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  • Writer's pictureA D Ackerman

Photography, Focus, and Mindset

Updated: Apr 3, 2021

Look at the three photos above. What do you see?

Which do you like best, least, and why?

Can you tell that they were all taken within 10 minutes of each other and that the photographer (myself) stood in the same place (give or take a few footsteps) to capture each of them?

Each photo could stand alone and tell a different story. Each photo reflects what may have been a different set of emotions, frame of mind, or intent on the part of the photographer. Each photo may evoke a different feeling or frame of mind on the part of the viewer.

Keep these ideas in your mind as you read on; we will come back to them later in the post.


During a recent conversation on Clubhouse, the relatively new social media site for audio-only conversations, I was talking with colleagues about the difference between focus and mindset. Is mindset a thing? How can you change your mindset? What do you understand it to mean if I say that someone has a "growth mindset," or an "abundance mindset," or a "coaching mindset?" My colleague and mentor, Peter, wanted to know if any of us knew the steps to actually take to change our mindset. Why, isn't it just how we are focused that determines our mindset? So, if we want to create an "abundance mindset" why not just focus on being grateful for the things we have, instead of focusing on what we don't have.

Well, what say you? Is there a difference?

So, that's where the photos come in. I had this image in my mind as we were talking, about the way I, when I am wearing my photographer hat, approach composing a photograph. I saw the mindset as the entire scene or photo, and the focus as, well, the focal point of the photo, or in some cases the entire photo of one subject.

In the first photo, I was standing on the boardwalk of a beach-town in Southern California, with my back to the ocean. I captured a photo of a couple of people, and a pelican, with the town in the background. You get a feeling of busyness because of all the stores and houses visible in the frame. There is a slight difference in the crispness of the edges of what is in the foreground (people and pelican) versus the background (stores, houses, trees). However, due to relatively high "depth of field" both the foreground and the background can be readily identified. The foreground is more crisply in focus but you can see pretty much everything. You get a sense of the community. You see houses packed closely together. You see trees. You get a sense you are in a tropical climate, due to the presence of palm trees. You know you must be pretty close to the shore or at least water, due to the presence of the pelican and the fishing pole. You can't see all the details, but you see the gestalt, and probably have a sense of whether this is a place where you would like to live, or to visit, or to stay away from.

Now look at the second photo, a close-up of a different pelican. You see a lot of detail--the wrinkles in his neck skin, the pattern of his feathers, the way the end of his beak crosses over itself at the tip. There is a lot of focus in this photo. The background is ill-defined (it's the cement part of the boardwalk), and in truth, this photo could have been taken anywhere--at a zoo, at the shore, at a bird sanctuary, in my backyard. You get a lot of information about a single subject. You can't think about whether you would like to live here, because I have given you no information about where here is.

In the third photo, you get more of a feeling about the place. Clearly, it's a photo of the ocean. There is a bird on the shore, but you cannot tell what species. There is a hillside that juts out into the water, but not enough of that hillside is in focus to tell whether the irregularities of the shading are from trees, boulders, buildings. You know something about the weather (cloudy) and perhaps the time of day (seems like almost dusk or shortly after dawn). But the sea looks calm, and there is a glow that impacts the feeling you get when you look at it. There are no people there; it is quiet and deserted. I don't know about you, but I get a sense of calm when I look at it. I feel peaceful; like I could go there and no one would bother me. You can't know, when you look at it, that I took the top picture moments before, that the same people, and others were still present--I had just turned my back to them.

So, metaphorically, I believe that the middle photo represents focus--it is a specific area or item of interest, it is something you want to pay attention to, something you choose to pay attention to, potentially to the exclusion of all else. The top and bottom photos to me represent mindset--the landscape of your mind. It can include a primary focus (like the pelican in the top), but could just as easily have a broad focus, like the place where the sky meets the water, or the water meets the land. The mindset evokes a feeling, the focus invites action. The top might suggest a mindset of abundance, the bottom might suggest a mindset of inquiry, of curiosity, or of mindfulness.


I would really love to know what you think of my metaphor, my explanations, and my thoughts about focus and mindset. How do you define these terms? What metaphors would you use? Please leave me a note in the comments below to let me know, and so the community can discuss this topic.


Thanks for reading. I value your time and am honored you chose to spend the last few minutes reading this post. I hope it provided value for you. If so, I would truly appreciate it if you would share it with someone who might also find it of value.

I would love to hear from you. Please come find me on Twitter or LinkedIn, and now on Clubhouse. Or send me an email at

To add more value to your life ask yourself this question every day: What choice can I make and action can I take in this moment to create the greatest net value? Then take the free VQ (value quotient) assessment to start your journey with Axiogenics, and learn how to consistently play your "A" game.

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