Monday to Friday you’ll find me in chinos in the office pouring over some Product Management data but at the weekends, and whenever I grab a spare moment, you can find me and my camera practically anywhere. Whilst my job at CDK and my love of landscape and astro-photography couldn’t be more different on the face of things, I like to think that they are both fueled by a passion for innovation. Our business speaks about innovation being underpinned by four things and some of these are explicit in the way that I approach my photography.
You can’t simply wander around the world to look for a decent shot… you have to imagine things. You have to picture in your mind the combination of elements such as the light, the weather, the background, the composition… and then you have to imagine where you can go (and afford to go) to find all the things you need to create that perfect shot. I’ve traveled to some very distant lands only to enjoy the pleasure of taking the shots I had in mind before the departure - and a bunch of other photos that “happen” along the way of course but those are mostly luck and chance. I apply this style of thinking at work too and in fact find that some of my most creative business ideas have come to me sat atop a mountain, and the same applies vice versa.
Even the most planned adventure can often potentially lead to disaster. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve honestly endangered my life for the sake of a photo – crazy I know! Back in 2012 I travelled to a National Park in Utah and climbed around 100 meters to the tip of a ridge to get the perfect wide-angle view of the park. As I reached the top near the void to take the shot, I realized that the whole area was made of pebbles which were sliding down into the precipice, taking me with them. I will never forget the combination of adrenaline and fear I felt at that moment. Instinctively I laid down on the ground as flat as I could to increase my surface area and the flow eventually slowed and stopped less than a meter away from the edge.
Clearly I lived to tell the tale. I believe if you don’t put yourself in these situations (perhaps not to this extreme) you may never achieve the things that you dreamt of. For me, a prerequisite of photography is about the amount of exploration, adventure, and wilderness you are willing to put yourself through. There is a thrill that comes with the risk of being in the middle of nowhere, with your camera, and surrounded by nature, and it’s really ok if it doesn’t turn out how you had planned. Every failure is an adventure, and I think this is true about business too. Trying things that don’t work helps you to understand better what will.
Good things come to those who wait and this is certainly true when it comes to capturing the perfect image. You need to find the right location at the right time if you want to make the shot, even if that means that you face some extreme weather conditions, have to drive for several hours or even catch a long flight. I once trekked for six hours through the Italian Dolomites to reach a remote shelter for stargazing and to capture the sunrise. My camping gear and camera equipment spread over two backpacks came to an impressive 40kg, but the biggest problem was visibility. With one backpack on my front it was very hard to see where I was putting my feet, so I hiked most of the way almost blind and in real pain – both a physical and a mental challenge. But totally worth it! Innovation doesn’t happen overnight. It can sometimes be a long, slow process and persistence is key.
There’s one big difference between my photography and how I feel about innovation. An important part of innovation is collaboration. Even though I can do all of the above on my own, what I love about working in an innovative business environment is the opportunity to be part of a team. Where thinking creatively is about building a shared vision of what’s possible. Taking risks is much easier because you aren’t on your own. And being persistent is so much more rewarding when at the end of it you can celebrate together.
I’m not saying that I think everyone should become a photographer in their spare time but I feel like we often talk about ‘work-life balance’ and miss the fact that the two can exist in harmony and the things that drive you outside of work can be the same things that drive you when you’re in the office.