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

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

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

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

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

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Seeing in colour

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

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

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

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

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Mundane can be beautiful

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

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

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

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Funny this word should come up today as the WordPress prompt. Last night I dreamt that I was walking along a path with friends and found a young tree in my hands. I turned to my friends and passed it to them. They dropped it and it lay abandoned on the floor.

Those of you who like a metaphor could have a field day with that one. But I was left more with the thought that we take trees for granted. How would our world be without them? It would not exist. We would not exist. Trees are the lungs of the world, the breath of all life.

So I decided to look at my recently uploaded photos to this website and include the last 10 photos that show trees in all their variety, invisibility and vibrancy. Here they are.

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There is a still point between the in breath and the out breath. And another between the out breath and the in breath. Each is milliseconds in length. Each is a time when the world is in balance. You may not be aware of their arrival and passing. But they are always there, always available.

The in breath requires us to do something; our body has learnt to drawn in breath, to extend effort and air is drawn into our lungs. The out breath is a release, we let go and air passes back out through our respiratory system. In between the effort and the release, the release and the effort are the still points.

I am writing a book on Mindful Photography at the moment that is about paying attention to the still point. Staying with that moment when all is in balance. It is about developing a way of extending its influence throughout every breath, in and out. It is about paying attention to the effort that has brought us to this point and paying attention to what we can release. It is about paying attention to our life, our choices and the ripples of consequence that resonate through our being and beyond.

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Mindfulness is paying attention

This paying attention has become known as mindfulness and it is all the rage. But whilst it may provide the media with regular column inches, for me it is more than just a fad, it has become a way through tremendous personal difficulties and a practice that is now central to my life.

Mindfulness is intended to be a way of living through every aspect of our life. The suggestion is that we pay attention to what we are sensing, thinking, feeling, and doing. Through that practice we learn to respond in ways that support us, rather than instinctively reacting in ways that cause us stress.  Most mindfulness books provide philosophy and guidance that allow us to apply the practice to our life. They are often written by Buddhist sages or learned psychologists. I have no such claims. However, I have learnt through personal experience how mindfulness can support a greater understanding of myself; my choices, my habits, my behaviours and the full engagement in every aspect of my being.

I have lived through the study, the reading, the courses, the sitting, the dreaming. I have thought that I was applying the philosophies, the practices. I have imagined that I was mindful, that just because I meditated that I was ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’. It took ten years before I began to recognise that this mindfulness thing is an ongoing practice. I knew that’s what it was called; a practice. I understood the idea intellectually, but I was not living it. The possibility that you never really crack it, that there is nothing to achieve, that it is a lifetime’s practice was a slow coalescing realisation. One that occasionally seems obvious and at other times remains elusive.

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A Personal Approach

My book takes a personal approach. It draws upon my midlife experiences of choices and consequences, of striving, of not paying attention and of the health challenges that developed. It focuses upon a particular application of mindfulness and shares methods, practices and activities that I have found of immense help.

I do not claim to be a mindful master, but I have found an application for mindfulness and a way of continuing to develop a mindful approach that I believe is quite unique and may be helpful for others. I call it Mindful Photography.

We are all photographers now. Most of us carry a smartphone with the capacity to create and share fabulous photographs of our world. Many of us also have a digital camera. The potential for creating a visual record is now part of our everyday life. My book is for everyone who wants to create personal and resonant photographs: photos that say something of who we are, what we think and what life is like for us. However, it is not just about how to create profound, expressive photos; it also is about living life, making mistakes, facing unexpected events, understanding ourselves and responding, rather than reacting to life’s difficulties.

In the book I will reflect upon the habits and behaviours I developed in my thirties and the midlife choices I made later that impelled me down the path towards a chronic health condition. Sometimes I may shed a little light on the culture at the time, but this is not shared as an excuse for my choices. It is more an attempt to unravel the impact our modern life and behaviour has upon our well being. I contrast these life experiences with the ideas and attitudes that underpin a mindful life.

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Why Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is about paying attention. My life choices clearly demonstrate that I was not paying attention. However, over ten years the message begins to percolate my consciousness and I start to incorporate mindful activities into my life.

Have I got it all sorted? Do I live a mindful life every day, every minute? Don’t be daft. Mindfulness is an ongoing practice. However, mindfulness and mindful photography have changed how I live. Mindful Photography offers a path to becoming a conscious and fully awake photographer, and because we cannot separate the photographer from the person, it also investigates a way of being. Balancing photography practices that develop mindfulness with an exploration of how life’s choices are determined, I will share an intimate and truthful map of our midlife travels, arriving at a midlife manifesto that is my work in progress and could be yours.

Mindfulness has changed my life and developing this practice through photography has been and continues to be one way in which I have explored how I live now and how I can continue to live with authenticity, truth and love. Once you pick up a camera and start using it in the ways that I suggest your life may never quite be the same again.

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It doesn’t take much encouragement to get me to create a selfie. Not only is it a genre I regularly explore, I’ve also done a monthly photo project with FB friends (Beyond the Selfie) and I am just about to write the last chapter of my book about Mindful Photography; and that’s all about me!

So when I saw this weekly photo challenge title from The Daily Post I determined to create a selfie and write a post today. Even though my camera is tucked up at home.

And no, you should know that I am not self obsessed. Any more than the average egocentric human being. But I am fascinated by this thing we call the self.

The Self in the Selfie

There are many interpretations of what the self is, they vary from the classically psychological to the philosophically challenging. But one thing is certain. If you cut me open you will not find it. The core essence that you think that you are, your beautiful self, is not a pearl to be discovered residing in the oyster that is your mind. Perhaps this is what the Buddhists mean when they explain that there is no such thing as self; that it is not a physical thing, not something you can point at.

The explanation of the self that resonates for me is that it is a constantly evolving, multi-layered, and infinitely possible reflection of all that you do and all that you are.

So it seems entirely apposite that the mirror reflects an image of me, but I know that this is merely a physical and momentary sliver of the whole. All that I am and all that I can be resides in the possibility of the evolving self.

Exploring the Self

There is an inevitable consequence of living a mindful life. The more you practice, the more you pay attention to your thoughts and feelings, the better you get to know yourself. Sometimes stuff arises that you thought long forgotten. Sometimes you are unaware that you have drifted away down a side stream of thought, far way from the days happenings.

Other times you begin to notice some of your habitual thoughts. Maybe you notice that small nagging voice that criticizes what you are doing, or how you are doing it, or what you have not done! Or maybe you start to become more attuned to how you feel about the people in your life, your job, how you spend your spare time.

I find that it is an inevitable consequence of meditating and practising mindful photography that I become more self aware, more attuned to how I am in the moment right now. And in that moment I know myself a little better.

The Final Chapter

The final chapter of my book is all about the personal photo project I have been following throughout the last 12 months of my life. Every three months I have spent one week creating only one photo each day. Each photo is intended to represent me, how I am, what is happening and how I am being. It is not easy only creating one photo, and I will be sharing some thoughts on how to best do this, but it is challenging and fulfilling.

As the photos build up over the week, months and year a story begins to emerge; a visual storyboard of the year, one week at a time. So far I have completed the practice 4 times and therefore have 28 photos. It is these photos that I will be sharing in the final chapter and telling the story of the last turbulent and marvellous year.

Many of the photos make use of metaphors to represent a thought or feeling, some document what happened and several make use of reflections. The mirror of my soul!

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I like September. Do you? I like it because it is a start of new beginnings in the West; it feels a little like a second opportunity at the New Year. Another chance to review where we are at, how we are living, and consider how we might change things.

Of course the truth is that every day brings us that opportunity, but we get so wrapped up in the doing, the striving to keep everything on track that we loose track of the important stuff. Immersed in our tasks and activities we forget to be compassionate for ourselves. We only see what we are not achieving, not completing.

Instead let us take this month, with its new start, to stop a moment and breathe. Consider for a moment all that you have achieved over the last twelve months. Reflect upon the moments of joy and love that have lit up your world. Hold gently those times of difficulty and confusion and know that through it all you are loved and that the sun will still rise tomorrow.

Try a little photography workshop this September

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I recently had the pleasure of being asked to be the photographer for Faye and Jamie’s wedding. I have known Jamie most of his life as the son of my good friend Simon, who I have known for many years longer. The wedding was held in the heart of deepest Sussex and we were blessed with a dry and warm day, though it did pour down once we got under cover and there was a little shower as the bride and groom left the church. But that just provided an opportunity for some iconic umbrella shots.

Here is a small selection of my favourite photos.

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It is not often I get asked to create a visual record of an afternoon tea party. So I was delighted to be asked by Liz to attend her joint birthday celebration with her Mum recently. The weather was kind and I managed to survive all the formal photo requirements necessary on these occasions!

Actually, one of the photos of the large formal group is included here because of the tale it tells. It may not be technically perfect, but for a record of the moment when I said to the group, “Shout something inappropriate” and the youngest child took me literally, it is perfect. I bet that you can identify the Mum. Can you guess what he said though? It is the last photo of this small set.

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Cal Smyth is an author of three books who lives in Swansea. He specialises in thrillers and one of his stories is set in Swansea, which as we all know is a den of iniquity! I know Cal from playing 5-a-side football at the local college on a Friday afternoon and he knows my interest in photography from a particular photo I created of him after football a couple of years ago. I’ll include it here after the more recent photos.

Cal wanted a new set of profile photos for personal and promotional use, so we agreed a location and date and set to it. The selection I have included here are my personal choices; apologies to Cal if they’re not his!

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It seems appropriate to start sharing my favourite photos of Canada with a family collection. After all the main focus of the holiday was to spend time with Ma, Sis, her hubby and those terrible daughters of their’s. There will be later collections of the Okanagan Valley (the gorgeous area of British Columbia that they live in), Crossfit events (Kim is a very keen member and it was international tournament time) and some mindful photography practices. But first up, the family.

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That crazy Mexican dachshund, Stanley who is settling into his new home just lovely

Kim and I spent a day up at Apex, a 45 minute drive from her house. Whilst this photo makes her look like she is a terrible skier the truth is we were pretty similar in ability; averagely competent!

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Mum will not be over delighted to see photos of herself here, but I have chosen ones not too close! The photo above is of her completing a Mindful Photography activity near the Okanagan Lake. The one below is at the Kelowna Marina.

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The following three photos were all taken on Easter Sunday during the Easter Egg (chocolate) hunt that the elderly kids still insist on doing.

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We all took a walk out around the hills surrounding the lake with Kim’s friend Lindsey, who has a dog business. She had 12 dogs with her on this jaunt.

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Kim and I visited the restaurant she works at, Poplar Grove Winery, just outside Penticton. It is a fabulously located venue with some lovely wines

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The photos above and below were both taken on the Kettle Valley Railway Trail. This old rail track has been turned into 600km track through British Columbia. We managed a 2 hour walk!

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Mum in front of her favourite mountain, outside of Kelowna

Laura took part in beer league hockey over the Spring Break. Not sure if that’s the right title for what was going down, but it involved hockey, ice and beer and was enjoyed by participants and audience

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These three photos were taken at ‘the trestles’ in Summerland and star Kim, Morgan and the hound Stanley

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Spring flowers down near a lakeside beach in Summerland

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Those lovely women plus hound almost walking on water at the lakeside

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The irrepressible Laura K!

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Mum, Mike and Morgan at the Crossfit. Favourite photos up next!

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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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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Over the last couple of months I have made two visits to London. Each time the coach has arrived in enough time to deposit my bag at my accommodation, before heading into the city to explore a little dusk time street photography.

Unfortunately, my photos from the first trip were not backed up before my hard disk drive collapsed under the strain. Most of my edited photos from 2015 are currently missing. Many I have in their original raw state (nearly 2000!) but the November London photos have vanished. I know – always back up your work.

The photos here are my favourites from a couple of hours around Piccadilly Circus, the photo above being my absolute favourite. I had noticed that the intermittent rain had brought out the umbrellas and was considering using the big advertising lights at Piccadilly Circus as a backdrop when I saw the potential for a silhouette. I only had to wait in position for less than 10 minutes before the couple came past, sheltering together under their umbrella. Result.

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We have been fortunate over the last few days to experience a little sunshine in between the showers. As it has pretty much rained every day since November I have been very keen to get out and experience the sun.

Whilst I have been walking I have particularly been drawn to the interplay between the sky, sea and land. Each of the photos below is a favourite that illustrates that relationship. The light, patterns, textures, reflections, contrast and colours all have called me to create a photograph that demonstrates the demarcations and echoes between each of these elements.

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A couple of days ago I went for my regular circular walk. As Monty is currently away experiencing the Gower I decided to strap on my headphones, put my music on random and follow my eyes.

The walk takes me down local urban streets into a large park. Halfway round Singleton Park there is a cut through between Swansea University and Singleton Hospital that links up with the boating lake and park. From there you can cross the main road onto Swansea Beach and walk back amongst sandy footprints towards town, before heading back across the main road, up through the bottom of Singleton Park and back to the house.

What a joy to be able to experience this variety of views and terrains. The walk is around 4 km and takes between 40 and 80 minutes depending upon the number of photographic stops and prevailing wind!

The four photos I have chosen represent the three main areas traversed. For the photo that heads this post I was intrigued to contrast the urban telephone lines with nature’s more colourful lines. The second photo below was created to set the portentous sky against the dazzling lime green, golden sunlit trees. The third photo juxtaposes nature’s winter bones with ugly man-made purpose; also lit by the same golden morning light. The final photo was created to reflect the lines of beach, wet sand, sea with yet more ominous clouds.

What a difference a little golden light makes to creation of beautiful photos!

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