Balance is arguably the ultimate challenge of life, particularly in the twenty-first century. We are inundated with obligations, expectations, challenges, and a constant stream of over-stimulating information coming at us from every direction. Somehow we have to find a way to see through the noise and choose how best to use our energy and time. I find that much of this comes through choosing between ritual and risk; the choice between the routine and regular (which keeps us sane), and the risks (creativity and dreams acted upon and given life).

In my day-to-day life, I strive to have a good balance of rituals that help keep me focused, particularly as an entrepreneur running my own small business. Coffee is ritual number one for me; I start my day with a home-brewed cup of joe, and allow myself to slowly enjoy the first cup before diving into anything else. It gives me peace to know that no matter where I am, or what I’m doing I plan a minimum of 30 minutes in the morning to enjoy that first cup, and allow my mind to slowly awaken and begin the day. On “office days,” coffee time is followed by making a list of tasks for the day, including personal tasks such as going for a run, writing a letter to a friend, or buying a birthday present for a family member. Additionally, I plan in at least an hour of outside time or exercise every day. This varies from running to yoga, to fly fishing or climbing depending on how I’m feeling and what my body needs that day or that week.

Then I try to plan in risks: things that will push me personally or professionally. Perhaps it’s sitting down to write poetry, attempting a run that I don’t think I am strong enough to do, sending a pitch to an editor that I’m intimidated by, or trying a recipe that I’ve never cooked before. These things are all risks – moments of personal exploration, time spent outside one’s comfort zone. Practicing small risks daily is important, because when it does come time to take a bigger risk, your calculated risk-taking muscles are ready for the leap.

But why am I writing about my coffee habit on a photography blog? Well, I think ritual and risk are essential to photography too.

As photographers, it is very important to develop rituals. What is our editing style? How do we archive and organize hundreds of thousands of photos? What are our go-to camera settings? What lenses do we like to shoot with and at what aperture? Most of us have habits and ways in which we typically shoot. It’s important to know yourself as a photographer, know what you like and what your good at, and be able to produce that over and over again. That is very important to clients, they know you have a specific style and can and will deliver at that level.

A ritual is knowing the rules, and risk is knowing when and how to break them. Risk, then, is pushing yourself to try new things with photography, whether it’s a technique, a style, or a lens. Risk is taking on assignment you know you can do, but maybe have never done before. Risk is the key to progression. Risk makes you grow.

The balance of ritual and risk is the puzzle we have to piece together as photographers. It’s different for everyone. Ritual for me is photographing skiing & photographing wildlife. I know how to do it, it’s what I spend the majority of my time behind the lens doing. It is my comfort zone.  Night photography is not something I feel confident or good at. Motion blur is something I’d like to practice more and improve upon. And shooting portraits is hard for me. These are all things I need to take more risk with, to work on further, and areas I want to push myself to grow more.

So, I encourage you to develop a foundation, find your personal ritual space, really get to know who you are and how you operate as a photographer. And then, take some risks! Sometimes risk comes knocking, and other times you have to go out and search for it. The worst thing that can happen is that you fail and if you do, it is not failing – it’s called learning. And, even in the face of “failure” don’t forget to smile, because if you’re fortunate enough to be taking pictures, you’re damn lucky.

Yvonne Petro

About Yvonne Petro