Improve your visual diet

eyes

At the beginning of every year a lot of people are working on resolution-driven changes to their lives and lifestyles. Do more exercise, eat more veggies, that kind of thing. Worthy goals, but something that often gets neglected is what we expose ourselves to visually.

As humans, up to 80% of our sensory data streams through our eyes into the visual cortex. And yet we often take our eyes for granted and pay little attention to what we look at, or for, in the world around us.

I believe that simply by looking at and for beauty in what we find around us – in other people, works of art, well-crafted pieces of furniture, landscaped gardens, raw natural settings – we improve our consciousness and ourselves.

DSCF9626

Take clutter, for example. A messy, cluttered environment (which currently describes the state of my home office) induces stress. The mere sight of books and hard-drives askew on my desk triggers tiny flickers of anxiety that get smoothed away when I tidy up and bring order to my work space.

Where I live in Montreal, this time of year can be visually draining. The sky is often grey, the ground white with snow and the streets a brown mushy mess of slush and grit. It’s no surprise that this is when those big colourful billboards for trips to Cuba pop up over the highways, showing endless expanses of blue sea and smiling happy people.

Advertising always works that way, creating an enticing contrasting world to the one you are in, but it’s a pity if the only way we expand our visual diet is through ads.

I am a big fan of visiting museums when I travel, and within my own city. I enjoy taking an hour or two to simply stand in front of works of art and let my eyes drink in the imagery, the colours, shapes, textures of something made by a human hand. I’m lucky to live in a city with lots of access to art, not just within museums but throughout the city.

A walk through Mount Royal park is also something that feeds me when my mind needs to look at something other than screens.  Looking at trees, watching sparrows and chickadees flit to and from branches, always lifts my spirits.

DSCF9538

My daughter’s face is another place I look to when I want to soak in the beauty this world has to offer. One of my favourite things to do is steal glances of her in the rearview mirror when I am driving her home from school. She is often looking out the window, quietly observing the passing views and she has such a thoughtful expression I am always intrigued and wonder what she is thinking about. It makes me smile just watching her watching the world like that.

DSCF9864

We all have images that fill us with a sense of something greater than ourselves. Something that can ennoble us and lift us up when we are feeling overwhelmed, or sad, or just tired with life.

There is much tumult in the world today, as ever, and much of the images we see on our screens stain the eyes with pain. Like the scene of that child face down on the shoreline, or the devastated scenes from terror attacks, like that toppled Christmas tree in Berlin, or the ripped apart streets of Aleppo.

PICASSO-FAUN

Faun – Pablo Picasso (1937)

I don’t believe we should turn away from the people in need when terrible things do happen, but we do need to balance these images of death and destruction with more beauty and more calmly restorative images that help bring peace of mind.

So if you’ve still got room on your resolution list for one more, make it to seek out and pay attention to what is good and beautiful around you. Fill your eyes and your mind with images that bring you a sense of peace.  We could all use more of it.

The power of a simple “Thank You”

Thank you

Thank you

“Thank you”

Two words with a big impact.

The under appreciated habit of saying thank you speaks volumes about a person’s character, motivations and genuineness. It is such a simple thing to do yet it is often overlooked.

People who take the time to feel and express their gratitude are not only likely to be happier people in general, they encourage others to help them more often and more readily than those who don’t make the effort to show thanks.

I am always touched by those people who do make the effort to send a thank you note, or leave a kind review online, or simply send a quick email thanking me for sharing photos I’ve taken of them. And conversely, I am always amazed at how few people take the time to show their appreciation and gratitude for a kindness showed to them.

As a conference photographer I may easily encounter hundreds of people over a 2 or 3 day conference, some of whom will approach me to ask for a copy of any photos I may have taken of them during the event. I really don’t mind sharing the photos (provided my client has given consent) because it’s an opportunity for me to make a new connection and I genuinely like giving my photos to people who appreciate them.

But I am always a little surprised by what happens after I’ve sent the link with the photos. By surprised I mean I am sometimes a little disappointed at how few people actually even acknowledge receipt of the link and bother to send a thank you message.  Despite appearances, it takes time and a bit of effort to scroll through a few thousand images and pull out the ones of someone who’s given me their card. I never have any trouble remembering who’s who, as I have a strong visual memory and never forget a face, but I do take (unpaid) time after delivering my client’s images to put together galleries or pull out images of individuals who’ve asked for copies.

I usually give these images away and with my email ask for their feedback on my Google+ Business page, if they are happy with what they get. Only a few ever send a thank you reply email and fewer still take the extra step to leave a review.

But then there are the people who go above and beyond. I’ve had people send me expensive bottles of whisky and champagne, comfy travel pillows, handwritten cards, and leave glowing reviews on my Google+ page for whom I did nothing more than snap a few photos or some minimal photo retouching.

To these people who’ve made the effort to say thank you, I want you to know how much I appreciate it. As an independent, freelance photographer, I do not have performance reviews or get an annual bonus for doing a good job. I don’t have colleagues coming around to chat with on a daily basis and don’t get a pat on the back for delivering great photos. I get paid, and if I am fortunate, get re-hired or a referral from my happy clients, but when I do receive the unexpected thank you note, or the email telling me how much someone enjoyed my work, I am truly touched. I feel like I contributed something positive and that my work has an impact.

I save all the thank you notes I’ve ever received and am as proud of them as I am of the work I did to get them.

Saying thank you isn’t hard to do. But that doesn’t diminish the positive energy it releases by doing it. It is probably the best return on effort you can get in life. And it is something we could all stand to do more often. It’s easy to underestimate its impact or think that a “thank you” is unnecessary if you’ve paid the bill or left a tip on the table. You don’t have to say ‘thank you’, of course, especially if you are a client. You can just move on to the next project and never think twice about the suppliers you used or the people who contributed to the work you’ve completed. And that’s what makes it all the more special when you do say “thank you”. You don’t thank someone because you have to. You say thank you because you feel gratitude and you want to acknowledge the person – the human being – who provided you with something that you are grateful for.

And that is always worth the few extra minutes it takes to accomplish.