How Focus Defines Our Life

Focus Defines Our Life

Photography is an amazing way to learn about focus. This is because the very act of viewing life through the lens of a camera can help us develop a truly empowering skill.

We call that skill focus, and learning to use it properly can transform our perception of the world around us and the people in it.

I believe that the power to change your reality is equal to your ability to focus your attention in the most beneficial direction at any given time.

3 things photography can teach us about life and focus

1. The higher the magnification, the narrower the field of vision. This principle is what allows you to use a telephoto lens to pick out a single face in a very large crowd. As you focus in on that one subject, the rest of the crowd disappears from view. Why does that happen? Because your field of vision narrows until the entire frame is filled with that one face.

When you take the picture, the crowd is excluded. It doesn’t mean that there is no crowd. It simply means that you don’t see them in the picture because that is not what you were focused on.

Application: Your perception is determined by what you focus on. This means that we can use our ability to focus our attention in a way that causes an empowering shift in our perception. It doesn’t matter whether we are looking at a person, situation, or an experience. We can control what our picture looks like by controlling what we choose to focus on.

If you focus intently on the positive aspects of any person, place, or thing, the negative aspects will fade into the background. They will still exist, but they will be outside of your field of concentration, and will have little or no influence on the picture you see.

2. Lighting has a huge influence on how you see things, and your ability to focus. If you set your camera on a tripod and focus it on a single object, the lighting will determine how you see that object.

Imagine that you have decided to photograph a magnificent tree that is standing alone on the top of a hill. If your camera remained stationary, and you took one picture every hour from sunup till sundown, what would you have? You would have twelve (or so) completely different photographs. Why? Even though the subject remained the same, the variation in lighting changed its appearance.

Application: The degree of value we choose to assign to anything we focus on can be compared to lighting. If it is something of great importance, we put a spotlight on it so we can see every detail. If it is relatively insignificant, we dial down the light so it doesn’t distract from the things that really matter.

If we assign too much value to (shine a spotlight on) things of little importance, they will overshadow the more valuable aspects of our life.

By assigning increased value to thing like gratitude, relationships, health, and honesty, we bring those things front and center in our life. This means that they move higher on our list of priorities and capture more of our attention. As a result, less empowering aspects of life will be relegated to a lower priority and receive less attention.

3. Shutter speed affects the quality and clarity of any photograph. Under glaring conditions, exposure time needs to be reduced to avoid overexposing the picture. When the lighting is poor, a slower shutter speed allows enough time for the available light to properly expose the image.

If you use a fast shutter speed in a low light situation, the image will not register. Your picture will be underexposed and worthless as a result. Using a slower shutter speed when trying to capture an action shot will give you a blurry picture devoid of details, also worthless.

Exposure time needs to change to fit the requirements of each situation. If it doesn’t, then quality and clarity are compromised.

Application: In life, we need to make choices about what we are willing to expose ourselves to, and for how long. We only have so many hours in a day. Learning to manage the time available is really a process of deciding how much time we spend on each activity.

If you stay too long at unimportant activities (overexpose yourself), you will end up underexposing yourself to the really important ones. Once again, exposure time needs to change to fit the requirements of each situation. We also need to acknowledge that some things are not worth exposing ourselves to at all.

Making positive changes in the quality of our life requires that we assign meaningful amounts of time to meaningful pursuits. If we don’t control our time, mundane activities will expand to fill the time available. By managing your time and adjusting your exposure, you will be able to give greater focus to activities that make a solid contribution to the quality of your life.

Auto focus, is it good or bad?

For most of us, photography is a point and shoot process. Automatic cameras require very little skill to produce fairly nice pictures. Truly exceptional photographs however, still require a skilled photographer to manually control the focus and shutter speed, and to recognize or create the perfect lighting.

High quality photos are still produced by those with enough skill to make the best use of the tools available. They want above average results, and they consider it worth their time and effort to develop the necessary skills.

What kind of life do you want?

For a lot of people, life is just an average experience, it’s a point and shoot affair. Generally, this is not because they don’t want an exceptional life. It may be because they haven’t taken the time to develop the life skills required to produce exceptional results. Or perhaps, they never had an opportunity to learn those life skills in the first place. Whatever the reason, the skills are available for anyone desiring to live a truly exceptional life.

How about you, is average good enough, or do you want exceptional? When you look at your life, what kind of picture do you want to see?

Do you find it difficult to control your focus?
How much influence do you think focus has on perception?
The lines are open!

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  1. Jeff February 21, 2009 Reply

    I want an exceptional life! Why waste it?

    Focus is an essential part of achieving what you want in life. You have to be able to discipline yourself well enough to concentrate on a single purpose if you want to get anywhere.

    I love the analogy here!

    • Jonathan January 29, 2011 Reply

      Thanks Jeff, I have always appreciated how quickly we can become very focused when looking through a camera lens.

  2. Alik Levin February 22, 2009 Reply

    “Your perception is determined by what you focus on” – well said, liked it a lot! Focus helps me achieve more with less. More results with less energy in less time
    Good stuff!

    • Jonathan January 29, 2011 Reply

      Hey Alik, what a great statement: “Focus helps me achieve more with less. More results with less energy in less time.” That is so true!

  3. Nea January 28, 2011 Reply

    Hi Jonathan. I love this post- so full of both creativity and usefulness. It’s amazing how we can learn little life lessons by looking at the inner-workings of something as seemingly simple as photography. Great work!

    • Jonathan January 29, 2011 Reply

      Thanks Nea, isn’t it cool when we realize how a relatively common device like camera makes it so natural to summon up our powers of focus so easily? If we are having difficulty focusing we can just pretend we are looking through an adjustable lens.

  4. Sibyl Chavis January 28, 2011 Reply

    Jonathan: I loved this analogy. It really drilled the message home so clearly. I particularly appreciated what you said about our ability to change our perception simply by changing what we are focusing on. It is such a true statement and I have spent so much time thinking about its validity and application. However, when I read this post, your analogy to the camera focus and the application of the principle, it really drove the point home even more. Great, great, great post Jonathan.

    • Jonathan January 29, 2011 Reply

      Thanks Sibyl, I’ve often marveled at close up pictures of common things like flowers or even drops of water. The beauty is always there. All we need to do is focus on it.

  5. Dandy January 28, 2011 Reply

    Hi Jonathan,
    Such a smart post! I see what you are saying about value. We put focus and energy on unimportant things and this means we neglect the truly important things in life. Yes! I think I may be able to work my camera better now:) Thanks Jonathan!

    • Jonathan January 29, 2011 Reply

      Hi Dandy, when we are using a camera we tend to seek out the beauty or exceptional, even when it is surrounded by things that are uninspiring. We can direct our focus in much the same way. So glad you liked the comparison.

  6. Sandra January 28, 2011 Reply


    Very clever angle! Today, I am resonating with what you’ve said about shutter speed. “Making positive changes in the quality of our life requires that we assign meaningful amounts of time to meaningful pursuits.” I know I need to be more cognizant of time lost on the unimportant. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Jonathan January 29, 2011 Reply

      Hi Sandra, how cool is it that we almost always have exposure control? The process is relatively easy once we recognize that it’s within our control. Like so many things in life, it is not usually the difficulty of the skill, but rather the lack of awareness.

  7. Stuart January 29, 2011 Reply

    Focus is key, no doubt about it. If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know you’ve got there? ;-)

    • Jonathan January 29, 2011 Reply

      Hey Stuart, so much in life seems to be designed to obscure or focus, but as you said, Focus is key. That means we need to continually develop our ability to focus.

  8. Joe Wilner January 29, 2011 Reply


    This a great analogy. What we focus on determines our reality essentially. It effects what we notice and how we view our experience. I connect with the idea of narrowing down focus to maintain clarity and attention on what I desire. The more astute I get with keeping attention and focus on what I desire the more clear and natural it becomes.

    • Jonathan January 29, 2011 Reply

      Wow Joe, I love the implications of this phrase: ” The more astute I get with keeping attention and focus on what I desire the more clear and natural it becomes.” Very well said!

  9. JenP January 29, 2011 Reply

    I love your analogy with photography.
    I’ve often been told (usually by my best mate) that I lack focus….but actually, borrowing your analogy, I am just taking photos of rather a lot of different things. Some photographers choose to specialise in weddings, in portraits or in landscapes. Others do a variety. I’m choosing to focus on lots of different things in my life rather than doggedly pursuing just one goal. I’d like to think that doesn’t mean I lack focus – just that I’m focused on variety.

    • Jonathan January 31, 2011 Reply

      Hi Jen, we can have multiple goals and interests at the same time, but we can only really focus in one direction at any give moment. Focus by definition requires our full attention. So, to be able to focus on several things we must divide our time up so we can devote our full attention to the task at hand.

  10. Lauren January 30, 2011 Reply

    Dear Jonathan,

    I love this post using photography as an analogy for life.

    I read a great book called Trances People Live in which he compared what we focus on to taking a flashlight and shining it on a certain book in a library.

    There’s the book of negative experiences and positive experiences, but he makes the point, as you do, that we experience what we focus upon. And in states of anxiety or depression our focus becomes very narrow. We don’t notice anything outside that state.

    I frequently remember to be appreciative and to focus on what IS working. But, it takes continual practice for even though I trained myself well in this regard it is easy to fall back into noticing what isn’t working or what doesn’t feel good.

    It seems the quality of our lives really is largely determined by where we choose to place our focus. And that’s a great thing because we can do something about it.

    Thanks for a very cool and wise post!

    Warm regards,

    • Jonathan January 31, 2011 Reply

      Hi Lauren, how nice to have you here. The realization that we can largely control the way we experience reality by controlling what we focus on is so very empowering. We all have this ability and we can all play a huge role in making our lives a pleasurable experience.

  11. Rakesh January 31, 2011 Reply

    Brilliant. Absolutely fantastic analogy, well crafted. Brings out the essence of self development with astounding clarity. Thank you for this great piece of work.

    • Jonathan January 31, 2011 Reply

      Hi Rakesh, I am glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for your kind words.

  12. Daisey January 31, 2011 Reply

    Hi Jonathan.

    One point I’d like to add is what kind of lens is being used will affect what we are focusing on. If our lens has smudges on it from past usage, perhaps dust and fine lint, these will modify what we focus on and not give us an accurate picture. Also, the correct lens needs to be used for the specific scene one wants to capture. Use the wrong lens and the clarity and details won’t be clear enough to see as they truly are.

    I liken all the above to our internal lenses. We can become real good at focusing on one thing at a time, one event, one interaction, etc., but if our inner lenses are colored, blurred, tainted with past experiences this can so easily skew our view of what is before us. I believe this is a life long process and at times a very difficult and painful one if we choose to be honest with ourselves.

    • Jonathan February 5, 2011 Reply

      Hi Daisey, you are so right. We each have different strengths and scares that alter our perception of reality. There are a number of aspects that fit this camera metaphor and the lens is certainly an appropriate one. As I read your comment I thought of filters which can enhance or mute the image we see. Sometimes the use of an enhancing emotional filter can improve the picture even through a damaged lens.

      • Daisey February 8, 2011 Reply

        Hi Jonathan,

        Not sure if you’ll see this but just in case I’m going to add this. Would you be willing to expand on this statement of yours;
        “Sometimes the use of an enhancing emotional filter can improve the picture even through a damaged lens.”

        What are you considering to be enhancing emotional filters. I’d appreciate some examples.

        Thank you!!

        • Jonathan February 8, 2011 Reply

          Hi Daisey, for example, if we are aware that we tend to focus on the negative side of issues because of some unpleasant experiences in life, what can we do to move toward the positive? We can practice looking through a positive attitude filter, even if it is just a mechanical exercise. We can ask ourselves, If someone offered me $10,000 to identify ten potential positive aspects of this situation, what would I look for?

          With that incentive we could then practice the game of viewing the situation from a different perspective (through an enhancing emotional filter). Over time, we would be training ourselves to see things differently and the filter would help correct the damage to our lens much like eyeglasses do for our vision.

          • Daisey February 8, 2011 Reply

            So, Jonathan, are you saying the offer of $10,000 is what you are considering to be the emotional filter in this example? I understand well the concept of trying to view things from different perspectives what I’m not clear on is what you are referring to as “emotional filters”. If it is the money in the example given then I guess it would be the excitement to win the prize that would emotionally spur someone on to get the answers. If this isn’t what you’re referring to please clarify. Thank you!!

            • Jonathan February 8, 2011 Reply

              No, the money would just be a motivator. Something to prompt us to play the game and go beyond our normal tendency. The concept of a reward stimulates a willingness on our part to make a genuine attempt to view things through the filter of a positive attitude. So the positive attitude is a filter that we purposely use to alter the way we see things through our current lens (in this case that lens would be a negative perception). It would be the mental equivilent of putting a blue filter over your camera lens while taking a picture on a gray day. The filter enhances what you see.

  13. Mike King February 3, 2011 Reply

    This is a great analogy Jonathan, the whole discussion and points about focus here are spot on. One thing to add though, if we don’t focus on a subject of interest, value or beauty and on something dull or unimportant in our lives, no matter how great the photograph might be, its of no value. We still need the focus to be on the RIGHT things to get the result we want!

    • Jonathan February 5, 2011 Reply

      Hey Mike, what a valuable point. Your comment made me think of the current state of the entertainment industry. We now have HDTV and unbelievable special effects, but those enhancements still can’t transform a bad movie into a good one. As you said: “We still need the focus to be on the RIGHT things to get the result we want!”

  14. farouk February 4, 2011 Reply

    Well written Jonathan, I have always believed that every hobby can teach us indirectly new life skills, thank you :)

    • Jonathan February 5, 2011 Reply

      Hey Farouk, that’s true, we can definitely broaden our perception by viewing life from a variety of angles.

  15. Rocket Bunny February 4, 2011 Reply

    Love the comparison, it is so true. Great job!

    • Jonathan February 5, 2011 Reply

      Thanks Bunny, I think photographers gain an advantages perspective by regularly viewing things through the lens of a camera. It trains them to focus on things in ways that others can easily overlook.

  16. Senthil February 8, 2011 Reply

    Fantastic Jonathan! Moral of story – you can make a positive philosophy out of anything in life so long as you’re looking for meaning, but don’t forget to live life, which are 2 opposite poles! I very much enjoy your posts Jonathan.

    • Jonathan February 14, 2011 Reply

      Thanks Senthil, I always try to focus on the positive aspect of any situation. Much more enjoyable that way.

  17. Sal February 11, 2011 Reply

    Loved this article! Made me want to take up photography :-)
    So true about having to focus on the important things in life. It’s my motto, but like many of us I get side tracked from time to time and find myself putting my valuable time into things that really have no or very little value.
    Great reminder, thank you!

    • Jonathan February 14, 2011 Reply

      Hey Sal, it is so easy to get side tracked. Sometimes I write these articles mainly to remind myself to get back on track.

  18. Casper May 3, 2011 Reply

    First off, to answer your questions: I do have difficulties controlling my focus thus ends up affecting my perception of the world. Focus obviously a big aspect when perceiving things. From now on I will practice to focus on the positives because I want to be exceptional!

  19. Leslie June 17, 2013 Reply

    Hi Jonathan, What a great article. We are a spa business company and ‘focus’ is a big part of who we are and what we do. I believe our readers can benefit greatly from your fresh viewpoints! I have re-posted this article on our Blog. Thank you Jonathan!

  20. CJ June 17, 2013 Reply

    Very creative and also highly relevant analogy. What I really like about this is that, like photography, you are creating something and have options. There isn’t so much a “right” way to do things, but when you understand the effects of focus, lighting, etc, you can better create what you really want.

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