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(Not) Serene

I went to the park yesterday with the goal of creating a photo to illustrate the word serene. It did not turn out as I expected. In fact the only photo I liked of the set created (the one in this post) echoed how I was feeling rather than what I had intended. Demonstrating that what I teach is in fact true!

On my online course, and at workshops and live courses I teach about how to illustrate a feeling with a photo. In summary there are two approaches.

  1. Learn all the ways in which you can use the elements of design (shape, form, colour – or tone in b&w, line, texture pattern and space) to indicate a feeling. This relates to our cultural interpretations and familiarity with the visual elements. A good example of our cultural interpretations can be found with our emotional reaction to colour. Just think about how red or golden yellow make your feel. How much of that feeling is culturally driven?
  2. Alternatively you can just go out when you are experiencing a strong emotion, pay attention to what you are seeing, not look for a photo and then see what presents itself. I know that this instruction is a little Zen like. To see, but not look. But I can guarantee that it does allow something to happen that is quite magical, a connection with how you are feeling. However, you do have to practice.

Back to yesterday, and the serene photo. I went out with a goal and some preconceived ideas. I did not practice what I preach! It was a glorious day and I combined a few ideas about what I imagined would provide a serene photo with some technical experimentation in camera.

It was all a bit too much. I was trying to hard and nothing really flowed. I became a little agitated. BUT (and it is a big but for me) I noticed. I stopped trying, went and sat down on a bench in the crisp brilliant sunshine and had a cup of tea.

I sat and I just looked. I occasionally created a photo. I took a sip of tea. I chatted with a local. I rested. In this slowing down I became more present, although still a little preoccupied with my goal. I reviewed my photos and noticed that one (the one here) illustrated my emotional experience just after I had stopped trying.

The photo made me feel a little unsettled and I wasn’t sure why. Now I know. It reflected my disappointment at not achieving my goal, my restlessness, my trying to hard. There is something a little unbalanced and forced about it for me. It has done exactly what I have summarised above in point 2. It has connected with how I felt.

When you go out experiencing an emotion and don’t look for a photo you may well find that you are drawn to create photos that reflect your inner world.

“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

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ME – Multiple Exposure

ME or Multiple exposure is as old as photography. Back in film days it often happened by accident when you forgot to wind on after taking a shot, then the second image would be superimposed on the first. It is also something that I have experimented with in the past using a Holga camera – a medium format film toy camera. The image below was created in the cold Winter of 2011, and was created from three consecutive exposures.

Digital ME

When I owned a Canon 5D II I had hoped to be able to create digital versions of the technique, but Canon didn’t introduce the feature until the mark III was released.

This week I have been editing my Mindful Photography book (again) and rediscovered the art of Chris Friel a creative genius with ME and ICM (Intentional Camera Movement). He uses a Canon 5D III and is  self-effacing about his intriguing creations.

It was reading about his technical choices that reminded me that my Fuji X-T2 might have the facility to create ME photos. I checked and it does, although there are limitations with its use. Only two images can be combined in camera, whereas the Canons can combine many more.

I also noted in Chris’s generous advice that he uses many extreme settings in camera and tries to avoid doing much post editing work, only doing minor adjustments in Lightroom. This appealed to me. I like to work as much in camera as possible and it seemed to me that ME had the possibility of creating work that was an emotional response to found scenes, rather than documenting them.

A Mindful Approach

Of course being a photographer who is practicing living a mindful life I have started to consider a mindful approach to experimenting with ME and have come up with the following 7 steps. They are equally applicable to any genre or photographic technique.

  1. Read and study the skill. This is a great start.
  2. Understand the possibilities and limitations of your camera.
  3. Go to a location with possibility, stay in one place and practice.
  4. After each photo review what you have done and consider changes.
  5. Be compassionate with your creations. They are signposts to your path forwards.
  6. Share your art and get feedback.
  7. Keep practicing, refining, reading, studying, comparing and distilling what you create. Your aim is to discover what you like. Your photos only need to please you. Feedback from others is interesting and potentially helpful, but ultimately if you like the photo then that is enough.

In the spirit of being a teacher who practices what he preaches, I have started practicing. The photo below is my favourite from a set I took at twilight last night on Swansea Bay. I invite your comments! The extreme colours were created by playing with the white balance, the highlight tones, shadow tones and colour settings in camera.

Chris Friel recommends NOT combining ICM with ME. I get that, but I decided to experiment with it anyway. Hence the rather soft defocused nature of the tree. I believe there is possibility here and will continue to practice.

It struck me today, whilst out walking at the beautiful Langland bay that a ME selfie would make the perfect header image. The me in ME! Here it is below in all its glory. I will continue to practice and refine how and why I use this technique. I am interested in its ability to convey emotion experienced through visual elements of design and the blurring of what we consider reality. Watch out for more ME!

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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.

 

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My Path

“I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads.  Not knowing where I am going is what inspires me to travel it.” – Rosalia De Castro

I have been a little preoccupied of late. Very busy living life; fulfilling commitments, completing tasks. It leaves little room for reflection and contemplation. As a consequence my blog posts have echoed this period, with plenty of feedback upon my live and online courses. Nothing wrong with that of course, but just occasionally it helps to stop, get quieter, be a little less driven, reflect upon where you are at and contemplate the path ahead.

I was sent the quote that heads this post by my Mum last night. She lives in Canada and dutifully sends me things she comes across that she thinks I will find interesting. The quote comes from a novel about a man who restores old photographs, and I have a few more quotes she sent to call on too.

Following the path

I particularly resonated with this quote. Since I quit my part time job in May I have been working freelance. This has involved a period of re-adjustment and of course, trying to generate work that pays! I have launched my online course and I am delivering a live version of it to Brain Trauma Injury survivors. Both are going well.

I also have project work with the Arts Council Wales, working with schools, pupils and artists to deliver creative learning. It’s great fun, inspiring and interesting. It is also, like all contracted work, short term. I know what I will be doing, work wise, up until June 2018, but beyond that it is a mystery.

I kinda know the path I am on. It involves developing and delivering more mindful photography courses and workshops, both live and online. This resonates with my own personal exploration and intention to live as authentically as possible. The two aspects are intertwined and together form the path.

What I am uncertain about is what lands I will travel and where the path will take me. That is both the attraction and the uncertainty of the path. And as Rosalia De Castro said, ‘…….not knowing where I am going inspires me to travel it.’ But occasionally it is seems helpful to stop, look back at the path travelled so far, look ahead at it disappearing over the hill and wonder at the magic that keeps me on track.

 

 

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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!

 

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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.

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Zen reasons to love photography

What is Zen?

“To study Buddhism is to study the self, to study the self is to forget the self.” Dogen Zenji

OK, let’s start with a definition. Or let’s not! For that’s how slippery Zen is. For there are those that suggest that defining Zen is like describing the taste of honey to someone who has not tasted it. Sure you can relate it to other things, explain its texture, its colour and so on. But to taste it is the experience. The only way to know what it tastes like is to taste it.

It’s the same for Zen, it is an experience. But perhaps a little explanation would help. Here’s one from the website Zen Buddhism.

“At the heart of the Japanese culture lies Zen. Zen is, first and foremost, a practice that was uninterruptedly transmitted from master to disciple, and that goes back to the a man named Siddhārtha Gautama – The Buddha – 2500 years ago in India.

The practice of Zen meditation or Zazen is the core of Zen Buddhism: without it, there is no Zen. Zen meditation, is a way of vigilance and self-discovery which is practised while sitting on a meditation cushion. It is the experience of living from moment to moment, in the here and now. Zazen is an attitude of awakening, which when practised, can become the source from which all the actions of daily life flow – eating, sleeping, breathing, walking, working, talking, thinking, and so on.

Zen Buddhism is not a theory, an idea, or a piece of knowledge. It is not a belief, dogma, or religion; but rather, it is a practical experience. Zen is not a moral teaching, and as it is without dogma, it does not require one to believe in anything. A true spiritual path does not tell people what to believe in; rather it shows them how to think; or, in the case of Zen – what not to think.”

All clear now? Mmmm, I know it’s slippery. But at the heart of that definition is the knowledge that it starts with just sitting and extends out to all aspects of your life. Zen is mindfulness. It is the practice.

Perhaps the real question is why am I banging on about Zen?

Why Zen?

I will be very clear here. I am no expert, but I do believe that there is great merit in a Zen approach to photography. What do I mean? Zen is experiential. Zen is full and complete presence. Zen is paying complete attention to your present experience.

Everything I read about Zen reminds me of my mindful approach to photography. The foundation of Mindful Photography is clear seeing. Using what you see as your anchor, the thing that you return to whenever you notice that your busy mind has taken you into the past or future. In fact the 4 Stage Seeing Practice (that I share at all my workshops and courses) has as its first and second stages very Zen like features.

Stage 1 is all about anchoring yourself in the moment. It is a meditation upon your presence at your location. I encourage an awareness of the sights, sounds, smells, touches and what you can hear. This brings you into the moment. But it is Stage 2 that is most Zen like.

Stage 2 is all about the seeing. But it in the instruction that the challenge lies. I ask you to walk, to observe what you see, but not to look for a photo. It is this instruction that causes most confusion and resistance. After all why should you not look for a photo? That is what you are doing, looking for things to photograph.

Yet if you do not look, you will see more. How can that be? You will not be so limited by your mind’s interpretation of what would make a ‘good’ photo. If you keep yourself open to possibility, you may begin to dissolve that very strong drive of your mind to present you with things that you are familiar with or interested in. If you remain open and aware of this drive you may see more. You may see things that ordinarily you would have missed.

Of course what makes this practice most Zen like is that you will read this and you may not understand. It is experiential. You have to do the practice with the intention of following the instruction and an awareness of your mind’s tricks. Only then will it begin to make some sense when interesting sights present themselves, or you create a photo that in some way resonates with how you were feeling when you were there. A deeper connection develops and infuses your photos.

Zen Camera

David Ulrich has written a fabulous sounding book Zen Camera: Creative awakening with a daily practice in photography which is due out next March. He is an active photographer and writer whose work has been published in numerous books and journals including Aperture, Parabola, MANOA, and Sierra Club publications. Ulrich’s photographs have been exhibited internationally in over seventy-five one-person and group exhibitions in museums, galleries, and universities.

Here is a little bit about the book. Mine is on order!

“A beautifully illustrated guide to developing a daily photography practice that draws on mindfulness and Zen Buddhism. ‘Zen Camera’ is a photography and mindfulness programme that guides you to the creativity at your fingertips – literally – requiring nothing more than your smartphone or any other type of camera. You’ll learn how to use the camera in your pocket to explore self-expression as a photographer and produce photographs that are both wildly beautiful and unique. Gorgeously illustrated with full-colour photographs, David Ulrich’s lessons combine mindfulness principles with concrete exercises and the basic mechanics of taking a good photograph. He guides you through a programme of taking photos every day and also offers insight into the nature of seeing, art and attention.”

PS The Photos

The photos were all created during a Mindful Photography practice that centered upon a consideration of my Point of View. As you might be able to tell I created the photos on a wet day in a children’s play park (in autumn of course!). I spent around 30 minutes slowly walking around the space stopping at each piece of equipment to consider how I could create an arresting photo. Did I succeed?

A Tour of my Online Course

LIVE! with a 20% discount until 18th October 2017

Mindful Photography 1 – How becoming mindful can help you to create fabulous photos is LIVE! Maybe you have not yet enrolled on the FREE Introduction to Mindful Photography 4 Day Challenge and wonder what it is all about.

How about a little tour of the content of the full course so you can get a little feel of what to expect?

 

Course Content

Mindful Photography 1 – How becoming mindful can help you to create fabulous photos is the world’s first online course in Mindful Photography. It will help you to develop mindfulness through photography. And you will create fabulous photos!

This course will develop your ability to see a photograph. It will demonstrate how seeing can be used as an anchor and turn photography into a mindful practice. It will share mindful photography practices that support your development as a photographer, whilst also becoming more mindful.

The course draws inspiration from two key sources. The Four Foundations of Mindfulness (from 2500 years ago) and the modern application of mindfulness to support us in stressful times (the MBSR – mindfulness based stress reduction).

This is Part 1 of a fresh and innovative way of developing your skills as a photographer and will cover three key topics:

Clear Seeing

This topic is all about turning photography into a mindful practice. I share a Four Stage Seeing Practice that will develop your ability to use what you see as an anchor, to bring you totally back to the moment. This will develop your ability to see everything that is front of you. Yes, everything. Just like a camera does. Oh, did I mention that you will also learn how to see like a camera! And you will discover the barriers that can get in the way of clear seeing.

Photo Thinking

This topic will support your development as a photographer. Offering mindful photography practices that support your journey to photographic brilliance. These practices support you to hold all the technical and compositional knowledge and skills gently, whilst being rooted in the moment and seeing the photographic opportunities.

Each practice provides a way of developing your photography skills whilst your ability to see the potential of a scene for a personal and resonant photo is enhanced.

Mindful Attitudes

This topic is an introduction to ten attitudes that support the development of a mindful life. Each mindful attitude is described with a personal interpretation and then is applied to photography. A Mindful Photography Practice is provided for each attitude to support your personal and photographic development.

What does each topic include?

There are 2 Modules in each Topic – that’s 6 modules in all.

Each module includes videos, slideshows and Mindful Photography Practices.

There are 20 Mindful Photography Practices all together. These photography activities will help you to learn and develop mindfulness and photography skills, and compliment the videos and slideshows. Every Mindful Photography Practice can be done many times. They truly are mindful practices that will help you develop as a photographer and in life!

Each Mindful Photography Practice will result in you creating some fabulous photos which you will then share with the Course Community in our private Facebook group. I will comment on your photos and look forward to discussing your experiences with you in the group. This is a fabulous support for everyone who enrolls on the course, providing guidance,discussion and contact with like minded people all over the world!

There are 3 eBooks too! One for each topic- with the whole text, illustrative photos and the mindful photography practices.

What are you waiting for?

If you are an avid photographer and have a curiosity about mindfulness then this is the course for you.

If you would like to develop your ability to create personal, resonant, fabulous photos then this is the course for you.

You can try the Introduction the Mindful Photography 4 Day Challenge for FREE. This 4 day video course will provide greater detail on each of the three course topics, a mindful photography practice designed to slow down your photography process and an invitation to join our private Facebook Group.

Just click on the button!

 

 

Mindful Photography Course – Week 2

This week was all about developing a Mindful Photography Practice where Seeing was our anchor. Clear Seeing was the key topic and we looked at what that is and how it is that we see. We then compared how we see to how a camera sees and began the process of noticing those differences.

The foundation of Mindful Photography is the Four Stage Seeing Practice. This is the practice I share on all of my courses and workshops and stands at the heart of developing our ability to be present with our desire to create photos.

Like meditation the Four Stage Seeing Practice is easy to understand, but difficult to remain present with. But if we are to create fabulous photographs then we must learn to see – everything that is in front of us. And seeing everything that is there is not as easy as it sounds. Our minds consistently trick us, presenting those things that we are interested in, rather than the totality of all that is in front of us.

Of course they do this to help to support our progress through the day and to keep us safe. But it also limits our visual experience and if we are to create fabulous, resonant photos then we need to develop our Clear Seeing.

Ordinary Beauty

We followed two Mindful Photography Practices to develop our Clear Seeing. The first one was based on a quote by John Updike – ‘giving the mundane its beautiful due’ and challenged everyone to create beautiful photos from an ordinary object. Here are our favourites

Seeing in Colour

Our second Mindful Photography Practice centred upon the creation of photos where colour was the key feature. It was fascinating to reflect that whilst we followed these two practices students following the full Online Course in Mindful Photography were doing the same activities in different parts of the world. Here are our favourites.

 

Ruth’s Story – How Mindful Photography helped me

Today’s blog post is a personal story from a friend of mine who is also a Mindful Photographer. Ruth’s story is a personal account of how mindful photography has helped with her wellbeing and mental health. It is an honest account of living with difficulty and how mindfulness combined with a creative outlet can support you to live with the experience.

Mindful Photography: a tool for improved mental health

In September 2014 photography started to take on a whole new meaning to me. For some time I had struggled with episodes of anxiety and depression and I was going through a particularly challenging time. I decided to attend a retreat “The Photography of Being” in Scotland for a week.

I allowed myself to feel the debts of my thoughts and spent a couple of days immersing myself in the darkness of the dense mossy wood where I was staying. As the week went by I started to feel lighter and found myself coming out into the open, where I observed the movement of the running stream and the beauty of the nearby Loch.

The warm autumn colours were already in their full glory and I lay on the ground and bathed in their warmth. My series of photographs from the week show my process of being in the dark and coming out into the light. The experience was incredibly therapeutic.

Breakdown

A year later, I experienced what at the time I called a full on breakdown. I was overwhelmed and burnt out and my body forced me to stop. Fear got the better of me and I was not able to work for a few months. As part of my recovery I went for walks in the beautiful woods and commons where I live in Stroud in the Cotswolds. I took my camera or my mobile phone with me and found myself asking nature to support me.

I allowed myself to be guided instinctively towards particular places, objects, colours, textures, shapes, patterns, and areas of light, dark, or shadow that caught my eye. I looked at the detail as well as the bigger picture. I started to ‘be’ fully present in the moment, to breathe and to experience what I was looking at, not only through my eyes, but through all my senses. Sometimes I would take photos; sometimes I would simply look. I found that nature would ‘speak’ to me through my eyes or the lens and help me look at my life with a fresh perspective.

Mindful Photography

As part of my recovery I also renewed my interest in mindfulness; I had participated in an 8-week mindfulness course some years previously, which was helpful but in some ways added to the stress I was feeling at the time – it was another thing I had to do! This time though, I instinctively thought: mindfulness + photography = mindful photography.

Over the past year or so I have been sharing mindful photography through the photography walks, workshops, commissions, projects and talks that I offer through my photography business Look Again, which I launched in 2012.

And it was with great delight that I found that other people were also practising mindful photography. I was particularly drawn to the work of Lee Aspland, who I have since met and has now kindly asked me to write this blog!

Breakthrough

What I realise now is that my breakdown was in fact a breakthrough. Mindful photography has become a practice that I use to help myself deal with my own mental health challenges and that I love to share with individuals, communities, organisations and businesses through my work with Look Again. It’s wonderful to slow down, look, look again and see with new eyes.

Please contact me or visit Look Again to find out more.

Mindful Photography Practice on the Gower Peninsula

As you may have seen in my last post 5 Mindful Photography Tips to help you create fabulous photos I recently followed a mindful photography practice on the beautiful Gower Peninsula.

I am fortunate to live a short 15 minute drive from the south coast of this ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’. The beach at Pwlldu was viewable on my circular walk, one of my favourites on this section of the glorious Welsh Coastline, and features in this small selection of favourite photos from the practice.

 

5 Mindful Photography Tips to help you create fabulous photos

I have just got back from a mindful photography practice on the beautiful Welsh coastline and I was struck by the thought that it had provided me with an experience that I would not have had unless I had followed the practice.

Immediately I thought, how can I share this in a way that helps you! 

So here it is, a concise version of what happened and how mindful photography practice can support your creation of fabulous photos and reverberate mindful awareness through your life.

The Experience

I parked the car in a safe quiet car park, set my camera up in  Camera Scan Practice set up I use (Aperture Priority, f8 ISO 200 – it was a sunny day) and set my meditation timer to 1 hour.

I already had my 35mm prime lens attached to my Fuji XT-2 (roughly equivalent to the human eye’s focal length) and had a simple circular route planned to walk at a gentle pace. My intention was to use my 4 Stage Seeing Practice, and to return to what I could see every time my busy mind took me off to future plans or reviewing past events.

I walked at a steady pace, enjoying the warm sunshine on my face, the edge of autumn on the air and the signs of nature turning down towards winter. Each time something caught my eye I stopped, observed completely what it was that had taken my eye and then made choices about how to create the photo, before pressing the shutter and moving on.

Sometimes this process took a few minutes, sometimes only seconds. The length of time is immaterial, it is the attentive presence that is at the heart of a resonant photo that inhabits how that moment was for you.

Over the next hour I walked though my route and created around 15 photos. I did not review any of the photos as I created them, just pressed the shutter and moved on.

After completion I still had a little way to walk, and all uphill. As I reached the top of the lane, a flock crows flew over and I was aware of first my desire to create a photo of them flying over, and then my judging mind as I responded too slowly to capture the experience.

I stopped at the top and breathed. Partly to recover my breath and partly to attend to those feelings. I smiled to myself, compassionate with my judging mind and pulled my camera in front of me. As I did this a few crows flew back over, I lifted my camera and instinctively created the photo at the top of this email.

Of course as I was using a 35mm this photo has been cropped quite a bit, but I was struck by how my presence and timing had been able to create an image where this was possible and the crow was sharp against a blue, blue sky.

This experience is the inspiration for these 5 tips below that highlight the benefits of a mindful photography practice. I hope that you find them useful.

5 Tips for Fabulous Photos

  1. Plan a regular photography practice. Set aside at least one hour, once a week when all you are going to do is practice photography.
  2. Regularly use the same lens and camera set up. Familiarity with how the camera sees in relation to how you see will develop. Your ability to see like a camera will develop.
  3. Use a meditation timer to formalise your practice. I use the free Insight Timer app. This works even when there is no signal. This is ideal for then you can also turn your phone to airplane mode, to avoid distractions, and then the timer will log your practice when you next connect.
  4. Do not have a goal to create photos! Your intention is to walk with your camera and observe what presents itself to you. When something visually attracts you stop, breathe, really pay attention to what it is that has caught your eye. Notice the strong desire to ‘take’ a photo. Breathe. Consider how you will frame the photo. Consider if you have to move your feet or camera.
  5. Press the shutter and walk on. Release your desire to look at what you have created and return to your walk and the seeing.

After your practice don’t look at the photos straight away. Take your time, notice how you are. Return to somewhere quiet, get a cup of your favourite hot beverage and sit peacefully and review your photos.

As you look through each image be aware of your mind. Be gentle with the judging thoughts, the mind that says this photo is good and that photo is bad. Notice the judgement and smile. It’s OK, you noticed. Breathe and look through the photos. Notice how you are after the practice. Has it made a difference?

You can see my favourite photos from the practice here

 

Enroll on the FREE Course in Mindful Photography

All of the Mindful Photography Practices and ideas are introduced on my FREE course. It’s a 4 day video challenge that includes one practice and a link to a private Facebook group where you can share your favourite photos and comments, and see other people’s.

Just click on the link on this post and enjoy creating fabulous photos!

Happy Creating