On a day when my equilibrium was a little shaky I decided that a long walk with my camera might help me to feel grounded. This whole lockdown thing is disconcerting at times, generally I am OK – purposeful; busy with my eBook writing and marketing, but sometimes I experience uncertainty and I can feel the low thrum of fear. Do you hear it? The media does not always help. I like to be informed, but there is often too much conjecture laced with anxiety, so I limit my access to the news. Nevertheless, the angst can still unsettle, like underground water on a building’s foundations. An antidote is needed and mine is often some form of mindful activity.
I decided to go for a long walk. I am fortunate that I can walk from my house, through the local park and quiet residential areas, to Clyne Woods. This area is large and garlanded with many paths, most of which are quiet. I decided that I would head up to the higher bridle path through the woods, and make my way to the permissive path that follows a stream all the way to the sea at Blackpill. In fact the stream is the water that gives Blackpill its name, not that it is black any more, but I imagine that it was back in the early industrial days.
That settled I made some decisions about my Mindful Photography practice. I felt that I needed to slow down my photography. I have many techniques that I use for this. Here are ten of them.
10 Tips to slow down and connect with your photography
- Turn off your review screen or tape a small piece of card over it – Just like a film camera you can’t see what you have just created. This assumes you have a viewfinder to compose the photo. If you don’t you could still follow this tip and shoot blind, imagining what your camera is receiving.
- Limit the number of photos you create – go filmic with a 12, 24 or 36 limitation
- Use a small packet of sweets or nuts to count/remember the number of shots you have used – Count them out before you start. As you can’t see the screen (Tip 1) use 12, 24 or 36 sweets/nuts in a little bag. After every shot eat one sweet or nut. It’s a win win!
- Limit your location area – Combined with 1, 2 and 3 this encourages you to really notice what is around you. Limit the area to a 100 meter square area, or less if you are feeling bold.
- Turn your lens into manual focus – Turn off the auto focus. It is a great art re-learning how and where to focus, and it also slows you down!
- Shoot from the hip – Now this one could actually speed you up. But if you hold your camera at your hip, and compose by imagining what your camera can see, you will slow down. Especially if you combine it with 1 and 2.
- Return to the visual – Whenever you notice your mind thinking about your next meal, tonight’s activities or some aspect of photographic skill, STOP and return to what you can see in front of you.
- Do not download or look at your photos for at least 2 days – Back in the film days we had to wait. Unless you were developing your own film, but even then it took time. I used to send my film off for developing and then wait a few days before looking through the returned photos, hoping at least one was a keeper. So, wait for a few days – at least 2 – before downloading. When you do look through them, pay attention to your thoughts and feelings. Notice the judgement and the commentary.
- Set your own mini photo marathon – Randomly choose 4 words, set aside 4 hours and create 4 photos in order, to represent the words. Photos must be in the word order and you must finish with only 4 photos. You could limit and slow yourself even more by ONLY shooting 4 photos. No deleting.
- No deleting allowed – Closely linked to number 2, do not allow yourself to delete any photos. Knowing that you cannot delete will encourage choice: whether to photograph or not, and this will slow you down.
I decided to include 5 and 7; most importantly to reduce my camera’s automatic modes. I attached my 12mm Samyang lens which is manual focus. This immediately slows down your practice. Each time you stop to create a photo you have to consider what the subject is and how far away it is. Then a decision about aperture also influences the Depth of Field, this combined with a focus distance creates the first photo settings. I create the photo and then review it through the viewfinder, zooming in to the subject to check if it is sharp. Technical adjustments are made if necessary and another photo created. None of them are deleted, each one is a signpost to the next. This routine slows you down and teaches you to judge how far objects are from you, whilst you also learn about the abilities of your lens.
As you can see from the photo above, the Samyang is very wide angle. This also slows me down. The view through the lens is so significantly different from the ‘normal’ lens that I use, part of my practice becomes experiencing a changed view of the world. I have to stop and consider what may be in the frame, set the focus and aperture, create the photo and then review it. This addition to my normal practice helps to immerse me in the visual. I become more attentive to what I can see and my mind begins to settle.
As I left the house around 11 I also took some food and water with me. I imagined that the path by the stream would be quiet and that I would be able to find a restful spot where I could sit, consume my lunch and listen to the birds. The woods at this point are so far from roads that the only things that I could hear were the birds and stream. Occasionally, a distant voice from the bike path that runs parallel to the stream, would drift across. Unusually I did meet the odd walker on the path, but we gave each other a wide berth, and went on our way.
The path eventually joins a more popular section of the woods, with the option to rejoin the busier bike path. I avoided that and kept to a small road that runs parallel, eventually coming out into Blackpill, crossing the main road and making for the beach. The tide was out and whilst there were a few people about, there was plenty of room to maintain physical distance. I wandered on along Swansea Bay beach and returned home, some 4 hours after I had started; tired but content.
Here are a few of my favourite photos from the walk.