Boredom is an experience that is avoided. The distractions available are numerous: smartphone, TV, work, household chores and friends are but a few. But how would it be to experience boredom by choice?

I wrote this post whilst I was on what was planned to be a 3 day retreat in the farmland hills above the Welsh market town of Brecon. I have spent many retreat breaks over the last 8 years at the centre at Llannerchwen. It is very quiet, in beautiful rolling wooded hills and visited by pheasants, rabbits, hawks and much more. But it is my experience that every retreat is different; the external landscape changes with the season, and my internal landscape changes both with season and its own rhythms .

It was on my mind that there would be opportunity to experience boredom, even though I had brought books, podcasts and my camera. And so I chose to sit on the cabin’s most comfortable chair and gaze through the large patio doors at the dank welsh countryside, and I notice.

I notice the voice; my internal commentator suggesting I do this, or that. It is a quiet insistent voice, no doubt fueled by my normal behaviour, which in turn has been shaped by our doing culture. Stopping for a while, not reading, not even meditating is an enlightening experience. The voice is very strong. This post is a product of its insistent suggestions. But in between the activity, the doing tasks, there is space to notice.

I have sat for a while – not timed – and observed. I notice the movements outside my window; the thrushes fighting over territory, the occasional rabbit foraging through the bronze bracken, and the last leaves from the long passed Autumn clinging on to tributary branches.

In between the visual stimulation I notice my mind’s habits. Thoughts of action and activity wander in and beckon in an alluring manner, like an old friend suggesting a visit to a favourite haunt. I note the thought and go back to the visual. This is a cultivated habit from my mindful photography, but the thoughts are relentless. Like the waves they return again and again.

I know that the practice is in the noting and not reacting. In honouring the thought or associated feeling and returning to the moment. This is itself a mindful practice and is part of the reason I am here, cultivating the habit of paying attention. Why do I do this? I am choosing to re-wire my brain. This is how Dr Barbara Mariposa explains it in ‘The Mindfulness Playbook’

“The brain changes shape according to how you use it. We can intentionally change our brain and nervous system for the better. Regularly using mindful (activities) the prefrontal cortex increases in size and activity……..promoting greater self awareness, the essential building block for emotional intelligence. We are giving ourselves a mental and emotional upgrade.”

Stopping and noticing provides the opportunity to connect to a fundamental truth; “I am not my thoughts. I have thoughts.” Dr B Mariposa

So I will stop this activity now and return to my boredom, my observation of how I am. But I will leave you with a supportive mindful photography practice that I will complete my self later. (The photo with the post is the product of the practice)

Mindful Photography Practice – Boredom

  1. Imagine that you can only create one photograph
  2. Take yourself and your camera out to a quiet location where you will not be disturbed.
  3. Set your camera to a mode that you are comfortable with and requires little technical photographic thought from you.
  4. Turn off (or cover) the review screen.
  5. Sit at your location and pay attention to your mind
  6. Notice the thoughts. Recognise the feelings that arise. Do nothing, just sit. Sit for at least 20 minutes before you even pick up your camera, but notice your drive to complete the task, the consideration of your space and its photographic opportunities.
  7. Create one photograph. You can move to do this. Do not look at it. Just sit and notice your thoughts
  8. After a while go home. Sit quietly and look at your photo. What thoughts and feelings arise?
  9. Share it with me

I am currently recovering from a cold. Nothing unusual about that, but as a consequence my mind is foggy and writing a blog post is challenging. Patience is the word that lept to mind. Patience Lee, it will all return. Then I had a simple idea. Why not share the excerpt from the Mindful Photography Book I am writing about patience. It’s a win win. You get a great article and a mindful photography practice, I don’t have to think (too much!) Here it is.

A Mindful Attitude – Patience

I believe that patience is the underpinning attitude of mindfulness. It is a quality that is both known and elusive. It is the place that allows us to rest in the moment and await the world’s unfolding. The challenge is that your mind, your life and your whole culturally shaped way of being impels you to do stuff.

This western world carries an implication that we are “ok” if you are completing a task or achieving an outcome. You may define yourself as, “good, ok or not bad” if you feel that you are purposeful, if you are doing something. Having a purpose for the day is a positive and life affirming experience. However, if you are to truly experience your activities in a non judgemental way, patience is the quality that allows you to fully integrate the experience.

Patience in the moment allows you to be with whatever the experience is. It allows you to rest with your sensory experience. To notice the thoughts that swirl and pass through your mind. To recognise the feelings that arise. With patience you rest with the present experience and don’t rush off to experience “better” ones.

This can be particularly true of “unpleasant” experiences. In these circumstances your coping mechanisms may include delusion (pretending or convincing yourself that the experience is not unpleasant), avoidance or distraction (not thinking about the experience, doing something else) or destruction (when you take action to remove or obliterate the experience!)

Patience is the attitude that allows you to rest in each and any moment. It allows each moment to unfold in its own time. In that space you can then know yourself by becoming attuned to the body’s responses and sensory information, by noticing the thoughts and feelings that arise in your consciousness. Patience supports the practice of being, or living holistically.

My development of a chronic health condition has provided ample opportunity to practice patience: patience with the immediate struggle to breathe; patience with the slow healing process; patience with my feelings of frustration, fear and anger; and patience with others reaction to me, their judgements, their behaviours and their inability to appreciate what is going on for me. Sometimes I imagined that I could be with all of it, that I was patient. Perhaps this was not patience, but numbness. Sometimes it was pure stoicism, a learnt behaviour from all those miles and miles pounding the roads enduring the discomfort, the pain and the desire to sit down.

My experience tells me that true patience, rather than numbness or stoicism, comes hand in hand with understanding and acceptance of the situation. And that is the lifetime practice and at the heart of my book.

 As applied to photography

Patience supports your development as a mindful photographer. You need to be patient in the moment of creating a photograph. When you bring the camera up to your eye to compose and press the shutter there is a drive fuelling your action. This drive is the same one that impels you to keep doing stuff in your life. It is the drive to capture the moment in a “good” photograph. You believe that your purpose in that moment is to create a photograph. It is more than this.

All of the processes, thoughts and actions that are necessary to create a photograph – from learning all the technical and compositional theories, to truly seeing all that is front of us (the shapes, colours, patterns etc) – are just part of the process. You need to be patient over many days, weeks and years as you acquire and deepen this knowledge. You then need, in the moment of pressing the shutter, to let all of the associated photographic ideas and thoughts to wash over you, to release the drive and just be with the experience.

Only then, in a quiet and connected place, will you instinctively reflect your inner experience in your outward view (the photograph). Perhaps this is better explained by a master of the art.

“I believe that, through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us, but which can also be affected by us. A balance must be established between the two worlds – the one inside of us and the one outside of us. As a result of a constant reciprocal process, both these worlds come to form a single one. And it is this world that we must communicate.” Cartier-Bresson ‘The Decisive Moment’ 1952

Patience forms the loving hands that embrace your desire to create personal resonant photographs of your world.

A Mindful Photography Practice 8 – Just Sit

The purpose of this practice is to develop patience. Choose a location and scenario to photograph where the creation of a personally resonant photograph will require patience. Here are a few examples

  • A sunrise – getting up super early, getting to the location in plenty of time, sitting and waiting. Create photographs throughout the sunrise.
  • A technical aspect of photography that you find challenging. This could include panning, intentional camera movement, night time light trails, freezing fast moving objects eg sport, nature.
  • A portrait photograph of someone you know but find challenging (patience with your feelings of discomfort)
  • A sunny day moving shadow. Choose a location where a shadow of an object is cast. Set up in a fixed spot, use a tripod if you have one. Sit next to the camera and create one photograph every 20 minutes. Only sit, wait and observe for each 20 minutes; no reading, no smartphone, do nothing. Just be present.

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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Book your place

I am delivering a full day Mindful Photography workshop on 15th October at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff. We will start at 10.00am and finish at 4.00pm and the cost (including booking fee) is £54. Want to know what it’s all about? Read on.

What is Mindful Photography?

Mindful Photography is an approach to photography and life that applies mindfulness to photography and through photography practices develops your ability to be mindful. Mindfulness is defined by Jon Kabat Zinn as “paying attention on purpose, to the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding experience moment to moment.”

At the workshop you will be introduced to practices and activities that use the visual experience to root you in the present moment, practices that encourage you to pay attention to what you are seeing and doing and in that moment create a personally resonant photograph.

Why get mindful?

You lead a very busy, active life. You constantly move from one activity to another and sometimes those activities overlap. Your mind is constantly busy, doing one thing and often thinking about others. Mindfulness encourages you to pay attention to the one thing that you are doing. It sounds easy, but because of your busy habits it is very difficult.

During your busy days you may experience feelings of frustration, anger, inadequacy or relentless drive as you try to cram in and achieve ‘stuff’ in your day. You are impelled by a desire to complete, succeed and achieve. Mindfulness encourages you to pay attention to these feelings. To notice what you are experiencing. Then you are able to make a choice. To react or respond.

React or respond?

You are hardwired to react to stressful events. This capacity for action and re-action developed to allow quick reactions when danger threatened. The oldest part of the brain, the limbic system, fires up at the first sign of danger or challenge. You know this as the ‘flight or fight response’. The brain readies the body for action, heart rate is raised as more oxygen is delivered to your muscles, you breathe quicker and your body is flooded with cortisol. You are ready to fight or run. You are ready for action.

This system still fires in our modern world when you are stressed. Being late for work, an argument with a loved one, your day going awry or simply being driven to complete a task so that it is perfect. These and many other similar events fire up the limbic system and you react in old familiar ways. You have, over many years, evolved ways of behaving when you are stressed. You will be familiar with your pattern of behaviour!

Mindfulness encourages us to be present so that you notice what you are experiencing. The first indicator that you are stressed might be noticing something physical (pounding heart, faster breathing) or it might be noticing feelings of anger or frustration – just before you erupt in action. In that moment you breathe. You pay attention to your body, notice the physical sensations; breathe.

Then you a have a choice. You may recognise the feeling, this experience. It is an old familiar acquaintance. You know how you normally react. Your choice now, fully in the experience and aware, is to respond. To respond with full engagement, knowing what is happening and knowing the consequences of your actions. How you respond is your choice. But it is a more skillful response than our habitual reaction and in that moment you burn a new pathway in your mind.

Motorways and off road routes

Your habitual response is like a motorway. It is the route you normally take, it is well prepared and you use it without thought. Engaging in a skillful response is like getting off road, with your machete, and carving a path through new ground. It is not easy. But each time you make that skillful choice the path gets a little more used. The way becomes a little clearer. Imperceptibly you develop a new way of responding. A new habit.

Why photography?

Photography is a familiar and creative activity. Attending to the visual experience as your mindful anchor, the thing that you return to when you notice you have started thinking about other stuff, attunes you to the moment. Applying mindfulness to photography expands your perspective. As you use the visual experience as the one thing that keeps you present, you see more. As you pay attention to the thoughts and feelings that play through your mind you have the opportunity to create a photograph that responds to that experience. Mindful Photography leads to greater personal engagement in the process of creating a photograph.

Why not come along on the 15th? Expand your perspective. Learn about an engaging and stimulating approach to photography. Learn more about mindfulness. Learn more about yourself and create intimately resonant photographs.

Book your place

A Mindful Photography practice

I saw the sky and I could not resist: a one hour mindful photography practice with blue sky as the theme. Every photo created to have blue sky in the frame, either as the background, feature or reflection.

It is a stimulating practice to limit your creative options. By choosing one theme this also provides an anchor. Whatever is going through your head (thoughts, feelings or sensations) you can return to the theme, to seeing the blue sky.

I also wandered about with my camera in a particular and familiar set up. I had a prime lens on, so no zooming, only moving my feet and body. I had the camera in aperture priority, f7.1 and the ISO 100 (as it was a bright sunny day). This allows the technical choices to be limited (encouraging you to be with the visual) or to be subject of the practice, an element of being present.

This then allows me to create photos where depth of field is not a concern without further thought. The photographer Bryan Petersen calls this a ‘who cares’ aperture. From this point you can choose to change the aperture for creative reasons; a small aperture (f16 or above) for landscapes or a large aperture (f2.8 or below) where a shallow depth of field would help to isolate the subject from its background.

That’s it. A simple camera set up. One theme. Return to the seeing (blue sky – in this case). Here are my favourites.

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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.

Mindful Photography Practice-12 Mindful Photography Practice-13 Mindful Photography Practice-15 Mindful Photography Practice-16Mindful Photography Practice-14

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?

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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.

 

I have written in the past about how imposing limitations can fire up your creative juices, but simplifying your camera set up can also allow a greater connection with the visual feast in front of you. Let me explain.

I believe that the greatest area for development for a photographer is in our seeing. This is at the heart of Mindful Photography. There are two primary aspects to this seeing.

Anchor

The first is using what we see as our anchor; rather how a meditator uses the breath. As a photographer we can always return to what we are seeing when we notice that our mind has drifted off into thoughts, or we experience emotions, whilst photographing.

This thinking may be do with future events or past happenings. Perhaps a more common thread would be to experience judgmental thoughts about our photography. These can often be related to your photographic fears: fear of making a mistake, missing the shot, our photos not being good enough, a potential subject saying no and so on. With the practice of using our seeing as an anchor we can notice the thought and return to what we can see. Focusing our eyes upon the visual elements and what is in front of us.

This relatively simple instruction is of course difficult to maintain. Our thoughts are tenacious, particularly those that have fear as their root. But the practice of returning to an anchor can provide a little space for some of those thoughts to dissipate.

Seeing like a camera

The second aspect of our seeing development is in the process of learning to see like a camera. Slowly over our developing photography practice we begin to learn how what we can see can be replicated, and also completely different, from how a camera sees.

This area of knowledge can be studied and practiced and encompasses aspects that include: lens choice, point of view, our camera’s sensor size, framing, dynamic range, shooting in raw, direction of light and more. Each area of knowledge can be investigated and practiced to develop our understanding of the similarities and differences between our eyes’ and the camera’s light collecting abilities.

Simplifying your camera set up

Choosing to set up your camera in a simple way – that you are confident in using – allows you to concentrate on these two areas of practice: the seeing anchor and how a camera sees.

When considering which of the following set ups to use, one should choose a set up that feels instinctive. The priority is to practice the seeing. There is a time to practice and become more confident in using the manual features of a camera and there is a time when simplifying those choices allows you to practice the seeing. These are your set up choices.

  • Auto – camera makes all the decisions
  • Program mode (P) – camera chooses aperture and shutter speed but you can override those choices. Camera chooses ISO
  • Aperture Priority (Av or A ) – you choose aperture, the camera chooses shutter speed. You or the camera can choose ISO
  • Shutter Priority (Tv or S) – you choose shutter speed, the camera chooses aperture. You or the camera can choose ISO
  • Manual – all the decisions are taken by you

When practicing the seeing – mindful photography – I usually use aperture priority. This is a setting that I can use and adjust without even taking my camera away from my eye, almost intuitively. That is the kind of automated action you want to be looking for. So choose a set up that allows you to feel that way about the photographic process.

Interested? Find out more by attending one of my workshops.

 

 

I was feeling a little dazed this morning. An early rise and ragged breathing left me with a sense of disconnectedness. As I had to take Taylor to work in Mumbles I thought I would change my routine, drop him off and then do a mindful photography practice to ground me.

The ‘Film Style’ practice is a space, time and feature limited photo activity. Its aim is to create 24 photos (a là film) on your digital camera using as many manual features as you feel comfortable using. The key ingredient is that you turn off your review screen so that you cannot see the photos as you take them. This replicates the idea that film photography generates, that by not seeing what you are creating you only have your viewfinder/screen to guide you, and you know you will not be able to see the result. This encourages a slower, more considered pace of photography, allowing you to tune in to your current experience and particularly the visual experience.

If you have a DSLR or CSC with viewfinder you can also tape up or turn off the screen, so you only compose the photo through the viewfinder. Where the lens or camera allows, you can also choose to turn off the auto focus and only manually focus the lens. This further supports an attentiveness to the practice.

The Practice

Choose a small area, no bigger than 100 x 100 metres. When you arrive sit in the space and pay attention to your sensory information. What can you feel, smell, touch, hear and see? When you feel you have completely arrived start to move around your environment following the 4 stage seeing practice.

Create 24 photos. No more, no less. Keeping count in your head is a practice in itself! When you have 24 photos (or think you have) leave your space and return home. Do not look at your photos until you get home.

Editing

When I download and review the photos I initially select in. Rather than excluding the ones I don’t like, I select the ones I do like, often on an instinctive reaction. Out of 24 I would hope to have at least 5 I would like to share. Editing wise I do very little. Some minor cropping and a little light adjustment to replicate how I felt when I originally saw the scene.

Here are my favourite photos from this morning’s practice. Which one is your favourite?

Mindful Photography is mindfulness applied to the process of creating a photograph

It starts with seeing and extends through the technical and compositional choices towards an encouragement to align one’s eye, one’s mind and one’s heart whilst one is completely present in the moment.

There is a lot to unpack in that definition, so let’s start at the beginning. Where does the term Mindful Photography come from? If you enter the term into a popular search engine and review the sites that are presented you quickly come to a conclusion; it is being used by many people to mean different things. However, the general consensus is that Mindful Photography is the application of mindfulness to the art of photography and strong identification is made for its links with Buddhism. So let’s start there.

Contemplative Photography

When one first explores the idea of applying mindfulness to using a camera, the practice of contemplative photography becomes relevant. The main evolution of the practice of contemplative photography seems to have been through Buddhism.

Buddhism has a rich tradition of expressing wisdom and realisation through the arts and it seems that the Lama Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche may have been the first to have used his camera as an exploration into clear seeing. This history is explained by Michael Wood (the co-author of The Practice of Contemplative Photography: Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes) on his website. He explains Buddhism’s connection with clear seeing thus,

“Buddhism is concerned with clear seeing because clear seeing is the ultimate antidote for confusion and ignorance. Attaining liberation from confusion and ignorance is Buddhism’s raison d’être. Clear seeing is a primary concern for the art of photography because clear seeing is the source of vivid, fresh images—photography’s raison d’être.”

Buddhism is not the only religious tradition to have seen the possibility of photography as contemplative, reflective tool. The book The Tao of Photography offers a Taoist approach, considering how photography and The Way can be mutually supportive.

I have also read Christian based explorations. In The Little book of Contemplative Photography Howard Zehr relates the Christian tradition of contemplation to clear seeing with a camera. Does that sound familiar?

Clear Seeing

One thing that all these explanations have in common is that it is the process of clear seeing that is central to being at one with the present moment; to connecting with what you are experiencing. So when I practice Mindful Photography my first intention is to use what I see as my anchor. I walk, with my camera, observing the world. I am not looking for a photograph I am observing the visual panorama before me. Every time I notice that my mind has wandered into planning, reflecting or judging I come back to the seeing.

Then there will come a moment of visual stimulation, something will ‘catch my eye’. I stop and rest in that moment. I try to stay with what it was that stopped me, connecting to the visual nature of the scene.

Finally, I receive the photograph. This is achieved by creating the equivalent of what I see with my camera. I consider where to place the rectangular frame. Maybe I move in or zoom in, or both. It is almost inevitable that during this final stage my clear seeing will be influenced by four barriers; photo thinking, excitement, conceptualisation and judgement. I notice these thoughts and return to the visual stimulation that first stopped me. Press the shutter and walk on.

How do we see clearly?

Those four barriers to clear seeing each have a lot to them. Let’s start with conceptualisation as that has the clearest link to the process of seeing. Our eyes see light. It is our mind that then makes sense of what we see. In micro seconds the mind assembles all that visual information and applies labels; colours, three dimensional depth, form, shape, pattern and texture are identified and the objects are named.

But our camera doesn’t see like that. It captures light, just a small rectangle (not the almost 180 degrees we see) in two dimensions. It does not know what it is seeing. So to ‘create the equivalent’ of what stopped us in that moment of visual stimulation we need to see like a camera. Claude Monet explained this clearly.

“In order to see we must forget the name of the thing we are looking at”

In forgetting the name, or label, we start to see the light. Is that easy? Oh no, it takes practice, lots of practice. In fact as Malcolm Gladwell suggested in Outliers it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a master of anything. This truth is fundamental to our development as Mindful Photographers particularly when we consider the photo thinking – the technical and compositional ideas that underpin successful photographs – that swirl about our mind when we are trying to see clearly.

I believe that Mindful Photography must also offer practices to follow that support our intention to remain with our clear seeing. As we develop as photographers, as we learn the technical and compositional context, there are techniques and practices we can follow that will help: wherever we are on that journey of 10,000 hours.

What are these techniques and how can you learn them? Read on…

The Mindful Photographer

All of these practices and techniques have one thing in common; they support the alignment of our eye, our mind and our heart. They bring us into the present moment. They open an understanding of the holistic photography experience and of life. What are they? You will have to enrol on The Mindful Photographer to find out!

The Mindful Photographer is an online course that explores what it means to be a mindful photographer. It is offered in a flexible manner over 4 Courses, each one allowing you to enrol and work at a time to suit you. Each Course comprises of 2 units and each one explores aspects of the practice, offering resources, techniques, photos and assignments to support your development.

The key element of the online courses are the assignments, at least one for each unit, which are submitted to an online group page. The assignments offer you the opportunity to apply mindful photography practices, encouraging the development of mindfulness and creating personal photos that resonate for you. I offer supportive comments on every assignment photo and you can also see and comment on other students’ photos.

Mindful Photography embraces the whole of the process of creating a photograph and offers direct practices to support our development as both photographers and people; providing mindful practices that reflect and support other mindful practices we follow in our life. It also improves our understanding of photography and expands how you see.

The Mindful Photographer will be live early in 2016 at www.photential.com

You will never see the world in quite the same way again.