Mindful Photography Course – Week 8

This was the final week of our 8 week development of mindfulness through photography, and along the way create some fabulous photos. This week we covered two more mindful attitudes: Acceptance and Non-Striving, shot a little video of the some of the students sharing their experiences on the course and had some lovely cake (provided by the students)!

Just so you don’t miss it, I’m going to start with the video which shares some honest and enlightening tales of what was experienced on my Mindful Photography Course. Here it is

 

Acceptance

Mindfulness encourages us to see things as they actually are in the present moment. As the present moment plays out, we practice noticing our feelings, our physical sensations and the thoughts that flit across our mind.  It may well be that we don’t actually like what we are experiencing. We may try to avoid, distract or just deny the experience.

Acceptance is the quality that allows us to be with all the difficulty, without turning away. Acceptance encourages us 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 our lives.

When we experience major change or loss in our lives we often find that accepting how things are now beyond difficult. The loss we are trying to understand may have left us quite different physically, mentally and emotionally, in comparison to how we were before it happened. We may be attached to an idea of who we are that reflects how we were, rather than how we are now.

Processing this major change may take us a long time and there is much difficulty to work through. The Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle that was developed to illustrate our adjustment to the death of a loved one is also applicable to any other major change or loss in our life. We have to live through the Denial, Anger, Bargaining, and Depression before reaching Acceptance. And whilst these are often described in linear fashion they are not always lived so clearly. We may move between the various stages, hopefully slowly moving towards acceptance.

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

As applied to photography

Photography can help us live through these stages, creating photos that illustrate how we feel, when we are feeling it. Last week I set the students homework to go out with their cameras when they were experiencing great emotion and create some photos. Not to look for particular scenes, but to simply walk and create what called out to be photographed.

Each student then shared their favourite photo and we reflected upon how it made us feel. Here they are.

Non Striving

Non striving is non doing and was the second Mindful Attitude we looked at. Meditation can be described as a non doing activity – if that is not a contradiction. We sit and we be. We are present and we are ourselves. What we experience we pay attention to. We may choose to return to the breath when we notice thoughts flit across our minds. We are non goal orientated.

Now this is all fine and dandy in theory. However, we live in a ‘doing’ culture. We have grown and developed in a society that values action, activity and succeeding. We need to feel that we are doing stuff and that we are ok. So when we begin to meditate we do see it as an activity, something to do. We must do our meditation. We must do certain things to ensure that we are doing the meditation correctly. We choose a certain place, time of day, length of sitting, structure to follow and so on. Then we try to get this all ‘right’.

Often then, especially as we begin meditating, we may feel discouraged. Our mind is incessantly busy. We don’t experience any quiet. Or we may choose to notice experiences that reinforce our belief that we are doing this meditation thing right. We may experience feelings, colours, great peace and any of these confirm our confident belief that we have got this meditation thing cracked. We are either doing it right or wrong! Either way we are doing it.

So how do we move from doing meditation and mindfulness to being and non striving? There is a blurred division between doing and being. In meditation we set out to meditate, we are doing the activity. But it is in our approach to being present with our experience, of non striving, of being non goal orientated that we move to being in the moment. We achieve this by paying attention, that is all. We pay attention to our present experience, we come into the present moment and we stay with our anchor – the breath or seeing (mindful photography) – we become what we already are, a human being.

As applied to Photography

Non striving as a concept applied to photography is a fine aspiration. As photographers we are very attuned to the processes we must follow to create a great photo. Our attention to technical and compositional choices is fundamental to the creation of a good photograph. But a great photograph requires something of us, something of our soul, something of who we are. To create memorable photographs we must marry the technical and compositional with our intuitive heart. How do we do this? By being in the moment.

That fine dividing line between doing and being is present at the moment of visual creation. The decisive moment that we choose to press the shutter is a moment that we are not holding tightly to our doing. We know, on a practiced and confident level, that we have made the right technical choices. Our practice and training has equipped us with the skills to flow into creative compositional choices of the visual elements before us. All of this is not at the front of our mind as we simply rest in the moment of creating a photograph. We allow the photo to come into being. This being in the moment encourages an instinctive connection with our feelings, our very essence becomes part of our created photo. To photograph is to be, wholly and magnificently, in the moment.

The students were given the challenge and practice of creating just one photo. BUT (and yes it is a big but) they had to walk and not look for that photo. To create a photo without looking for a photo is not only very zen, it’s a fabulous practice and one that can be spread out over a day.

The striving part of our mind wants to make sure that the one photo is a ‘good’ photo. We may have preconceived ideas about where to walk and what we will see. The practice is to notice these thoughts and to return to what can be seen. To simply walk and trust that an opportunity will manifest. Here are their photos.

 

Mindful Photography Course – Week 7

The home stretch! This penultimate session carried on with our consideration and development of mindful attitudes through photography and we started by reviewing the photos created by the students for their homework. After that we looked the mindful attitude of Beginner’s Mind, before setting more homework around Acceptance.

Homework – Rightness and Wrongness

Last week I finished by setting the students a mindful photography practice for homework. The goal of the practice was to notice our habit of judging our life experience. We are constantly evaluating how the world is treating us, and this usually manifests as a judgement that we either like or dislike what is happening.

From this habit we then try to repeat the things we like and avoid or deny the things we dislike. All perfectly reasonable you might think, that is how life is, but not always helpful when we can’t control what is happening and we are looking to reduce the stress in our life.

There is a middle way. A noticing that we have made a judgement, taking a few breaths and being with how it is. Feeling those emotions playing out in our body. Noticing the thoughts around avoidance creeping in. And breathe! Slowly the feelings and thoughts will soften and then dissolve.

It is a lifetime’s practice, but how can we work with this habit photographically? We make the same judgement about every photo we create. We either like them or dislike them. What if we were to create photos that were good or right and another set of the same scene that were bad or wrong?

Can we look at the different photos of each subject, notice how they make us feel and consider whether sometimes the wrong photos are more interesting than the right ones. What you need is some photos to compare. Below you will find the pair that each student chose to share.

Beginner’s Mind

The cultivation of a beginner’s mind is an intention. We resolve to receive each moment as if it was the first time we experienced it. (Which it is!) We imagine that the sensory information we are experiencing is fresh and new to us. We really notice what it is that we can see, feel, smell, touch and hear.

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.

The trick is taking this 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 within our current experience. In photography this can be explored as part of a mindful photography practice. Our intention within the practice is to notice the visual experience as if for the first time. And that is what we did!

Each student was encouraged to return to a location they had used before and to imagine that it was the first time that they had been there. Then to create some photos that represented that experience. Below you will see each student’s favourite photo from their mindful photography practice.

Homework – Acceptance

I finished by introducing the mindful attitude of Acceptance and then set the students homework around this challenging area. To find out how they got on call back next week!

 

Mindful Photography Course – Week 6

Week 6 took us in to new territory! After a recap of what we had covered to date (Seeing and composing photographs) We started a new topic: Mindful Attitudes.

In 1990 when Jon Kabat-Zinn published his book Full Catastrophe Living (the backbone of the MBSR Course) he included 7 attitudes that help to underpin a mindful attitude to life. They were Non Judging, Beginner’s Mind, Patience, Acceptance, Trust, Non Striving and Letting Go. In later additions of the book he added more: Gratitude and Generosity.

I believe that there is one more essential attitude: intention

Intention

Intention is the commitment to turn up for yourself. Your intention is what sets you on the mindful path to developing your self awareness to find more ease, freedom, and peace. Intention is the doorway to those other mindful attitudes: non judging, patience, beginner’s mind, acceptance, non striving, letting go, trust, gratitude and generosity.

Making mindfulness an intention is a beginning. Intentions are found in the present, so just by making one, you have already accomplished what you set out to do. An intention cannot fail, because it happens right now. With an intention, there is no required result—we are simply connecting to our chosen course. “I’m just going to practice, and see what happens.” Therefore we invite curiosity, a sense of experimentation: “Well, this is interesting, I wonder what’s going to happen now?” Intention has strength, as its rooted in reality, but also suppleness—holding to an intention doesn’t mean our actions can’t change, based on what we discover.

Ed Halliwell Mindful.org

The Practice

I then set the group a practice. The aim of the Mindful Photography Practice was to understand the difference between a goal and an intention.

An intention happens in the present. A goal will be achieved (or not) some time in the future. The intention of the practice, was to do the practice. Easy, huh? The goal was to produce five photos that illustrated all four compositional themes: Balance, Subject and Background, Point of View and Simplicity.

My last words were is does not matter if you do not achieve the goal. Remain with the practice.

The photos

Upon return each student chose two photos to share. They may have achieved the goal or not. The only criteria for choice was that they like them. Here they are.

Mindful Photography Course – Week 5

Week 5 built upon the Photography Composition skills we learnt last week. This time we looked at the Elements of Visual Design.

There are seven to be aware of that are relevant to photography. They are: Shape, Form, Line, Colour, Texture, Pattern and Space. After some explanations and examples everyone was challenged to choose just one of the seven and create some photos that illustrated its use.

This is more difficult than it sounds, because the students also had to not look for a photo; to walk and observe what they see. This is a tricky proposition, to see, but not to look. It is of course a mindful practice, almost zen like!

The students reported back different experiences: frustration, excitement, disappointment were all common. This is normal, in fact it is great that the feeling experienced is noticed, for that is the practice. The photos are a useful, hopefully interesting, outcome.

Each student then submitted two photos that illustrated their theme and we had to guess which one it was. This was not always easy, as most photos contain more than one of the elements of visual design. They are all presented below in pairs. Can you identify the theme for each pair?

Mindful Photography Course – Week 4

The halfway point of our 8 week exploration of Mindful Photography saw an investigation into mindful composition.

Now I know that composition is a huge topic, one that books delve into in great detail, but I had 2.5 hours. So my intention was to summarise the key concepts (or guidelines) and then encourage the students to choose one of those to use as their anchor, whilst practicing the 4 Stage Seeing Practice.

Now this is a tricky proposition, but it is a practice. The students were asked to choose one of 4 compostional themes: Balance, Subject & Background, Point of View, or Simplicity. Each one contains several elements and the students also had the option of including one of those.

Then all they had to do was find an interesting location and create some photographs. After everybody returned they each chose to share their favourite photo, and talk about why they chose it. Here they are.

If you or your organisation are interested in a Mindful Photography Course for your team, participants or students take a look at the Course Page and get in contact for a chat.

 

Mindful Photography Course – Week 3

Week 3 was our second week looking at Clear Seeing. In particular this is about establishing Seeing as an anchor; the foundation of our Mindful Photography Practice.

To do this we use the 4 Stage Seeing Practice: an activity that encourages us to use Seeing as an anchor in the same way as we can use our breath when we meditate. So we walk and we do not look for a photo. We observe what we see. We notice what we see. When something catches our eye we stop. We pay attention to what it was that stopped us. And before we press the shutter we consider where we are going to place the frame. Then we press the shutter and move on.

Throughout this practice when we notice our mind shooting about – thinking about photos, thinking about whether we will be able to create a ‘good enough’ photo, thinking about ourselves doing the activity – we notice and return to what we can see. It is a practice.

A Small Space

The Mindful Photography Practice (photo activity) we all followed this week was called ‘Small Space’. In this activity everyone chose a small space to remain and walk around for 40 minutes. 20 photos were created, composed through the viewfinder (or screen where this was not possible) and not reviewed after creation!

Only when we returned to the classroom were we allowed to review the photos. During the review stage I encourage everyone to notice their thoughts, particularly the judgemental one, ‘I like that one. I don’t like that one.’

Everyone then got to share and talk about one of their photos. Here they are.

 

Mindful Photography Course – Week 1

This week I started the delivery of my 8 week course in Mindful Photography for Morriston Hospital’s Brain Injury Service. I was particularly excited to start this as it is the first occasion I have delivered in this format, although I have worked with the service delivering other provision since 2012.

My intention over these 8 weeks is to introduce the students to mindfulness, meditation and mindful photography. The aim of the first week is to provide an overview of those topics and start the practice of slowing down the speed at which we create photos.

Slow Down!

Digital cameras are fantastic in many ways, but your disposable relationship to the photos created has underpinned a disconnection to the present moment. When I used to shoot film there were a limited number of shots on the roll. I could not see what I had just taken. The cameras were often manual. I had to attend to what I was seeing, and to what I was doing with the camera, to be certain that I was creating the best representation of my visual experience. This meant that the process of creating several photos was slower than it is now.

Now you can take eight photos per second. Take fifty of a scene, review them instantly and discard the ones you do not like. Throughout my courses and workshops (online and live) I encourage a greater attention to this experience and share mindful photography practices designed to slow you down and truly connect to the visual moment.

It was entirely appropriate then that the first activity I shared in Week 1 is called ‘Slow Down’. In this practice (I call the photography activities practices because it implies that you don’t have to get then ‘right’ and that they can be repeated, again and again) the students cannot see the viewscreen and have to imagine what the camera is receiving. They are also only allowed to create 10 photos in a set period of time. All of these limitations slow the process down, or encourage a slowing down! Some still find it challenging.

The Photos

After the activity the students return to the class and look at their photos for the first time. During this process I encourage an attention to the thinking that is taking place, particularly the judging mind that reviews each photo and determines whether it likes or dislikes a photo. This is the first time of many that I relate the mindful photography practice to life. For your judging mind, and its interpretation of experiences as ones you like or dislike is echoed in the ‘Slow Down’ Mindful Photography Practice.

Each student then chooses one photo to share with the group and we all follow a ‘Creative Review’ mindful practice where we practice connecting to how the photo makes us feel, rather than critically reviewing its composition or technique. Of course those critical thoughts also pop up, but the practice of connecting to how the photo make us feel is a foundation for future mindfulness and mindful photography work.

Here are the students favorite photos. How does each one make you feel?

Why I created a Mindful Photography Course

Did you miss me?

Sorry I’ve been a little quiet for a couple of weeks. I’ve been a busy boy! Yes, my online courses go LIVE on pre-sale Tuesday 26th September. Whey Hey!

There will be a FREE Introduction to Mindful Photography 4 Day Challenge to kick it all off.

AND there will be a 33% discount and a Bonus Bundle for the first 20 subscribers on the full course – Mindful Photography 1 ‘How becoming mindful can help you to create fabulous photos’ – in that first week of sales.

There will be lots of info about that in the next few days. Keep an eye on my blog and the online course page for when you can find out more and enroll.

In the meantime I thought I would share a little bit about how I came to create this course and particularly why Mindful Photography.

Why Mindful Photography?

Since 2000 I have been discovering what is true; what is real for me. It has been a significant period of my life, which has been dominated by a health challenge that started in 2006, remains chronic now and has re-shaped the course of my life.

Back in 2000 I was married with two young children and working successfully at a Further Education College in Swansea, South Wales, UK. I was established in middle management and was a little obsessed with long distance running.

Somewhere along the way that voice that you all have, that tells you that you are not quite good enough as you are, got a lot louder. I blame Margaret Thatcher. She is an easy scapegoat. I am sure that I still had that nagging voice back pre Thatcher, but it all got a lot louder as the idea that you are all individuals and can achieve anything you want with hard work took strong hold.

Now don’t get me wrong here. I do believe in the idea of working hard and achieving your dreams. But there is, as in all aspects of your life, a balance to be struck. Somewhere in the early nineties in the UK this balance seemed to begin disappearing underneath the desire to prove that we were all working as hard, and achieving as much as we could. Performance culture was upon us.

In the world of Further Education this manifested as students being seen as ‘units of resource’ rather than young people who were learning how to make their way in the world. Measurement of performance came down to statistical analysis of retention (keeping the imps on course and in college) and attainment (ensuring that they passed the damn qualification they enrolled upon). These performance drivers along with stronger financial controls, devolved budgets, delegated management responsibilities and technological developments changed my working culture.

I embraced it all. I became the poacher turned gamekeeper. No longer the lecturer who was talented, but only just did enough to ensure all his boxes were ticked and then turned it on for the inspectors. I became a focused, organised and driven manager. And I had aspirations. So immersed was I in this striving culture that I was convinced that my future was in the highest echelons of college management.

Alongside this and running in obsessive parallel was my desire to run a marathon in under 4 hours. This all started with a manly challenge from my friend Simon. Back in the mid nineties I jogged just to remain fit enough to play football. I was in my thirties and loved 5 a side football. I occasionally jogged with Simon and we generally covered 3 miles or so at a steady pace. One day, halfway through our route we started talking about the upcoming Swansea 10K and Simon suggested that we enter, “Of course you couldn’t expect to beat me. I am eight years younger than you.” he said.

He was right – in the first year. After that I determined to prove him wrong and I did, getting faster each year and then graduating to longer distances. We did half marathons together, but Simon (wisely) balked at the idea of a marathon. Whereas I developed three month long training schedules, ran on through the weather and pain and ignored the fact that after 20 miles my body cried ‘enough’.

Consequences, there are always consequences to your choices. I started to get warnings. In 2004 I got lost in time when running through the Andalusian hills; completely focused upon the desire to find a circular route through the hills I lost track of time and scared my family into thinking that I had fallen into a dirty ditch.

When running on Swansea Bay beach one fine winter morning in the same year I kept banging my chest to clear my breath. I thought nothing of the constriction.

In the spring of 2005 I had an anaphylactic shock on the eve of the Edinburgh Marathon; literally on the night before. It took a few hours to settle back down to normal and my sleep was disrupted. I got up in the morning and ran the race.

Later that year I had my first ever injury playing 5 a side football. I tore my calf.

In the early autumn of 2005 when out training with a work colleague she told me that my breath sounded louder than normal.

Later during the autumn of 2005 I had five cold viruses with barely a week or two of stable health between each. I carried on running and working through them all. My tongue looked like a map of the Lake District, with dark patches representing the lakes.

Each time it registered briefly, then left me. The possibility that my body was struggling to cope did not pass through my conscious mind. I was not paying attention.

It all came tumbling down in January 2006. During a lunchtime training run from the College, running back up the hill, my throat suddenly closed up. I could not get the next breath in without stopping. I paused, realised that continuing to run up the hill was out, and walked slowly. I have never run since. My breath is permanently compromised. I have scar tissue on my trachea that has reduced my capacity to breathe. My vocal chords are swollen and my voice is one that is ideal for late night radio. Whilst this is now OK and I lead a full and engaged life, the intervening ten years have seen a lot of difficulty and every aspect of my life has seen major change.

My online courses in Mindful Photography are inspired by how mindfulness and photography supported me through those years of challenging health. How they provided me with a creative outlet and a means by which to explore my life choices, my habits and behaviours and to develop a deeper understanding of what it means to be a human being.

I find it ironic that it was not paying attention that has led me to the practice of paying attention!

Why an online course?

Back in 2014 I thought of creating a course in Mindful Photography. I did not believe that what was available in the field of contemplative photography really supported both the development of brilliance as a photographer and the self knowledge that mindfulness opens the door to.

So I created an email course that was loosely based upon the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (the sutra first shared 2500 years ago by the Buddha) and inspired by more recent understanding by the medical community, and specifically the MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) created by Jon Kabat Zinn.

The email course went pretty well and left me keen to expand it into an online course. My first attempt at this was a DIY effort using WordPress templates and it all fell apart after a few months (the website, not the content!)

Since then super smart content management software and companies have come into the market and it is with one of those (Teachable – very easy to use) I have developed my new course. It follows the structure and content of the email course, but includes new areas of mindful photography development, over six hours of videos, 14 more photography activities and a private Facebook group to support the students, share photos and discussion.

If I have intrigued you, keep an eye on the blog or sign up for the free eBook below and then you’ll get regular information from me.

I hope to see you online very soon!

What is McMindfulness?

I first heard the word ‘McMindfulness’ a few months back. It is being used to describe the increasingly popular application of the word mindful to other activities. For example: mindful eating, mindful walking, mindful anything. There is an element of sarcasm attached to the ‘Mc’, implying that everything is becoming mindful these days. Of course both this opinion and the McMindfulness term are bandied about in the media just to increase sales or website traffic.

What about Mindful Photography?

Whilst I develop my online course in mindful photography I reflect upon my research and sources. Initially, I hope that what I create will be an extension of my own meditation practice. I am aware of mindfulness from several Buddhist books aimed at the western reader and from them I understand that mindfulness, at its root, is about being present in the moment. One could be mindful about whatever one was doing: reading these words, washing the dishes or taking a photograph.

I am also aware of the secular re-interpretation of mindfulness as a practice for stress reduction (MBSR) and for depression (MBCT) and its adoption by organisations and businesses as a support for stressed workers.

I think it is fair to say that I my Online Course in Mindful Photography is a personal reflection of how mindfulness can be developed through photography. Initially I was influenced by the practice of Contemplative Photography, but I felt that it did not go far enough to support the photographer who wanted to improve their photographic skills as well as create mindfully.

I am also aware that mindfulness is most effective when supported by a whole life approach, such as the eightfold path. To say that mindfulness is a panacea for all the stress caused through work is rather too simplistic (politicians and media commentators). One does not have to become a Buddhist, but an exploration of what the eightfold path might look like reflected in one’s own life can only help to support a balanced and harmonious life.

Course Developments

This website centres upon the development of mindfulness through photography. This manifests through a mindful blog and my Online Course that will launch in September 2017. The course will include innovative resources and mindful photography practices that support a mindful approach to photography and life. It will both apply mindfulness to learning photography and help you to develop mindfulness through your photography! It will also support you to start an investigation into how photography can support personal enquiry into your life.

McMindfulness may be a media backlash to the exponential growth in interest and application of mindfulness. But let us not forget that this wisdom is 2500 years old and will still be around when we are long gone. Mindfulness is a support for your busy life. Its suggestion that you remain aware of your sensations, your thoughts, your feelings and the one thing that you are doing now is a reminder of how you can be completely present in your own life. And that can only support you to live an engaged, holistic and authentic life.

Mindful Photography Courses

I have recently updated my Mindful Photography Course page to make it a little clearer.

There are two course offers, how exciting! Each is 8 weeks in length and can be delivered to people aged 7 to 70 and for any group. Pupils, students, participants, staff and service users will all benefit.

‘Applying Mindfulness to Photography’ covers an introduction to Mindfulness and Mindful Photography and three key topics.

Clear Seeing – how you can improve your seeing and use seeing as your mindful anchor.

Photo Thinking – how you can hold all those photographic thoughts and remain present with the visual

Mindful Attitudes – how 9 core attitudes can be developed through photography

The course includes Mindful Photography Practices to support the development of your skills and understanding

The second course is ‘Developing Mindfulness through Photography’ This is also 8 weeks and builds upon the skills and practices in the first course and introduces two key topics.

Present Feeling – how you can develop your ability to connect to your emotions and communicate this through your photography

Mindful Living – how you can explore your notion of self through photography, touching upon your living through loss and change and the fear generated through these experiences. You will learn Mindful Photography Practices that support your journey through this challenging terrain.

Take a look and if you would like to know more Contact me

 

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

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.

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!

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.

Photo Walkshops!

“What’s it all about?” you may ask. A Photo Walkshop is like a photo workshop but most of the tuition happens on the move. I have designed a series of three Photo Walkshops for Spring, all in Swansea. In fact they will all be based from my house in cosmopolitan Brynmill. I’ve chosen to offer these from my home as there are fantastic walks that can be used to deliver the skills and adventures in photography that I want you to explore, from my front door.

The next Photo Walkshop in the Spring Series ‘Adventures in Photography’ is on Saturday 22nd April. Each Photo Walkshop will begin with some theory and a challenge. Each will then provide a guided walkshop, with a route map and photography guidance as you walk. Each will then return to base, provide homemade cake (yum!) and hot drinks, before we review your favourite photos.

Places are limited to 10, to provide opportunity for 1 to 1 tuition as you follow your photo challenge.

This  walkshop is titled ‘Inner vs Outer World’ for a very obvious reason! Your photo challenge will encourage photographic exploration that reflects your connection to the scene in front of you. Prepare to have your creativity fired.

Take a look at the rest of the Walkshops and if you like the sound of them you can book NOW!

Developing Mindfulness through Photography

Mindful Photography is mindfulness applied to the process of creating a photograph

Mindful Photography is mindfulness developed through photography. It starts with seeing clearly and extends through the technical and compositional choices, towards an encouragement to align your eye, your mind and your heart whilst you are completely present.

There is a lot to unpack in that definition, so let’s start at the beginning. Where does the term Mindful Photography come from?

If you enter the term into a popular search engine and review the sites that are presented you quickly come to a conclusion; it is being used by many people to mean different things. However, the general consensus is that Mindful Photography is the development of mindfulness through photography and strong identification is often made for its links with Buddhism. So let’s start there.

Contemplative Photography

When one first explores the idea of applying mindfulness to using a camera, the practice of contemplative photography becomes relevant. The main evolution of the practice of contemplative photography seems to have been through Buddhism.

Buddhism has a rich tradition of expressing wisdom and realisation through the arts and it seems that the Lama Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche may have been the first to have used his camera as an exploration into clear seeing. This history is explained by Michael Wood (the co-author of The Practice of Contemplative Photography: Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes) on his website. He explains Buddhism’s connection with clear seeing thus,

“Buddhism is concerned with clear seeing because clear seeing is the ultimate antidote for confusion and ignorance. Attaining liberation from confusion and ignorance is Buddhism’s raison d’être. Clear seeing is a primary concern for the art of photography because clear seeing is the source of vivid, fresh images—photography’s raison d’être.”

Buddhism is not the only religious tradition to have seen the possibility of photography as contemplative, reflective tool. The book The Tao of Photography offers a Taoist approach, considering how photography and The Way can be mutually supportive.

I have also read Christian based explorations. In The Little book of Contemplative Photography Howard Zehr relates the Christian tradition of contemplation to clear seeing with a camera. Does that sound familiar?

Clear Seeing

One thing that all these explanations have in common is that it is the process of clear seeing that is central to being at one with the present moment; to connecting with what you are experiencing. When I practice Mindful Photography my first intention is to use what I see as my anchor. I walk, with my camera, observing the world. I am not looking for a photograph I am observing the visual panorama before me. Every time I notice that my mind has wandered into planning, reflecting or judging I come back to the seeing.

Then there will come a moment of visual stimulation, something will ‘catch my eye’. I stop and rest in that moment. I try to stay with what it was that stopped me, connecting to the visual nature of the scene.

Finally, I receive the photograph. This is achieved by creating the equivalent of what I see with my camera. I consider where to place the rectangular frame. Maybe I move in or zoom in, or both. It is almost inevitable that during this final stage my clear seeing will be influenced by barriers; these include photo thinking, excitement, conceptualisation and judgement. I notice these thoughts and return to the visual stimulation that first stopped me. Press the shutter and walk on.

How do we see clearly?

Those barriers to clear seeing each have a lot to them. Let’s start with conceptualisation as that has the clearest link to the process of seeing.

Your eyes see light. It is your mind that then makes sense of what you see. In micro seconds your mind assembles all that visual information and applies labels. Colours, three dimensional depth, form, shape, pattern and texture are identified and the objects are given names.

But your camera doesn’t see like that. It captures light, just a small rectangle (not the almost 180 degrees that you see) in two dimensions. It does not know what it is seeing. So to ‘create the equivalent’ of what stopped you in that moment of visual stimulation you need to see like a camera. Claude Monet explained this clearly.

“In order to see we must forget the name of the thing we are looking at”

In forgetting the name, or label, we start to see the light. Is that easy? Oh no, it takes practice, lots of practice. In fact as Malcolm Gladwell suggested in Outliers it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a master of anything. This truth is fundamental to our development as Mindful Photographers particularly when we consider the photo thinking – the technical and compositional ideas that underpin successful photographs – that swirl about our mind when we are trying to see clearly.

I believe that Mindful Photography must build upon the foundations offered through contemplative photography. It must offer practices that support your intention to remain with your clear seeing, whilst all that photo thinking and emotional experience is occurring. As you develop as a photographer, as you learn the technical and compositional context, there are mindful photography techniques and practices that you can follow that will help: wherever you are on that journey of 10,000 hours.

What are these techniques and how can you learn them? Read on…

Mindful Photography Practices

I have created many activities that can help you to develop a mindful approach to life through your photography. I call these activities Mindful Photography Practices.

Each one of the practices is an activity designed to either apply mindfulness to the art and science of photography, or to support your development of a mindful life through photography. Within this exploration of life and photography there is an opportunity to become more familiar with who and how you are.

What you need is an example! Here is an example of a mindful photography practice that will support you on this exploration.

What happens when you practice mindfulness?

When you practice mindfulness, be it simply sitting for meditation, following a mindful movement practice like yoga or engaging in a mindful photography practice, you have the opportunity to notice what your mind is doing. Many people new to mindfulness have an expectation that it will help them respond skilfully, rather than react habitually, to the stress in their lives. This is true it will, but there is more to be aware of.

As you focus upon just doing one thing (sitting and following the breath) you begin to notice how busy and noisy your mind is. As you continue to practice over many days, months and years this experience allows you to become more aware of your mind’s habitual thinking. It is quite possible, even likely, that the more you practice the more older thoughts and feelings will arise.

These previously well buried thoughts and feelings emerge into the space and quietness that you have created. You may find this very uncomfortable. I have a mindful photography practice I am going to share here that may help you hold this experience with gentleness, as you move towards accepting what you are experiencing.

Mindful Photography Practice – Feel the photo

This practice is designed to support you through a time when you are experiencing thoughts and feelings that you do not like. You may be angry, upset, annoyed, frustrated, fearful or confused. Whatever it is that you are finding uncomfortable this practice is for those times.

  • Set up your camera in a shooting mode that you can use instinctively. Auto is fine, or if you prefer a little more control use aperture priority (choose an aperture of f8 and ISO auto).
  • Turn off your view screen so that you cannot see or review what you are creating. If you are not sure how to do this tape a piece of card or paper over the view screen, taking care not to cover any essential buttons. You can create photos by looking through the viewfinder or just shoot blind, from the hip!
  • The purpose of this is to tune you in to what you are feeling and release the control you may experience about creating photos.
  • When you are experiencing strong emotion, set your camera up as explained above, and go walking with your camera.
  • Choose any location you feel drawn to.
  • As you walk do not look for a photo opportunity, just walk, paying attention to what you can see
  • Notice the thoughts and feelings that relate to your difficulty.
  • At some point something will catch your eye. Stop and consider what it is.
  • Move closer. Frame tightly. Create the photo and move on.
  • Repeat this, paying attention to your feelings and the visual feast before you.
  • Act instinctively and release your attachment to what your photos look like.
  • Finish when you feel ready.
  • Return home and DO NOT LOOK at your photos! Leave it a day.
  • Next day review your photos and notice the feelings you experience.

It you find this practice useful please share it with your friends.

10 reasons to embrace Mindful Photography

My top 10 reasons to embrace mindful photography are outlined below. These may stimulate more questions for you than they answer. Some of those will be explored in my forthcoming online course. In the meantime I am happy to answer any questions you may have, just use my website contact page.

1) Learn how to see like a camera – A camera does not know the name of anything in its viewfinder. It sees light. You can learn to see the light, but you must forget the name of things!

2) Use what you see as your anchor – In meditation the breath is often used as an anchor; the thing we return to when we notice sensations, thoughts or feelings playing out across our mind. In Mindful Photography we return to the seeing.

3) Develop your photography skills and knowledge whilst remaining connected to the visual feast before you -My online course will explain how you can use the visual feast before you to return to the present and create photographs that capture that moment.

4) Express how you are feeling with a photograph – Photography can be used to explore and represent emotional experiences that are current or past. It can be literal, metaphorical or symbolic. Or it can just be a photo of something that resonates for you.

5) Use photography as a vehicle for self enquiry – The more you practice mindfulness the more you discover about yourself. Photography can be used to explore your world and can act as the intermediary between your inner world and the outer one.

6) Cultivate your ability to let go of unwanted thoughts and feelings through mindful photography practices This is perhaps one of the greatest challenges that mindfulness and meditation can support you with. Practicing mindfulness provides the opportunity and training to recognise the thoughts and feelings that are playing through your mind. There are mindful photography practices you can follow to support your intention to allow these to dissolve.  I provide these on my new online course.

7) Develop patience in your world through understanding and accepting your development as photographer The journey to mastery in any skill may take 10,000 hours (Malcom Gladwell in Outliers). There are mindful photography practices you can follow that support your development. These allow the quality of patience to develop as you pay attention to the thoughts and feelings that arise in the process of learning your craft.

8) Develop your ability to see the world as if for the first time – A beginner’s mind is a mindful attitude. It is one that you can apply to the practice of creating photographs. If you choose to return regularly to the same location, to spend time slowly exploring the visual feast available you may begin to see beauty which once eluded you. At this familiar place you can practice “giving the mundane its beautiful due” as John Updike suggested. This ability, cultivated through mindful photography, can support you to look at your daily experience with fresh eyes.

9) Develop trust in your own feelings – If you are to create photographs that are personal, unique and authoritative then you must listen to your heart, as well as your head. You can learn to trust and follow your own intuitive guide. If you cultivate this skill through mindful photography practices it will begin to seep through to the rest of your world.

10) Bring mindfulness into another aspect of your life – Mindfulness does not have to be limited to the meditation cushion that is merely the training zone! As Jon Kabat-Zinn said, “Mindfulness applied to any activity turns it into a kind of meditation.” By developing mindfulness through photography we expand our potential to be fully present in our life.

Don’t miss Developing Mindfulness through Photography Part 2

The Snapshot Girls

A while back I was invited to share some ideas around Mindful Photography with local photography group the Snapshot Girls. I met one of their founder members Hannah at the Peg Talks and we got talking about photography. A couple of months later I spent a fun evening with them at their monthly meet up at the hip bar Noah’s in the Uplands of Swansea.

The Snapshot Girls were formed in 2012 with the intention of sharing ‘Fun, Photos and Friendship’ and they love all forms of photography and photos whether they’re blurred, brilliant or both!

I spent an hour or so talking through an introduction to what Mindful Photography is and how I came to apply and develop mindfulness through photography. Then I set them a little mindful photography practice and they shared their favourite photo from the practice.

I finished the session by setting them some ‘homework’ which was another mindful photography practice and they were encouraged then to complete it and share their experiences with the group. Yesterday Hannah sent me everybody’s favourite photo and they accompany this post.

So, if you are female, live in or around Swansea and love photography why don’t you get in touch with them?

alley beads cefnbryn-4029 cefnbryn-4030 dsc02792 img_7378 img_7714 shadows

 

1 to 1 Tutorial

Seeing in colour

I had my first 1 to 1 tutorial for a while last Saturday. Mia is a 15 year old interested in art and photography and her Mum felt that my approach to photography might be something what would help her.

We met on a very wet morning at the bandstand in Porthcawl and spent the first few minutes discussing what she knew and how we could progress whilst the heavens opened. Mia had brought along her sister’s robust compact camera, so I decided I would swap cameras with her. This meant that I was able to set the DSLR up so that she had to use the viewfinder, not the screen and could not review the photos she had just taken.

The first task I set challenged Mia to create photographs that had colour as a theme. I asked her to think about how a camera sees, not knowing the name of anything and respond instinctively. Meanwhile I followed the same task with the compact camera. I was really enjoying the creative limitation when the battery failed! Meanwhile Mia carried on and after a while we reviewed photos at a shelter near the harbour.

These are some of my favourite photos from Mia’s photos

img_8057 img_8064 img_8096 img_8105

Mundane can be beautiful

After the review I set the next task and asked Mia to create 20 photos, no more or less, of anything within the vicinity of the shelter. She had 15 minutes for the task, could not see the view screen and was challenged to ‘give the mundane its beautiful due’ (John Updike). She then, after reviewing her photos, was allowed to choose one favorite. This is it.

It is interesting to review someone else’s photos, see what they like and consider what they are drawn to create and what might be missing. I am looking forward to our next exploration in seeing.

img_8138

I did the same challenge, but this time with my mobile phone camera. I do like a creative limitation! Here are my favourite photos from the task.

dsc_0885 dsc_0889 dsc_0894