I’m in the Amateur Photographer!

Last week I was fortunate enough to be featured in the UK’s oldest national photography magazine, The Amateur Photographer. In an interesting article about Mindful Photography I am one of three photographers who get to explain their take on this approach to photography.

When I first started using the term and developing my approach to Mindful Photography in 2013, I can’t say that I ever expected any degree of national recognition. The term was barely used and little understood. My development of this approach into an all encompassing way of mindfully developing your photography skills, has been 7 years in the making. It is now more than just applying mindfulness to photography.

What a joy to be asked to contribute to the article and to be seen as an authoritative voice on the topic. If you would like to know more about my approach do download the free eBook available here and maybe consider doing my 101 course – an introduction to Mindful Photography – it’s a bargain!

Pandemia

Pandemia is an exhibition of photos that I have been created to represent thoughts and feelings experienced during the Covid 19 Pandemic. As a contribution towards the final exhibition, I am hosting a free webinar to show some of my Pandemia photos and ask you to get involved by sharing how they make you feel.  

There will also be an opportunity to ask questions about the creation of the photos, and you will be able to contribute to the creation of new photos that represent some of your Covid 19 thoughts and feelings. The webinar will be recorded and will itself become part of the final exhibition. All participants will receive a copy of the recording.

The free webinar is at 2:30pm Tuesday 17th November and you can find out more and reserve your spot here. (Click on the information symbol at the top left of the page)

This work has been funded by Arts Council of Wales and The National Lottery.

Living well with difficulty

This post is shared in support of World Mental Health Day (10th October)

Yesterday started with difficulty. I was unsettled, ragged, insecure and confused. What was going on? There was nothing I could identify as a cause. I had slept well, was generally content and the day ahead looked interesting. However, I could not shake the feelings. I became uncertain about every little thing, unable to decide what to do next.

It took me a while to realise that I did not need to know what was going on; to accept that I did not like my feelings. Finally, I remembered my own Mindful Photography Activities, and particularly the one I have created for exactly this experience. So, I picked up my camera and favourite lens, set it up in my normal mode, turned my phone to ‘Do not disturb’, set a meditation timer for an hour and set out to my local environment to complete the activity.

There is something about being out in the fresh air; creating photos that respond to what I see and how I feel. It is a grounding and enriching experience. I found that the photos I initially created were full of simple lines and barriers. Later on, as I noticeably felt calmer, they lightened in tone, even became humourous. I had returned to myself.

The photos in this post are my favourites from this mindful photography activity.

Mindful Photography for Well-Being (Zoom Workshops Course)

I have decided that I need to share my thoughts, experience and mindful photography activities that can help you to live well with difficulty.

We can all get overwhelmed by difficult feelings at times. Without doubt these challenging times we are living through can magnify this experience. Sometimes the feelings manifest as discomfort, sometimes anxiety. Sometimes it becomes debilitating. At these times we need help. Professional help can be essential, but also practical creative activities and genuine community support can help to shift our feelings.

This course explores living well with difficulty. It reviews the impact major change, significant loss and ongoing difficulty can have in our lives. I know, I have lived through some major life changes, and significant losses. I have used mindful photography to help understand what was happening and to slowly move towards the acceptance of the changes.

The course will be delivered in 6 live workshops with me in January and February 2021. There will be a maximum of 12 places available. This is so that I can support you, keep the space safe and explore the challenges in your life with compassion, honesty and authenticity, through the creation of mindful photos.

It is suitable for all levels of ability, and all cameras. And you can see more about the content by clicking on the button below. If you have any questions about the course please use the contact form

Practice makes perfect

Or does it? There is some disagreement. It generally goes like this: if you practice the wrong skills everyday you will ingrain bad habits, not perfection. I prefer Michael Jordan’s take on this.

“You can practice shooting eight hours a day, but if your technique is wrong, then all you become is very good at shooting the wrong way. Get the fundamentals down and the level of everything you do will rise.” Michael Jordan

Michael knew a thing or two about excellence. Sure he was super talented, but he still practiced – a lot. Practice is a habit, but it also needs to be mindful. You need to pay attention to what you are doing. You need advice, guidance, support and a compassionate, curious, constructively critical mind. Practice for me is honing my skills, but I know I will make mistakes. That is part of the practice; noticing them, correcting them and absorbing the difference. Then practicing again.

As Michael Jordan suggests the fundamentals are everything. So what are the fundamentals (or as I call them the Foundations) of Mindful Photography?

The Foundations of Mindful Photography

The photo above and the others illustrating this post are from one of my recent Mindful Photography Practices around a local park. I use the Insight timer (a free app) to set a one hour period and followed some creative limitations that I recommend to help develop your seeing skills and support the development of your photography skills. What are they you ask? They include the limited time period, a limit on the number of photos you create (20 in this case), no deleting, and no reviewing of each photo created.

What is the purpose of these limitations? To encourage you to pay attention to what is in front of you – what you see, and to focus upon your use of photography skills – technique and composition. There is more to it than this brief explanation, but that is at the heart of it and is at the core of the next online course I am developing, ‘Foundations in Mindful Photography’. The course will cover these foundation skills:

  • Mindfulness and meditation skills – to develop your ability to be mindful throughout your life
  • Seeing skills – “Looking is a gift. Seeing is a power” Jeff Berner
  • Technical photography skills – knowing how your camera works, lighting, exposure, focus, lens focal length, camera maintenance
  • Compositional photography skills – the guidelines for effective composition, 7 elements of visual design, framing the photo

These are the foundations of photography. Learn and practice these and you are on the way to creating great photos. Of course, I teach these foundation skills in a mindful manner. I share methods, ideas and practices that you can follow to develop and hone these skills wherever you start from. If this is of interest to you, do download the eBook below and you’ll then be on my email list, and all the news about the course launch and Mindful Photography 101 will arrive in your inbox – with special offers for early enrolment (of course).

Let me finish with a great artist’s advice on this topic of practice making perfect.

“As practice makes perfect, I cannot but make progress; each drawing one makes, each study one paints, is a step forward.” Vincent Van Gogh

PS I have shared a number of thoughts and mindful photography practices on this topic over the year, you can link to them here

PhotoBARRYthon is coming!

I am helping to organise PhotoBARRYthon, a photomarathon that takes place next month, in Barry, South Wales. The official press release about the event is below, with a web link for more information. All of our meetings to organise this, since the pandemic, have been online. So I thought I had better get myself to Barry and create some photos, just to get in the mood and possibly inspire you to join in. My favourite 12 photos from a 2 (not a 12!) hour photo walk around The Knap towards Barry Island are below. Below that is a panorama I created from 6 separate photos.

Press Release

Calling all professional and amateur photographers looking for an opportunity to capture the sights, sounds and characters of Barry.

Taking place on Saturday 10th October 2020, the inaugural PhotoBARRYthon is organised by the Barry Making Waves project and gives local people the chance to document the town on a particular day, using a variety of topics with mobile phones or digital cameras. Visitors to the town will be able to explore Barry and discover how photogenic a place it is.

Photomarathons are fun but are also competitive events. PhotoBARRYthon will be two competitive events – a 12 hour event with 12 topics, to create 12 photos, and a shorter family
friendly 6 hour event, with 6 topics, to create 6 photos. Winners will be selected in each topic category and there will be a prize for the two overall winners.

The topics will be released every three hours throughout the day, with the first 3 topics given at registration at the Memo Arts Centre. A number of cafes, shops and other locations in Barry and Barry Island will then release the topics at various times throughout the day, as well as on social media (@BarryValeofGlam).

The event is ticketed and participants will need to pre-book. It will not be possible to join on the day. Tickets will be released soon on Ticket Source – look out for further updates.

The event is being organised as part of Barry Making Waves and Mererid Velios, Place Manager at the Vale of Glamorgan Council is working with local photographers Lee Aspland and Michael Goode, in partnership with Memo Arts Centre.

For more information please visit www.barry.cymru/visit/photobarrython

5 Benefits of Daydreaming

I have had two conversations with close friends in the last week where we have discussed the absence of daydreaming from our lives. This has set me thinking and daydreaming!

Being a man of late middle age, I remember a time before smartphones, computers and being constantly connected. In that space I daydreamed more; stared out of windows and contemplated, or just sat there and noticed what was going on around me. I believe that daydreaming has particular benefits that are being overlooked in our busy world. In fact I believe that they may help you cope with your crazy, busy, fully engaged world.

  1. Screen free time. I am never far from a screen. My smartphone is usually next to me, most of my work is online and I watch TV to relax. I have noticed though that when I sit for 10 minutes with just a cup of tea and no smartphone, computer or TV that I daydream, that other thoughts and feelings arise, that other possibilities emerge. Constant stimulation from a screen robs me of the other possible benefits of daydreaming.
  2. Rest, relax and recuperate. You are always busy. 10 minutes away from the striving to get something done will not make a big difference. I know, sometimes it might. But usually, 10 minutes spent relaxing will benefit you far more than another 10 minutes wrapped up in the striving.
  3. Clear the clutter. If you collect slow moving water from a pond or lake in a glass it will look murky. 10 minutes later it may be crystal clear. The floating residue will settle on the bottom of the glass. Daydreaming allows the head noise space to settle. Of course it might not for happen in the first 10 minutes, because that stream of consciousness in your mind is used to racing fast downstream. However, the more often you sit and daydream the more likely you are to notice the noise, and just in the noticing you are making a space for it to settle.
  4. Create space. If you create more unstimulated space, thoughts and feelings will rise in your conscious mind. These may be welcome visitors, or they may be undesirable guests. My first action is to notice where my mind has gone. If I don’t like the ruminative thoughts I choose to focus on a physical sensation; the tea on my lips, the sun on my face or just my body on its seat. This allows the thought to dissolve, although some thoughts may require more returns to the physical than others! However, there is also an uplifting side to this creation of space; positive thoughts, feelings and creative ideas may emerge. These can be cultivated and explored, whilst you sip your tea and notice your mind suggest that you take out your phone and take notes!
  5. Develop a creative idea. This period of daydreaming can be used to deliberately explore a creative idea or challenge. This is a space, without any other stimulation when you allow your mind to roam around the shape of an idea or challenge. During this exploration you notice any tendency to focus on the negative, balancing those thoughts with the potential, the positive and the beneficial.

Can you think of any more benefits? Me? I’m off to sit with a cup of tea and no phone!

Mindful Photography 101 – Coming Soon!

Mindful Photography 101 – your detailed introduction to Mindful Photography will be with you later this month. Want to know a little bit about what it covers?

Your guide to the what, why and how of Mindful Photography is coming later this month. It will include: The relationship between mindfulness and meditation, how they blend with photography to create Mindful Photography, 10 Golden Guidelines and the 4 Stage Seeing Practice. All this and 6 mindful photo activities, downloadable meditations, a private community group and a live workshop with me!

What’s not to like? More detail very soon.

If you would like to be kept in the loop, download the free eBook below!

Mindful Photography Online Courses – coming soon

I have recently been awarded a grant from the Arts Council of Wales’s National Lottery Fund that will change the way I work, and what I offer, as well as providing some stability at this challenging time. Many thanks to them and the National Lottery. This will also change what I can offer to you. Here is what I have planned.

New Online Courses in Mindful Photography

I will be creating and sharing online courses in Mindful Photography with an engaged, supportive community of like minded people – just like you! These courses will include live workshops, webinars, videos, and downloadable PDFs, audio and eBooks. The courses will support you to become more mindful and create personal resonant photos; whilst also sharing with you how Mindful Photography can help you to understand, process and accept your emotions that arise from ongoing difficulty, major change and significant loss. They will cover the three core elements of Mindful Photography that are outlined below and will include a free Introductory course, staged Mindful Photography courses and a Multiple Exposure/Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) specialist course.

The three core elements of Mindful Photography

  1. Seeing Practice – I share the Four Stage Seeing Practice in all my work. It contains two key aspects; the practice itself and the regular application of that practice.
  2. Foundation Skills Development – The foundation skills fall into two areas: mindfulness and photography. Each involves learning the skills through regular attentive practice. Just like mindfulness, all of the photography skills can be learnt with regular practice, in this case with mindful photography practices (activities).
  3. Exploring Your Life – Exploring your life experiences, events and emotional reactions is possible through the application of your mindfulness and photography Foundation Skills. These experiences, events and emotions can be illustrated by personal photographs, the creation of which supports you to process the emotional upheaval brought on by loss, change and difficulty.

Online Exhibition

The second part of my grant application is to create a series of photos, using multiple exposure and ICM, that represent our emotional experiences of lockdown and the pandemic. These photos will be inspired by mine and your emotional experience of this period and will initially be shared in an open and accessible for all Online Exhibition. I am interested to know some of the emotions you have experienced and how you think they could be illustrated in a photograph. If you would like to take part and influence my photographs please answer this question (you can use the contact form to send it)

What feelings spring to mind when you think of the lockdown, the effects of the pandemic on your life and your immediate future?

All answers will be treated confidentially and used to inspire photos that illustrate your emotional experience.

This work was made possible through funding from the Arts Council of Wales’s National Lottery Fund.

10 ways Mindful Photography can help you

Imagine that you press your camera shutter and create a photo that is imaginative, personal and that you feel great for doing it. Imagine doing this regularly. Here are 10 ways that Mindful Photography can help you to achieve this. 

  1. Learn how to use what you see as your anchor – In meditation the breath is often used as an anchor; the thing you return to when you notice sensations, thoughts or feelings playing out across your mind. A mindful approach to photography means that when you notice your busy mind you return to what you can see. Every time you notice that you’ve a busy head – planning the next shot, looking for a photo opportunity or just thinking about what you’ll be doing later – you return to what is in front of you. With this as your regular practice you will begin to see more, more of what is there and you will see more how your camera sees.
  2. Learn how to see like a camera – A camera does not know the name of anything in its viewfinder. You do. You are quite attached to the name of things. As Claude Monet said, “In order to see, we must forget the name of the thing we are looking at.” Your camera sees light. You may describe the way light plays out in your frame as including shapes, forms, colours, lines, patterns, textures and space. You can learn to see the light, but you have to practice forgetting the name of things.
  3. Don’t look for a photo, let the photo find you – This is quite a slippery idea. Almost Zen like. There you are out with your camera, with the intention of creating photos, how can you not look for a photo? It’s a state of mind. You don’t look for a photo, you see what is in front of you. You pay attention to the visual feast; the light, the shapes, forms, colours…. You know what I’m going to say. Yes, seeing like a camera, is seeing what is there. That’s all. Trust me, the photo will find you.
  4. Develop your photography skills and knowledge whilst remaining connected to the visual feast before you – My mindful approach to photography starts with the seeing practice, but extends to a mindful approach to learning photography skills and techniques. My eBook Mindful Photography: How to use photography to develop mindfulness explains how.
  5. Learn how to 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.
  6. Learn how to use photography to help you understand and accept your difficulties – The more that you practice mindfulness the more you discover about yourself. This can be challenging. The more you notice what you are thinking and feeling, the more you need a way to help process those difficult thoughts and feelings. Mindful Photography can be used to explore your world, your thoughts and feelings. It can act as the intermediary between your inner world and the outer one. Allowing you the space to process what you are experiencing. My eBook Mindful Photography 2: How to use photography to explore your world explains how.
  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), but there are mindful photography practices you can follow that support this development. These allow the quality of patience to rise unbidden as you pay attention to the challenging thoughts and feelings that arise as you learn your craft. I’m sure you’ve experienced the thought, my photos are not good enough. A mindful approach to your photography can support you to recognise this thought and treat it like a relative you’re not too fond of. You acknowledge it, but don’t spend any time with it, returning to what you can see in front of you.
  8. Develop your ability to see the world as if for the first time – Beginner’s mind is a mindful attitude. It’s 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. As John Updike said, you can practice, “Giving the mundane its beautiful due” . This ability, cultivated through 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 authentic then you must listen to your heart, as well as your head: learn to trust and follow your own intuitive guide. If you cultivate this skill 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 applying and developing mindfulness to photography we expand our potential to be fully present in our life. A mindful approach to photography can help you learn and develop your photographic skills, but it can also support your well-being. My eBook Photography for Well-Being 1 shares 15 photo activities designed to develop your photography skills and support your well-being. 

PS If this has intrigued you then you can find out more below and join me in a Mindful Photography Online Workshop 18:30 – 20:00 (GMT+1) Wednesday 29th July 

Mindful Photography Online Workshop

I have been developing and sharing my vision of Mindful Photography for the last 7 years; with online courses, live workshops and 6 eBooks. This workshop distills the key aspects of a Mindful Photography practice, providing clear explanations, examples and 10 guidelines for you to follow, to help you to become a Mindful Photographer. I will also be sharing how these practices can be used at challenging times to support your well-being.

Mindful Photography for these times will be online via Zoom and Eventbrite 18:30 – 20:00 (GMT+1) Wednesday 29th July 2020. Tickets are limited and cost £6.50

Register

Dear Mr Johnson

Dear Mr Johnson

You would probably prefer Dear Boris, but we hardly know each other and I am not sure that over familiarity is appropriate right now. This open letter will not be as political as it might be. I do have daily reminders of how poorly we are doing as a country and it would be easy to slip in comparison, analysis and complaint, but I would like to focus on sharing how I have a managed to stay alive, so far, despite your best efforts.

I am shielding and I have been since 15th March. Around that date my girlfriend, who lives in a separate house, manifested all the symptoms of Covid-19. Despite working for the NHS, although not on the front line, it was impossible for her to get tested. We cancelled our holiday, as we were due to depart 16th March and discussed what I should do. Self isolation seemed the wisest option, so we made that decision immediately.

I have a number of health conditions that cumulatively made it quite clear that I was at high risk should a contract the virus, although that was yet to be confirmed officially. In the meantime I decided that I would stay at home most of the time, not visit my girlfriend and do any exercise in the quiet areas that I can walk to from my house. It seemed sensible that as long as I stayed some distance from everyone and did not touch anything, that I could exercise safely. I say this as the advice that came with the first government letter, 24th March, instructed me to stay in the house and not see anyone for 12 weeks. Whilst I understand the physical reasons for this, at no stage did the mental well-being of those self-isolating (as it was still called then) get consideration.

I noticed in that first week or two that my mood was quite up and down. I am a relatively stable guy, but the change and its impact upon my life was a significant shift. Some days were not OK. Fortunately, I have a great relationship with my girlfriend. She had by now recovered and we decided as she was also able to work effectively from home, that it would help our well-being if we lived most of the time together.

At the same time I started to work through my feelings and experiences by creating videos and a free eBook all called Stuck in the House. Both activities gave me a purpose, structure to my days and a feeling that I was helping myself as well as others. Reflecting back now I wonder why this simple advice was not included in your government’s first letter to those of us who were most at risk. Sure you suggested rigid and appropriate social isolation that would work, but by not also recommending strategies (such as developing structure and purpose in our new normal) to cope with the isolation, you left hundreds of thousands of people to cope alone.

I feel that this experience is symptomatic of your government’s approach to this whole crisis. My mindfulness practice encourages me to develop the quality of reflection and consideration for how things actually are. The idea is that in this space we may then respond with skill and wisdom, rather than react in our habitual ways. Looking back now at the last three months I see that your government has been consistently reactive, and unfortunately those ingrained habits of yours have not been conducive to a considerate, caring, compassionate and wise approach to our experience. Other countries have managed this, have suffered far less and are recovering so much better.

The next year or so are going to be a significant test of your government’s ability. Do you have the skills, wisdom and empathy that will be required? I suspect not, but I do hope that you surprise me.

Your sincerely

Lee Aspland

 

 

New eBook out today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I look forward to seeing your photos!

 

Photography for Well-Being

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monty was a doggy guru

Monty died at the weekend. He was a lively and occasionally very naughty Bijon Frise. White haired, curious and very friendly. He will be much missed. What you may not know is that he was also a guru, who taught me about mindfulness, consciousness and the self. Can you believe it?

Monty was a creature of the moment. His day was shaped by routine and coloured by sensations and experiences. He was a conscious creature, aware of his surroundings and stimulated by what he perceived. His sense of smell was of course, acute. At any meal time, whilst food – especially meat – was being prepared or eaten, the patter of his little feet approaching the kitchen could be heard.

His sense of hearing was (allegedly) 10 times more sensitive than ours. I could be on one floor of the house and make a cat noise and Monty, on the top floor, would come thundering down the stairs in the hope of seeing, or perhaps catching a cat.

Monty experienced emotion. He experienced fear: loud traffic noises, flying objects, fireworks and certain dogs in the park all stimulated a strong desire to run back home to safety. Something he did several times, fortunately dodging traffic as he careered across busy roads. He had more than nine lives!

He looked for contact. He liked to be be stroked, held and played with. Apparently, when we stroke a dog serotonin is produced not only in our body, but also their’s. Are they experiencing a feeling of well being? Like Monty we are also experiencing our life through the sensations, thoughts and feelings that arise in our consciousness. Monty though, lived solely in the present moment. That was his greatest teaching.

This doggy moment

Monty had a vocabulary of 30 – 40 words. Each of these words stimulated a response. Cat, food, sit, No, go, Bijon, sausage, wait etc. were all associated with an action. And whilst we spoke to him as though he understood, language was of course a concept too far. So when I spoke to him about a cat he saw earlier in the day, Monty would perk up and look for the cat in the room at that moment. Not only was language a concept too far, so was the past or future.

Both the past and future are concepts we have created to explain and cope with the passage of time. We are smart enough to imagine that the past actually exists. But, of course, it does not. It is a construct we have created and that we hold in our consciousness. The past is not a reality. You cannot touch it or experience it in any way, apart from in our imagination. If you attend an experience that recreates the past – a play, film, themed event – you are experiencing the present moment, albeit a present moment that is shaped to look and feel like the past.

Similarly, the future never exists. For when we reach a particular point in time it is the present!

Monty knew this. He knew that there is only this moment right now. Monty lived in the present moment. The mindful hound!

The doggy self

Monty had one other lesson for us. Another trick up his furry sleeve which helped him to be present in the moment. Monty had no concept of self.

If I held Monty up to a mirror he may have looked at himself briefly, but quickly his gaze would slip away to what was behind or next to him. There was no curiosity. No checking out how he looked. There didn’t appear to be a recognition that he was looking at a dog, or that the dog was him.

So the idea that there is such a thing as the ‘self’ did not trouble Monty. He experienced his day as a series of sensations, feelings and thoughts arising and passing. Each one was a singular moment and each one was experienced in that moment.

We though get sidetracked. Our mind has created a construct it calls ‘self’. This construct is constantly being refined, developed, coloured and shaped by our sensations, feeling and thoughts. Above all it is the thought that we are an independent self, different from the next person that separates us from this present moment awareness.

My concept of self is strong and is reinforced every moment of every day. Sitting in meditation or following any mindful practice has the potential to remind us that it is only our consciousness receiving. There is no self experiencing. The self is an illusion. An imaginary beast. A construct created and recreated by our conscious mind.

Monty was always with the experience of the moment. They are fine teachers, our canine friends. Guru Monty had much to teach me!

Stuck in the House 10 – Two Cameras

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

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

My 24 Photos Activity

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

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

Photo Activity: 24 Photos

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

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

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

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

 

Photo Activity: 24 Photos

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

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

 

Are you living in fear?

This whole Covid-19 experience is unprecedented in your lifetime and it is normal to experience fear. I know I do. If I catch the virus it is likely I would die. Fear is normal. Fear is an evolutionary habit, it is nature’s protector. The oldest parts of your mind provide the fight/flight response that is designed to enable you to function at your physical and mental peak, in order to save your threatened life. So, when you are in the midst of major change – like right now, this evolutionary habit is in full play. Do you want to run away and hide? Or do you want to rage and fight against the injustice of your difficulty? That is fear at work right now.

Fear becomes suffering when it oversteps. When there is a repeated perceived threat and it is not processed. When you are in the midst of living through your difficulty, still processing and not understanding. Fear then locks in, the fight/flight response kicks off and the sympathetic nervous system locks in. Your body’s response is made up of the physical response (flight/fight response, leading to a developing bodily tension, tightening in the body, causing blockages) and your thoughts (worry, planning, controlling, obsessing, imagining) which combined dictate your behaviour.

Your behaviour in this response may be not to look for what is wrong, but to distract yourself, to try to diminish the feeling of fear. You may look to distract yourself by eating, drinking, doing things, acting out with others or withdrawing. This state is almost a trance. The limbic system, from the flight/fight response, has hijacked your access to another part of your mind, the frontal lobe. This is the part of your brain that provides your capacity to be present in the moment, to notice what is happening and be mindful. The fear squeezes out your capacity to be present and loving as part of something bigger. Instead you are locked into the smaller part of yourself, your ego self. Everything is centered on that limited self perception. Everything is about how it is for you right now. Everything is about how you are suffering. You lose your connection to the moment and you are hooked into a reaction. This fear drives your addictions and your habitual behaviours. It brings you into conflict with yourself and others. You become more controlling and more manipulative, as you try to bend the world to your will. Deep into this process you may become less intelligent, act stupidly, your creativity becomes limited, you lose spontaneity and your heart closes. Hard to hear? Do you recognise any part of it?

Your intention has to be to evolve from this re-activity. To know that it is happening. To move beyond this fear response and to move towards befriending the fear. How can you do this? Is it possible for you to learn how to notice and then befriend the fear? How can you begin to just be with the fear and not react as you normally do? There are two key stages: Physical Awareness and Mindful Action (with thanks to Tara Brach).

Resistance to change

1) Physical Awareness

If you are to move onto stage 2 and take some Mindful Action to support your ability to soften the fear you have to be completely in the moment. Unfortunately, being completely in the moment when confronted by rising emotion, fuelled by fear, is not always possible. It is very difficult because all of your resources have gone into that old part of your brain. Fortunately, there are cues you can follow to raise your awareness that you have moved into this fearsome state. And if you know what is happening, you are moving towards being present with your experience.

Firstly, you can note those physical symptoms: these tend to be in throat, chest or belly. You can investigate them gently, with curiosity not judgement. Notice the churning in your stomach, the shallow breath, the quivering in your chest. Just be with the physical experience.

Secondly, pay attention to your mind. What thoughts are present? Where do they take you? Notice them and where they try to take you. Hold back from following the thought rabbit down the hole. Stand on the edge and breathe, come back to your physical symptoms, they are the foundation of your present experience and the gateway to a more mindful response.

There you are in the midst of your fear response. If you have noticed it and are trying to stay with the physical then there is another physical action you can follow that can support the movement of your resources back into your frontal lobe, where you can take Mindful Action. Now, stay with me here. This may sound a little crazy, but I promise it does work. This trick was shared by an author who successfully writes books that explain how you can harness your mind and emotions to improve your health. You are going to move in a certain way that tricks your mind into thinking that all is well. If your mind begins to think that all is well then some of your resource will move back into your frontal lobe and away from that fear response. You do not have to believe it will work; you only need to move. The movement itself will cause your mind to believe that all is well. What is this movement, you ask? Dance. You are going to need to dance. To dance like you are celebrating the birth of your first child, the success you have always dreamed of, the dance of a person who has just had the first kiss off the person they love. Can you dance like that? Of course, you can. It doesn’t need to be great dancing, but it needs involve moving your hips, your feet, your arms, hands and head. Your whole body has to dance in celebration, even if right now you feel terrible. Get on your feet, sway those hips, put your arms up in the air and move like you’ve won the lottery.

I know this all sounds a little crazy. But trust me. Physical movement like this reminds the body and mind of happiness. Other chemicals get produced that offset the fear based ones. Other neural pathways begin to fire up. Slowly as you move, you move back to yourself. Back to that part of your mind that holds all your wisdom and kindness for yourself, back to a place where you can take Mindful Action.

Dance, dance, dance!

2) Mindful Action

The Mindful Action you will take is to begin to redirect your attention in a way that builds upon some of your strengths in what you love. Remember that you are connected by love to a bigger world than the small one you find yourself trapped in now. Remember your strengths. Remember who you love and who loves you. Remember what you love. Find access to a positive mental state. How do you do this? You need to train your attention to go where you want it to. You do not have to use the familiar neural pathways. You need to forge new pathways, new ways of thinking. The great truth is that you can do this, we all can. Forging new neural pathways is something you can do the whole of your life. You can teach an old dog new tricks!

You know that these habitual thoughts are the motorways of your mind. Re-training the mind to think differently means forging new off road tracks. This is not the easiest route though. It takes practice and commitment. However, it is possible to, “train your attention to have a different experience. ‘Neurons that fire together wire together.’ If you consistently learn to pay attention a certain way, a way that reminds you that love is here, even when you feel scared…..then every time fear is triggered you get a little more access to remembering that, you get a little more space to be with the fear. Where the attention goes, energy flows.” Tara Brach.

In the midst of noticing that you are in fear, ground yourself. Feel the gravity: your feet on the floor, your bottom on the seat. Slow your breath, breathe deeper. Put a hand on your belly or heart. Breathe. Remind yourself of your qualities, of your strengths. Remind yourself that you are loved, that you love. Remind yourself that you are part of the whole. Reach out to wholeness. No matter what you call it. Can you accept that the fear is here and soften with it? Just allow it to be here. Breathe. Every time the fearsome thoughts arise come back to the physical and then think of something or somebody that you love. Remind yourself of the truth that you are loved. Slowly the fear will dissolve.

“Your path is to meet your edge and soften” Chögyam Trungpa

This blog post is an excerpt from Mindful Photography 2: How to use photography to explore your life

Fear dissolving

 

 

Stuck in the House 9 – Something for the weekend

How about a photo walk together this weekend? I will be going out for a big walk this weekend and creating a photo to illustrate the word ‘enjoy’. Why don’t you join in? It’s on Instagram and uses the #leesphotowalk. Easy. Enjoy!