Being 'in the zone', 'finding your flow', 'peak performance'. All descriptions of being fully immersed and absorbed in an activity that allows you to perform at your peak. For a period of time you're totally focused and your actions just happen with very little conscious effort. This temporary merging of action and awareness is experienced by many people and many professions but as a photographer, if you're shooting whilst 'in the zone', there are very few places you would rather be.
Strangely, it is often after a shoot that I will realise that I was 'in the zone'. Reflecting on the shoot, if I can remember thinking of nothing but the shots, there is a good chance that my photographs will be of a high standard. In this state, It's like being in your own bubble and for a temporary moment, you are totally separate from the outside world. Instead, your world is internal where intense focus and concentration consumes. Photographer James Estrin terms it being 'present' and 'in the moment'.
As a photographer, being in the state of flow is most useful for shooting weddings and events. They are so fast paced and hectic, you are constantly scanning and predicting where the next shot could be. When you are in a state of flow, it can feel like you are starring in the famous Matrix scene where Keanu Reeves is dodging the bullets due to his reactions being so fast. Now I'm not going to sit here and directly compare photography to dodging bullets (although it feels like that at times!) but the point remains that shooting whilst in flow, actions that might feel forced and difficult are replaced by a feeling of tranquility and calm.
It would be amazing if you could switch on this flow switch and be in peak performance every single shoot, but alas it's an elusive beast. Some days, no matter how hard you try it's not quite there. The photos you capture could be great, but the feeling and buzz is missing. This is true of many professions- especially sports. An athlete may prepare well and train hard all week but on the day, it doesn't quite click into place. In my experience, you cannot control when and where peak performance will strike. However, when it hits, all you can do is put it out of your mind and ignore it. If you consciously think about trying to achieve this flow like state, deft movements can become clumsy and instinctual shots can become forced. It sounds counter intuitive, but to arrive at photographic nirvana you have to think as little as possible. In my case, that's very easy to do!
My mantra is that photography is a privilege. Being totally absorbed in photography comes close to a spiritual experience and during these moments the word privilege doesn't do it justice.The temperamental creature that is peak performance is a subject that is endlessly fascinating and as a photographer, I aim to be in her warm embrace for years to come.