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A walk in the park

Mindful Photography is a walk in the park, or a walk on the beach. It could be twenty minutes sat on a bench, as the world passes by; camera in hand, observing what is there. At such moments I intend to wait for a photo to arrive. I don’t set out looking for something particular. I am waiting for a visual highlight to stop me.

Practising in nature is ideal. Park, beach, forest, mountains, valleys or hill passes all have the capacity to infiltrate your busy mind; nature’s calming blanket. I usually allocate an hour for my practice. Sometimes I notice how I am during the process. My walk in Clyne Gardens this week was like that.

Clyne in Bloom is an annual celebration of the award-winning rhododendrons and azaleas of Clyne Gardens. It runs from late April through to late May. As I have moved close to the park I thought I would take my Mindful Photography practice through the dazzling blooms.

I decided to use a 90mm prime lens, with additional macro extensions that would provide opportunity to create close-up photos of the flowers. As I entered the park I noticed that this intention was driving my practice. I was looking for flowers that might provide opportunity. I went with it, resolving to see it through, and notice how I was.

The header photo and the buttercup above were the only photos of six or seven I liked, before my body told me I was better on my feet than kneeling or lying on the ground! Aware that I wasn’t following my own good advice – don’t look for a photo – I removed the extension tubes and walked on with just the prime lens attached.

The birds singing, dappled light and a babbling brook were doing their work. I became more present, more aware of the visual feast. No longer was I looking for a photo. Instead I just allowed vistas to pass; noticing colour, bright light and patterned shadows. The giant plants in the photo below grow in boggy ground. I love the way vibrant greens are created by the brilliant sunshine passing through their immense leaves, offset by darker patterned stems and veins. This example called to me, as the ragged window through the leaf provided a softer, coloured vision of diffused rhododendron flowers.

I wandered down alongside the valley stream, completely present, attuned to the visual. If you haven’t seen the videos about my Four Stage Seeing Practice do take a look. It really makes a difference. You will see more and as a consequence your photos will become more interesting. The textures and colours of Giant Redwood below caught my eye, particularly how the shadow of another tree played across its ruddy bark.

Nature creates magic. My attention to its visual beauty was enhanced by the smells of abundant blooms, the sounds of birds, cavorting dogs and the brook meandering alongside the path. I was aware of it all. My earlier striving had passed. I moved slower, paid closer attention and felt calm and present. I turned back and started the uphill climb along a different valley path.

The dazzling azure sky highlighted the fresh green of new leaves. As I moved to investigate what else could enhance these colours, the shadowed, out of focus impression of a beach tree’s leaves fell across the blue. I loved the contrast, both sections of the photo contain a tree’s leaves, but they create different feelings.

The path began to rise steeply, green leaves and darker trunks and branches predominated. I stopped. How could I capture this simple beauty? I dropped my shutter speed to single figures, put the ISO low and the aperture as narrow as possible. I created this one image below, with a little vertical camera movement. I didn’t look at the result, thinking that I needed to get back to what was in front of me. Only when I reviewed the photos later did I realise that I had succeeded in my aim.

I reached the top path and walked along the park’s contours to where the valley stream emerges out of a pipe. I noticed that there was a scarlet leaf caught in the flat chute that carried the water into a small pond. I clambered up to balance precariously on a one brick-wide wall just above the leaf, and created the photo below. The contrast between the leaf’s colour and the stream’s brown with blue highlights, along with the water patterns had captured me.

I exited the park, calm and present. Nature and my practice had worked its magic.

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