PHOTO IS:RAEL PhotoMarathon

PHOTO IS:RAEL was an online photomarathon that happened over 24 hours in February 2021. I decided to take part for creative challenge and boy did I get what I asked for! There were 6 themed challenges, which had to be completed over a full 24 hours and they all related to the concept of chaos. Something that we can all currently relate to.

This post will outline each of the challenges and share my photo(s) as well as an overview of my creative process. here’s number 1 which was received at 5.00pm GMT on a gloomy evening. Challenge 2 would only be released once I had submitted the Challenge 1 photo, and so on.

  1. Embrace Uncertainty – Natural light has been the dominant tool in every photographer’s career, but like most things today, it too changes uncontrollably and at the crucial moments. In this first challenge, we ask you to find images that deal with light. Take a walk around your house or on the street, look for an interesting light direction, add the shadows usually avoided. Get out of your comfort zone, choose new and unplanned angles.

Now, that’s all well and good. Photography is all about light. However, 5.00pm on a winter’s evening in the UK does not offer much natural light! I checked the forecast for the next day and it seemed promising. It was wrong, the next day was gloomy and overcast. No sun and none expected all day. I was going to need to create a photo that was all about (natural) light and shadows without either of those things. I know, there was some natural light, but it wasn’t the sunshine that I was hoping for.

I had an idea. What if in place of the shadows I used a silhouette? Similar, but different and still caused by light. Once I had the concept I decided that the silhouette would be of me in a hoodie, gazing at the gloom. Then in a flash of inspiration (and humour) I realised that if I used multiple exposure I could create another layer with a light bulb (signifying light and a bright idea) on top of the hoodie silhouette. I used Bright mode in my Fuji X-T4’s Multiple Exposure setting. This mode favours the brighter pixels over darker, ensuring that the light bulb would appear on top of the silhouette.

To create the light bulb layer, I held the bulb against a dark background, ensuring that the brighter cloud filled background would be favoured. Here is the final multiple exposure, created in camera with no post editing.

2. Dare to Fail – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep”. We cannot move forward without failing. In this second challenge you are asked to take a representative image of darkness, natural or artificial. The core of the image should be the dark part of the frame.

Great, I thought, absence of sunlight was a positive. Although I did wish that I had known the what the challenge was the night before. However, I was comfortable about using the exposure compensation to create a darker photo. I also thought perhaps I could make use of Dark mode in the Multiple Exposure setting. I created the photo with me in it first. To do this I used reflections of myself in various windows, and in a variety of poses until I settled on the heavenward gaze, which seemed apposite.

After I had that photo in camera I looked for a darker surface that I could use as the formless background. I settled on a rough section of tarmac just outside the house, and created one photo before a final one when I used a slower shutter speed (easy on the gloomy day and with a dark subject) and zoomed the lens out during the shutter release, to create the tunnel effect. In my mind this responded to moving from darkness to light, from failure to creation.

3. Challenge the Obvious at Times of Digital Transformation – In the past year, we redefined the way employees, freelancers and self-employed actually work, with new challenges and market conditions. Video calls, remote work from just anywhere, new participants, and circumstances we never thought possible for work, became our working environment. This challenge encourages you to photograph your interpretation of “work” as redefined in this past year, or as you think it should be defined. The photograph can be staged, documentary, realistic, or abstract.

By this stage I had noticed two emerging themes in my work. One was multiple exposure in camera, the other was the tree motif. I hadn’t planned to follow these unifying features, but I was keen to ensure that all of the final photos could be seen as a coherent set. I recognised that the overarching theme of Chaos was represented by the multiple exposures and use of extreme colours. The tree motif spoke of the future flowering of Spring and new hope.

The photo for this challenge was originally a straight documentary photo. I went back to it later and re-shot it as a multi exposure image using extreme white balances and an offset composition to indicate the sometime chaos of working from home. The tree motif, my girlfriend and the dog also survived!

4. Ask questions – Covid-19 Pandemic has posed many questions and challenges for us as creators. Thinking about the past year, what you personally went through? What the world has gone through? How did it affect and change you? In this fourth challenge you are requested to upload a series of personal, emotional and abstract or rational and realistic images, that presents questions about the changes you have undergone in the past year. Take a series of 6 images that explore these questions, and ultimately tell your personal and unique story.

When I read this I cheered. Right down my street. Those of you who are familiar with my Pandemia Exhibition will recognise some of the themes in these 6 photos. Most of them take the original idea of a Covid timeline from January 2020 to the present day. But whereas I created my exhibition photos over 10 months these had to be done in an hour, and I had a limited location to work with. I should have said, all of the photos for this photomarathon were created in and around the house or in the nearby park. Each photo title reveals something of the timeline and concept.

Jan 20 – Everything here is lovely, apparently.
Feb 20 – The virus approaches
May 20 – Got to work. Don’t go to work
Dec 20 – The virus is everywhere
Jan 21 – Lockdown. Again.
Feb 21 – Storms before wisdom

5. Collaborate – Collaborations between creators characterize the new era of employment. In this fifth challenge you are requested to photograph an image or metaphor and add up to 80 words of text you find relevant. Please note – In scoring this assignment the jury will also consider your choice of the accompanying text. However, unlike the photo, it is not mandatory to use an original text written by you. If the text is not yours, please indicate the name of the author and provide the right credit.

This photo represents through the use of a simple visual metaphor the concept of bright ideas. Each light bulb and colour represents a person and their ideas. The 80 words I submitted with the photo explain everything! So here they are.

“I am collaborating online with 3 other photographers to create an online course – Developing Resilience through Photography – that will be offered on a donation basis (for a UK Mental Health charity). Their thoughts, feelings and experiences will contribute to the section ‘Conveying your feelings in a photo’. This photo (like the others) uses multiple exposure in camera and extreme white balance choices to convey the idea that many multi-coloured minds are better than one, and make the light work!”

6. Make It Happen – Only we are responsible for our lives and have the power to change them. In the last challenge, put yourself at the center. In this task a unique and intimate self-portrait must be created. Add props or artificial light, and create a personal portrait that tells something about you as creators ready for the new challenges that life provides.

By this stage I was 22 hours in and a little jaded! However, I have spent several years appearing in my own photos, so I was comfortable about creating a self portrait. All I had to do was include the same chaotic colours and multiple exposures. I do regret that one of the faces was not looking at an angle, out of frame. I was focussed on all the technical and compositional choices, tired and that final twist would have reinforced the chaos them. Hey ho, it’s too late now!

Looking through the full set I am happy that they hang together as a complete set reasonably well. They also feel pretty chaotic to me, and yet a little hopeful. What do you think?

The judges won’t be announcing their shortlist of 20 until 4th April, but I’m not too bothered about that because I loved the process and creative challenge. Who would have thought that an online international photomarathon would work so well.

Acceptance

Mindfulness encourages you to see things as they actually are in the present moment. As the present moment plays out, you practice noticing your feelings, your physical sensations and the thoughts that flit across your mind. It may well be that you do not like what you are experiencing. You may try to avoid, distract or just deny the experience.

Acceptance is the quality that allows you to be with all the difficulty, without turning away. Acceptance encourages you to turn towards the difficult experience. To sit with the feelings, sensations and thoughts, allowing them to ebb and flow and slowly, bit by bit allowing them a little space in your life.

“Just accept it,” friends may say after you have spent several days moping about after the end of a relationship, “There are plenty more fish in the sea.” Helpful? Of course not. Those wise friends know that you have to accept the situation to move on, but you are caught in the moment, trapped by the loss you are experiencing. Acceptance is part of the cycle of adjusting to loss.

This was first described by Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross as the Grief Cycle and related to the stages we live through after the death of a loved one. Kübler-Ross pioneered methods in the support and counselling of personal trauma, grief and grieving, associated with death and dying. The stages she identified are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. They are equally transferable to our adjustment to other losses; the end of a relationship, being made redundant or serious ill health.

I never realised that I was living through a grief cycle until more than two years after the initial acute ill health and the end of my college career. It only became clear after I had written a memoir, it had lain about for a while, and I later returned to read it and realised that I was describing myself in a depressed state. When I was living it and writing about it, I was unaware. It was only after I had experienced distance from the changes that I could look back at my behaviours and identify that I had been adjusting to great loss: the loss of my health and the loss of my career.

Mindfulness offers a practice to support living through this experience. In the secular mindfulness practice this can be described as a meditation that invokes wishing yourself and others well. This was developed from the Buddhist practice of Maitri – loving kindness or compassion for oneself and others.

This practice encourages you to be compassionate with your present experience. To accept and love yourself, in all the glory and the grime. Tara Brach (meditation teacher and psychologist) describes this as “Radical Acceptance, which means clearly recognizing what we are feeling in the present moment and regarding that experience with compassion.”

This is challenging. To regard the experience with compassion, first you have to understand, to witness what you are feeling. I don’t know about you, but I have always found this difficult.

Maybe it’s my British upbringing. What I do know is that I have had to spend many years since my loss, learning how to talk about what I feel and believing that it is OK to do so. Only with a cultivation of this ability to notice what I was feeling could I then begin to explore the possibility that I could be compassionate to myself, to recognise my feelings and not be judgemental about them. I have found this radical, maybe you will too, or maybe you find it natural.

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” – Carl Rogers (psychologist)

As applied to photography

We can practice acceptance through photography in two key ways. The primary opportunity is to use a photography practice as a method of understanding and processing your current experience. In many of my courses and books I offer mindful photography activities that encourage you to attend to your present moment experience, particularly how you are feeling and representing these experiences through photos.

This can be achieved with an understanding how of the elements of photography composition can be used to embody emotion. This includes knowledge of representational ideas for colour, shape, line and so on, as well as the use of visual metaphors and symbols to communicate ideas and feelings.

On a more instinctive level you can also practice responding photographically to your environment when you are experiencing a strong emotion, creating photographs that spring from an intuitive response. These may well include knowledge of the visual language of a photograph, as described above, or your response maybe less planned and controlled. It may run contrary to popular ideas, resting instead on how the visual experience echoed how you felt.

The second opportunity is to understand and accept the kind of photographer (and person) you are. This is partly about what it is that you like to create photographs of, and partly about what those photographs can say about you, as well as about the subject. It is a study in how the outer world can reflect your inner world.

Mindful Photography Activity – One Object

The purpose of this Mindful Photography Activity is to remind you that things are how they are. Moving towards acceptance is undermined by your dislike of how things actually are and your attachment to how you would like things to be. When the cause of this is some kind of significant change in your life, your habitual thoughts, ideas and beliefs can obscure your ability to see how things really are. 

Moving towards acceptance initially requires tuning in to your sensations: what you can see, hear, smell, touch and taste. This reality is often your anchor in a mindful practice and it provides a foundation from which to notice how you feel, think and are acting.

You will cultivate this ability by attending visually to an object that you are attracted to. I suggest that you choose something in nature, a tree, rock, bush, hill, mountain, stream, river or beach.

• Set aside at least an hour for this practice.

• Use your usual camera setting and lens, and turn off the review screen.

• Go for a walk at a favourite location and find an object you are drawn to.

• Spend time with your object.

• Sit. Have a picnic. Have a cup of tea from a flask. Settle.

• Spend time looking at your object. Notice its colours, patterns, structures, shapes, smell, feel and so on.

• Take this process slow, very slow.

• Create photos of your object that you are drawn to. Do NOT review them. Do not delete. Just be with the practice.

• When you feel the practice is finished go home. Download your photos and review on a large display.

• Notice your thoughts and feelings as you review the photos.

• Choose a few photos that best reflect how your chosen object made you feel.

• Looking at the other photos you have not chosen, consider how they make you feel and why you did not choose them.

• Repeat the activity.

New eBook out today

My new eBook Photography for Well-Being 1 is available today from all major online bookstores. Yep, that includes Amazon (all countries) as well as Apple, Kobo, Nook, 24 Symbols and Angus & Robertson. Just click on the link above or the photo below and you’ll be taken to my book page with all the relevant links.

Just in case you are not sure what the book is all about, here is a quick summary.

Every one of the 15 photography activities in Photography for Well-Being 1 has been used to support my health and well-being and will support yours. These really work; I used the activities to support my recovery to full health after major surgery. I have continued to use them with huge benefit whilst ‘shielding’ during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Photography for Well-Being is all about doing creative, mindful photography activities and then sharing your favourite photos. Each activity has a common structure and they all include these six features:

  1. Creativity – Improving your seeing skills, learning and developing your photography skills and creating photos that you love.
  2. Being in the great outdoors (there are one or two indoor exceptions).
  3. Gentle physical exercise.
  4. Love – of a place, person, thing or experience.
  5. Mindfulness – through a Mindful Photography Practice.
  6. Social interaction by sharing your favourite photo.

It is this combination that works to create a sense of well-being. Creativity is mood-changing magic. Out of one set of ingredients, activity, situation or experiences, something else is created. In this case, photographs that would not exist if you were not out there, following my instructions, noticing what you see and creating photos that relate to the time, place, your feelings and your individual abilities. Creating photos whilst you walk in nature, feeling the sun (or rain) on your face, looking in awe at natural or human-made magnificence, has the capacity to lift your mood, illuminate what you are feeling, and allow difficult thoughts to settle and soften.

Each activity is also designed to develop a specific photographic skill. It does not matter if you are using a smartphone or a digital camera, you can do all of these activities with the camera you have with you. Some of the skills development is specific to digital cameras, but all of the activities can still be done with a smartphone and where relevant I have provided guidance specifically for smartphone users.

In each activity, there is a section called Photography Skills Development. Each activity looks at one specific skill, in a rotation of three topics: Mindful Photography (Seeing Skills), Composition and Technical skills. However you describe yourself as a photographer, each activity has the potential to improve your photographic skills. Learning new skills or enhancing existing ones, whilst enriching your creative powers, will boost your sense of achievement. You will feel purposeful and develop a greater belief in your photographic ability.

Creating personal, unique photos, out in the fresh air, learning and developing your photography skills, and then sharing the photos with other people can really help to support your well-being. Why not give it a go? Alongside the book there is a supportive Facebook group which you can join and post your photos from the activities, see other people’s photos and share positive comments. The header photo on this post was created following one of the book’s activities, ‘Sun Salutation’ on a glorious sunny day in mid February this year.

I look forward to seeing your photos!

 

Photography for Well-Being

Photography for Well-Being 1 is available for pre-order now. My new book shows you how through experiencing nature, inspiring creativity and sharing photos you can use photography to improve your artistic skills and well-being – especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

This week is Creativity and Well-Being Week in the UK. Never has the role of creativity in supporting your well-being been so relevant. These are extraordinary times. We are living through unprecedented experiences. Our little routines, our day-to-day lives, and our hopes and dreams have all been thrown in the air. How it will all land is anyone’s guess. Meanwhile, we live a reduced life; staying home, maintaining social distance and trying not to shout at our kids or partner. This all puts a strain on our well-being. What is to be done?

Fortunately, there is lots of help available. Many experts have offered their keep fit routines, healthy eating ideas, games, quizzes and so on. But there is another creative experience you could try – Photography for Well-Being.

I am a photographer, so are you. If you have a camera – and we all have a smartphone now – you can use it to support your well-being and improve your photography skills along the way. How do I know?  In November of last year, I had major throat reconstruction surgery. Whilst I was there recovering, I used photography and writing to support the processing and acceptance of what I was experiencing, feeling, and thinking. Every day I went walkabout – not far, I was barely allowed out of the ward – and I created photos of what I saw and felt. The challenge of creating new photos each day in the same environment and writing about how they reflected my experience kept me occupied every morning. I noticed that the activity helped to make me feel more positive about the situation. They also provided the opportunity to work through what was happening and lean into the difficult feelings.

Whilst I was there, my thoughts turned to the next stage of recovery and how I could support my health and well-being, post-op and beyond. One morning I came up with the titles and outlines for more than 20 photographic activities that would support my well-being. I decided that over the next few months that I would complete each of the activities and record my experiences in a notebook; each activity illustrated with several photos. Somehow, I thought, this would become a book for others to use to support their well-being through photography. And now the book Photography for Well-Being 1 is available. Every one of the 15 photography activities in the book has been used to support my health and well-being and will support yours. These really work; I used the activities to support my recovery to full health.

Photography for Well-Being is all about doing creative, mindful photography activities and then sharing your favourite photos. Each activity has a common structure and they all include these six features:

  1. Creativity – Improving your seeing skills, learning and developing your photography skills and creating photos that you love.
  2. Being in the great outdoors (there are one or two indoor exceptions).
  3. Gentle physical exercise.
  4. Love – of a place, person, thing or experience.
  5. Mindfulness – through a Mindful Photography Practice.
  6. Social interaction by sharing your favourite photo.

It is this combination that works to create a sense of well-being. Creativity is mood-changing magic. Out of one set of ingredients, activity, situation or experiences, something else is created. In this case, photographs that would not exist if you were not out there, following my instructions, noticing what you see and creating photos that relate to the time, place, your feelings and your individual abilities. Creating photos whilst you walk in nature, feeling the sun (or rain) on your face, looking in awe at natural or human-made magnificence, has the capacity to lift your mood, illuminate what you are feeling, and allow difficult thoughts to settle and soften.

Each activity is also designed to develop a specific photographic skill. It does not matter if you are using a smartphone or a digital camera, you can do all of these activities with the camera you have with you. Some of the skills development is specific to digital cameras, but all of the activities can still be done with a smartphone and where relevant I have provided guidance specifically for smartphone users.

In each activity, there is a section called Photography Skills Development. Each activity looks at one specific skill, in a rotation of three topics: Mindful Photography (Seeing Skills), Composition and Technical skills. However you describe yourself as a photographer, each activity has the potential to improve your photographic skills. Learning new skills or enhancing existing ones, whilst enriching your creative powers, will boost your sense of achievement. You will feel purposeful and develop a greater belief in your photographic ability.

Creating personal, unique photos, out in the fresh air, learning or developing your photography skills and then sharing the photos with other people can really help to support your well-being. Why not give it a go? There is even a downloadable free eBook to give you a taster of the experience. It is called Stuck in the House and was designed especially for these times! It has four photography activities, just like the ones in Photography for Well-Being 1. It will get you into the swing of things, get you out creating great photos and give you the experience of using photography to support your well-being.

Stuck in the House 10 – Two Cameras

Over the last few days I have been using my new digital camera as a film camera. How have I done that and why on earth might you want to do the same?

More information here: Photo Activity – 24 Photos and My 24 Photos Activity

My 24 Photos Activity

Last week I posted an activity called 24 Photos that turned your digital camera into a film camera, almost. Over the weekend I completed the activity myself around Singleton Park and the deserted Swansea University Campus. My five favourite photos are below and I have to say, “It works!” Well, I would say that wouldn’t I? But it does. I pretty much followed my own advice, using a familiar prime lens in manual focus and having the camera set up in manual mode. My screen was also off, although I did forget to have anything to help with the count and lost track after 20. I ended up with 27 photos (a normal amount for a 24 exposure film!) and I will confess that the final photo here was taken in auto focus. Those bees do move about!

The aim of the activity is to slow you down, so as to improve your seeing and make the photo activity a mindful experience. It worked for me. Why don’t your try it and then post your favourite photos in our growing Photography for Well-Being Facebook group? I look forward to seeing them.

Photo Activity: 24 Photos

Back in the day, when we only had film cameras, creating a photograph was a different experience to the digital world we now live in. The most obvious difference was that you could not see the photo you had just created until the film was developed. In addition, many of the cameras and lenses were fully manual, so creating the photo was a slower process. Also you only had 24 or 36 exposures. There was no deleting; no checking which photos you liked and which you didn’t, until the film came back. This Photo Activity replicates that experience, it turns your digital camera into a film camera. Why do that you ask? These five reasons:

  1. This will slow you down.
  2. Slower photography means that you will see more.
  3. Seeing more means that your photos will be more creative.
  4. Having a limited number of photos will encourage you to pay more attention to the creation of each photo.
  5. Paying attention means that your photos will be more interesting.

It was using my Fujica ST705 which inspired this activity. I found that there was a film left in it – the camera had been packed away for a while – so I went around the house playing with possibilities. The camera is fully manual; shutter speed, aperture and ISO all have to be set. There is a basic light meter visible through the viewfinder which helps to get a balanced exposure. The lens is manual focus too. I noticed how it slowed my photo creation down and decided to revisit the idea of slowing down your digital photography practice. It will make a difference. You will pay more attention to the making of each photo, and that can only result in more interesting and creative photos.

I should mention that some of you may have cameras where some of these instructions are not possible. Do as many as you can. If you cannot do any of them even the simple act of only creating 24 photos with no deleting or reviewing will slow you down.

 

Photo Activity: 24 Photos

  1. Set aside an hour or two for this activity.
  2. Choose a location – inside or outside. Inside is more challenging!
  3. Set your camera up in Manual mode.
  4. Turn off the viewscreen, this includes for review also.
  5. If you have a lens that can be turned to manual focus use that.
  6. Set the ISO for the light. The standard guidelines are – Bright sunny day 100; bright intermittent sun 200; cloudy day 400; heavy cloud/rain 800+; inside depends upon the light in each room 400 – 800+
  7. Set your aperture to f8 – this is a mid range aperture.
  8. Set your shutter speed to 1/125 – this will guarantee no camera shake. It is a mid range start point.
  9. You are going to create 24 photos. No reviewing. No deleting.
  10. As you cannot see the screen you will need a method of keeping count. 24 nuts, seeds, stones or sweets will work. Cast one off for each photo.
  11. Each photo is precious. You only have 24.
  12. Each time you find a scene bring your camera up and review the light information.
  13. To change the exposure  – more or less light – you have control of the aperture and shutter speed.
  14. A smaller aperture number (e.g. f2.8) is a larger hole = more light and shallow Depth of Field (less of the depth of the photo in focus)
  15. A bigger aperture number (e.g. f16) is a smaller hole = less light and greater Depth of Field (more of the depth of the photo in focus)
  16. The shutter speed numbers refer to fractions of a second. The larger the number (e.g. 1000), faster shutter speed = less light. Smaller numbers (e.g. 1), slower shutter speed + more light.
  17. A slow shutter speed means if you move the camera whilst the shutter is open the scene will be blurred.
  18. Take your time with every photo. You aim is to create a balanced exposure. This is recorded as 0 on the exposure scale in your viewfinder; most look like this: 3 2 1 0 -1 -2 -3.
  19. Make creative choices about the framing and your Point of View.
  20. Decide upon an aperture and shutter speed for each photo.
  21. Release attachment to the idea that every photo will be perfect.
  22. Mistakes do not matter. This is an experiencing in slowing down and being creative.
  23. When you finish. Take a break, have a cuppa before you review your photo. Be kind to yourself. Slowing down is more important than the photos.
  24. If you have one photo you like share that with me.

Here is my favourite photo from the last time I did this activity. I’ll be doing it again very soon.

 

Stuck in the House – Outside!

My free eBook Stuck in the House has a Photo Activity in it called Point of View. It is very simple, can be done with any smartphone or camera and asks you to try and create interesting photos in and around your house.

The challenge is to explore different Points of View, to move up and down, in and out, right and left. These movements change everything in your frame and are at the heart of interesting and engaging photos.

I have completed it once and added photos to the Photography for Well-Being Facebook group, but I thought that it was time for another go. Only this time I would focus on the spaces just outside my house, but still on the property. Here are my favourites. Why don’t you have a go?

 

Swansea podcast

Come Together Cast is a new Swansea based community and culture podcast.  This great podcast is put together by Amina, Josh, Howard and Simon and aims to share a little of what is going on in Swansea during this challenging time.

The Podcast has been going for three episodes and has a Facebook page where you can go to get all the links to their previous podcasts. This week’s episode includes a chat with Owen Griffiths and Zoe Gealy from the National Waterfront Musuem about their GRAFT Garden Project, some guy called Lee Aspland about his Stuck in the House free eBook and some local children about what it is like to be little in lockdown.

You can now listen to this week’s episode on Spotify, and if you really want to suffer I am on 10.04 minutes in!

Where the light gets in – Photo Activity

I have recently shared this with my newsletter subscribers, but I thought that at this time it may be beneficial for you all.

This photo activity is a response to the Covid-19 pandemic and is inspired by three lines from Anthem, by Leonard Cohen:

Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That’s how the light gets in

  1. Allocate one hour for a photo walk from your house.
  2. You will only create 10 photo in this hour, so take it slow.
  3. No reviewing. No deleting.
  4. Before you start sit quietly at home for 5 to 10 minutes thinking about how the Covid-19 pandemic is making you feel and Leonard’s lines of hope. Jot down your thoughts and feelings on a sheet of paper.
  5. Fold up the paper and place it in a pocket.
  6. Choose a camera and lens set up you are most familiar with – your ‘walkabout’ choice.
  7. Set the camera up in a mode that you can use instinctively.
  8. Walk and follow the Four Stage Seeing Practice: Anchor; Seeing; Resting and Creating. (see below).
  9. Keep a mental note of the number of photos you have created.
  10. If you forget the count, review the photos in your mind, visualising where you stopped to create each photo.
  11. Take your time. Instinctive and contemplative photography is your goal.
  12. Stop occasionally and review your sheet of paper.
  13. When you complete the activity and return home reward yourself with your favourite hot beverage and a treat. Do not review your photos yet. Notice the nagging voice! Allow the experience to settle whilst you drink.
  14. Later review your photos and notice your judging mind.
  15. Consider the photos you are drawn to and notice if you do not like some of your photos.
  16. Share your favourite photo in the Photography for Well-Being Facebook group or with me via return of this email.

Here is my favourite photo, a multi exposure in camera to reflect the light and dark.

 

Follow this Four Stage Seeing Practice to develop your ability to see everything that is there, enabling seeing to become a mindful experience when you are creating photographs.

  1. Anchor – When you arrive at your location take a moment. Sit somewhere and observe. Notice the breeze on your cheek and the smells that surround. Then tune into your visual experience. Notice the colours, lines, shapes, textures and depth. Notice where the sun is and the direction of light. Notice bright areas and shadows. If it is cloudy notice how this affects the scene. Spend at least 5 minutes paying attention to what you can see. Whenever you notice your mind thinking, about the photos you are creating, about what you are having for tea, about how daft you feel, return to what you can see. This is your anchor. Throughout your practice return to what you can see.
  1. Seeing – Walk at a gentle pace observing, but not looking for a photo opportunity. The photograph will find you. This is a challenge. There is a difference between attentive observation and looking for a photograph. The difference is the practice. All you have to do is to amble and observe; wait for something to catch your eye. This is to be a natural occurrence. Trust that something visually stimulating will arrive. This is all. You are attuned to your visual experience. Something will suggest itself as a photographic opportunity. When it does, stop.
  1. Resting – Look at what stopped you. Really look. Stay with the visual experience and breathe. Try to remain free from thoughts, ideas, action, consideration or internal chatter. Particularly notice any photographic thinking that creeps in. Just come back to the visual experience.
  1. Creating – Before you bring your camera up to your eye consider how you will use the camera’s frame to create an equivalent photo of what stopped you. Do you need to move in or out? What is in the frame? What is not in the frame? Do not over think the photo to create a ‘better’ image. Press the shutter and receive the photo. Then walk on.

Take your time with this practice. Slow, contemplative photography is your aim. Always come back to what you can see. This is my refrain, “What can I see?” Every time I notice photo thinking or my busy mind, I come back to what I can see.

 

Urban Exploring

In preparation for a new photography activity for my new book – Photography for Well-Being – I have been experimenting with urban photography. I am using this term instead of street photography because it has more of an urban landscape approach, rather than activity of the streets. But it could perhaps be either.

The photography activity is called going to be called ‘urban love’ and centres upon scenes from your favourite urban environment. So that could be a town, city, village or hamlet. I’m separating it from industrial photography, as that is more landscape related and maybe a separate activity.

My first practice was in Swansea, where I have lived for over 30 years. I chose a sunny day and had in my intention a desire to create photographs of elements of the city that I love. I struggled. Maybe it was the day, the light or the lens choice, or all three. Obviously, more practice was required.

So a couple of days ago I went walkabout in my girlfriend’s home town of Porth. Porth is a small Rhondda valleys town, in fact it is known as the gateway to the Rhondda Valley. Like many South Wales towns and villages it has struggled over the last 2 or 3 decades. The closure of local coal mines and more recent austerity impact has left its mark.

However, despite it being a gloomy, dull day and the challenge of the urban environment, I enjoyed the practice and created a few photos I liked. Which is all that is required. A key feature of the difference is that I went with an open mind, no overarching intention, just to create interesting photos from what I saw. I shall be taking this approach back to Swansea and the new activity. Anyway here are my favourites.

 

 

Weather or not

On a murky, wild day the nagging thought that I needed to leave the house was insistent. That I could combine it with photo creation was obviously a foolish idea. Who goes outside with their camera on a bad weather day? And yet…… photo creation, plus violently fresh park air, plus gentle exercise seemed like it would be a boost to my somewhat low mood. In fact, during this photo activity I realised that is was at the heart of why I do this and how this combination of creativity, physical movement and the outdoors is the foundation of photography for well-being. Not a bad return: from gloomy stasis to an epiphanous moment.

The actual photo activity experience was quite simple. I combined it with a purpose – which in hindsight was helpful, if not essential. I didn’t need to visit the hospital for blood tests that day, I could have done it any day of the week. However, the walk to the phlebotomy clinic is through my local park – Singleton – a green oasis, even in the howling drizzle, and that meant I could experience nature at almost full force.

Before leaving I prepared myself; appropriate clothing to protect myself and my camera. I have been known to use a plastic bag and elastic band to protect my camera from heavy rain, but this wind driven drizzle led to a decision for a large, warm raincoat that I could fit my camera inside when it was not being used. I set the camera up in my usual 50mm lens, aperture priority, f7.1 and higher than usual ISO of 1600 – it was very gloomy. Before I set off I was assessing the weather through the front window and realised my first photo was right in front of me. The myriad rain droplets racing to the bottom, a salutary reminder that it was wild out there, and off I set.

The walk to the hospital is through a couple of areas of the park – the main drag to Uni, frequented by umbrella wielding, inadequately clad students – and the ‘Ornamental Gardens’, an attractive, defined area with a larger variety of trees, shrubs and plants. However, on the walk I was drawn to the impact of the wind and rain, its raging though the trees, bushes and paths, and its creation of new rivulets tumbling into growing streams.

Whilst I was giving blood the nurse, spying my camera asked, “What are you taking photos of in this weather?”

“Oh, the rain, puddles, rain in puddles, wild trees, people dodging through the rain. The usual.”

However, creating photos in bad weather is challenging. Not only are you trying to protect your camera, it is a reminder that every photo must be technically correct, and in the gloomy light, and even darker wooded areas this is tricky. Each potential photo had to be checked for shutter speed, rather than take for granted that the camera would sort it out. This led to slower photography, (something I advocate), thoughtful composition and wise technical choices, all laced with the desire not to get too wet.

That I noticed all this is the point. Paying attention to the creative process doesn’t just result in your desired outcome, it charges the practice with positive energy. The act of engaged creativity is enlivening, an essence of life. Taking elements and shaping them into something else is beneficial fuel for the soul. In the face of such positivity and surviving the sodden, windswept traverse, I returned home, refreshed, alive and engaged.

 

A Mindful Photography Practice

In my new eBook – Mindful Photography: How to use photography to develop mindfulness (published later this month!) I share 16 Mindful Photography Practices. Each one is designed to hone a photography skill and develop mindfulness. I promised to share one from the new eBook so here it is.

Mindful Photography Practice – Ordinary Beauty

This activity was inspired by a quote from John Updike who encouraged us to “give the mundane its beautiful due.”

The intentions of this practice are to slow you down, improve your seeing and to create some visually stimulating photos of an ordinary subject. Once again though, whilst the photos are your outcome, the primary focus is in developing your ability to see what is in front of you. The practice is the thing, not the outcomes. Take your time. There is no time frame for this activity. Attend to the visual: the light, shapes, colours etc. Practice seeing like a camera.

  1. For this practice it is helpful if the viewscreen is not available for review. All digital cameras allow you to control whether the photo pops up after you have taken it, and how long it stays on the screen. This can be turned off. Then you can use to screen to compose your photo, but you can’t see the result.
  2. Set your camera to a mode that you are familiar with and you can use instinctively. Auto is great.
  3. Use the camera at one focal length. Do not zoom in and out.
  4. As you walk through your location do not look for a photo. Observe what is around. Wait for something to catch your eye, then stop and create a photo.
  5. Do not look at the photos you create. Notice your thoughts.
  6. Choose a subject that could be described as ‘boring’. A vehicle, building, room, sink, bicycle, chair, staircase, escalator etc.
  7. Walk all around your subject following the 4 Stage Seeing Practice.
  8. Wait for that flash of perception.
  9. Get really close.
  10. Frame really tightly.
  11. Do not include anything extra.
  12. Move your body. Change your point of view. Get high. Get low. Get interesting.
  13. Create up to 20 photos that challenge the viewer to identify the object.
  14. Finish the activity, sit quietly and review your photos.
  15. Share your favourite photo.
  16. Repeat the activity with another subject.

More Mindful Photography Practices

There are more Mindful Photography Practice available in my free eBook. Do download it!

10 tips to slow down your photography

Mindful Photography in action

Digital Photography is fantastic. Its ability to capture what we see and allow instant review has revolutionised photography. It has changed how we create photographs and how we edit them. But perhaps the most fundamental change is that it has supercharged the creation of a photograph. Photographic creation and sharing is now like a Ferrari 812 Superfast. Back in the film days it was more like a classic mini.

Now, using a digital camera you can take eight photos per second. Take fifty of a scene, review them instantly and discard the ones you do not like. It is this that has fuelled a disconnect with the experience of what you see. You know that you can take lots of photos, at no cost and reject all the ones you don’t like. You pay less attention to what you are seeing, and crucially how you are framing the photos.

By applying mindfulness to photography you connect through the visual to the present moment. You walk with your camera – not looking for a photograph but noticing what you see – everytime you notice your busy mind, you return to what you can see in front of you. The seeing becomes your anchor, just like the breath when you meditate. This also has the potential to improve what you see and how you see.

The practice of clearly seeing everything that is in front of you is something that you can learn and develop. You can learn how you see. You can learn how you interpret light, colour, shapes, forms, textures and patterns to make sense of the world; and you can begin to understand how a camera represents the same scene. Then, with practice and contemplation of the photographs you create, you can begin to hone your ability to create photographs that represent what you see.

Maybe you still hanker for that classic mini experience. We are currently experiencing a growing interest in film photography. Perhaps there are elements of that slower pace, more engaged process and almost ritualistic nature that we are missing from the digital experience. However, there are ways of experiencing a film like experience with your digital camera, ways of slowing the process down and re-introducing some ritual.

In a desire to provide you with techniques to connect you with the creative experience, I offer you the following 10 tips to slow down your photography. This slowing down is a fundamental element of becoming more mindful with your photography, of becoming a Mindful Photographer.

10 Tips to slow down and connect with your photography

  1. 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.
  2. Limit the number of photos you create – go filmic with a 12, 24 or 36 limitation
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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!
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

PS The three photos accompanying the post follow some of these tips

Beginner’s Mind Practice

The phrase ‘beginner’s mind’ is used in meditation and mindfulness as an encouragement to greet the present moment as if it was the first time we had experienced it. Of course it is, but we don’t often live as if it is.

When we are sat, meditating, the object of this intention is often the breath. To sit and experience the breath as if for the first time is to alert our senses to where and how we feel the breath in our body.

Its cool entry at our nose. The gentle rise and fall of our stomach. The subtle expansion of our chest. The sharpening of our senses brings us into the experience and roots us in the present moment. To expand this practice into other areas of our day and life supports our intention to be mindful.

Developing Beginner’s Mind

A useful trick is taking a sensory experience and developing it in situations and environments that are familiar. This is a re-tuning of our senses. A conscious decision to notice. We may choose one particular sense to work with or simply remain open to what our senses reveal.

The very essence of this practice brings us into the moment, encouraging our presence with our current experience.

In photography this can be explored as part of a mindful photography practice. There are two potential approaches. Either we visit a place/location that is completely new to us or we cultivate our ‘Beginner’s Eye’ by visiting familiar territory. Both approaches provide the opportunity to cultivate a grounding in the present moment. To see what we see as if for the first time. Perhaps the latter practice, on familiar territory, provides deeper opportunities to cultivate a gratitude for the familiar; to ‘give the mundane its beautiful due’ (John Updike). Something that we can then take into other aspects of our life.

Beach walk

Last week, over two days, I set out on my morning walk with my favourite hound, Monty with an intention. I decided to walk along a familiar location and practice seeing it as if for the first time, which of course in an important way it was.

I set out for Swansea Beach. This is a 5 mile crescent sweep of sandy bay that is 5 minutes from my front door. Such proximity has led to many visits over the years and it is a key part of my favourite circular walk from the house. It is an ideal location to follow this practice.

When you regularly visit the same location you become accustomed to what you expect to see. This can lead to a low attention, to not seeing what is there and a looseness with the present moment. I decided to follow the Mindful Photography Practice I share below. To slow down, to connect with the visual and be present in my day. My favourite photos from the two practices accompany this post.

A Mindful Photography Practice – Beginner’s Eye

  • Choose a familiar location
  • Spend up to 60 minutes slowly walking through this area, tuned into your visual experience
  • During the walk stop and sit. Breathe slowly. Pay attention to what you can see. Create some photos.
  • Continue walking
  • Tune into the colours, the shapes, patterns, lines and textures rather than the named objects
  • Create photos that represent your experience
  • Share your favourite photos

Weekly Mindful Photography Challenge – Simple

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 ‘Simple’ and is an invitation to create one photograph that illustrates the theme. It could be a photo that uses simplicity as its compositional guide, or it could illustrate the standard definition ‘easy to understand’ either directly or using a metaphor/symbol. There that’s given you something to think about. Just keep it simple! My photo below takes the first approach and was created today in the park to illustrate this post. I only created two photos. One for this post and one for next week’s.

When you go out to practice imagine that you can only create one photo. Walk around your chosen location. Observe your surroundings. Wait until a photo opportunity grabs you. Look at what stopped you and why. Consider how you will frame it (what is in the frame and what is out?) Consider how your camera will see the scene. Then create one photo.

Share your favourite photo here.

Weekly Mindful Photography Challenge – Transition

This week I thought I would combine our mindful photography challenge with the The Daily Post’s own photo challenge which is Deltadelta as in a place and time that represents a transition or sliver of greater change. A river delta, where the river meets the ocean is a place of tremendous transition, and photography of course captures only a moment of that continuous change.

It is true to say that every photo represents a sliver in time. A photograph shows something as it was in that moment. That moment is then gone and the subject of the photo is no longer the same. How can that be true? What if you photograph a mountain? Everything is changing. Everything is impermanent, even a mountain. Everest was once the base of a valley. It is just that some of the changes are so slow as to trick you that they will always be that way.

So this week I would like you to create a photo that represents transition. One that represent’s a photograph’s ability to capture a moment of that transition, a moment that is then stilled for eternity. My photo is of a fragment of Swansea Bay. The photo was taken in the low early evening golden light, itself a period of transition and captures a moment and section of the beach at low tide. By using a wide aperture I have also suggested the tide’s return and the truth that this view will soon be gone, never to return in the same way again.

For your practice consider choosing a location where you feel each time you visit there is the potential for a different experience. When you arrive at the location sit for a while and really arrive. Then start to walk, not looking for a photo, only observing the scene. When an opportunity presents itself stop. Consider what it was that stopped you. Really look at it. Notice how far away the subject is. Breathe and tune in to how the scene makes you feel. When that feeling echoes transition in your heart and mind, press the shutter.

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!

 

Paradise

On a Thursday I work on an Intergenerational Project called BoomerZ. This is part of my Dylan Thomas Centre work and encourages the participants to create new stories and poems. Yesterday Sion, our tutor, lead us through some prompt based freestyle writing. We wrote solidly for 30 – 40 minutes, prompted every five minutes by a symbol of some sort.

My story evolved into one that related to today’s WordPress word prompt, base, so I’ve included that here. Anyway enough of me wittering on here’s my story.

Paradise

I stand at the edge, soup sea lapping my toes, imagining something, anything, appearing on the blood soaked horizon.

The unctuous water flows over my feet like a blanket as they sink into the pearl white sand. I track the bloodline ahead, its edge pristine, unbroken by hope or possibility.

Sometimes I collect driftwood from the ocean’s edge and arrange them to form huge letters spelling my name. Sometimes I close my eyes and I launch those branches with bloodied feet. When I look at what is left I see her name. I always see her name in the wooden detritus and blooded sand. Then the shapes resolve back to chaos and she is gone.

Later in the day, as the suns fall into their scarlet slumber, I sit, propped against the old carved tree stump and imagine another world, another reality.

She always holds my hand as we leave the restaurant. We approach the busy intersection, pausing to allow the gargantuan steel trucks to streak past. The sharp air slaps my face, sucking pleasure from the dusk.

I squeeze Marie’s hand, she squeezes back, then lets my hand go to point at a Slowship ascending over the silver turrets of homebase.

“Won’t be long now Charles.” she says smiling at me

“I know. I’m counting the days.”

Marie turns her face up to catch the first drops of the evening’s fall. “I won’t miss this though,” she says wiping her face with her hand.

Sometimes, at this point, I turn my face to the emerald heavens and plead to whatever deity rules this planet for some rain. I don’t care what colour it is. I don’t care if the drops are misty soft or a thundering monsoon. Any rain would bring her back.

It is the sound that haunts me: the solid thump. One second she was there. The next she was gone. If I had not let her hand go would she have stepped forward? I was gazing at the Slowship, pendulous and inexorable, as Marie left me. The coroner said that she would not have felt anything, it was all to quick, too final, too momentous.

I left earth on the next Slowship. I did not care about the destination. I just had to leave. Part of me imagined Marie was travelling with me. Part of me was still at the intersection.

The Slowship took several lifetimes to reach Wanatu. Maybe those lifetimes were lived by others but when I awoke Marie was still with me. Just like she had always been. By my side.  Holding my hand.

Each morning I fish. I fillet. I cook. I eat. I walk. I gaze at the horizon. Sometimes I see other wanderers, but I step back into the deep shadows. I move on.

Each afternoon I check the traps, clean out the catch and store what I do not need in the deep pool. I eat the charred meat at the sea’s edge and throw the brittle bones into the ink green depths. Each bone is launched with a wish. Each wish is wrapped around a hope that will never be granted. The Gods are unforgiving on this island paradise.