There are certain cliche phrases we hear and use that can be dangerous philosophies in many ways. Take the one I used for the title but in this case used in reverse for the discussion of that matter at hand — photographic endeavors. The truth is riding a bike is not actually like riding a bike.
What do I mean? That phrase "like riding a bike" when applied broadly it means once you learn something you never really forget how to do it. More specifically if you dig into it that actual activity has a lot to do with muscle memory and feel. Sure once you learn the feel of riding a bike you're golden and you can probably take ten years or twenty of not riding a bike then certainly be capable of riding a bike again. Question, can you ride it as well as you used to when you did it every day? Probably not. Are you competitive with the best? Definitely not.
With almost any endeavor there's a certain amount of upkeep required that makes one smooth, natural, practiced, confident, and refined. Some things take a bit more than others. Heavy metal guitar or any technically challenging fine-motor skill kind of activity like that certainly takes a bit more than say casual walking. Sure, I still know how to rip out Mr. Crowley in my head but god it's sloppy compared to when I used to practice six or eight hours a day in my late teens and twenties.
The bad news is photography, visual thinking, and photographic seeing definitely take a bit of upkeep. If you take too long of a break you just are not going to be on your game the next time you pick up a camera. I experienced a bit of that myself because I took a break from working on personal work for almost three months. Not by choice but I got busy with client work.
Sure I made pictures but the circumstances and subject matter were so different I may as well been doing dishes, or playing guitar during that hiatus from personal projects. The result; The first two days I was like a fish out of water. My head was barely in the game, I just could not get in a flow, I was overthinking everything because I had to. All the stuff that usually just happens was a painful set of sequential decisions. Not only was it painful but it produced horrible results. Trash.
The good news about riding bikes and anything else is that with a bit of pain and effort consistently you can relegate all of what would consider secondary concerns into the background so you don't have to process every single variable with a ton of slow, conscious thought. After those first two days the things I was struggling with all fell in line, boom all of the stuff that was holding me up because I either had to think about it too much or worse in that I didn't at all just fell back into place.
Above are a few random frames of the sort that I like to call in-between almost BTS while getting ready to make other pictures. I chose a few that illustrate one particular little background process I worked on explicitly earlier in the year. Secondarily it also shows a little bit of another background process that I worked on for quite a bit years ago. The first one is the "hair thing". Broadly speaking something I accidentally grabbed in a frame or two last year that intrigued me and as I observed happens constantly with people that happen to have hair on the long-side. It happens during every activity. What is that, let's call it cool hair stuff.
I'm sort of an odd bird when it comes to this sort of stuff. Sure one can make cool hair stuff the one and only focus of the picture. You can set it up and just focus on cool hair stuff in and of itself. You know like the picture everyone has to make at least once where the girl with the long hair dunks it in a lake or a pool or whatever than flings it back. Great but cool hair stuff happens all the time with long hair even when you're not paying attention to just that. It's that stuff that you can treat like a bike in that if you focus on it in various contexts for a while eventually it will fade into a background reaction, muscle memory of sorts while you are paying close attention to something completely different.
Above are two frames from the Saturday earlier in the year where I spent all all day with Melanie in various states of movement, doing stuff, etc but instead of focusing on anything else about what she was doing all I made the primary focus what was going on with her hair. I wrote a bit about that a while ago. The point is I liked some of the cool hair stuff that was going on I happened to grab by accident, I didn't want to just make hair pictures so I spent time learning to ride that bike so I didn't have to think about balancing and only not falling down. I relegated it to a secondary almost subconscious thought process.
The other thing is geometry. I am moronically obsessive about various geometric things going on in the frame of pictures. I don't know how to explain it it in totality but I'll put it this way. It has a lot to do with abstract shapes formed by lots of little bits and intersection of things like people with foreground and background elements. Typically all the stuff that normal people might choose a really simple background so they don't have to think about it, maybe a really long lens wide open so all of that stuff doesn't interact with the subject. Me, I love when it all interacts in just a certain way. I spent crap tons of time just focusing on that with moving, random subjects a few years ago.
There are a lot of things you can relegate to secondary thought processes because they matter, maybe a lot, but are not something that is the absolute primary thought process you want going on when making a picture. Things you want to be like riding a bike so to speak. The other side of that is that all of those things need to be exercised regularly or they won't work like they did.
When I get busy with client work that is nowhere near exercising certain visual and photographic muscles for personal work I absolutely am going to take time to keep some of those things exercised from now on. I don't need to actually be working on any of those projects, I just need easy to find analogs. I can certainly take 15 minutes or an hour and go out on the street and find all that stuff, even if just for exercise.