Going Deep

I’m in middle of reading Deep Work by Cal Newport. It’s a great book and primarily, it is about shunning distractions in our workplaces and instead of going deep with our work. Similar to how, every once in a while, Bill Gates would go on a “Think Week”.

In the book, Cal Newport also describes two types of work – the shallow work – e.g. checking and responding to emails, social media – the work that requires low intellectual capability and is easily replicable. Deep work on the other hand, is work that requires uninterrupted concentration and work that requires our full intellectual capability and is not easily replicable – e.g. writing a thesis, programming an app.

I could not help but think about the shallow work and deep work in terms of our photography.

I think we can be two types of photographers – the shallow photographer and the deep photographer.

The shallower photographer is always going for that “one” shot before moving on to the next subject. The deep photographer, on the other hand, allocates lot more time than “necessary” to explore and work the subject.

The deep photographer goes back to the place few times to explore it in different light and settings. The deep photographer builds a story of the place in multiple photographers rather than trying to cover it all in the “one” photograph.

In a different context – say the context of a photojournalist who photographs poverty. The shallow photographer goes for what is on the surface – is colloquially referred to as the “poverty porn”. The deeper photojournalist instead goes deeper than the surface – perhaps the photographer explores the lives of the people involved, how the poverty impacts their children or their relationships.

The deeper photojournalist goes beyond taking photographs of the less fortunate and instead photographs about them – about their lives, their relationships, their hopes, and fears.

I’ve been planning an upcoming photography trip to India to visit Agra (Taj Mahal) and Jaipur. I had 10 days to explore and before I locked down these locations, I was very tempted to add more locations to the schedule. A quick search on the forums at Trip Adviser advised I only needed about two days max in Agra and perhaps 3-4 days maximum in Jaipur. The temptation was to add few more cities in the remaining times.

But I’m glad I resisted.

This is because I wanted to go deep at each of the locations. I did not just want to visit Taj Mahal once during my time in Agra but two or three times – to explore and experience it in different conditions, different light and at different times of the day. To explore it from each angle in depth. This approach, to me, feels a lot more satisfying. It allows me to get in the flow. It allows me to explore the place deeply. It allows me the courage to experiment and get it wrong the first day – because I know I’ll be back the next day.

Contrast this with a shallower approach to photography – I would have allocated x number of days to visit x number of locations in any city before moving on to the next one – with no allowance to come back again and again to the same location at different times. This would have meant that I would be terrified of getting it wrong during my first – and only – visit to any particular location. This would have meant that I would have gone for the “one” shot because that’s all the time I would have had available.

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