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Instinct and Intuition

Learning to trust your intuition takes time, and if you've moved through Steps 2 and 3, you're on your way. But to be able to trust your intuition and become a great photographer, you first need to master your technical skills.

I want to differentiate between instinct and intuition, both natural tendencies we draw from every day. For me, instinct is more about survival than photography. As I wander with my camera, I try to be in tune with my instincts to keep me safe and out of trouble. I have photographed in dodgy areas, and I trusted my sixth sense—my instinct—to guide me through those situations ( 4.7 ).

4.7

4.7 In my experience, the camera can act as a shield, separating you from the reality of the moment. Let your instincts guide you and keep you safe. Aryan Nations World Congress, first published in magazine 1998.©Steve Simon

The camera can act as a shield, separating you from the reality of the moment. I have experienced a false sense of security by viewing the scene through the viewfinder rather than with my own eyes. There are many places and situations I have been with my camera that I would not have otherwise. My camera has been my ticket to some amazing places and an excuse for starting conversations with fascinating people. I'm grateful for that.

But sometimes, instinct tells me, "Okay, Steve, that's enough, we gotta go." Other times it prevents me from taking a picture altogether—out of concern for my own safety. I've always done well listening to that inner voice that alerts me to a potentially dangerous situation and tells me what to do about it. I try not to offer too much information to strangers; if I'm traveling alone, I never divulge that fact. It's a fine line between saying no to potential amazing opportunities, so let common sense be your guide. No picture is worth a serious threat to your safety. When there's a lot going on, it's challenging to keep yourself present, aware, and in the moment, maintaining concentration.

In 2007, I had the great privilege to travel to Somalia, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo with the former head of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), Dr. James Orbinski. In 1999, Dr. Orbinski accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for the organization, and I was working as a still photographer on Triage, a film documentary based on his experiences ( 4.8 ).

4.8

4.8 Dr. James Orbinski at the memorial to victims of the genocide in Murambi, Rwanda.©Steve Simon

Dr. Orbinski has had to deal with the most horrific human scenes, from the genocide in Rwanda to famines in Somalia and other humanitarian catastrophes. He is an inspiring person, always leading by example and doing the right thing.

In Rwanda during the genocide, he and his team would routinely work 18-hour days, dealing with horrific wounds in the most dangerous circumstances. The only way to survive, he said, was to be in the moment, concentrating on the task at hand. If he allowed himself to drift from his concentration and start to think about the reality of what was going on around him, it would be impossible to function.

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