. You know, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” India always deal with you in the most unpredictable and unimaginable way. But that’s why I like it.
But let’s take this beyond the comfort of travel and destination. What areas of photography are you comfortable with? Portraits? Street portraiture? Is it hard for you to walk up to a complete stranger and photograph them? What about flash photography? What about off camera flash? Now we are crossing out of my comfort zone. I can shoot rear curtain flash all day (or night as the case may be). I love it. But take a flash off my camera and shoot it during the mid day sun and I curl up into a fetal position and start sucking my thumb. This is where my buddy and co-workshop leader Piet Van den Eynde has really challenged me and in fact opened up new areas of photography to me (check out his two ebooks on off-camera flash: Making Light 1 & 2). After this last trip to Rajasthan, India I bought his massive Jinbei HD 600 II flash head. Now it is my journey to learn to create new and different images using this new tool. When I say new and different I don’t mean different from everyone else, at least not at the start. I mean new and different for me. Stepping out of your comfort zone doesn’t mean throwing yourself into the deep end of the pool. It means wading out till you are uncomfortable. Sometimes you might need to take someone’s else hand for the courage to go deeper. Like I did with Piet and off-camera flash.
Let me give you an option. Come and join us in Kashmir this summer. Kashmir is exciting and adventurous but I’ll be there to hold your hand – if necessary. It – like much of India, can be scary if you are not used to it. My wife Alou and I will be with you every step of the way. You can even hold my hand as I try experimenting with off camera flash with the shepherds up in the mountains.
Join us in Kashmir this June, after all life begins at the end of your comfort zone.