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Waiting

As I type this I am sat in a cafe drinking tea (of course) waiting for a garage to phone me back and tell me that my car’s brakes are not a problem, or more likely that certain costs are due. The waiting, any waiting, is an exercise in patience and perhaps one that in our fast paced modern life we resent. How does a mindful photographer occupy his time when he has to wait?

Fortunately, this morning the sun is shining and the sky is dazzling bolt blue. Bright low light abounds, shadows are out to play and the world appears vibrant. The garage I dropped the car at is on the edge of town, so I have wandered into the centre for a cuppa.

I like the town centre when it’s quiet and shiny. It imbues a sense of ownership when at any other hectic dreary time I want to be far away. I walked up from the garage just noticing the interplay of light, shade and colour. When something caught my eye I stopped, pulled out my glasses (the trials of using my second camera without a viewfinder) and created a photo.

I only stopped three times before reaching my destination and each photo here both represents those pauses and captures what attracts me on a bold sunlit morning. Waiting is easier with a positive way to spend my time. Using the time to take in my place and reflect it in a photo or two not only makes use of the time, in roots me in the moment and allows the morning to further brighten my day. Then I can write about it and share it with you!

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Mindfulness in the Woods Workshop

I recently took part in a great mindfulness in the woods workshop with Woodland Classroom led by Lea and James Kendall. We were based in Penllergare Valley Woods in Swansea and spent 3 hours following a variety of mindful activities.

We met in the car park at the re-imagined Penllergare Woods. From there Lea encouraged us to be present with the feeling of our feet on the floor and our movement of weight through our walk to the woodland base. Here we met James and sat in a circle around an open fire, acclimatising to the world around us.

Lea and James led us through a series of mindful activities that celebrated the woods and our presence in them. I found the session invigorating and grounding, feeling refreshed and breathing deeply and well. It is easy to forget how re-balancing nature is, Mindfulness in the Woods Workshop reminded me of its power.

Lea and James will be running another Swansea based Mindfulness in the Woods workshop at Penllergare Woods 2nd June. Book early to avoid disappointment, the last one sold out!

 

I’m hoping this makes you smile

This photo is for you. I had in my mind that I would try and create a photo to make you smile. So when I released the day into my bedroom and saw the dazzling blue sky an idea burst into existence.

I thought how could you not fail to smile at the sight of my sparkling white English legs, loose for the first time this year on a bracing Welsh beach? There were other factors I hoped would also help: memories of time spent at the beach, the sight of consistently sunny Swansea (joke) and of course, my smiling face.

Then if all that failed to turn up the corners, perhaps the tale of what happened directly after this photo was created would amuse you. There I was, my lovely new Fuji XT2 on a little tripod – only a foot off the sand, blithely imagining that the sea was in retreat. The shutter fired and I looked over my left shoulder to see a wave racing towards me. I dashed forward, scooped up the camera and tripod and sprung up the sloped sea wall.

Unfortunately, the angle and surface combined to make clinging there until the tide had once again retreated a trial. Watched by a mother and her two kids, who had also raced out of the way – although they were next to the steps – I slowly slid back towards the water. Inexorably I neared its pooled edge.  Visions of soggy socks and frozen toes swam past.

Then with a single bound I was free!

 

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Sunset Afterglow

I couldn’t let this opportunity pass without sharing a Rise/Set photo I created at a mindful photography workshop a few years ago.

I had booked the space, date and time in Llanmadoc on the Gower Peninsula in late September in the hope that we would be blessed with a great sunset. The reality exceeded my expectations providing one of those sunsets where the afterglow colours remind you of the unforgetable artistry that nature can provide.

Llanmadoc Beach faces west and America so the sunset was directly behind the retreating tide. This low tide also provided the opportunities for reflections of the swooning colours in the water sitting on the smooth slick sand. I decided to create something a little different, using a tripod, a low ISO and a slow shutter speed I slowly swept the camera through the horizon and back, creating the finished blurred effect. The colours are as close to the reality as my ability, recollection and software allows. I’m sure that nature’s reality was even more spectacular.

As a footnote it is interesting to reflect how this photo has come to symbolise my work in mindful photography, being used throughout this website, my business card and course promotion material. I even have a spectacular large print framed in my lounge. It has grown to represent this adventure in mindful photography I am currently living.

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My favourite place is right here right now

The photo above was my one of my first thoughts for an image that represented a Favorite Place. It suggests that I have been out with my camera, creating photos and have now settled to review the photos whilst consuming a quality cup of tea and possibly the best Apple Cake in the world!

Firstly, you want to know about the cake, I know. It’s provided at Brynmill Coffee House, my local café. A little stop on the way home after a stroll around the park. Secondly, the photos – they follow at the bottom of this post, or a favourite few do. They’re from this morning’s practice, actually in a park in Porth – nowhere near the café. That’s artistic licence for you!

My second thought, after some reflection about what made a favourite place was a connection with mindfulness. It was the moment of creating this blog post that provided the inspiration. For whilst I do have special places that I love, and people that I love to be with that turn any place into a favourite place (you know who you are), the present moment is my favourite place of all.

If I am totally present in this moment then I am really here. Completely inhabiting my mind, body and place. I am completely immersed in the one thing that I am doing. I am aware of the sights, sounds and smells. I am tuned into the thoughts whizzing through my mind and occasionally when I notice this I remember to connect back to what I can see, or the ground under my feet.

Sometimes I am present enough to be aware of how I feel. As an English middle aged man this ability is a work in progress! But supported by my photographic practices, meditation and mindfulness practices it is developing.

This morning I went out to practice mindful photography originally with the intention of creating photos whilst I was experiencing feelings of uncertainty. However as soon as I got outside in the sharp morning air and brilliant sunshine those feelings dissolved and I was there, present with the day, my camera and my dog. Another favourite place.

Barcelona

After a three day visit to Barcelona with my sister I am in recovery! Overdid it a bit and my breathing is a little shabby. The trip itself was great fun (mainly – more later) and we got to see lots.

Cheap flights and Airbnb all make travel to European cities easy and accessible. We stayed in the El Ravel area about a 5 minute walk from La Rambla. The accommodation was a great find clean, comfortable and well located.

First morning we had a late breakfast, a little mooch around the big market, Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria and then met up with a local for a guided walking tour. That was a great start, got our bearings (well, I got mine, not one of Kim’s strengths!) and gave us some great ideas of where to visit, eat and drink. This was all organised through With Locals.

We then headed for a little culture at MACBA (contemporary art) to get confused. Though I do believe that the art inspired my abstract images around the building, seen below.

Later on that day we stopped for a cuppa, after walking 8 miles! I placed my camera next to me, under my coat. The nearest person was a table away, somehow he still stole it. After the shock, anger and frustration of the fruitless police reporting I resigned myself to the loss, hoping that my camera insurance covered it.

The highlights of the trip all happened on the second day. Sagrada Familia is astounding, even though it is still 8 years from completion. A ‘Wow’ escaped my lips as we first walked in. The photos here barely do it justice, taken as all these photos are on my smartphone and edited using Snapseed.

Later we walked down to the marina and sat in the warm winter sun with a comforting bottle of Cava and tapas. Nice. Later in the evening more bars and the 4 Gats (cats to you – an old haunt of Picasso) for more lovely tapas. We finished off in a cocktail bar, Dr Stravinsky’s, as suggested by our guide.

It’s a fabulous city, but keep your valuables very close.

 

Favourite Photos 2017

I don’t know why I haven’t thought to do this before. Thanks to WordPress photo challenge for suggesting 2017 Favorites: an invitation to share a favourite or a gallery of the best of 2017. So here they are.

Start the year with a selfie

Contemplative moment

Brynmill Park looking exotic in February

Taylor busting some birthday moves

Simon and I get surreal

Calm

India’s Final Exhibition (it’s behind us)

A much needed Spring break in Turkey

What do you think?

Simply held

Just

Rain shower

Retreat

Rippled

Perfect Pwlldu

Got my eye on you

Gower sunset (Lundy on horizon)

Double twilight

December dawn

Misty Winter’s morning

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Ascend

Ascend is the WordPress photo challenge of the week. These word challenges resonate when I can relate them to my living practice of paying attention to the world and responding skillfully to events and challenges, rather than simply following old habitual thoughts or actions.

To ascend simply means to climb up, or to rise. It is in the latter interpretation that I find an echo of my practice. To rise or soar, to my highest potential is ultimately my intention. I chose the word intention, rather than goal because I want to indicate that this is an ongoing practice, a daily paying attention, rather than a goal to aspire to. I am not certain that there is an end point, that would be the the purpose of using it as a goal. It is more a regular tuning in to how I am living. What I am doing, the choices I am making. The way I am through each day. Living a mindful life is regularly reminding yourself that you are intending to live a mindful life!

So to soar to my highest potential is a journey of small increments. Not of steps forward and retreats back, but more of flowing with the current of life’s river, my head above the water paying attention to my travels. It is about noticing when I fight against the general flow, or cling to the banks to avoid being torn away by the way life is heading, particularly when I am uncomfortable with the direction or speed.

I am fortunate, at least I call it good fortune today, I didn’t a couple of days ago. I get reminders if I cling to hard, or try swimming against the flow. My body reminds me that I am trying too hard. My breathing condition manifests as a physical change. I literally have to slow or stop, for my limited breathing will not allow anything else. After the initial anger, and the necessary medication, the breathing usually re-balances. And in that space, where I am right now I reflect upon my choices that led to the physical change.

Each time I get a little wiser. Only a little! Each time I learn a little more about how I am and how I could be. Soaring in your life is not a one time event, those ascensions are just happenings that bring us joy and make us feel alive. They are the opposite of the crashes. Both are to be treated with the same equanimity. They both pass, and by paying attention to how we are in them, we get a little wiser and more attuned to who we are and how we are. Living a mindful live is an intention not a goal.

The Photo

The photo is simple metaphor for keeping your feet on the ground when you are looking at the heavens. It was created all in camera, using a double exposure and playing with the white balance.

 

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ME – Multiple Exposure

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

Digital ME

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

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

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

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

A Mindful Approach

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

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

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

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

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

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Mindful Photography Course – Week 6

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

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

I believe that there is one more essential attitude: intention

Intention

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

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

Ed Halliwell Mindful.org

The Practice

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

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

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

The photos

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

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Mindful Photography Course – Week 5

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

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

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

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

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

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Zen reasons to love photography

What is Zen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Zen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zen Camera

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

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

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

PS The Photos

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