is the Glenn H Greenberg professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine. He is the co-author of Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life's Greatest Challenges (2nd ed, 2018) with Dennis Charney.
is professor of psychiatry, neuroscience and pharmacological science at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. He is the co-author of Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life's Greatest Challenges (2nd ed, 2018) with Steven Southwick.
‘’Tis but a scratch!’ From Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Courtesy EMI Films
People who are resilient tend to be flexible – flexible in the way that they think about challenges, and flexible in the way that they react emotionally to stress. They are not wedded to a specific style of coping. Instead, they shift from one coping strategy to another depending upon the circumstances. Many are able to accept what they cannot change; to learn from failure; to use emotions such as grief and anger to fuel compassion and courage; and to search for opportunity and meaning in adversity.
As the American entrepreneur and motivational speaker Pete Koerner observes: ‘Life=change. If you’re changing anyway, why not change for the better? Better or worse are your only choices; you can’t stay where you are forever.’
As a young man, Jerry White was a Judaic Studies major at Brown University in Rhode Island. He had a particular interest in the teachings of Jesus Christ, so in 1984 during his junior year he chose to study in Israel. He was hiking with two friends in the Golan Heights when an explosion knocked him off his feet. Blood poured from his leg, the skin was shredded and charred, and splinters of bone were covered with dirt and blood. ‘Where’s my foot?’ he screamed. As he lay injured, his friends removed their own shirts, wrapped one over Jerry’s stump, and tied a makeshift tourniquet around the injured leg. Ultimately, an Israeli man from a nearby kibbutz came to their aid.
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White went on to co-found the International Landmine Survivors Network (since renamed Survivor Corps). Thirteen years after he lost his foot in Israel, he was among a coalition of activists awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in honour of their work on the international campaign to ban landmines.
How did White progress from victim to ‘super-survivor’? He answers these questions in five steps in his book, I Will Not Be Broken (2008): 1) face facts: accept what has happened; 2) choose life: live for the future, not in the past; 3) reach out: connect with other survivors; 4) get moving: set goals and take action; and 5) give back: service and acts of kindness empower the survivor to be an asset rather than a victim.
White’s story is an example of what numerous researchers have found. As Donald Campbell, professor emeritus at the US Military Academy at West Point, and colleagues have found, ‘Rather than seeing themselves as victims of a terrible and mindless fate, resilient people and groups devise ways to frame their misfortune in a more personally understandable way, and this serves to protect them from being overwhelmed by difficulties in the present.’
An important component of cognitive flexibility is accepting the reality of our situation, even if that situation is frightening or painful. To remain effectively engaged in problem-oriented and goal-directed coping, we must keep our eyes ‘wide open’, and acknowledge, rather than ignore, potential roadblocks. Avoidance and denial are generally counterproductive mechanisms that can help people for a while, but ultimately stand in the way of growth, interfering with the ability to actively solve problems.
In the scientific literature, acceptance has been cited as a key ingredient in the ability to tolerate highly stressful situations. This has been cited among survivors of extreme environmental hardship and threats to life, among highly successful learning-disabled adults, and among individuals with a variety of medical and mental disorders. In a surveyof individuals shortly after the terrorist attacks on the United States of 11 September 2001, researchers found reduced levels of post-traumatic stress symptoms in those who accepted the situation. In a study of mothers whose children had life-threatening cancer and were undergoing bone transplants, those who accepted the situation reported fewer symptoms of depression.
Another ingredient of resilience is the ability to reappraise a situation – a skill called cognitive reappraisal. Several years ago, while conducting a study on the psychological and neurobiological consequences of the Holocaust, a colleague asked an elderly survivor of the Nazi concentration camps if she had ever dreamed about her experience. ‘Oh yes,’ the woman replied. ‘I’ve never stopped dreaming about those times. I just had a dream the other night.’
Our colleague replied: ‘My goodness, it must be horrible to still have those nightmares after all those years.’
‘Oh no,’ the woman said. ‘It’s OK. It’s OK because when I awaken, I know that I’m here and not there.’
Positive reappraisal requires us to find alternative positive meaning for neutral or negative events, situations and/or beliefs. In reviewing an extensive scientific literature on cognitive strategies to regulate emotion, the psychologists Allison Troy and Iris Mauss at the University of Denver propose that positive cognitive reappraisal fosters resilience through its effect on negative emotions. More specifically, reappraising the meaning of a stressful event as less negative or more positive changes emotional reactions to the event and results in a more adaptive and resilient response.
We can take cues from those around us to help us interpret (or reinterpret) our own experiences in a more positive light. For example, in the workplace, a manager or supervisor might point out the positive aspects of an adverse situation or event, providing employees with cognitive and emotional tools to view the adversity as a challenge.
Resilience demands the emotional stability to handle failure, what the late US Navy vice-admiral James Stockdale referred to as the ‘ability to meet personal defeat with neither the defect of emotional paralysis and withdrawal, nor the excess lashing-out at scapegoats or inventing escapist solutions’. In our experience, people who are resilient generally meet failure head-on and use it as an opportunity to learn and to self-correct.
Recent research on coping has shown that successful adaptation depends less on which specific strategies people adopt than on whether they are applying coping strategies flexibly depending on the nature of the stressor. Sometimes it is wise to accept and tolerate a situation, while at other times it is best to change it. Similarly, emotion theorists argue that expression of emotion is not necessarily better than suppression. What helps people to cope is having the ability to express or suppress emotions in accordance with the demands of a given situation.
Humour helps, too. In his book Man’s Search for Meaning (1946), Viktor Frankl refers to humour as ‘another of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation. It is well-known that humour, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.’
Like other positive emotions, humour tends to broaden one’s focus of attention and thereby foster exploration, creativity and flexibility in thinking. Humour can also serve as a tool to help us face our fears. It provides distance and perspective, but does so without denying pain or fear. It manages to present the positive and negative wrapped into one package. As the Frankl scholar Ann Graber puts it, humour combines ‘optimism with a realistic look at the tragic’. Without Pollyanna-like optimism, humour can actively confront, proactively reframe, and at times transform the tragic.
In sum, people who are resilient tend to be flexible; they know when to accept that which cannot be changed and how to positively reframe life’s challenges and failures; they use humour to reframe the tragic and that which is frightening; and they regulate their emotions, sometimes suppressing feelings and at other times expressing them. Resilience requires creativity and flexibility: the creativity to explore multiple viewpoints and the flexibility to embrace a positive but realistic assessment – or reassessment – of a challenging situation.
Do you know how to take good pictures? Perhaps you’re struggling to get to grips with a complex new camera, or you’re lacking inspiration? Don’t worry – we’ve all been there! Photography can be bewildering, but there are some simple things you can do to help you progress.
Fifteen years ago I was new to photography and going through the same process you are now. I learned by reading photography books, watching videos, joining a camera club, and most importantly, by taking photos….. all the time! For ten years I took and shared a new photo every single day and it’s done wonders for my photography.
To help you get to grips with your photography I’ve compiled a list of simple things that’ll help you create better pictures. Some are easy, while others may take a little more work. One thing’s for sure though – you’ll have fun trying them and you’ll come out the other end a better photographer!
Let’s start with the most basic one of all…..
1. Always carry a camera
This should be obvious really. After all, how are you going to improve your photography without one?! Remember, you don’t have to lug around loads of heavy gear if you don’t want to either. Even having a smartphone to hand is useful if you want to capture that spur of the moment image. Photographer Chase Jarvis once said, “The best camera is the one you have with you”.
Undoubtedly a bold statement from someone used to shooting in war zones. There’s a degree of truth here though. Getting closer will focus the viewer on the subject of your photo, and will also help you exclude distracting elements from the background.
3. Always Check Your Background
Always check right around the frame before you take a photo. Shifting your position just half a step left or right will often remove distractions and result in a stronger picture.
4. Use a tripod
A tripod allows you to shoot at slower shutter speeds without camera shake. Perfect for low light conditions or capturing motions. Carrying one also slows you down. However, this can be a good thing because you have to consider your compositions more carefully. Which results in better thought out images.
Pro Tip: Save and buy a quality one that’s really stable, but small/light enough that you’ll actually be willing to carry it around.
Think for a moment about the type of image you want to create, rather than just blindly clicking the shutter button. Ask yourself the following questions next time you take a photo, and I can guarantee you’ll get some great results!
What sort of emotion or message do you want to convey to your viewer?
6. Get out of Automatic Mode!
If you truly want to take control of your photography don’t shoot in your camera’s Auto mode. You don’t need to shoot in full manual mode yet – that can come later if you wish. Instead, select Aperture Priority Mode (A or AV on the mode dial). This allows you to choose the aperture and let you set the depth of field. Which then determines how much of your image is sharply in focus. So you can either choose to create beautiful bokeh (best for portraits) or keep it sharp throughout the depth (best for landscapes)
Take time to look for interesting light that adds vivid colors to your subject, reveals hidden textures, or create a mood. Once you begin to see such light, you’ll find it’s addictive! You are most likely to find such light during the golden hour (sunset or sunrise). This is why most photographers shoot during the golden hour.
The majority of photos are taken from a height of between five and six feet – the elevation of our heads when standing. This is the way we generally see the world, but you can create much more dramatic images by choosing a new perspective. Perhaps shoot really low, to capture a snail’s eye view of the world. Or lift your camera above your head for a high-level perspective.
Children and animals are almost always better photographed from a low level, as you get to share their view of the world, but this can work for many other subjects too.
10. Keep Your Horizons Straight
Ever taken a picture by the sea, only to find you’ve got a wonky horizon? Yes, me too! It’s easy to fix in post-processing, but you’ll be throwing away pixels as you do so. Use either LCD panel’s gridlines or electronic level and need never have a crooked horizon again.
11. Work the Scene
How do you shoot? Do you look at a subject that interests you, take your picture and move on? Instead, work the scene, wring every last drop of photographic interest from it.
Start off with a wide shot, setting the scene and showing a sense of context. Then zoom in and focus more on the central subject of your image. Finally, get in really close and find some details that interest you. This technique works on pretty well any subject – landscape, people, architecture. This way you create a coherent series of images which you could display together.
12. Use Your Camera’s Histogram
The histogram can be a powerful tool that helps you achieve a good exposure in your pictures, but it’s often overlooked. As you can see from the next photo, a photography histogram graphs the brightness of your pixels.
Looking at the histogram instantly tell you if any portion of the image is losing details due to being extremely bright or dark. Go ahead and enable histogram in your camera’s live view settings.
13. Set Your White Balance Correctly
Our eyes are amazing miracles of natural engineering. They see a huge range of color shades and compensate for different colors of light. For instance, sodium street lights have an orange hue, while fluorescent lights often make things look slightly green. By contrast, our cameras need to be told what color the light is. Auto White Balance (AWB) will often do a good job. But, for better results, select a White Balance (WB) setting that’s appropriate to the light you’re shooting under.
If you shoot in the RAW format you can set your white balance in post-processing, but in JPG mode you need to get it right in camera.
14. Use ISO to Your Advantage — but Know Your Limits
Don’t forget to increase your ISO if you’re shooting in dark places. It’ll increase your sensor’s sensitivity to light and help you achieve a faster shutter speed. Which keeps your pictures sharp.
Most cameras offer an Auto ISO option, where the camera ensures the shutter speed set is always fast enough for you to achieve a sharp shot on whatever lens you’re using. Some also offer the option to set a minimum shutter speed of your own. Yes, a high ISO setting will introduce more noise (or grain) into your pictures. But a sharp noisy image is better than a clean but blurred one!
15. Take control of focusing
Most cameras come from the factory with all the focus points enabled. This means the camera focus on what it thinks is the subject of your photo – usually whatever is closest to the lens.
A better strategy is to select one focus point and use that to focus on what you think is the subject. Do check your user manual if you’re not sure how to do this. When photographing people and animals, always focus on the nearest eye, as it’s the eyes that draw your viewer in first. After you achieve focus, you can recompose as needed (while still pressing the shutter button halfway).
An even better technique is to use the back button focus. Which allows you to press the shutter button without losing focus.
This is especially true if you are shooting in RAW format. The camera will capture a lot of information about a scene. However, as artists, it is up to the photographer to create the final vision using that information. Here are some of the best Lightroom Tutorials to help you create amazing photos in post-processing.
17. Share your photos and seek feedback
Don’t take loads of photos and leave them quietly festering on a hard drive. Instead, share them with the world and ask for constructive feedback.
This is best done in a photography-focused community–like PhotoBlog. Post your photos and ask others what they would do differently, what do they think of your edits, cropping, or composition. This kind of dialog is sure to yield valuable insights.
18. Give Your Camera a Spring Clean!
After we’ve been using our cameras for a while they tend to get a bit dusty and grimy. Once in awhile take a few minutes to give your camera a clean, knocking off any dust and gently wiping greasy spots from the lens.
Inside, dust spots can gather on your camera’s sensor, creating dark shadows on your images. You can easily buy sensor cleaning kits. But if you’re not brave enough to meddle inside your camera, most good camera stores will do it for you for a modest fee.
19. Read Your Camera Manual
When we first get a new camera, we’re so keen to get out shooting, it’s easy to leave the user manual in the box, unread. Manuals may not be the most scintillating read, but they will help you use your new tool more effectively.
Make sure you have your camera handy when you do this, so you can try the various settings out.
20. Take photos as often as possible
Do you want to know how to take good pictures?
Use a camera every day!
You are guaranteed to see your pictures improve over time. If you need a reason to shoot, why not start a 365 project, sharing a new image every day for a year? We have a great 365 project calendar here on Photoblog to help inspire you.
21. Get out of Your Comfort Zone
It’s easy to get into a rut, always shooting the same things. Every so often get out of your comfort zone and try something new.
Perhaps shoot only in manual mode for a day or set a slow shutter speed and see what happens when you slow the world down. Try different techniques such as HDR, or Focus Stacking, or perhaps try your hand at an entirely different genre of photography.
22. Check Your Posture
This may sound obvious, but you’d be amazed how many people don’t hold their cameras correctly.
Here’s how to take a good photo:
Your right-hand goes on the camera’s grip.
With your left hand, cup it beneath the lens (rather than holding the other side of the camera)
Keep the heel of your hand under the camera body. This spreads the load and gives you better control.
Breathe steadily and keep your feet hip-width apart to aid stability.
23. Never Stop Learning
As well as taking photos of your own, make sure you observe photographers that you admire.
Look critically at their images and ask yourself why they work so well.
In the digital age, making photography mistakes aren’t financially costly (you don’t waste film). So there’s no harm in making mistakes. Every bad shot you take can teach you something. Don’t be afraid to experiment and fail, but try to learn from those mistakes!
Which of these tips did you find most helpful? We’d love to hear how you used them to take better photos. Perhaps you have other tips we didn’t cover? If so, please take a moment to share them in the comments below, perhaps with an image or two to show what you’ve learned.
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