Weekly Mindful Photography Challenge

Every week throughout the summer I will be posting a photography challenge that is designed to bring you into the present moment. They can be completed with any camera, even your phone. Your favourite photos are posted to our Facebook group, which is a public group so that you can invite your friends to join in.

This week’s mindful photography challenge is ‘Through’. Take a walk somewhere you love and create just one photograph that responds to the theme.

The challenge is to only create one photo. To walk until something shouts out at you to be photographed.

Walk slowly and observe. Observe your surroundings, the colours, the light, patterns and shapes. Pay attention to your mind. When it shoots off thinking about creating the photo, reflecting on a past event or worrying about the future, come back to what is in front of you.

Share your one photo here. This is mine which was created this morning. The sunlight shining through the leaves, highlighting the structure and shape of the leaves is what drew me in. I only had my phone with me, but that’s all you need!

 

Staying fearless in difficult times

“ In meditation we discover our inherent restlessness. Sometimes we get up and leave. Sometimes we sit there but our bodies wiggle and squirm and our minds go far away. This can be so uncomfortable that we feel it’s impossible to stay. Yet this feeling can teach us not just about ourselves but what it is to be human…we really don’t want to stay with the nakedness of our present experience. It goes against the grain to stay present. These are the times when only gentleness and a sense of humor can give us the strength to settle down…so whenever we wander off, we gently encourage ourselves to “stay” and settle down. Are we experiencing restlessness? Stay! Are fear and loathing out of control? Stay! Aching knees and throbbing back? Stay! What’s for lunch? Stay! I can’t stand this another minute! Stay!”

Pema Chödrön, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times

Fear and Love

I was drawn to this quote in the final hours of the UK General Election. Anticipating an increased Conservative majority I imagined a challenging future of increased cuts to public services and more divisive peddling of fear. Then I remembered to stay present. Nothing is certain and sometimes the path to wisdom is through difficult lands. During these periods of fear arising I remember that I am alive. I tune in to my body, my breath, the rise and fall and I remember those I love.

Now, after the General Election result I note that not only is nothing certain, but that anything is possible. Authenticity, post Brexit anger and a mobilised younger generation have enabled a new possibility to emerge. The UK is still on a path through difficult lands but there is a new truth.

That’s all very well, but how about you? How do you respond to difficulty and fear arising? Pema reminds us in the quote above that gentleness and a sense of humour support you when fear and restlessness arise. Your initial desire to run away – that may manifest by leaving your seat, distracting yourself or imagining that things are different – arises and you first have but one thing to do. Stay! Stay with the difficulty. Notice it playing out in your mind and tune in to how you are in your body. It always helps to return to the breath. If your difficulty is physical, it will help to breath into the discomfort. Breathe in compassion for yourself and breathe out the discomfort or pain. Stay!

If it is fear arising – maybe that the difficulty is too much, that you do not know what to do next and you fear how you will be in the future – continue with the breathing, but breathe out love for another and breathe in compassion for your discomfort. Cultivate this feeling of love by bringing one person you love deeply to your mind. Imagine they are with you, holding you and breathe out your love for them.

Love is the most powerful antidote to fear – witness the One Love Manchester concert last week. Love will squeeze the fear from your mind and body. As the Beatles said, “All you need is love.”

‘All you need is love’ on Spotify

Love, love, love
Love, love, love
Love, love, love

There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung
Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game
It’s easy

Nothing you can make that can’t be made
No one you can save that can’t be saved
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time
It’s easy

All you need is love
All you need is love
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need

Love, love, love
Love, love, love……

A Mindful Photography Practice for living through difficulty

3 steps to letting go of the outcome

It’s got to be great!

There you are, setting out on a little activity. It could be a photography job. It might be a DIY task or a children’s birthday party. Whatever it is you will have at the front of your mind an idea of what the outcome will be: a storytelling photo, an effective shelf, a fantastic party. You have an attachment to the outcome.

“Nothing wrong with that” you say. “How else can I ensure success unless I work towards a great outcome?”

Perhaps what you are really saying is, “How else will I know that I am ok unless this activity turns out well?”

We look to our successes as evidence that we are great: fantastic photographers, nifty DIY experts or loving parents. Perhaps the focus of our attention should be elsewhere.

What if we were tuned in to the journey rather than the destination?

Step 1: Begin with kindness

We do give ourselves a hard time. Everything we do carries with it an assessment of how well we think we have done. We may also think about how much better we could do.

What if instead of focussing on this judgement, of a yet to happen outcome, we centred on the process we found ourselves in? What if we started with kindness towards ourselves?

Let’s cradle how we feel about each of the steps that make up the complete task. Looking at each step, let’s tune in to how each part might be. How difficult or easy. How much would be fun. How much might be tricky.

Let’s have some empathy for how these steps might make us feel. Let’s start with kindness for the journey.

Step 2: Loosening our attachment to the outcome

Once we develop some compassion for our feelings as we engage in the activity, we can begin to loosen our attachment to the outcome. By tuning into the whole process we encourage an awareness of how we will be along the way.

By practicing being totally present with every element of the activity we give credence to our feelings. We allow ourselves to be who we are. We begin to recognise that we are perfect in our imperfectness.

An ability to see that our attachment to the outcome is narrow can develop. Our understanding expands to know that every step along the way is an opportunity to flourish. In this fertile ground our capacity for non-judgement slowly rises.

Our ability to let go of our attachment to the outcome becomes possible.

Step 3: Sharing the merit

Instead of sharing the outcome, however we may judge that, we can now consider sharing the merits of the journey. Our capacity to see all of the experience as holistic life experience underpins our knowledge that we are OK. All this stuff is just life happening. Everything, the glory and the grime, has the capacity to expand our understanding of what it means to be human.

We may also want to share the outcome, but this now may just be another part of the process of self understanding. We may now be able to explain that although the outcome was not what we had hoped for that we wouldn’t have changed the experience ‘for the world.’

Loosening our hold on the outcome allows us to become more present with each element of the activity.

This is mindfulness in action.

“In the end, just three things matter:
How well we have lived
How well we have loved
How well we have learned to let go”
– Jack Kornfield

 

Mindful Photography Walkshop – Wordy Challenge

At the end of May I held my last Spring Mindful Photography Walkshop. We were once again lucky with the weather – three walkshops in wet Wales in a row with no rain! We had an interesting challenge set, but before that I shared tips on how to stay present and create fabulous photos.

The Challenge

The Wordy Challenge was a mini photomarathon. Five topics. Five Photos. 2.5 hours. In this challenge everyone has to create only five photos, in topic order and be back at the finishing point before the ending time. I split the topics into two sections, so that we did two in the first hour and then stopped for a cup of tea (refreshment is essential!). After a cuppa and a conversation about how it was going, we embarked on the last three topics, completing an hour and a half later.

Such a photography challenge is very focussing. It provides the opportunity to become very present in your environment, and aware of the thoughts and feelings that the task is allowing to arise. These in particular are interesting and will include concerns about your photos not being good enough, whether your ideas are creative enough and how well you can manage the time. Hopefully, you can also practice being attuned to how you are: your energy, the need to stop and reflect, and remaining present in one task before the next. All great practice for life!

Before we started I provided a short overview about some of the photography techniques that could be applied to create interesting and arresting photos. These included the Seven Elements of Visual Design (Shape, Form, Texture, Pattern, Colour, Line and Shape) and the four areas of photographic composition (Simplicity, Subject & Background, Balance -including the Rule of Thirds, and Point Of View).

Finally before releasing the photographers into the wilds of Brynmill I shared five tips to complete the challenge with great photos and feeling great. Here they are.

Five Tips

  1. Make sure you understand the timescale, photography requirements, locations, pick ups, final deadline
  2. Excitement at the beginning creates more ideas and photos. Tiredness makes you more decisive. Be decisive in the first half and then you’ll be more creative in the second half.
  3. Decide on each final photo as you go. Do not leave that until the end, you’ll be tired. Do each topic in turn. Complete and choose your favourite photo and then move on. This provides creative clarity.
  4. Use insider knowledge. Talk to locals. Ask for advice. However don’t let your knowledge or information about the city limit you seeing what is right in front of you.
  5. Choose a simple overarching theme to link the photos. Some use a prop to do this (like a mini lego figure who appears in every photo). Others use in camera processing e.g Black and White. Or choose a theme, like a colour or a technique – red or low/high point of view.

The Photos

The Five Topics in order were – Your Entry Number, Busy, Look, A Change is gonna come, and Beauty in the Mundane.

Here are our photos, you can choose the winner! If this idea inspires a curiosity about photomarathons take a look at my post 10 Tips to Survive a Photomarathon

Your Entry Number

Busy

Look

A Change is gonna come

Beauty in the mundane

A Mindful Photography Practice for a wet day

I live in Wales. It rains a lot. Yesterday was a fine example. I woke to rain, walked the dog in a deluge and the rain continued until the next morning. Am I deterred from creating mindful photographs? Oh no. I am challenged to create some art that reflects the day and how I am with this glorious damp weather. So I will share with you my Mindful Photography Practice for a wet day. Maybe you’ll be inspired to create some of your own.

The Mindful Photography Practice

  1. Prepare yourself for wetness. It is imperative that you remain dry and comfortable. Put on your most effective wet weather clothes and shoes.
  2. Prepare your camera for wetness
    • If you are a DSLR or CSC owner you may be able purchase a waterproof cover designed for your camera. Alternatively a good plastic bag and a rubber band works well. You will need to cut one corner of the bottom of the bag, about the diameter of the lens and secure it over the lens with the rubber band. The open end of the bag then faces you, allowing access to the controls.
    • If you are using a compact camera, your phone or a bridge camera, a large umbrella will help keep you and the camera dry. Your skills at shooting one handed and/or balancing the umbrella on your shoulder whilst you create your photos will undoubtedly develop!
  3. This is an opportunity to create photos without looking at the viewfinder or screen. To support this you can also turn off the review screen (or cover with a small piece of card taped in place). This practice of visualising what the camera can see will slow you down, teach you how your lens sees differently to your eyes, allow you to notice your attachment to the outcome and cultivate greater attention to what you are seeing. Mindful Photography is initially a practice that is about process rather than outcome. With continued practice your attention to the moment will result in more interesting photos.
  4. Choose a camera set up that you are comfortable with and can use instinctively. This could be Auto or one of the semi automatic modes if you like a bit of creative control. Remember the light will probably not be too great, so auto ISO or an 800 ISO setting may be needed.
  5. Set aside 30 minutes for the practice and set out for an interesting location. Walk slowly, observe your surroundings, do not look for a photo opportunity. Pay attention to your sensations: the sound of the rain, the trees moving, the smell of the wet land/streets, the reflections in puddles, the rain hitting the ground/objects.
  6. As you walk, observing your world, wait for a photo opportunity to present itself. When it does STOP. Breathe. Study what it was that stopped you. Absorb the scene. Notice what the subject of the scene is and what the background could be. Consider where you would place the frame, this will affect the background. Perhaps you need to move in, move up or down, or zoom in or out. Consider what the camera will see when you press the shutter.
  7. Create the photo.
  8. Repeat the practice until you have 10 photos.
  9. Edit, noticing your judging thoughts, and share your favourite photos and this practice.

The photos illustrating this post are from my own Mindful Photography Practice for a wet day yesterday

Becoming a mindfulness practitioner

When I started writing this blog I saw myself as a photographer first and a mindfulness enquirer a distant second. However, I believe that things may have changed!

I have practiced meditation since 2006 when my health first broke on the shores of my striving life. Initially meditation was part of an investigation into ways that I could ‘get better’ and return to my ‘normal life’. My practice at this time was sporadic and it wasn’t until 2013 that I established a daily practice. Once committed other things started to change.

In that winter I had the idea of combining photography with mindfulness. I came up with the term Mindful Photography and I thought I had invented something original. But there were one or two other interpretations out there. They were not quite what I had in mind, so I set about developing my ideas and created my first email course in Mindful Photography.

Despite technological and marketing naivety I managed to have a small modicum of success, selling the course in many countries scattered about the globe. Then my website and health fell over and I had to let it all go.

Three years on from that adventure I am about to enter the next chapter. I now feel a great awakening. I know that I have an innovative idea, but now I see and feel the connections between mindfulness, creativity and living. And I see how I can share and encourage others to use their photography as a bridge between those three pillars.

I have set aside the summer months to develop the content for my Mindful Photography Course. This will be based, in terms of structure around the Mindfulness Sutra, first shared 2500 years ago. That all sounds very grand, but it is very rooted in your life.

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness shared in the sutra are an invitation to be aware of four aspects: our sensations, our thoughts, our emotions and our living. My course will follow this structure, applying and developing each stage with photography.

There will be videos, voice over sideshows, lots of mindful photography practices, ebooks to compliment each stage, a private Facebook group to share and discuss your photos and the opportunity for 1:1 tutorial via Skype.

As I stand on the edge of this development I am filled with excitement and wonder. I believe that my deepening mindfulness practice enables me to share ways of allowing you to apply mindfulness to the art and science of photography. More than that I will also share how photography can be used to develop and deepen your own mindfulness practice, integrating creativity, presence and love into your daily life.

Now I know that I am a mindfulness practioner and tutor first, and that photography is the practice that allows mindfulness to infiltrate every niche of my life. I look forward to sharing news of course development over the next couple of months before launching in September 2017.

You can stay in touch and get some interesting mindful photography reading by registering and downloading the eBook below.

Beginnings

As one door closes another opens. You are familiar with this phrase. Of course often it’s a sop to comfort you when the change was unexpected. Sometimes though it is you who exits and closes the door. That is how it is with me right now.

Yesterday I left my part time employment with the Dylan Thomas Centre. I am now full time freelance. This is an exit I have thought about for some time and has an intention at its heart. I have chosen to do this to focus on the development of my online course in Mindful Photography.

Those of you who read this blog (even occasionally) will know that I have intended to do this for some time. However, there never seemed to be enough time and still keep life in balance. So something had to change. I have managed to gather enough resource and other income streams together to give myself a few months of dedicated time to this development. The summer months will be time where I develop the course content from the Mindful Photography book I already have written. Then it will just be a question of attending to the marketing and technological challenges before launching sometime in September 2017.

Yesterday I walked out of the Dylan Thomas Centre for the last time as an employee. It felt good. The right time. I am ready for this. Bring it on!

Lifestyle

Much is changing in the world. The influence of technology has fueled the quantity of change and its speed. How do you keep pace with these changes, maintain your equilibrium and thrive? I believe that you need to consider your lifestyle. How it impacts upon your well-being, in terms of health, wealth and your reasons for being! Find out more below.

How it was

I am going to approach this by reflecting upon my own lifestyle changes over the last 20 years. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it brief! The man that inhabited this body 20 years ago was a close relative of mine, but he had a different lifestyle. In 1997 I was a busy father with one small kid and a pregnant wife. I had a fast rising career as a senior manager in college education and a burgeoning interest in long distance running. Life was quite compartmentalised, focused upon family and career success, with a side serving of regular exercise and mainly healthy food; although I did have a clear disregard for the quantity of alcohol consumed! Everything was very focused and my first computer had just arrived on my work desktop.

My education career ended in the following decade. The health crisis that precipitated this was brought on by my lifestyle and a failure to pay attention to the impact that it was having upon a body that was changing. I have written much about this here, so I’ll skip over the details of the impact, save to say that everything has changed: marriage, career, hobbies and way of being.

The irony is that my not paying attention has led to a current lifestyle that is all about paying attention. I have to pay attention to those signals our body gives us. Those signals that say slow down, rest, manage your commitments sensibly. If I don’t do this there are health repercussions. So over the last 3 years I have moved from doing a part time job, some project work for the Arts Council Wales, and developing my mindful approach to photography; all whilst practicing paying attention to how I am. I say practice because I still get it wrong. I fall over. I get up. I fall over. I get up.  However it is now time for the next lifestyle change.

How it is going to be

I have now left my part time job. This is to free up space and time to develop my Mindful Photography Online Course: a course full of videos, slideshows, practices, a private course forum and lots of other goodies. I had hoped to be able to develop this whilst completing the final year of my part time job, but I just never manged enough dedicated time, whilst keeping everything else in balance.

Lifestyle wise this is going to mean initially three months of course development and marketing before launching in September 2017. I have the financial bases covered for a few months, then all I’ll need to do is sell the course. Easy huh? Of course it’s going to mean more self discipline, some regular scheduling and blog development, whilst still paying attention to those supportive practices that are a key part of maintaining my well-being: yoga, meditation, mindful photography, walking the dog, a (reasonably) healthy diet, social interaction (to replace that from the work environment) and fun!

I am very excited about my new lifestyle and my Online Course. I know that I have developed an original way of using mindfulness to enhance your photographic skills, support the development of a mindful approach to your life and to consider a little self exploration. I think that it’s innovative, supportive and fascinating. If you agree then why not subscribe in the box on the right of the blog page and you will receive my regular newsletter with news about photography and the development of the online course.

The Photos

All of the photos were taken this week when practicing mindful photography and represent new beginnings. Spring is a special time of new growth, abundance and vibrancy. I hope that some of the season’s qualities rub off in your world.

10 Tips to Survive a Photo Marathon

Having completed a few Photo Marathons now, I thought I would share a few tips to surviving (and thriving) at a Photo Marathon. I’ll be explaining what a Photo Marathon is, why you should try one and illustrating this post with the photos from my most recent event – the Bath Photo Marathon 2017.

What is a Photo Marathon?

A Photo Marathon is a test of creativity, endurance, photography skills and sense of humour. It is usually a competitive event, often with prizes, and takes place over a set period of time. A common format is 12 Topics, 12 Photos, 12 Hours. In that format you have to create 12 photos to illustrate the 12 topics, one photo per topic and they must be in topic order. You start with a clean memory card and complete with only the required 12 photos, unedited.

Why you should do one

A Photo Marathon is a test of your photography skills, knowledge and observation. It will test your stamina and resilience, but ultimately it is a test of your powers of creativity. It is worth noting that the 5 Creative Habits of Mind are described as: Inquisitive, Imaginative, Collaborative, Persistent and Disciplined. A Photo Marathon tests all of those habits of mind!

Taking part will fire your creativity, get you exploring a new city, introduce you to people with the same interest and challenge your photography skills. What’s not to like?

Ten Tips to Survive (and thrive) a Photo Marathon

  1. Read the rules and guidelines. Make sure you understand the timescale, photography requirements, locations, pick ups, final deadline etc
  2. Start with an empty memory card and a charged battery. Carry spares of both. Spare battery and charger will keep you in the game. Spare memory card means you can create other photos as you go (if you have the energy)
  3. Wear the appropriate clothing. Comfortable shoes, trousers that will get dirty and pack clothes for possible weather changes
  4. Enter the event with a friend. One of you has the camera, both of you fire off ideas at each other. Two heads are definitely better than one. You also get to spend time with that person and get to know how they think. Probably a good thing huh?
  5. Pace yourself. Make sure you build in breaks and refreshment; it is an endurance event. Often you are more creative during the first half, but more decisive in the second half. Excitement at the beginning creates more ideas and photos. Tiredness makes you more decisive.
  6. Aim to do a negative split. Be decisive in the first half and then you’ll be more creative in the second half. (That’s a running joke!)
  7. Decide on each final photo as you go. Do not leave that until the end, you’ll be tired. Do each topic in turn. Complete and choose the final photo and then move on. This provides creative clarity.
  8. Discuss and view topic photos together, but decide in your pair who makes final decision on choice of photo (usually the photographer)
  9. Use insider knowledge. It is helpful if one of you knows the city. If not then talk to locals. Ask for advice. However don’t let your knowledge or information about the city limit you seeing what is right in front of you.
  10. In a standard Photo Marathon with the same number topics as photos and hours choose a simple overarching theme to link the photos. Some use a prop to do this (like a mini lego figure who appears in every photo). Others use in camera processing (usually allowed) e.g Black and White. Or choose a theme, like a colour or technique – red or low/high point of view. Surely someone will soon submit a set using a drone camera, if they haven’t already!

Bath Photo Marathon 2017

I did this year’s Bath Photo Marathon with my old friend Simon. It was a great excuse for us to meet up – as Bath was kind of equidistant – and we got to catch up and have a few beers after.

Our photos are below. They are in the order given, the titles are underneath and have an over arching theme – Scarlet. Well, it was red really, but a little orange crept in! We had to create 20 photos in 10 hours. These were provided in two sets of ten, with a location to pick up the second half.

Our favourite photo after all this was the ‘Fashion’ photo. This best illustrates our collaborative process and sense of the absurd!

Your Entry Number

Contrast

Red

Looking through

Fashion

Fragment

Corner

Refreshing

Control

Crossing the line

Next Generation

Street Life

Movement

Self Portrait

Abstract

Missing

Found

Show off

Sign

The End!

 

Photo Walkshop Spring 2

We were once again fortunate to have another glorious day for my second Spring Photography Walkshop. Each of these walkshops involves some initial theory and discussion before I offer a photographic challenge and we then embark upon a 2 mile circular walk.

Saturday’s Walkshop centred upon a quote by Henri Cartier-Bresson

“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

I then talked through two key approaches to communicating this ‘reciprocal process’. Broadly these split into the knowledge and skills we can learn and master and the confidence we can feel, at an instinctive level, to release the shutter without thinking through every technical and compositional choice. It is this balance between the conscious mind’s experience and its need to control, and our instinct to choose the right place to frame our photo that allows a connection between what we see, our mind and our heart.

This is not something that can be mastered at one workshop (no matter how good the tutor!). It’s a lifetime’s practice and one that is central to a mindful approach to photography. The online course I will be launching in September will offer resources, practices and guidance to support you on this journey.

The Photos

Our circular walk followed an urban route, through the back lanes of Brynmill. A nice counterpoint to Walkshop 1 that was all park and beach. Our favourite photos are below. Don’t forget the final Spring Walkshop is on 20th May – it will be a lot of fun. Book soon, there are only 4 spots left!

External Reality Internal Resonance

I have recently changed my camera system. After more than ten years as a Canon DSLR gunslinger I have traded everything in for a Fuji mirrorless system. What’s all that about then? Why choose to make any change? And why choose that change?

I am living through a period in my life of great change. I have made some choices, choices to live in a certain manner, that have sent ripples through my life. These have primarily impacted upon my relationships and livelihood. What I have noticed, in that process, that once you start with major change not only does each change have fundamental consequences, there is also a burgeoning desire to make other changes.

Whilst changing camera system might seem unimportant in itself, it is related to the life changes and could be seen as a metaphor for them. I have changed to a simpler, lighter, smaller system. In making the change I have had to ask myself what is important in creating photos? What do I need to achieve that? The outcome is one Fuji XT2, the kit lens and one prime lens – the 35mm f1.2.

Those choices are about portability and focal length preference. They are born out of experience. Experience and knowledge of how I work best. How I see the world. And it is in this respect that it is a choice that chimes with my other life choices. Simplifying and responding to what feels real, authentic and true.

Creating Photos

So there I am with my new shiny new camera. And just like starting a new job or primary relationship there is unfamiliarity and uncertainty. I breathe, return to myself, and remember that there is something in the creation of an abstract photograph that calls to me.

It is worth reflecting for a moment what abstract art is. It is defined as relating to or denoting art that does not attempt to represent external reality, but rather seeks to achieve its effect using shapes, colours, and textures. Its effect is that in losing your clear link to an identifiable object you connect with how the photo/art makes you feel. This feeling is conveyed by the use of colour, shapes, colour, texture and the other visual elements of design.

In this process the artist can express how he feels, though how the viewer feels when viewing the photos may be different. But it is in this sharing that the magic lies. For the photographer can aspire to the broader definition of abstract – existing in thought or as an idea but not having a physical or concrete existence – abstract concepts such as love or beauty.

I can be experiencing an emotion, thought or idea and through my visual design choices I can attempt to convey my experience. For me the true magic lies in the gaps between our common cultural interpretations of visual design elements, the personal experience I am living through and the viewer’s current lived experience. It is this interaction, which is part in my control and choice and part completely free of my interference that calls to me.

So there I am with my shiny new camera. It is unimportant. What is present is my experience in that moment and what I can see in front of me. These four photos represent that experience. They are the interaction between the external reality and my internal resonance of that reality. What I was feeling and what you feel (once you have got beyond the need to try and identify what the objects are!) is the magic between us.

 

Photo Workshop for Chinese Students 2

Another Wednesday, another fantastic photography workshop for visiting Chinese students. This time in a new room and with solutions to the technological challenges.

We started at 9am again, but this time the sun was shining. I began with 10 Smartphotone Photography Tips. This led into an introduction to seeing a photo – exploring the difference between our eyes and a camera, before progressing onto 7 elements of visual design.

This all set the students up for the first activity – A Photo Treasure Hunt. They were given 6 topics and almost 2 hours to create one photo to illustrate each topic. In a twist to the format, upon their return the students were only allowed to submit one photo. This required them to choose; editing in is a difficult skill, one that everyone embraced though! Some of our favourite photos with their topic titles are below.

Lost

Love

Broken

Smile

Triangles

Broken

Triangles

Abstract Photography

After some lovely pizza for lunch we reassembled to look at how abstract photography can help us learn more about visual design. This led to the challenge to create a photo that used those very elements and yet was difficult to identify. Here are our favourite photos. Can you identify what they are?

Conclusion

We finished up with a chocolate motivated quiz! Questions of understanding and memory were asked (in English) and those that were correct were rewarded with a chocolate. This proved to be a popular motivation and provided time for India and I to judge the best overall photographer, who received their prize. More chocolate! I hope they shared.

 

Photo Workshop for Chinese Students 1

Last week I delivered my first photography workshop to visiting Chinese students. It was a large group of 37 keen and attentive learners and came with its own challenges.

The workshop was delivered at Swansea University, lasted a full day and provided some technological problems upon arrival. The visitors’ WiFi was not working, and as this was a smartphone photography workshop and the students would be submitting photos, WiFi was essential.

I began before the solution was apparent with an attention grabbing ice breaker, followed by 10 Smartphone Photography tips. We then covered ‘How to see a photo’, which is not as easy as it might appear. This centred upon the differences between how we see and how a camera sees and then explored some of the barriers to truly seeing what is in front of us.

Before I set the students their photographic challenge I went through 7 Elements of Visual Design to build upon their newly acquired knowledge of how a camera sees. We discussed colour, line, shape, form, space, texture and pattern. Fortunately during this period we had sorted out an alternative WiFi solution and were ready for the competition.

Photo Marathon

Over the rest of the workshop, with an intermission for lunch, the students were set a Photo Marathon challenge. This consisted of six topics and six photos in a limited time. The students were paired up and each pair submitted 6 photos to brilliantly illustrate the 6 topics.

The topics in order were:  Your Entry Number, Happy, Up, Blue, Look and New Meets Old. I was helped with all the downloading and labelling by Zhang Meng Yu (one of the students – thanks!) and my daughter India.

Once everything was collated India and I independently judged our top three in each category, then agreed upon our topic winners and overall winner. The 6 topic winning photos are below and a couple of photos of the winner and topic winners below that.

It is all happening again on Wednesday 5th April. Let’s hope it’s sunny this time!

My Entry Number

Happy

Up

Blue

Look

New meets old

The Winner

The Topic Winners

Photo Walkshop Spring 1

Did you miss it? My first Spring Photo Walkshop was last Saturday. But don’t worry you can still book in to the next one on the 22nd April in Swansea. More about that later.

Last Saturday’s walkshop was blessed by a glorious Spring day. What better way to spend the morning than out and about with your camera being challenged to create fabulous photos. Each of the students had a personal creative challenge! Each challenge involved a technical limitation (e.g. use one focal length), a compositional limitation (e.g. play with balance) and a theme (e.g. create photos that respond to theme Love).

We all then went out on a 2 mile circular walk – don’t worry a map was provided just in case – and I discussed and advised on the way round. The photos that were shared after our return (and the homemade cake and flapjack had been consumed) are below.

The next Photo Walkshop is called Inner Photos Outer World and explores the relationship between our inner experience (what we feel about life and the one moment we are living) and the photos we choose to create. I will share tips and techniques that will support you to create more personal photos that say something about how you are experiencing the world. As I write this there are still spaces, but they will be limited to a maximum of 8, so that I can provide personal tuition.

Why mindfulness is relevant to photography

My refocusing of my photography business as an online service that offers self development and enquiry through photography, with Mindful Photography at its heart, has encouraged me to reflect on why I have applied mindfulness to photography. Jon Kabat Zinn (Full Catastrophe Living), who has probably been one of the main catalysts for the growth in popularity of Mindfulness in the West, explains some of my thinking.

“….bringing Mindfulness to any activity transforms it into a kind of meditation. Mindfulness dramatically amplifies the probability that any activity in which your engaged will result in an expansion of your perspective and your understanding of who you are.”

Expanding your perspective

I like this a lot. “An expansion of your perspective” is a fabulous way of saying that you are totally immersed in the moment. Aware of what you are experiencing. Aware of the emotions coursing through your mind and feeling them in your body. Aware of the ground beneath you and the sky above.

As a photographer that would translate first and foremost to being completely tuned into the visual experience in front of you. The light, the colours, shapes, forms, patterns, textures and more would be what would provide your anchor. Like the breath can in meditation.

Furthermore the relationship between this visual experience and creating an equivalent of it with your camera (taking a photograph) would provide the opportunity to practice mindfulness with your technical and compositional choices. This is a huge subject; one I address through my online course.

Understanding who you are

The final part of the sentence, “…..and your understanding of who you are.” opens the possibility of using photography as a vehicle for personal enquiry. This is something that interests me greatly and I will continue to create resources throughout the next year to support personal enquiry through photography. I’ll be testing them on myself first and sharing them here.

Henri Cartier Bresson provides us a glimpse of how this enquiry is possible in his famous book ‘The Decisive Moment’ 1952

“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.”

It is these two areas: expanding our perspective and understanding who we are, that will be threads running through my mindful photography offering into the future. It is going to be a fascinating journey I do hope that you will join me.

You can subscribe to my mailing list in the right hand column of the Blog page or you can subscribe and receive a FREE ebook using the form below this post.

 

Is vulnerability a strength?

Vulnerability

In our fast moving, success orientated world it may seem that vulnerability is a weakness. Having worked in the vibrant hospitality industry and the results orientated education industry I am familiar with that perception.

My travels through the hierarchical world of management, from trainee to senior manager, certainly reinforced that view. Managers who reacted in ‘inappropriately emotional’ ways or had a ‘health crisis’ were often encouraged to follow different paths. Our learnt behaviour, through observation, was to be logical, determined and resilient.

Health crisis

My own health crisis occurred in the middle of my aspirational College career. I believed that I was on track to even higher levels of responsibility and was (almost) completely signed up to the accepted model of management style.

When I first became ill, I carried on. I worked for another 3 months, through a major inspection before succumbing to increasingly more challenging health. Whilst I was well supported by the College for over a year, once it became clear that I was unlikely to be able to return to my job I was encouraged to take a redundancy package.

Allowing vulnerability

Some eight years beyond that final departure, I began to see another side to vulnerability. I had finally begun to understand and accept my own choices that had led to acute health changes in my chronic condition. I  made the conscious decision to be open about my situation; to write about it here and to share my own vulnerability.

This allowing and admittance of a natural feeling has had two positive effects. Firstly, it has given me freedom to change my path. I have let things go. I have chosen to develop more supportive practices. Whilst this is still early days, by celebrating my authentic position I feel more myself, more rooted in core beliefs I am comfortable with. I can see that this change will provide the best opportunity to be healthy (as distinct from cured).

The second positive effect is that by sharing my own vulnerability I have given others permission to be vulnerable. I have received messages from others who have offered supportive words and related their own challenges. My friendships with other men have changed, deepened because a platform for discussion about difficulty has slowly developed. This has in turn further encouraged me that I am on the right path.

I am now two years on from that point and much has changed in my life and is continuing to change. The simple act of beginning to be open about my feelings has allowed more to surface. This opening in turn has changed my choices and decisions. My life has taken a new direction, and is still developing. It is like a stone thrown into the pond of life, the ripples spread out and out and continue to come. Eventually all will be calm, but perhaps the pond will never be quite the same again.

Vulnerability means facing up to my fears. Working towards understanding them. Working towards understanding why I make certain choices, why I behave in a certain way in particular circumstances. It is a doorway to greater self knowledge, and helps the development of fearlessness. You could say it is a superpower!

Vulnerability is an opportunity. By connecting to our own vulnerability, feeling it in our body and knowing it in our mind, we are one short step away from changing it from a perceived weakness to a strength.

Photographing Vulnerability

Photographing feelings and other invisible matters requires a few tricks. First up, you gotta have your imagination fired up. For me, that generally means before lunch and maybe just after a large steaming mug of tea! Then you need to consider your preferred working style. If you’re a planner, who needs to consider all props and conditions, then get out a notepad and start brainstorming. If you’re more intuitive and responsive, then take a look around. What is before you and how can you use it?

I think it was Walker Evans who believed that the photographer’s greatest tools were metaphor, paradox and oxymoron. Me, I do favour a visual metaphor and in terms of my style I lean more towards the intuitive, with a touch of planning.

I created the photo below at a community photography workshop a couple of years ago. Having spotted our box of lego mini figures my first thought was to represent myself (the photographer) as one of the figures by using the lego camera prop. After I had decided against any of the hair additions (there not being a thinning grey haired one available) I had the inspired idea to use the T Rex as a metaphorical ‘threat/fear’, creating a vulnerable position for the lego photographer. Then it was just a question of an interesting location, use of the available light and choosing the appropriate exposure. Voilà!

Get Creative – Impose Limitations

On the 25th March I am running a Photography Walkshop titled ‘Creative Limitations’ in Swansea. This post explores a little of the ground that this idea sprung from! If it interests you why not book on, there are still a few places left and it will be a small group ( not more than 10). There will also be cake. What’s not to like?

We often think of limitations in a negative sense. Can’t do this. Not able to do that. But there is a positive side to limitations that can fire your creativity and attitude to life.

I have been living with a physical limitation for several years. Many people do. It is undoubtedly true that this limitation has shaped the way I live my life. It has influenced my career, relationships and interests. It would be possible to see these changes as negative, but I feel it has provided the framework for a more conscious life.

The limitations perhaps should be described as parameters, boundaries in which I can live, love and breathe. And in much the same way we can decide upon a set of parameters in our creative work and this then can fire our creativity. I recently came across this idea in the book The Photographer’s Playbook (published by Aperture). The book comprises 307 photographic assignments and ideas from a range of practitioners of the art and this particular idea was shared by Christopher Anderson (Magnum photographer).

“The greatest freedom is to have no choice. Confining yourself to certain parameters can actually lead to discovery of a universe of subject matter that is hard to find when you (if you are like me) tend to wander endlessly.

Make a set of parameters in which you will work. This could be a geographical parameter (one city block for instance), or a psychological, thematic, or technical one. The point is to create a method of working where you make some very strict and precise choices about how you will not work. The stricter the better. Set a time constraint (one week, month, whatever) during which you will work only this way. After the time period is finished, repeat the assignment by creating an entirely different set of parameters.”

An example

I have used this idea of parameters several times, with varying degrees of commitment and outcome! I thought I would share a few photos from a project called 50/50 which I started one January a couple of years ago.

My intention was to take 50 portrait photos of people I met using just my 50 mm lens. I managed 16 before something changed. Not sure what but I stopped doing the project. Perhaps it was because it was not time bound. I now see the benefit of that. Anyway here are a few of my favourites.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life and Photography

“A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense, and is, thereby, a true expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.” – Ansel Adams

I was looking for inspiration today and came across this fabulous quote by the landscape photographer Ansel Adams. His thought expresses a concept I have explored before and one that I shall be revisiting on my second Spring Photography Walkshop.

The relationship between your inner world – your thoughts and feelings – is one that must reflect your creation of a version of the outer world – the photograph, if you are to create a great photograph. You cannot separate the photographer from the person. The photographer is the person, and if your photographs are to say something of how you find the world then you have to allow that to shape and influence the photographs you create.

The photos I have included to illustrate this post were all created yesterday whilst practicing mindful photography. In that practice my intention is to remain (or return) to the visual whilst my mind shoots about. In that continuing practice I quieten and become more attuned to my outer world. The hope is that in this still place a connection between what I perceive and how it makes me feel is established. In that moment I press the shutter.

“No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.” – Ansel Adams

Guest Post – Kim Manley Ort

Photography and the Web of Connection

I spent the summer of 1976 living with my Dad in Windsor, Ontario (Canada), a place I’d never lived before. He’d moved there a few months earlier and was able to get me a job where he worked.

My second part-time job that summer was teaching figure skating at the local arena. A few weeks in, the skating club had a “test day” – where skaters perform before judges to see if they’ve achieved the required skills to move to the next level. The cold and cavernous arena was filled with the chatter of skaters, coaches, judges, and parents all gathered for the big day. There was a sense of camaraderie in the air. When someone passed a test, you could hear joyful sounds of celebration and when they didn’t, you heard groans.

While I had been warmly welcomed by the skating community, it was clear on this day that I was an outsider. I didn’t belong. At least, I felt like I didn’t. Most of the people there had long established relationships that would continue long after I left. Surrounded by hundreds of people, I felt very alone.

Sometimes, we feel the most disconnected and lonely in a crowd.

Maybe you’ve felt this way too. Since I was a young girl, I yearned to connect in a way my family members and closest friends could not always satisfy. It wasn’t the kind of connection met by conversation or through sharing experiences or memories. It was another kind, but what was it? It took me years to realize what I was missing and how to fill it.

In fact, it wasn’t until I began to photograph that I discovered the very connection I was missing. When that first image of winter trees in my backyard appeared in the solution so many years ago, I felt an aliveness I’d never experienced before. The photograph was a tangible representation of my connection to a place. Those intertwined branches represented the inherent way everything is already connected. My camera was showing me how to be fully in the moment and to connect through my photographs.

“All my creation is an effort to weave a web of connection with the world. I am always weaving it because it was once broken.” (Anais Nin, Winter, 1942)

Ever since then, I’ve practiced reweaving my web of connection through photography.
My camera teaches me how to slow down (pause), pay attention (focus) and then connect with what’s there (click the shutter). It teaches me about myself, what I’m drawn to and what I turn away from. It teaches me how to engage, and most importantly, how to trust what I must share.

Every photograph is about relationship – between photographer and subject or between subjects within the frame.

I believe that we live in an interconnected, interdependent world and that the quality of the world and of our lives depends on the quality of our connections and relationships. We are unique individuals, but we are not islands. We are connected. We belong. Photography then becomes not simply a way to express myself, but that connection. A photograph is a symbol of relationship. It’s a visual Namaste, where something deep inside of you connects with the essence of your subject.

To give you an example, while in Chicago, I walked along the river one cool and rainy morning. Colours often stand out on these types of days. This was certainly true on this day as I found myself drawn towards two small, fuchsia pink leaves glued to the back of a lime green bench. They were slightly overlapping and covered with big, fat raindrops. The scene felt so tender, like one was comforting the other. The contrast of the two bright colours accentuated the feeling. I moved in close to focus on the two leaves against the lime green bench.This simple and minimal image shows what I saw and hopefully, what I felt.

10 Ways to Connect through Photography

1. Pause and notice what’s resonating inside. What stopped you?
2. Focus by looking closer with a soft and loving gaze.
3. Notice any judgments that come up and let them go.
4. See everything as a worthy and potential subject.
5. Open to new possibilities by changing perspective.
6. Welcome the unexpected. Let the photographs come to you.
7. Use all your senses in the experience.
8. Notice what you’re feeling.
9. Trust yourself and what you value.
10.Share yourself generously.

We are all forces in this world with the potential to connect and contribute. Each one of us has something to offer. Get to know what you value and what matters most and you will begin to live out your purpose. Nothing needs to be added to make your life more interesting. Instead, eliminate what’s not important and follow your instincts. Your life will be richer and more rewarding, and you will have a greater impact on others. Everything you do and say and create matters.

Kim Manley Ort is a photographer and workshop facilitator. You can connect with her through her website, Facebook page, or on Instagram. The photographic exercises in her book, Adventures in Seeing: The Camera Teaches You to Pause, Focus, and Connect with Life, will help you to tap into a deeper awareness of yourself and the world around you. You’ll rediscover your own connection with a world fully alive, a world where you belong and have a place.

Boredom

Boredom is an experience that is avoided. The distractions available are numerous: smartphone, TV, work, household chores and friends are but a few. But how would it be to experience boredom by choice?

I wrote this post whilst I was on what was planned to be a 3 day retreat in the farmland hills above the Welsh market town of Brecon. I have spent many retreat breaks over the last 8 years at the centre at Llannerchwen. It is very quiet, in beautiful rolling wooded hills and visited by pheasants, rabbits, hawks and much more. But it is my experience that every retreat is different; the external landscape changes with the season, and my internal landscape changes both with season and its own rhythms .

It was on my mind that there would be opportunity to experience boredom, even though I had brought books, podcasts and my camera. And so I chose to sit on the cabin’s most comfortable chair and gaze through the large patio doors at the dank welsh countryside, and I notice.

I notice the voice; my internal commentator suggesting I do this, or that. It is a quiet insistent voice, no doubt fueled by my normal behaviour, which in turn has been shaped by our doing culture. Stopping for a while, not reading, not even meditating is an enlightening experience. The voice is very strong. This post is a product of its insistent suggestions. But in between the activity, the doing tasks, there is space to notice.

I have sat for a while – not timed – and observed. I notice the movements outside my window; the thrushes fighting over territory, the occasional rabbit foraging through the bronze bracken, and the last leaves from the long passed Autumn clinging on to tributary branches.

In between the visual stimulation I notice my mind’s habits. Thoughts of action and activity wander in and beckon in an alluring manner, like an old friend suggesting a visit to a favourite haunt. I note the thought and go back to the visual. This is a cultivated habit from my mindful photography, but the thoughts are relentless. Like the waves they return again and again.

I know that the practice is in the noting and not reacting. In honouring the thought or associated feeling and returning to the moment. This is itself a mindful practice and is part of the reason I am here, cultivating the habit of paying attention. Why do I do this? I am choosing to re-wire my brain. This is how Dr Barbara Mariposa explains it in ‘The Mindfulness Playbook’

“The brain changes shape according to how you use it. We can intentionally change our brain and nervous system for the better. Regularly using mindful (activities) the prefrontal cortex increases in size and activity……..promoting greater self awareness, the essential building block for emotional intelligence. We are giving ourselves a mental and emotional upgrade.”

Stopping and noticing provides the opportunity to connect to a fundamental truth; “I am not my thoughts. I have thoughts.” Dr B Mariposa

So I will stop this activity now and return to my boredom, my observation of how I am. But I will leave you with a supportive mindful photography practice that I will complete my self later. (The photo with the post is the product of the practice)

Mindful Photography Practice – Boredom

  1. Imagine that you can only create one photograph
  2. Take yourself and your camera out to a quiet location where you will not be disturbed.
  3. Set your camera to a mode that you are comfortable with and requires little technical photographic thought from you.
  4. Turn off (or cover) the review screen.
  5. Sit at your location and pay attention to your mind
  6. Notice the thoughts. Recognise the feelings that arise. Do nothing, just sit. Sit for at least 20 minutes before you even pick up your camera, but notice your drive to complete the task, the consideration of your space and its photographic opportunities.
  7. Create one photograph. You can move to do this. Do not look at it. Just sit and notice your thoughts
  8. After a while go home. Sit quietly and look at your photo. What thoughts and feelings arise?
  9. Share it with me