You've heard the term "in the flow" lots of times I'm sure. It's pretty obvious that it means to not resist what's happening, to accept the situation, to align oneself to the way things are at the moment. Sometimes we can pull that off. Sometimes it's not so easy.
Let me tell you about our American Bulldog. Now this is an animal that invented "in the flow". She is cooperative (mostly), accepts what comes, doesn't dwell on the past and doesn't worry about tomorrow. She's in the moment. She will spend as much time as she needs sniffing a very specific ground spot where another animal has been. She will invest a great deal of time finding just the right spot to relieve herself. She is in no hurry. She teaches me something I should remember about photography.
When on a photo shoot for commercial purposes our pace is largely determined by the agenda of the event or the client's budget. But when we're out on pleasure shoots, there is nothing quite as nice as a calm and peaceful pace meandering along snapping photos. There's nothing quite as nice as taking one's sweet time to identify and set up a shot, or stroll slowly along the wooded path visually hunting for photo opportunities, or stopping to take in a developing sunset. These are in-the-flow moments because it's not just about photo collecting, but about just being there, enjoying the quite time, with photography being a motive, but not the sole purpose.
When in this frame of mind, I find I take better photos. For sure, part of the reason for better photos is that I am not rushing, which affords me more time to set up a shot. But more important is that I am more likely to select my photo subject better. I can take a few more minutes to walk around the subject looking for the best angle. I can take more time to consider the sunlight, the shadows, the wind. I can get to know the scene better. Taking the photo then becomes the outcome of the effort rather than the objective of the effort. There's a difference; an objective comes before investigating the scene, while the outcome is the end result.
If I want to find a babbling brook and take photos of it, finding the brook is my objective and the photos are the outcome. If I go looking for specific photos, while I may find the photos, I've reduced my opportunity to enjoy the search to it's fullest. If the photos are the sole motive, I tend to not fully see the scene I'm in while making a bee-line to my source of photos. I would much rather enjoy a photo outing than come home with a bunch of photos. It's a matter of deciding if the photos themselves are the point, or the search for the photos is the point.
There have been times, plenty of times, where my photo outings have been about collecting photos. And then there were times, plenty of those too, where just enjoying meandering around was perfectly fine, and if I got some photos, all the better. In situations where the photos are not the primary motive, I get like my dog where there is no past, no future and I accept what comes. I am looking at the scene I'm in. Really looking. Appreciating it. I see details in the scene I would otherwise miss. I can stop, move forward, backtrack or go around in circles - it doesn't matter because I am not merely on a photo-capture-quest.
It's all too easy to get caught up in photo collecting because we want to capture some interesting material, and we are always on the lookout for the opportunity to create really good photos. We also want to practice photography which, by necessity, suggests taking more than just a few shots here and there. However, I find that when I'm more focused on the scene itself, the photos will follow. By putting the scene first, I get a more satisfying experience and I still get plenty of photograohy practice. I like to think of this as being in-the-flow because the photos happen as a natural outcome of exploring the scene. A benefit of this is that photos are less contrived; they have more thought behind them which helps them be more genuine. Another benefit is that photos are more memorable because they are not just snapshots, rather are images of things in the scene that were meaningful.
When I go out on pleasure photography shoots, I try to remind myself that it's not about photo collecting. Rather it's about enjoying being in the scene. It then becomes more about discovering photos than taking photos.