Life Lessons from Sam Abell

I spent yesterday evening, election night, at a symposium sponsored by Canon U.S.A., Inc. featuring  National Geographic photographer and author, Sam Abell.  I am not, and do not intend to be a photographer, but I thought the insight that Mr. Abell shared about photography was very relatable to life.  I want to take just a few moments to translate some of his photographic insight into life lessons.

The most prevalent recurring theme of the evening was Mr. Abell’s advice to “Compose & Wait.”  Great photographer’s select their setting, arrange the natural environment and then wait for something to take place within that environment.  Mr. Abell shared a story where he spent days at one corner waiting for events to unfold before he captured his image.

 I suggest that we address life in the same manner.  “Compose & Wait.”  Select your environment, surround yourself with good positive elements.  Prepare your environment by preparing yourself to take advantage of opportunities.  The wait.  Don’t chase the dream.  If your chasing it, then its moving, right.  So, just wait.  Select a great spot, make sure you are prepared, and capture the dream when it comes back around.

Mr Abell shared another story about photographing a dolphin.  He spent a significant amount of time chasing this dolphin around the boat with his camera trying to get just the right photograph and could never quite capture the image he desired.  When he finally, selected and prepared his environment and just waited for the dolphin to enter into it, he got his perfect shot.

The title of one of Mr. Abell’s books is “Stay This Moment.”  Photographer’s capture images to preserve moments in time.  In life, we are often in such a hurry, that we often do not admire the moment at hand.  Don’t forget to hold onto moments.  I believe the right moments will propel us forward much faster than we can move on our own.

Mr. Abell’s father gave him the advice to “Lean from the hip.”  Mr. Abell also repeated said that in photography, if you did not know how to tackle an assignment, you just threw yourself into it.  When you are faced with new challenges in life, and you don’t know where to start, I suggest you just lean into it from the hip.  That means, plant your feet firmly in the environment that you have already prepared, put your shoulders against the task and address the challenge.  Remember, we are not chasing the dream.  We have met it in our environment and are facing it head on.

The three elements of a good photograph, as identified by Mr. Abell, are expression, gesture and environment.  The three elements of a good life might be the same.  Expression — keep a smile on your face;  keep your chin up;  face your challenges.  Gesture — be active; be animated; stay in motion.  Environment — prepare yourself; place yourself in good situations; surround yourself with good friends.

In all of Mr. Abell’s best work, there is a detectable horizon or horizontal line in his images.  Lines in images can be associated with the human form.  The vertical line is up-right, standing.  The horizontal line is at rest.  The diagonal line is in motion.  Horizontal lines in photographs are important because they provide us with a certain sense of comfort; they put us at rest.  Images in the foreground will provide us with the activity but the horizon puts it all in perspective.  So, my life lesson, regardless of what you’re doing, don’t forget to relax and get your rest.


About Jesse Alber

Jesse Alber attained a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Speech Communications with an Athletic Coaching Endorsement from Hastings College in May, 1993. From 1994 - 2000, Alber served in leadership roles in human resources, retail, and production. Alber enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2000. He served as a Armored Cavalry Scout and Troop Training Manager with A 3/7 CAV 3d ID until 2004. Alber deployed to Bosnia in 2001 and Kwait / Iraq in 2003. Alber served in the Army Reserves from 2005 - 2008. From 2004 - 2010 Alber served as the Adult Education Coordinator for Central Community College and Executive Director for the Hastings Literacy Program. Alber returned to Hastings College in 2010 to study Computer Science and Web Design. He is currently emploed as a Programming and Web Development Intern with Servi-Tech Industries. Alber will complete his program of study in the summer of 2012.
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