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Twelve Photos

Would you like to take part in a monthly photo project? All you’ll need is a camera and a Facebook account. It’s just for fun and for the pleasure of having a monthly photo challenge.

I will be posting one word a month that you will then represent in a photograph. There are no rules. Whatever the word suggests to you visually is OK. All you have to do is post the photo each month to the Facebook Group page Twelve Photos.

Feel free to share the group with your friends. Let’s get social! The word for January is Beginning

Looking forward to seeing your photos.

What’s going on?

Both of these photos were taken last week. My feeling is that the photo is more powerful than the word, for the words that have been written about global warming are not changing anything.

In the UK over the last 4 months we have had weather that is close to extreme. In September and October we had very warm days, very little rain and plenty of glorious sunshine. Halloween was the warmest on record in the UK , with several towns in the south recording temperatures above 20°C.

But never mind the UK. September was the warmest global September on record and according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration seven of the first nine months of the year have broken global records.

And there is no let up! On 2nd November Aberystwyth in Wales was the warmest place in the UK in November ever, at 22.4°C. And this month December is on course to break similar records.

So when Taylor and I went out to Oxwich Point yesterday it was hardly a surprise to see this woman striding across the rocks on her way for a dip in the sea. The air and sea temperature are currently similar. Yesterday it was 14°C, we even sat outside for a post surf cuppa.

The headline photo was taken two days ago in one of our local parks. All over the park there are spring like shoots poking through and in parts of the south of the UK blossom is out. Will we get some proper cold winter weather? It looks unlikely, based upon the year so far.

So, spread the word. Share your photos of Spring in Winter. Let’s get the UK talking global warming.

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Surfing Santas

Yesterday Surfing Santas took to the waves for a competition run by Llangennith-based WSF Surf School and Langland Bay Riders Surf Club in aid of Wales Air Ambulance and Waves for Water charity.

I braved the horizontal and torrential rain to collect a few photos at Langland: bringing Christmas to the Gower waves.

 

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Cameras that sense your emotions

Intuitive cameras?

Would you like a camera that senses what you are photographing? A camera that knew how you felt when pressing the shutter? A camera that used all of this information to adjust the colours, tones, exposure and contrast to take account of your intentions and record a photograph that best invoked your feelings?

Nikon imagine that you will. Earlier this year they published a report based upon current life and social trends that predicts our future photography habits and needs. 

 ‘As far as people continue to be emotional our aim or our goal is to help people to capture their emotional moments and support them from an image capturing perspective. There is no limit to capturing intuitive images.’ Tad Nakayama, Corporate Vice President of Nikon

 

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Take a look at this imaginary camera screen display from Nikon. Notice how the camera ‘detects’ what the scene is of, including location and weather, the subjects in the scene, who the photographer is and how they are feeling (heart rate). Whilst I can imagine that some of this could be pre-programmed choices, much as we can currently choose the type of scene we are shooting and choose the relevant mode on our settings, other information (heart rate) indicates some form of personal monitoring.

I understand that Nikon are targeting the mass market with these predictions, not the enthusiasts and professionals, but I do find it all a little sad and that they are missing a fundamental truth.

Conveying emotion in a photo

The fundamental truth I feel Nikon are missing is that what we choose to photograph and how we choose to create that photograph is a melding of the intuitive and the learnt. These choices reflect our inner world (see post Inner world – outer photos). Those magic moments when what we have learnt and understand about our camera, its capabilities and limitations, are held so gently that we instinctively make choices in the moment that connect to a deeper place in our soul. This is the art of photography. The true magic.

This experience was beautifully described by Eugen Herigel in his book ‘Zen in the Art of Archery’, where we can imagine replacing the bow with a camera and the art of archery with the art of photography.

 “Art becomes ‘artless’, shooting becomes not shooting……the teacher becomes pupil again, the Master a beginner, the end a beginning and the beginning perfection”

The header photo of this post was chosen as it represents how I was feeling when I created the photo. The beauty of this, is that whilst I had an intention in that process, you might see or feel something else. Our experiences and feelings associated with colour, shape, light etc may be similar, but they are also personal. So what I feel my photo conveys might be different to how it makes you feel. This feels like a gift to me. Each photograph offers the gift of opportunity. Opportunity to experience  your feelings and that, my friend, is enough for me.

I believe that this concept is at the heart of mindful photography – photography that connects us to our feelings – and it is a key part of my online course, The Mindful Photographer. The third course in the series is titled Feeling and explores this terrain in detail. It considers how mindfulness can support us to connect with our feelings and then explores how photography can be used to represent our thoughts feelings and emotions.

If this sounds interesting you can find out more by enrolling on the FREE introduction course. You never know you may well be an intuitive expert by the time Nikon finally develop their magic camera!

 

 

 

Seeing the Music 2

Here’s a mindful photography practice that uses music as its inspiration. You don’t need to think too much, just respond intuitively as the music washes over you.

[1] Plan an album length walk.

[2] Choose an album to match your mood/weather/walk/whatever.

[3] Walk.

[4] Respond to the music intuitively. Let it play through you. Create photos that reflect how the music makes you feel.

[5] Edit photos whilst listening to same album.

[6] Share your favourites.

Here are my photos from a recent Seeing the Music practice I did whilst listening to Bless the Weather by John Martyn. The title seem to fit both my mood, circumstances and our recent weather (in an ironic manner!). I chose the blue tinged B&W to match the vibe.

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That time of year

There are many activities that are associated with this time of year, from Christmas shopping, through prepping the main meal, to the office party. One that you might find interesting is a review document of this year that supports you to look in detail at the challenges, successes and much more of the departing year; before beginning a plan for how you would like the next year to go.

The document I have used to do this is shared (for free) by the e-course expert Susannah Conway. It is called Unravelling and it is a downloadable PDF that you can then print and take to your favourite coffee shop and work your way through, whilst keeping yourself fueled.

I usually complete it over a couple of sessions, doing the review of the old year one day, before beginning the hopeful intention/planning stage for 2016. It is certainly a more thoughtful process than the end of year resolutions that last until 4th January! But it is a thorough and mindful process. Be prepared for some soul searching.

 

 

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Technical Challenge

I recently won 2 tickets to see Guy Garvey in one of those innumerable subscription email draws. After I adjusted to the surprise that these things did actually lead to a real prize arrangements were made.

The key photography decision was what camera to take. After the recent events in Paris I expected security to be rigorous and that taking the DSLR in might not be possible. I opted to take my Canon G7X, a high end compact with a 1″ sensor. This would be better than my mobile phone camera which really struggles in low light situations.

Once Guy started I took a few test shots to see how the camera performed in the light. I was about 10 metres or more from the stage and the camera has a limited zoom, so holding it high to avoid all those heads in front was a must. I had the camera set up on an average aperture (f4 is equivalent to a mid range setting on this camera) and the ISO on auto, so that I didn’t have to worry about shutter speed. Despite all the stage lighting I was getting ISO ratings at the top end 6400 – 12,800, so I knew that there would be a lot of digital noise in the photos.

The camera struggled to focus sometimes and the split-second shutter lag often meant that getting the shot I was trying for was hit and miss. Generally I watched for the light and the more successful photos are the first two below, where the lighting situation created interest.

I converted all the chosen photos into black and white to handle the digital noise. Generally there were few other adjustments, apart from to remove objects that distracted from the photo’s object (Mr Garvey!).

Creating photos where the conditions and camera impose limitations is a stimulating exercise. In fact, imposing limitations where there are none can often result in the most original and inspired photos. I have used wide apertures, set shutter speeds and de-focus to limit how I can create photos. The practice is invigorating!

What do you think of the photos? The gig was excellent. Guy Garvey’s new album ‘Courting the squall’ is diverse and multi-layered, with trademark poetic lyrics. Give it a go.

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Alec Soth exhibition

If you should find yourself in London between now and March 2016 I recommend that you visit the Alec Soth Gathered Leaves exhibition in the Media Space at the Science Museum.

This is the first major UK exhibition from this award winning American photographer and surveys a decade of Soth’s work, highlighting his career as one of the world’s top photographers. The exhibition includes four of his signature series, including the UK première of his recent project Songbook.

I particularly found his Broken Manual series inspiring. Soth explores what it is to desire to run away, survive and look into who we are. His work documents several men living unsupported in the wilder parts of America and is melancholic and moving.

The exhibition has a refreshing attitude to photography. You are encouraged to take photographs of the photos and share. The photo above illustrates my desire to capture the relationship between photo and viewer; present, engaged and inspired.

 

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Inner world – outer photos

“I believe that, through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us, but which can also be affected by us. A balance must be established between the two worlds – the one inside of us and the one outside of us. As a result of a constant reciprocal process, both these worlds come to form a single one. And it is this world that we must communicate.”

Cartier-Bresson ‘The Decisive Moment’ 1952

Theory

What we choose to photograph. How we chose to photograph. These are the choices that reflect our inner world. This happens even if we don’t plan every creative decision. Every photo we create is an element of us; a small part, an instance. Maybe a disposable moment. Maybe a decisive moment. But each is a moment that reflects our conscious and sub conscious thoughts.

Sometimes we set out with an intention. We chose a location, time, place, a circumstance, to tell a story. How we tell that story reflects part of who we are. No two photographers at the same place and time will take exactly the same photographs. There will always elements of our experience, our self in the photo.

Sometimes we set out with an intention to create one type of photo, but because of our inner world experiences another type of photo emerges. When this happens we may be disappointed by our deflected intention. Later we may recognise that what we created was a contemplation of our experience in the moment. A personal story of how the world was for us in that moment.

Practice

Yesterday, I walked back along Swansea Bay promenade from Mumbles, with my hound Monty. It is a flat 3 mile walk along a bike path and beach and I decided to practice Mindful Photography. I didn’t have any clear intention, but I imagined that I would just be present with the visual stimulation and create photographs of what caught my eye.

I had my compact camera with me that also has full manual features. I mention this because the photos I created made full use of the manual settings. I found that nothing caught my eye. I was immersed in my thoughts. What emerged was a response to those thoughts, a desire to create something that reflected how I felt.

Of course what I was experiencing emotionally may not be what you experience when you look at these photos. That is both the beauty and challenge of photography. But I offer them anyway, without title or explanation. Simply a reflection of my inner world at a particular moment.

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UK Government gets mindful

What do you imagine would happen if the UK Government got interested in the application of Mindfulness? You no longer have to wonder. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Mindfulness has just published its findings and presented them at the Palace of Westminster.

This is an historic moment. Not yet widely reported, I picked up on it after a friend sent me this link to a report in the Huffington Post. After reading the article I thought I had better do a little background research, not that I doubt the press, but the Huffington Post can be a little left field!

Mindful Nation UK is a report 2 years in the making that has just been published by the Mindfulness All Part Parliamentary Group (MAPPG). It has been supported by the Mindfulness Initiative, who appear to have involved many of the great and the good in the UK and beyond, in their organisation and the process. Jon Kabat-Zinn and Ruby Wax are their patrons.

The executive summary of the report (first few pages) is worth a read and in a wide ranging set of recommendations they have considered the application of Mindfulness in the National Health Service, education, the workplace and the Prison Service.

This is a fascinating and heartening development. We wait to see how the realities of implementing the recommendations in a current culture of reducing public spending pan out. As an eternal optimist I can imagine that the advocates of the report will highlight not only the potential for positive outcomes, but how those outcomes may save the government money.

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Learning Mindfulness

It struck me that there may be some of you out there who may be curious about mindfulness and interested in learning more. So I thought I would share a few links to useful resources.

BeMindful.com offers an online course in developing mindfulness. This looks interesting and helpful. It costs £60 or $95 and can be done at any time, anywhere. I believe that you can start it for free, to see if it is for you, before committing to payment.

Other online courses are available. Perhaps one of the best known for meditation is Headspace, which also is available as an app and encourages you to meditate regularly at a time to suit you.

If you prefer face to face learning and are based in the UK then BeMindful.co.uk provide a search facility to find a Mindfulness teacher near you.

There are a wide range of links and resources available at the online magazine Mindful.org. The link here will take you to a collection for those just starting out

Alternatively if you are interested in the roots of Mindfulness then an understanding and enquiry into the Buddhist Dharma might be of interest. There are many online resources available. A simple internet search will reveal resources shared by individual teachers, teaching centres and many more. One of the largest resources is at Dhama Seed. A wide variety of teachers and talks are available for free, donations are encouraged.

Alternatively, you may prefer to visit a centre near you. There are many across the UK, USA and Canada. Again an internet search will reveal those in your country.

 

What do I know?

The more I know, the less I understand

The more I understand, the less I know

This phrase came to me last night when I was meditating at the end of men’s group. Undoubtedly its appearance in my consciousness was influenced by our conversation. Now, I can’t tell you what that was – what happens in men’s group, stays in men’s group! – but I thought I would reflect a little on this two line thought.

In the last five months I have been writing blog posts that explore a little of my experience of living through a health crisis. I took the decision to write honestly and share personal photos, partly because it just felt the right thing to do and partly because I had to change something. I’m not sure I knew that then, or even that I know it now, but it feels like it might be a truth

And that’s the thing. When you start being more honest with yourself and sharing, it changes the world around you, which then changes you. Once the door is open, and you’ve taken a step outside, there is no closing it.

The most interesting thing that has changed are my relationships and friendships with men in my life. Not only has a men’s group started in this period, but my friendships with men have changed. Once I started talking about how I felt and sharing some of my vulnerability it gave my friends permission to do the same. Then once they were through the door and in the same space as me our relationship started to change.

I am not sure I want to completely understand what and why it has happened. It is enough to know that it has happened. The benefit is shared. And that benefit is a snowball rolling downhill.

This week

This week I have spent three days on my own, with the occasional company of men. I have been writing and editing content for The Mindful Photographer – hopefully ready for a January re-launch. I have also been filming short videos as part of the courses’ content. This is an unexpected benefit of my recent minor operations on my throat: my voice is reasonably strong and breathing stable.

I am aware that I am doing this, not just because I can, but also because I may not be able to in the future. The proposed future major operation to open my trachea further will improve my breathing and therefore reduce risk. However, it will lead to reduction in vocal capacity. Filming videos now captures a version of me that may not exist in the future.

Then any video or photograph we create does that. Each moment exists but fleetingly. We rarely reflect upon that truth. It’s a little scary, a reminder of our mortality. Perhaps that’s why I am exploring my experiences openly and honestly. I am more connected to my mortality. More aware that the game has changed. As Carl Jung said, “We cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning”. Recognising that and making changes is the challenge and the opportunity.

That much I know. Or maybe not!

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Are you feeling it?

Photos have the power to convey emotion. The way we choose to compose the scene and the technical choices we make can combine with the content to represent a feeling, through visual metaphor or symbolism.

Sometimes this is deliberately created at the moment of pressing the shutter. Sometimes it reveals itself later; maybe a happy accident or subconscious guidance. Either way it is a powerful way of communicating with the viewer.

The truth is in the viewing. Of course the emotion or feeling that the photographer intends to convey may not be what the viewer experiences. Cultural background and personal experiences guide our interpretation of visual imagery. That there may be several interpretations is not necessarily a weakness of the photo. Inspiring diverse emotions from one photo may be a strength.

Let’s look at some examples from a recent walk around Langland Bay. Notice the feelings that these photos generate for you before you read the text below.

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Photo 1 suggests uncertainty for me. Through a shallow depth of field I have created the representation of an unclear future, we cannot see where the path may lead. Though if we consider the truth of the scene, we know that Monty can see the way forward.

Photo 2 is in a similar vein to Photo 1. There is a degree of uncertainty and also potential barriers to what is unseen

Photo 3 suggests positive possibility (blue sky, sunshine), but also change (the autumnal leaves). For me these elements combine to imply change, opportunity and a hopeful future outcome.

Photo 4 uses a strong symbol to suggest that there is a clear direction we need to go. However the indistinct background could imply that the journey’s experiences may be uncertain.

What feelings did the photos inspire for you? Post your thoughts below in the comments box.