Once a week I intend to get out with my camera and do a mindful photography practice. This involves walking with my camera, following the 4 Stage Seeing Practice – always returning to the visual feast before me when my mind drifts off – and then creating a small set of photos that reflects that experience.

More often than not this happens on a dog walk. This morning was no exception and I chose to just centre upon my stroll along Swansea beach from the entrance opposite Singleton Park down to the small stream towards Mumbles. Limiting the space you practice is a fine way of grounding yourself and noticing more.

I find these little practices really helpful in reminding me what it is to pay attention and of course they also provide me with some photos I can share. This morning’s selection have a theme of simplicity and clarity. Something that is foremost in my mind at present. I hope that you like them.

If you would like to learn more about Mindful Photography then take a look at my Workshops page.

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Usually when I deliver a workshop I do the activities whilst the students are out and about creating their own photos. This idea that everybody in the room does the activities provides a common reference point for discussion later when we feedback our favourites. But it does mean that only one or two of the photos from each person’s set gets shared.

Last month, during a workshop with the Swansea Carers, I did the first activity ’10 photos in 100 yard space’ in the old Pilkington Glass Factory, behind the Dylan Thomas Centre. It is now used as an overflow car park but the shell of it has not been touched.

I really liked the slightly abstract set I created so I thought that I would share some of them here. I particularly like the ‘Boots’ photo with its echoes of abandoned work boots and a little self reflection. Nothing is forever huh?

Mindful Photography Practice-1 Mindful Photography Practice-2 Mindful Photography Practice-3 Mindful Photography Practice-4 Mindful Photography Practice-6 Mindful Photography Practice-7 Mindful Photography Practice-8 Mindful Photography Practice-9

 

Today I delivered a Mindful Photography Workshop to participants of Swansea Carers. We were fortunate that the morning was bright and dry, which allowed everyone to get out and about the SA1 area of Swansea – a great venue for a photography workshop.

My main intention of the session was to slow people down and root them in the visual opportunities available. Mindful Photography uses the visual feast before us as our anchor: just as meditation uses the breath. After an introduction to the idea and a little meditation I set the group their first task – ‘Shooting from the Hip’.

If you would like a Mindful Photography Workshop for your organisation or workplace then take a look at what I offer here

Shooting from the Hip

Before we started this activity I introduced the idea of the 4 Stage Seeing Practice, this simple practice describes how we can use what we see as our anchor, the thing we return to whenever we notice thoughts and feelings rising in our mind. The activity encourages us to slow down and to imagine what it is that our camera receives. We cover up or turn off our viewing screen and take a set number of photos in a defined time. These limitations are chosen to support a connection to the moment through the visual stimulation available.

Each photographer chose a small area to practice the activity and they had to create each photograph holding the camera at their hip. This meant they had to imagine the view that the camera could see and then press the shutter. Of course, they also could not see how many photographs they had created, so they had to keep count.

After the time was up each of us chose one photograph to share and discuss, and here they are

Anne Cath Christine Jude Justine lee Peter sandra uma

I am Great /  Right Now

The second activity imposed different limitations. This time we all had only two photographs to create, but there was a catch. We were not allowed to look at the photograph created, nor were we allowed to delete. This turns our camera back into a film camera and encourages us to slow down and pay attention to the process of creating a photo.

Everyone was also given two themes; one for each photo. They were ‘I am Great’ and ‘Right Now’ and a time limit for the whole activity was agreed. I have separated the photos below into the two topics.

I am Great

Anne (1) cath (1) Christine (1) Jude (1) lee (1)Justine Peter (1) Sandra (1) Uma (1)

Right Now

Anne (2) cath (2) Christine (2) Jude (2) Justine (2) lee (2) Peter (2) Sandra (2) Uma (2)

 

Mindfulness is now recognised as practice that is supportive to all aspects of our lives and something that can enable us to respond positively to stress, rather than react habitually. It is for this reason that many corporations, public sector organisations and businesses encourage staff to follow mindfulness sessions at work. With this is mind I have developed a Mindful Photography course for employed staff.

What is Mindful Photography?

Mindful Photography is the development of mindfulness through photography. The sessions can make use of mobile phone cameras or staff can bring in their own cameras. Either way the experiences and activities will encourage an attention to the moment whilst also exploring skills that are relevant to work. These skills include: team work, self-confidence, responding positively to stress, communication, creative thinking and negotiation.

Mindfulness encourages us to pay attention to the moment. It is centred upon the idea that there are Four Foundations of Mindfulness that we can be aware of. These are

  1. Our sensations: what we see, hear, touch, taste and smell
  2. Our thoughts
  3. Our feelings
  4. The one thing that we are engaged with

If we can be aware of these foundations, pay attention to our experience, then we can be wholly immersed in the moment and our lives.

I use mindfulness practices developed from the MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) to develop and share photography activities. These practices all relate back to the Four Foundations of Mindfulness and each is designed to encourage an attention to our daily experience.

In a work environment this paying attention leads to many benefits for the individual, which also spill over into the rest of their lives. The benefits to the individual staff member then accrue for the organisation, as staff become more centred, less stressed and more supportive of one another. Using photography as the vehicle for mindfulness allows something familiar to be used as our way in to the practice and we also learn how to create more interesting personal photographs.

Mindful Photography Course

The course is best delivered over 8 weeks of 3 hour sessions, though the total hours (24) can be split up in other ways to suit the needs of the business. An outline of the sessions follows and I would be delighted to meet and discuss how it could meet your businesses needs and to expand upon my philosophy and the course detail. Each week includes Photography activities and practices that develop a mindful attitude and specific personal skills relevant to a harmonious and effective work environment.

Week 1: Introduction to Mindfulness and Mindful Photography – Why Mindfulness? How can mindfulness support your life? Introductory Practices. Using photography to develop mindfulness. Photography practices and activities, including ‘Shooting from the Hip’

Week 2: Mindful Seeing – Using what we see as our anchor for mindfulness practice. Using the 4 Stage Seeing Practice. How we see vs how a camera sees. Photography practices and activities, including ‘Giving the mundane its beautiful due’

Week 3: Mindful Thinking – An exploration of how we can remain present with the one thing that we are doing when our mind is shooting about reliving the past and imagining our future. The application of this to photographic thinking. Photography practices and activities, including the ‘Camera Scan practice’

Week 4 Mindful Photomarathon  A pair challenge designed to practice and apply the mindful photography skills learnt to date and develop teamwork, negotiation, creative thinking and responding to stress rather than reacting. Photography practices and activities, including ‘Photo Scan practice’

Week 5 Mindful Reflection  A review of the Photomarathon experience. Mindful practices that support us in work. Photography practices and activities, including ‘A 50 foot space’

Week 6 Mindful Feeling – An exploration of our emotional world and how photography can be used to illustrate and understand this experience. Recognising our stress indicators. Developing positive responses to stress. Understanding our habitual reactions. Photography practices and activities, including ‘Equivalents’

Week 7 Mindful Emotions – Developing an understanding of our emotional world and how we can represent this through our photos: photography techniques vs an emotional response. Photography practices and activities, including ‘Right now’ and ‘It’s been emotional!’

Week 8 Mindful Being vs Doing – Understanding our personal fears. Mindfulness practices that can support our acceptance of those fears. Exploring fear through photography. Review of the course and a celebration of our favourite photos. Photography practices and activities, including ‘I love Selfies’

 

One popular adaptation is to take Week 4 Mindful Photomarathon out of the weekly schedule and turn it into a full day. This becomes then an even more immersive, team building exercise and can be used to explore the local town/city or a chosen environment.

The course will also produce many personal photographs from those taking part. All of the favourite photographs will be collated and shared with the business, providing an opportunity to use some of the photos to illustrate the skills and experiences of your staff.

If you would like to discuss any aspect of this course or other similar ideas you have please contact me.

My last workshop was at the 360 Café in Swansea at the weekend. The theme centered upon the application of mindfulness to all the thinking that can swamp us as we are preparing to create a photograph.

Mindful Photography means the application and development of mindfulness through photography. The first stage is using what we see to root us in the moment. This is rather like when we meditate and we use our breath as an anchor to return to when we notice our busy mind. In mindful photography we use what we see as our visual anchor.

Each workshop I share the 4 Stage Seeing Practice which is a simple routine to follow when we are out with our camera. This is particularly useful when we are developing as photographers. That journey from beginner to master can be a long and noisy (mind) one. Malcom Gladwell in Outliers suggests that this journey for any skill is one of 10,000 hours. That is a long time, a lot of photos, editing, reading and looking at great photographers’ work. In fact if you did 2 hours of that every day for 13 years you would just about get your 10,000 hours done!

Meanwhile, what is needed is a way of holding all the photographic thinking (and the other thoughts that pop up) whilst we are out with our camera, so that we can still be connected to the visual possibilities. At the workshop I shared some practices that centered upon the technical choices (aperture and shutter speed) and compositional choices that we have swirling about as we consider creating a photograph of the visual feast before us.

Aperture

The first photo activity used Aperture as its key practice. Using a simple camera set up I encouraged the students to experiment with Depth of Field, finding an appropriate scene and capturing two photos that demonstrated the impact of different apertures. Here are some of their examples.

Sarah (4) Sarah (3) Rob (4) Rob (3) lee (3) lee (2) Jude (2) Jude (1) Glynis (2) Glynis (1) Beth (2) Beth (1) Barbara (2) Barbara (1)

 

Shutter Speed

Having control of the shutter speed allows us to create photographs that we cannot see. Slow shutter speeds allow us to demonstrate subject or camera movement. Fast shutter speeds allow us to demonstrate the what can be seen when we freeze the action. Using a simple shutter speed camera set up the students were encouraged to practice one of these possibilities and then share a photograph that they had created. Here they are.

Barbara (1) Beth (1) Glynis John 1 Jude lee (2) Rob (1)Sarah (1)

 

Composition

There are many compositional guidelines that are suggested and written about (in great detail) that offer advice for directing where to place that little rectangular frame when we are creating a photograph. Applying mindfulness to this area of photographic development provides us with the opportunity to consider using one guideline at a time as our mindful photography practice.

For example you could choose a simple camera set up and then decide to practice leading lines. Focusing on just one compositional guideline encourages experimentation: each guideline is there to suggest what might work. In a single guideline practice we can try out different arrangements of the scene’s features in our frame, we can play with the guideline and even see what our photos look like when we break the rules!

For our final activity each student chose one compositional guideline and experimented.  Here are their favourites, can you guess the guidelines used?

Barbara Beth Glynis John Jude lee Rob Sarah

 

Next Workshop

My next Mindful Photography Workshop will be in September and will be looking closely at the possibilities of using photography to explore and represent our emotional experiences of life. If that sounds interesting then keep an eye on the website (you can register to receive the blog below) news will follow soon.

 

A couple of weeks ago I spent an hour or so practicing being present at Caswell Beach on the gloomy Gower. Needless to say Taylor was in surfing at the time, so I thought I would cultivate a beginner’s mind, perusing a familiar place, noticing what was there and attuning to the visual as if I were a camera; as if I did not know the name of things. Then you see what is there; the shapes, forms, colours, patterns, textures…. After that all there is to do is choose where to place the frame and decide upon the depth of field.

If you are interested in how I actually set myself up for these practices, in ways that support the attention to the visual, whilst not being overwhelmed by the technical and compositional then I have a workshop coming up very soon!

The photos form an interesting set of those visual features. I turned those into B&W where that was what I had envisaged at the moment of creation. The exception is the selfie at the end, that just plain looked better in B&W!

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OK here goes. In an attempt to get writing regularly again and enliven my posts I am gonna try responding to the Daily Prompts given by WordPress. As they are US based the prompt arrives at my desk around 1pm and I’m best writing in the morning, before the day’s busy-ness truly kicks in. So I’m gonna be one day adrift, every day, just to be awkward!

Today’s (yesterday’s) word is embarrassing. Of course it is just a prompt. I don’t have to respond directly, or even indirectly. It is just a verbal kick up the …… to get me going. My immediate thought was to blog about nearly getting cut off by the tide this morning, as Monty and I walked out onto the sand bar. Actually, we did have to paddle out. As I stopped to take the photo above the sand bar disappeared. I paddled out; old short legs bounced and swam. Getting cut off would have been embarrassing. ‘Local man (for 28 years!) misjudges tide’.

Instead I thought I would reflect briefly upon what embarrassment is. Well, it does give me an opportunity to return to one of my favourite themes. My instinct is that embarrassment is a fear based reaction. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of being seen not as we would like to think we are. Fear of not behaving as we think others would have us behave. Fear of being judged.

As those of you who have read my other posts about fear will know, I see fear as an opportunity and a practice. The opportunity is to notice that we have experienced or reacted in a fear based way. This is usually most noticeable in a physical response: often in our belly, chest or throat. That is our cue to stay with the physical. To come out of our flight/fight reaction that our old brain is stimulating and be with the physical sensations. Then just breathe into those sensations. Breathe. And breathe some more. Feel our feet on the floor and our bum on its seat. The practice is to remember that fear is a constant and to pay attention to its machinations.

Embarrassment also has the potential for us to experience vulnerability, which in turn can stimulate compassion for ourselves and others. Rich ground. Now, who’s gonna embarrass me? I need the practice!

I would like to say that as a mindfulness practitioner I am completely aware of each moment, in tune and aware. Of course it is a practice and this morning has provided rich territory.

Before 7am, leaving the bathroom, my phone slipped from my grasp. Despite its protective covering it managed to land on the edge of the bath and the screen shattered. The immediate outcome of this is that it no longer works; the touch screen has lost its touch!

First thoughts were: Bugger. What now? Possible solutions? How do I work my day without this connection? It is like losing a couple of fingers, important ones, off your dominant hand. My normal morning routine from this point would have been a little yoga and meditation. But I use the Insight timer/bell on my phone for that. Easy – just go free form.

So after a little movement I sat and noticed that my mind was busy with possible solutions. These were very noisy and pushy! How attached I am, needing a solution to the situation ASAP. Ironically, I had only just written in a previous post about how I often intended to take a break from my phone, but never quite got round to it. And now here it was, presented to me. The thoughts continued until I realised that only one thing needed to be done and then dependent upon that result other actions would follow.

This realisation allowed a little peace, but there was still background murmuring and muttering. When I thought my time was up and entered the kitchen and noticed that I had sat for exactly my usual time. After a hearty breakfast and no browsing the internet I called the phone insurance team and started the lengthy claim process.

I know from here on in that I will be without a phone for up to a week. I have no replacement. It will change my behaviours and communication, but I remember when this happened last time after a day or so I didn’t notice its loss. Alternative things happened and the world did not end. So, on with the day, minus instant communication. Phew, it’s a kind of relief.

Blue sky thinking required

Blue sky thinking required

How do you feel about change?

Change is inevitable and yet I often hear people say, “I don’t like change.” What is it about change we don’t like? And what opportunities does it present?

Our lives flow against a backdrop of continual change. There is nothing that remains constant or static. A few of these changes are instant; with others the speed of change is so slow that we can convince ourselves that all is as it has always been.

Some of us embrace and seek out change. Drawn by the delusional comfort of change’s new clothes; we may harbour the belief that changing something externally will change us internally. At other times we seek stability and familiarity, avoiding precipitous decisions. Our instinct knows that change will come and that the waves will sweep us where they may, but whilst possible we seek safe ground.

Perhaps we climb so high, to avoid the rising tide of change, that we are left clinging to an uncomfortable pinnacle. We know that we cannot hold on forever, but letting go is beyond our habit. Inevitably, we fall or are swept away by the change that now has risen beyond avoidance.

We are aware that there are distinct stages of life, yet often we find the adjustment necessary to live harmoniously through each stage beyond our choice. Instead of embracing or adjusting to the challenges within each stage we canter through the early stages, with one eye the next. Then, beset by early indications of our mortality, we cling to the middle stages, unwilling to let life slip, refusing to accept the inevitable. Finally, an ignominious descent through the final stages leaves us unprepared for the terminal change.

What force impels us? What is it that blinds us to reality? Even though our instinct may tease at this wall of familiarity. The answer is both simple and complex. It is our mind’s habitual thinking. That is the simple bit: knowing what it is. Responding differently to change, rather than reacting in our characteristic manner is the complex bit. That is where the opportunity and the practice is.

Now

The last 12 months of my life, seen from the outside, could appear to be a catalogue of major changes. Acute health attacks, operations, diagnosis of diabetes, marriage dissolving, house up for sale, work changes and still it thunders on. I prefer not label this last year as one of great change, because I do believe that change is a constant, it’s just that the speed of change appears to have increased; a lot.

The difference this time round is that I am making every effort to pay attention; to what is happening, to how I am feeling and how I could respond: rather than remaining entrenched in old patterns of behaviour, repeating the same mistakes and reacting habitually.

This approach is an ongoing practice. You might call it mindfulness, perhaps it is clearer to call it paying attention. It is a lifetime commitment and one which, whilst I have been a meditator for five or more years, I have only recently begun to completely understand, commit and engage with.

Late last Spring I started to blog about how I was feeling, how I was trying to understand what was happening in my world and how I was using photography to support me. During this shift I redesigned my online business, Photential, let lots of other commitments go, because I was not well enough to fulfil them, and began to connect more closely with my friends and my family abroad.

The more I shared my vulnerabilities and uncertainties, the more friends and family shared theirs. Friendships deepened, new opportunities presented themselves and the more I began to remember to pay attention to what I was sensing, thinking, feeling and experiencing.

Since I split with my wife at the beginning of the year change has continued. The house is up for sale, the kids are still adjusting to changing circumstances and I know that I will be living somewhere else soon. One of the recent decisions I have taken alongside of this feels like a metaphor for my outlook.

Photential, my online photography business, was not working. I was not selling any courses and the website was riven with technical problems. I decided to let it all go in that format and embrace this attentive, authentic approach, consolidating all my photographic activity and mindful approach to life in one online place, this new website. This may not appear to be that much of a shift. But for me it feels like a fundamental one, an online echo. I have stopped hiding behind an online persona and I am practicing what I preach!

I am not quite sure how this will develop. I am currently writing a book about paying attention: its working title is, ‘Not another Mindfulness Book’ and it details the behaviours, attitudes and life events that led to my chronic health challenges. These tales are balanced with explanations of how I am finding my way back to myself and learning to pay attention through photography.

Whilst I can be sure of some changes in the near future, there are certain to be unanticipated others. Of course I have no idea how much of it will develop but I know that this mindful approach to life, paying attention to the sensations experienced, the thoughts and feelings that arise and embracing the happenings, is the way forward.

What do you think?

My next Mindful Photography Workshop is at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea on Saturday 28th May 2016.

This is a fun three hour event that will expand the way you see. You will develop a mindful practice that will help you be totally present when taking photographs and encourage you to align what you see with your mind and heart.

Mindful photography is simply described as meditation with your camera. The workshop will share techniques and practices that will act as a foundation for developing your ability to be present with all that you see and to create original and personal photographs.

The course is suitable for people of all photographic abilities with an interest in mindfulness and a curiosity about how this can be developed through photography. All you need is a digital camera (any type), an empty memory card and a fully charged battery.

Click here to book!

Back in the day certain services would break down. TV channels would occasionally fail and the standard screen message would be ‘Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible’. I feel a little like the BBC in the seventies, during a break in service, and kind of like them I do hope that normal service will be resumed as soon as possible, but unlike them I feel a little uncertain about what normal is any more.

I have just returned from three weeks visiting my sister Kim, her family and my Mum in Canada. I am over the jet lag, but as I am back into my part time job this afternoon I am still a little grumpy. The trip was fabulous. It was lovely to see everyone; to spend time hanging out with Mum, Kim, Mike (husband) and their kids Morgan and Laura, and to enjoy the spectacular scenery and weather that the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia has to offer. (the photo above is Kim and family over looking the Okanagan Lake) There will be photos of the area and my activities, including some mindful photography practices to follow, but now it is all about what is going on for me right now. Surprised? I am trying to be in the moment!

The trip to Canada has been a little like a half time break in a longer game. There was breathing space and time to reflect upon what was going on in the first half, but now I have to get back out there and play the game. “And what is the state of play?” you ask.

Right at the end of 2015, just after Christmas, Beci and I split up. After 21 years of marriage this was not a swiftly taken decision, perhaps we should have separated some time ago, but eventually we both came to the conclusion that the marriage was no longer providing what either of us needed. My chronic health condition of the last ten years is still re-shaping my world and whilst all is now stable the ripples flow through every aspect of life, shaking up and reassembling relationships, responsibilities and possibilities.

There is still much change to be sorted. Beci has moved out and has recently settled in a new place. The house is up for sale and I have not decided my next move. I guess that the sale might take a while, we have only had two viewings in six weeks, but it all could change quite quickly. Then I would probably rent for a while, whilst the dust settles and all the finances are agreed.

All of this impeding change is unsettling. Fortunately, much else in my world is stable. The kids seem to be adjusting well and whilst my work commitments are many, they are interesting and supportive. Yet still there is nagging uncertainty, and a feeling like visiting a new country that is unfamiliar. I then remind my self to breathe, to feel the world beneath my feet (or arse!) and return to the present.

All of this will resolve. Opportunities will present themselves. Ideas will spring fully formed to my mind. Patience and trust, my watch words, reassert themselves. Normal service will be resumed, though the normality may have changed!

Is this a question you ask yourself? If we say that your truth is shorthand for living with authenticity: living in a way so that you are comfortable with your choices and actions, and that you also reflect upon and learn from those behaviours that you are not comfortable with. Are you living your truth?

Such a life choice requires great courage and vulnerability. It requires you to be honest with yourself, to accept that there may be things that you are avoiding, things that you are attached to being a certain way and things that you may be just plain confused about. If we are to consider our thoughts, habits and behaviours about these things, as part of our attempt to live our truth, then we require courage and vulnerability.

Courage and vulnerability seem to go hand in hand. For if we are to be courageous and address something that we find difficult this creates a vulnerable place for us. In facing our difficulties we are admitting that we have not got it all right, and our ego is not going to accept that easily.

Rather than distract ourselves with activity, or go inwards and attempt think our way through the challenge, or just pretend that nothing has changed and carry on. Sometimes we need to just stop. To give ourselves space for all the stuff swirling about to settle. I do not mean disengage from life. Perhaps it is more of a filtering. To continue those activities that support our ability to be with the change: the friends that understand us; the quietness that allows thoughts and feelings to emerge unbidden; the joy of a new experience. These things root us in ourselves. Allow us to be everything that we can be.

I feel the need to stop. To rest a little from the busy-ness. There is a lot changing in my life and I need a little time to allow it all to settle. I will continue the personal and supportive creative projects I am currently engaged with, but I am going to rest awhile from some other commitments.

My Photential newsletter is one of those commitments I am going to stop for a while. Much of my work around mindful photography has been developmental and shared through this new website. I am still keeping this going, but I am going to give myself a little more space for reflective practices. I am currently writing a book about Mindful Photography and my life experience of the last ten years; this is part of adjusting to that period and the place I find my self now. I am also following a seasonal year long photography project called 7 Days To Save Your Life, which is a visual exploration of this period of change and adjustment.

So there will be no newsletter for a while – I am thinking a couple of months at least. However, there will be the occasional blog post here. I am going away next month for 3 weeks, to visit family in Canada, so this feels the perfect time to be making these decisions.

I have had a few careers, but the skill perhaps that I am happiest sharing is teaching. Over the years I have taught many subjects, some I knew lots about, others I was a couple of weeks ahead of the students (teaching Word Perfect in 1986!) I am now fortunate enough to be teaching photography; through this website, at workshops and occasionally face to face.

Today I met up with Pallavi (pronounced to rhyme with c’est la vie) who is studying in Swansea and hails from the USA. Pallavi was bought a camera to capture scenes from her travels, but has little family history of using one, so she wanted a little guidance.

As the day was a little chilly we wandered up to the Botanical Gardens in Singleton Park, where I introduced her to the wonders of the creative opportunities presented by understanding how aperture choice influences the depth of field created in a photo. Of course being an advocate of mindful photography I also talked and explained a lot about seeing: particularly seeing without naming the objects, learning to see like a camera.

We finished up with a 20 minute activity where we both created 20 photos each and without looking at our photos headed off for a cup of tea and a piece of cake. Here are my favourite photos of the activity; two of them just begged to be converted into B&W.

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I have been very slack of late. Perhaps the unrelenting rain and general drabness has smothered my creativity. Oh no, that can’t be right as I have been posting daily Instagram photos from my phone. No, I have to face it I have just been otherwise occupied.

However, the wall to wall sunshine today got me out and about early this morning, with both my camera and dog. Ah, what a little bright light does for photographic opportunity. I was drawn to the colours, the shadows and the frost on my mindful photography practice.

Here are my favourite few photos

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Wales is well known for its rugby, singing, daffodils and sheep. Perhaps as today is the first weekend of the Six Nations 2016 I should be blogging about the chances of Wales winning the tournament (which are pretty good), but I have been overwhelmed this morning by the reason for all those sheep. After all you can’t have sheep without grass, and you can’t have grass without rain. And boy has it been raining this morning.

This morning, despite the deluge, I felt the need to be out walking. I pulled on all my waterproofs and equipped myself with a camera small enough to fit in my water tight pocket. After all, there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. My intention from there was just to pay attention to what was happening and create a few mindful photographs that captured the experience.

It was a fine intention and one that could be just about achieved by carefully sheltering the camera under my body or shop awning, but the rain still gets in. So these three photos tell some of the tale. The header photo is of the path through Brynmill Park, cleverly disguising itself as a river.

By the time I reached the Uplands, a ten minute walk, the torrent had found its way through the gaps in my waterproof apparel. This photo captures my mood, and the suggestion I should just take my medicine almost brought a smile to my face (not)

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Obviously, after completing my shopping chores, somewhere to dry out was required. I sheltered in a local cafe, once most appropriately named Steam, but now re-branded Squirrel. Perhaps it was apposite; I must have been nuts to venture out!

I sat there facing the scene you see below, watching the locals scurrying about, hooded and hunkered. I reflected that the rugby later in the day was likely to be attritional, but at least the sheep would be happy – it’s still warm enough for the grass to be growing!

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“I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul”

These are the last two lines from the poem ‘Invictus’ by the English poet William Ernest Henley. He was inspired to create the poem by his own life events.

In 1875 one of Henley’s legs required amputation due to complications arising from tuberculosis. Immediately after the amputation he was told that his other leg would require a similar procedure. He chose instead to enlist the services of the eminent surgeon Joseph Lister, who was able to save Henley’s remaining leg after multiple surgical interventions on the foot.

The phrase ‘Captain of my Soul’ and Henley’s inspiration for writing the poem have been on my mind since Thursday. That night, myself and a friend (Rob) visited the Peg Talks at a local cafe and the inspirational speakers there spurred a conversation about life events and choices. I think it was Rob who suggested the phrase’ ‘Captain of my soul’ to describe what I was trying to explain.

Two of the speakers at the Peg Talks had focused upon the life choices they had made that had then led to life opportunities and the realisation of their dreams. I was trying to explain to Rob how I felt that I was finally making choices that resonated with my true path in life. My particular choice that mirrored Henley’s experience is one I have made recently about my health.

A recent diagnosis of my breathing condition has presented two choices. One; follow the prescribed medical solution, a cocktail of serious drugs with side effects, likely further medical interventions and a possible successful reduction of inflammation. The drug regime would be for a year, would suppress my immune system which could also have other potential health repercussions.

Two; put choice one on hold and dedicate a year to making healthier choices, exploring alternate health solutions that are relevant for my now diagnosed condition and make other life choices that feel honest, authentic, and attentive.

Option two it is then.

Mindful photography is about being present with what you see. It is also about adapting to the situation. I often use a simple set up for my practice; usually a single focal length lens (a 40mm) on my DSLR. This is my go to, walkabout lens.

I choose to use this lens because the focal length is very similar to how we see (which is around 43mm, albeit with a greater width and a mind that looks to zoom in). Using one lens regularly, particularly one that is similar to how we see improves our seeing and how best to create photos that reflect what we see. Using this one lens I become attuned to the camera’s way of seeing. I begin to think in terms of how the camera will record the scene.

Over time this photographic thinking, which includes colour rendition, the framing, composition and the dynamic range of the light, becomes learnt and familiar. With continued practice, reviewing the outcomes and adjusting my technical choices, I begin to know what to expect from my camera. Through this doorway lies the possibility of reacting more instinctively to the scene, allowing my subconscious to make more of the technical and compositional choices. In this moment I let go of trying (to take a great photo) and allow the creation to occur. Through this process the possibility that there may be something of me, and the way I feel about the world, in the photo becomes more likely.

When I first tried shooting a whole year using just one lens I did it for reasons of artistic impression. Using just one focal length creates a unifying similarity to your photos. This can be beneficial if the photos you are creating are part of an ongoing project. It is ideal for those 365 projects that comprise of one photo a day. Then along the way you will also reap the benefits of instinctive creation and greater connection between what you are seeing and how you feel about the the world you are experiencing.

The photos that accompany this post illustrate my musings. A visited Caswell Bay, the Redcliff end, with Taylor to take him surfing. However, I decided to take my camera with the 40mm lens on, rather than the big zoom, and not shoot surfing photos. Instead I would see what was there and respond to my experience. I chose a black and white edit because of the high contrast of the scene.

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Recently I have considered the impetus created by our imaginative idea that we have now started a New Year. I say imaginative, because it is our ability to imagine that something exists – to give it structure, definition, and rules for its existence – that has produced the idea that we are in a New Year. Every other animal on the planet just carries on like it is any other moment.

I still feel very close to this concept. Maybe it is because I have been considering the Twelve Photos theme (Beginning) and following a mindful morning photography experience to start the day. So I thought I would share the activity to provide you with an opportunity to begin the day in a similar manner.

A Mindful Photography Practice

First up: you have to have a camera close to hand when you awake in the morning. Ideally you then lie there, camera in hand, slowly coming to, eyes open, paying attention to what you notice. Each time something attracts your eye you take a photo. Repeat for 5 photos. No more, no less, no deleting.

I have to admit that I wasn’t completely prepared, camera was downstairs, head was thick, stomach was calling. I first grabbed my little compact camera, made a cuppa and some toast and retired back to bed. After the refreshment had done its work I commenced the activity, as described above.

The photo above is the last one I created, contemplating the beauty of the morning. The full set is below. I enjoyed the experience, followed it with a 20 minute meditation and felt grounded and ready for the day. I commend it to you! Perhaps you could share one of your photos in our Facebook group?

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