Creating art for exhibitions

Let’s reflect upon the process of creating art for exhibitions. The first few months of each year seem to be, what I have now named, ‘Call’ Season. Many national and international exhibitions and competitions call for new work to be submitted. As that period is passing (soon to be followed by ‘Rejection/Acceptance’ season) I thought I would reflect upon the process.

Generally, I have been working on something over the past year, and often that work is suitable for the ‘Open Calls’. In these circumstances it may just be a question of choosing the best of a series, to fit in with the number of submissions allowed, and ensuring that the titles fit the brief.

In the last 4 months I have entered selected works from my Pandemia Project to a few different competitions. The project attempts to process and reflect upon the felt emotions from our last pandemic year. One of my favourite photos from this series is ‘Global Sharing’, which like the rest of the project was created by using multiple exposure techniques in my local countryside. This one made use of extreme blue and green white balance settings create the ‘global’ feel.

Global Sharing

Some exhibition call outs though are themed. The Centre organisation, based in Santa Fe, had several different awards and categories this year. I chose to enter the ‘Personal’ one and created some new multiple exposure images in the style of Pandemia. This time however, to meet the ‘Personal’ theme, I chose to combine some of my existing multiple exposures as a double exposure in Photoshop. ‘Confined Freedom’ below is my favourite example of that, using simple visual metaphors and dynamic colours to convey the conflicted emotional experience.

Confined Freedom

I did feel at the time that I had reached an end with this particular themed work. However, it was a great experience of attempting to use your chosen approach to a particular brief. Sometimes this experience flows easily. Other times it feels a little forced. I believe that the stronger work is created when the experience flows, maybe not easily, but hopefully in a naturalistic manner.

Summer Exhibition 2021

I have entered the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition for the last two years. Initially, I was inspired by visiting the show curated by Grayson Perry in 2018. Walking round the oldest open art exhibition in the world I thought, I could enter something for this!

In early 2019, I went out for a walk with my camera, with the intention of finding a scene that could represent how I felt about Brexit. I was not looking for a photo, but one found me!

There was an old closed down pub on my route and I wandered over to have a closer look at it. The Cricketers stood facing the St Helen’s Cricket and Rugby Ground in Swansea. The pub was famous for being in shot when Garry Sobers hit 6 sixes in an over on the ground, at least one of the huge strikes sailing down the road next to the pub.

I was unprepared for the chaos inside that greeted me, when I looked through the only ground level window not boarded up. The floors were all gone, the low winter light that poured through the upper windows lit a scene of havoc. The main wall facing me was daubed with some graffiti that looked like two warring penises created in blood. It reminded me of the in-fighting, personal battles and arguments of the Brexit debate. Then I noticed that if a leant back a little I could capture some of the reflected clouds in the window, hinting at the possibility of the currently hidden hope of a resolution. The final version below has also had a change of artist’s name. The graffiti tag being replaced by the name Eris – the Greek goddess of strife and discord – a fine maker of the mess we found ourselves in.

Where’s the Brexit?

The experience of creating the art took a few minutes. Everything fell into place; seeing the opportunity, noticing the graffiti, light, chaos and reflection all happened immediately. Pressing the shutter only twice, I moved on, knowing that I had the photo. Later that Spring I was notified that my photo had been selected for the exhibition, and was displayed in the main hall. This was fortuitous, as the curator, Jock McFadyen, is an artist who works with urban chaos. It even sold to a collector from the Netherlands. Result!

Summer Exhibition 2019

Last year’s submission was a different experience. I definitely forced the development of my work to fit the brief and it was not selected. So, this year I determined only to select what felt right, although I did have a hankering to submit one piece from the Pandemia Project. And then brief dropped in. Here it is.

“The show is to be titled ‘Re-claiming Magic’ and will transcend a singular Western art history’s point of reference to focus on magic and a return to the visceral aspects of art-making. The exhibition will be a celebration of the transformative powers of the magical in art, a return to the ritualistic and the sheer joy of making. Western Renaissance art education, Modernist and Conceptual Art practices led to the devaluing of art practices from other cultures in their unmediated forms. This exhibition seeks to restore value to marginalised practices, to reclaim the magic of those works in the context of the Royal Academy. I seek to propose a new pride in the concept of ‘Primitivism’ as an equally valid form of enlightenment alongside other Art practices”. Yinka Shonibare CBE RA

I had already bought my entry before I read this properly. My initial reaction was, What? A few days of reading about primitivism and considering how it could be interpreted by a photographer, I came to three conclusions. One, this was gonna be a little out of my comfort zone and that was good. I needed to move on from Pandemia. Two, I had some techniques that I felt might work. Three, the work needed to be quite flat, celebrate shapes rather than forms, use bright colours and it required human presence.

One of the potential weaknesses of my Pandemia Project is that there are very few people in it. Moving on from that work, I felt that even my abstract multiple exposure work needed to have more human presence. The obvious model was me!

I decided that I would submit one photo from Pandemia, one that was full of colours, shapes and was visceral! I created ‘Go to work. Don’t go to work’, right after the conflicting advice from Boris Johnson in May 2020. His confusing and unhelpful advice incensed me, even though there was no direct impact. I went out on a mission, to echo those strong feelings in a photograph. Here it is.

Go to work. Don’t go to work

However, I had bought two entries to the Summer exhibition. Another photo was required. I decided to buy a new lens to help. In responding to brief I had explored older photo techniques and found out that I could buy a Pinhole zoom lens for my Fuji X-T4. The benefit I knew this would provide was a scene all in (soft) focus, thereby accentuating the shapes, rather than forms. It also meant that I could use extreme white balances to create bright colours in multiple exposure (ME) mode.

I decided that I wanted a park scene with a tree; a return to nature, but that the colours would be almost garish. I started in the centre of Singleton Park with a basic scene of one tree, me in a mask (an uncomfortable nod to primitivism and our recent experience) and a park and sky background. I tried different ME modes, settling on Bright, and then various combinations of poses and white balance colours. Some of the final combined images seemed to work, but nothing really popped, so I changed location.

Whilst I was walking towards a new potential location, I put my camera and tripod down in a tree’s shadow, to review what I had created. I looked over at a large oak tree and immediately knew I had my location. A few experimental images later I had my final image, a reflection of the shielding experience of last year and the future to come. It’s called Shielded Man, here it is.

Shielded Man

I do feel that this time I have responded to the brief in an authentic way that builds upon what I have previously created and pushes it further. Of course, the selection process is notoriously difficult to get through. It’s in two stages, from 16,500 original entries, down to a final few hundred. But I am learning and this brief has pushed me to look at other ways of creating photos that align my eye, my head and my heart. And this all that I aim to do.

Your Photography Goals 2021

Over the last 10 months I have had plenty of time to practice and develop my photography skills. I can’t think why! A key aspect of that development was having a purpose.

To be honest any creative outlet can help, but as I am a photographer and writer I’m going to share some of the ways photography and writing help me.

During all of this Covid chaos many of us have lost our familiar purposes. Work and home life has changed immeasurably. Those changes have led to a change in our roles and responsibilities. All of this change is unsettling, I know. I have lived though a few years of tremendous change, and through that experience I have learnt that there are a few ways in which photography can help.

  1. Learning a new creative skill is uplifting. It is a fact that an old dog can learn new tricks. It’s been proven. Yep, your brain has the capacity to burn new neural pathways throughout the whole of your life. Any day you can learn something new. Now, I’m not saying that it gets easier as you get older, but it it is still possible and that feeling of developing and applying a new skill is life enriching. This year I have taken my skills in Multiple Exposure and ICM to another level and what fun I have had. I even get to share some of my favourite photos here, the photos in this post are all recent ICM experiments.
  2. Photography can help you to process change. Regular readers of this blog and my eBooks will know that I practice and share Mindful Photography Activities that can provide the means for you to express how you feel about something through a photograph. Not only do these photographs have the potential to illustrate an emotion you are living with, the process of creating them and the reflection upon what they look like a few days later can provide the space for the difficult feelings to soften and for you to move towards acceptance.
  3. Sharing your photos can help others. One of the reasons I write this blog and share what I have created is that it can encourage others to do the same. The ways that I support my own well-being have become something that I can share with others. It gives me social purpose. I feel that I am contributing to the common good. Some of the social contact that I am missing is substituted by positive feedback from those of you that find this useful.
  4. Writing about the creation of your photos can help you to develop your skills and understand what you are living though. I do this regularly myself in this blog and eBooks. I find it tremendously helpful. So much so that on my Online Courses I encourage the sharing of photos and comments about the process as a key part of the course. I know that it works. Not only does it support the development of your new skills and help you to process what you have learnt, it provides a social interaction with others who are doing the course. And that is one of the key aspects of learning. We learn from each other. We support each other. How many times have you not understood completely what was being taught, but one of your fellow students was able to help? So sharing your photos and comments about their creation helps you and others. It’s a win win.

So having a purpose can support your well-being and photography can be one of those purposes. Why not set a photographic goal for this year? An intention to learn a new photography skill or develop a current skill to a new level. Having a creative goal is positive at this time. If you have an idea for something you could learn that you’ve been putting off, why not share your goal with me (via email/contact form) and I’ll keep you on track with a reminder or two.

Me? I shall do the same. here is my creative photography goal: –

I will learn how to create fabulous close up/macro photographs. I have never really paid much attention to this, I’ve never owned a macro lens, but the work done by Tracy and Dan Calder at CUPOTY (Close Up Photographer of the Year) has inspired me. Take a look at last year’s winners and I challenge you to not be inspired.

12 Tips for a Photo Marathon

I am currently involved in supporting the planning, organisation and production of Barry Photo Marathon. Having competed at many of these events over the years I am very excited to be involved in this one.

PhotoBarrython, as the photo marathon is probably going to be called, is based in Barry, South East Wales. Barry is probably best known as the setting for the BBC sitcom Gavin and Stacey. It’s not far from the capital of Wales, Cardiff and is a favourite tourist spot.

There will be two events available, a 12 Topics 12 Photos 12 Hours version and a 6 Topics 6 Photos and 6 Hours version, and it will be on Saturday 10th October, based at Memo Arts Centre. Lots more information on this very soon. But in the meantime, I thought you might be interested in some tips for surviving and thriving at a photo marathon.

Survive and thrive at a Photo Marathon

  1. Read the rules and all event information. Make sure you understand the timescale, photography requirements, locations, pickups, final deadline etc.
  2. If you’re using a Digital Camera start with an empty memory card and a charged battery. Carry spares of both. Spare battery and charger will keep you in the game. Spare memory card means you can create other photos as you go (if you have the energy).
  3. If you’re using a Smartphone charge your phone overnight and bring your charger.
  4. Using your Smartphone in Airplane mode will protect your battery life and keep you focused on your photo creation.
  5. Wear the appropriate clothing. Comfortable shoes, trousers that will get dirty and pack clothes for possible weather changes
  6. Enter the event with a friend. One of you has the camera, both of you fire off ideas at each other. Two heads are definitely better than one. You also get to spend time with that person and get to know how they think.
  7. Pace yourself. Make sure you build in breaks and refreshment; it is an endurance event. Often you are more creative during the first half, but more decisive in the second half. Excitement at the beginning creates more ideas and photos. Tiredness makes you more decisive.
  8. Aim to be decisive in the first half and then you’ll be more creative in the second half.
  9. Decide on each final photo as you go. Do not leave that until the end, you’ll be tired. Do each topic in turn. Complete and choose the final topic photo and then move on. This provides creative clarity.
  10. Discuss and view topic photos together, but decide in your pair who makes final decision on choice of photo (usually the photographer).
  11. Use insider knowledge. It is helpful if one of you knows the city. If not then talk to locals. Ask for advice. However, don’t let your knowledge or information about the city limit you seeing what is right in front of you.
  12. Consider choosing a simple overarching theme to link the photos. You could use a prop to do this (e.g. a mini Lego figure who appears in every photo). You could choose a theme, like a colour or technique – red or low/high point of view.

PS The photo below was created at Bath photo marathon to illustrate the topic Missing. I did the event with Simon (in shot) which doubled the fun!

10 ways Mindful Photography can help you

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

  1. Learn how to use what you see as your anchor – In meditation the breath is often used as an anchor; the thing you return to when you notice sensations, thoughts or feelings playing out across your mind. A mindful approach to photography means that when you notice your busy mind you return to what you can see. Every time you notice that you’ve a busy head – planning the next shot, looking for a photo opportunity or just thinking about what you’ll be doing later – you return to what is in front of you. With this as your regular practice you will begin to see more, more of what is there and you will see more how your camera sees.
  2. Learn how to see like a camera – A camera does not know the name of anything in its viewfinder. You do. You are quite attached to the name of things. As Claude Monet said, “In order to see, we must forget the name of the thing we are looking at.” Your camera sees light. You may describe the way light plays out in your frame as including shapes, forms, colours, lines, patterns, textures and space. You can learn to see the light, but you have to practice forgetting the name of things.
  3. Don’t look for a photo, let the photo find you – This is quite a slippery idea. Almost Zen like. There you are out with your camera, with the intention of creating photos, how can you not look for a photo? It’s a state of mind. You don’t look for a photo, you see what is in front of you. You pay attention to the visual feast; the light, the shapes, forms, colours…. You know what I’m going to say. Yes, seeing like a camera, is seeing what is there. That’s all. Trust me, the photo will find you.
  4. Develop your photography skills and knowledge whilst remaining connected to the visual feast before you – My mindful approach to photography starts with the seeing practice, but extends to a mindful approach to learning photography skills and techniques. My eBook Mindful Photography: How to use photography to develop mindfulness explains how.
  5. Learn how to express how you are feeling with a photograph – Photography can be used to explore and represent emotional experiences that are current or past. It can be literal, metaphorical or symbolic. Or it can just be a photo of something that resonates for you.
  6. Learn how to use photography to help you understand and accept your difficulties – The more that you practice mindfulness the more you discover about yourself. This can be challenging. The more you notice what you are thinking and feeling, the more you need a way to help process those difficult thoughts and feelings. Mindful Photography can be used to explore your world, your thoughts and feelings. It can act as the intermediary between your inner world and the outer one. Allowing you the space to process what you are experiencing. My eBook Mindful Photography 2: How to use photography to explore your world explains how.
  7. Develop patience in your world through understanding and accepting your development as photographer – The journey to mastery in any skill may take 10,000 hours (Malcom Gladwell in Outliers), but there are mindful photography practices you can follow that support this development. These allow the quality of patience to rise unbidden as you pay attention to the challenging thoughts and feelings that arise as you learn your craft. I’m sure you’ve experienced the thought, my photos are not good enough. A mindful approach to your photography can support you to recognise this thought and treat it like a relative you’re not too fond of. You acknowledge it, but don’t spend any time with it, returning to what you can see in front of you.
  8. Develop your ability to see the world as if for the first time – Beginner’s mind is a mindful attitude. It’s one that you can apply to the practice of creating photographs. If you choose to return regularly to the same location, to spend time slowly exploring the visual feast available, you may begin to see beauty which once eluded you. As John Updike said, you can practice, “Giving the mundane its beautiful due” . This ability, cultivated through photography, can support you to look at your daily experience with fresh eyes.
  9. Develop trust in your own feelings – If you are to create photographs that are personal, unique and authentic then you must listen to your heart, as well as your head: learn to trust and follow your own intuitive guide. If you cultivate this skill it will begin to seep through to the rest of your world.
  10. Bring mindfulness into another aspect of your life – Mindfulness does not have to be limited to the meditation cushion, that is merely the training zone. As Jon Kabat-Zinn said, “Mindfulness applied to any activity turns it into a kind of meditation.” By applying and developing mindfulness to photography we expand our potential to be fully present in our life. A mindful approach to photography can help you learn and develop your photographic skills, but it can also support your well-being. My eBook Photography for Well-Being 1 shares 15 photo activities designed to develop your photography skills and support your well-being. 

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

New eBook out today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I look forward to seeing your photos!

 

Exploring Multiple Exposure

A few years ago I started experimenting with multi-exposure (more about this technique here) – the art of combining several images in one exposure in camera. A year or so in to my exploration I lost interest as my camera could only combine two images as a maximum, in any one exposure, and it simply layered one on top of the other. Recently, I upgraded my camera and the new Fuji X-T4 has the ability to combine up to nine images in one exposure, and has four alternate ways of combining these images. The exploration is back on!

The key question at this point is why would you want to do this? The answer for me is that it opens up the possibility of creating images that can document a place, experience or emotion in a personal, abstract and creative manner. I am also fascinated to compare and combine this with ICM – intentional camera movement. These techniques are not hugely popular, they create photos that can be ethereal, intriguing, emotive and abstract. It is these very qualities that draw me to them and suggest to me the possibility of a personal project. Something I am considering at present.

Meanwhile, practice and experimentation are required to investigate the limitations and possibilities of the techniques. I have learnt a few things so far which I will summarise, but first I wanted to thank my teachers; Doug Chinnery, Valda Bailey and of course Chris Friel. Doug and Valda have worked together to produce some great videos that explore and explain these techniques; they are detailed and generate plenty of possibility. Chris has been producing fabulous work for many years and is worthy of your investigation.

Experimentation

The photo above was created during the springtime explosion of blooms at Clyne Gardens in Swansea. My intention was to create some photos that were inspired by nature’s colours and beauty, and also echoed how such beauty can make you feel. The techniques I used were ME in dark blend mode, creative use of white balance, creative framing investigation, defocussing the lens and three or four layered exposures. Let’s look at some of those choices.

There are four blend modes available on my Fuji, something that is replicated on some Canon and Nikon cameras; they are Additive, Average, Bright and Dark.

Additive – This mode adds each frame on top of the next, in a kind of light accumulation process. It is possible that if you used this on a sunny day that by the time you had added nine images to one exposure you would just be left with a white rectangle. I have not yet explored its creative possibilities, as the other modes have been calling to me. But maybe its limitations would be something that could create unexpected possibilities.

Average – This mode layers each image on top of the next, averaging the opacity. This is the standard mode for digital exposure and it is the mode I used when I had the Fuji X-T2, as it was the only choice. Combined with ICM, defocussing or creative use of the white balance it has possibilities.

Bright – This mode preserves the brighter elements of each image. For example, if your first image was of a silhouette or shadow, the second if brighter could layer the brighter elements over the areas of darker exposure from the first image. This is similar to how a film camera used to capture a multiple exposure. Here is an example.

Dark – This mode does the opposite to Bright mode. It preserves the darker elements of each image. Where there is light, there can be dark! This is the mode I have used most so far in combination with creative use of white balance.

White Balance – All digital cameras give you a level of control over the white balance. The default position is to be in Auto. In this setting the camera tries to produce whites that replicate how you see white light. Of course, your eyes work differently to a camera. They work with our brain to self correct what we know to be white, to look white, even if it is really carrying another hue. For example: dusk light has a blue hue. You don’t notice this, but the camera does. The white balance can then correct this to match how you see. Taking control of the white balance allows you to tell the camera what hue the whites should have, affecting every colour in the frame. Camera manufacturers have different ways of allowing you to influence this. Some require you to know the Kelvin values of each colour. Others have a map of hues that you can pick from. My Fuji has the latter, which makes it dead easy. My experimentation so far has followed Chris Friel’s advice – to use extreme choices.

I have much work to do. I am learning how my white balance choices work with the ME blend modes and the colours of the objects in the frame. I have also learnt that playing with the lens focus can produce interesting softer shapes and patterns. These combinations of blend mode, white balance and lens focus have much possibility and will, I am certain, be used along with ICM to produce an interesting body of work very soon. I the meantime, here are a few of my favourites from the visit to Clyne Gardens.

Swansea podcast

Come Together Cast is a new Swansea based community and culture podcast.  This great podcast is put together by Amina, Josh, Howard and Simon and aims to share a little of what is going on in Swansea during this challenging time.

The Podcast has been going for three episodes and has a Facebook page where you can go to get all the links to their previous podcasts. This week’s episode includes a chat with Owen Griffiths and Zoe Gealy from the National Waterfront Musuem about their GRAFT Garden Project, some guy called Lee Aspland about his Stuck in the House free eBook and some local children about what it is like to be little in lockdown.

You can now listen to this week’s episode on Spotify, and if you really want to suffer I am on 10.04 minutes in!

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.

Look Again

I met up with Mindful Photographer Ruth Davey today. Ruth runs Look Again, a photography business that ‘uses stillness, mindfulness and a connection with nature to help clients look again at themselves and the world around them.’

Look Again combines therapeutic and mindful photography in walks, workshops, projects and training. Most intriguingly it is Ruth’s lived experience of using photography in her recovery from mental health difficulties that lends such authenticity to her work. This I could relate to and it reminded me that by discussing our own difficulties and relating how mindful photography can support our self understanding and acceptance we provide a safe space for others to do the same.

I have invited Ruth to contribute a blog post about her work, so you’ll be able to read more soon. In the meantime if you are interested in learning about her work visit her website.

 

A Mindful Photography Practice for a wet day

I live in Wales. It rains a lot. Yesterday was a fine example. I woke to rain, walked the dog in a deluge and the rain continued until the next morning. Am I deterred from creating mindful photographs? Oh no. I am challenged to create some art that reflects the day and how I am with this glorious damp weather. So I will share with you my Mindful Photography Practice for a wet day. Maybe you’ll be inspired to create some of your own.

The Mindful Photography Practice

  1. Prepare yourself for wetness. It is imperative that you remain dry and comfortable. Put on your most effective wet weather clothes and shoes.
  2. Prepare your camera for wetness
    • If you are a DSLR or CSC owner you may be able purchase a waterproof cover designed for your camera. Alternatively a good plastic bag and a rubber band works well. You will need to cut one corner of the bottom of the bag, about the diameter of the lens and secure it over the lens with the rubber band. The open end of the bag then faces you, allowing access to the controls.
    • If you are using a compact camera, your phone or a bridge camera, a large umbrella will help keep you and the camera dry. Your skills at shooting one handed and/or balancing the umbrella on your shoulder whilst you create your photos will undoubtedly develop!
  3. This is an opportunity to create photos without looking at the viewfinder or screen. To support this you can also turn off the review screen (or cover with a small piece of card taped in place). This practice of visualising what the camera can see will slow you down, teach you how your lens sees differently to your eyes, allow you to notice your attachment to the outcome and cultivate greater attention to what you are seeing. Mindful Photography is initially a practice that is about process rather than outcome. With continued practice your attention to the moment will result in more interesting photos.
  4. Choose a camera set up that you are comfortable with and can use instinctively. This could be Auto or one of the semi automatic modes if you like a bit of creative control. Remember the light will probably not be too great, so auto ISO or an 800 ISO setting may be needed.
  5. Set aside 30 minutes for the practice and set out for an interesting location. Walk slowly, observe your surroundings, do not look for a photo opportunity. Pay attention to your sensations: the sound of the rain, the trees moving, the smell of the wet land/streets, the reflections in puddles, the rain hitting the ground/objects.
  6. As you walk, observing your world, wait for a photo opportunity to present itself. When it does STOP. Breathe. Study what it was that stopped you. Absorb the scene. Notice what the subject of the scene is and what the background could be. Consider where you would place the frame, this will affect the background. Perhaps you need to move in, move up or down, or zoom in or out. Consider what the camera will see when you press the shutter.
  7. Create the photo.
  8. Repeat the practice until you have 10 photos.
  9. Edit, noticing your judging thoughts, and share your favourite photos and this practice.

The photos illustrating this post are from my own Mindful Photography Practice for a wet day yesterday

Are you feeling it?

Photos have the power to convey emotion. The way we choose to compose the scene and the technical choices we make can combine with the content to represent a feeling, through visual metaphor or symbolism.

Sometimes this is deliberately created at the moment of pressing the shutter. Sometimes it reveals itself later; maybe a happy accident or subconscious guidance. Either way it is a powerful way of communicating with the viewer.

The truth is in the viewing. Of course the emotion or feeling that the photographer intends to convey may not be what the viewer experiences. Cultural background and personal experiences guide our interpretation of visual imagery. That there may be several interpretations is not necessarily a weakness of the photo. Inspiring diverse emotions from one photo may be a strength.

Let’s look at some examples from a recent walk around Langland Bay. Notice the feelings that these photos generate for you before you read the text below.

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Photo 1 suggests uncertainty for me. Through a shallow depth of field I have created the representation of an unclear future, we cannot see where the path may lead. Though if we consider the truth of the scene, we know that Monty can see the way forward.

Photo 2 is in a similar vein to Photo 1. There is a degree of uncertainty and also potential barriers to what is unseen

Photo 3 suggests positive possibility (blue sky, sunshine), but also change (the autumnal leaves). For me these elements combine to imply change, opportunity and a hopeful future outcome.

Photo 4 uses a strong symbol to suggest that there is a clear direction we need to go. However the indistinct background could imply that the journey’s experiences may be uncertain.

What feelings did the photos inspire for you? Post your thoughts below in the comments box.

3 steps to intuitive photo creation

Much of my photography arises from a response to my environment. Pre planned and tightly described photo creation is something I have to work at. The reason I enjoyed the Photomarathon more this year was that I did not plan each shot beyond a vague idea. Often I didn’t even have a vague idea and just wandered until something stimulated one. So, how does creating a photo work for me?

Intuitive Response

I am out walking with my camera. If am practicing mindfully I am following my own 4 stage seeing practice. The nub of this practice is that the seeing is my Anchor. As I walk and observe the world my thoughts still intrude. Each time this happens I return to my visual experience. This is stage 1.

Stage 2 is Seeing and builds upon stage 1 so that when something catches my eye I stop. Stage 3 is Resting with that visual experience. Noticing what it was that stopped me. Stage 4 is Receiving and is creating the equivalent of what I can see with my camera.

The Receiving Stage is what defines us as creative photographers. It encompasses all our technical and compositional knowledge and learning. But it is more than just that. It is the reason that we were compelled to create a photograph that is our intuitive response and our window into our soul

Emotional link

Through paying careful attention to my seeing practice I am able to investigate what it was that stopped me and why. This consideration opens up the possibility that I may be able to intuit what it is about the visual stimulation that resonated. This intuition can be investigated by paying attention to my feelings: those in my body and those in my mind.

We may be able to instinctively name what it was that stopped us: a colour, a shape, a pattern etc. Then from that if we pay attention we may be able to follow the instinct toward the feeling. Sometimes this is clouded and hidden and it is enough to simply create a photograph we like. Other times we may be able, if we stay with the moment, to feel what thoughts and feelings run beneath.

Mindful Photography is more that just creating photographs. It is an opportunity to be truly present with ourselves

Creative Adjustments

And then we look at the photo we have created. This will probably involve some judgement. The creative judgement that is supportive in this process is this question. ‘Does the photo capture the equivalent of what we saw?’

If it does not, there may be changes we can make to exposure, white balance, lens choice, point of view and composition that could bring it closer to our vision. This is to be encouraged. The more we can capture of our vision in camera the more our photographic skills will develop and the more we will attune our eye and camera.

Beyond that there are adjustments that can be made in photo software (Photoshop, Lightroom etc) that can move the photo closer to our original vision. Those adjustments are often to do with light and the dynamic range; the differences between how and a camera and how an eye sees.

The Photo

This photo is an example of the process. I looked up and saw the sky. I felt the cold northerly wind on my face, countering the weak warmth of the sun. I realised that the cloudy wisps were caused by the wind and felt that they were beautiful and otherworldly. On there own they could represent a feeling of uniqueness or rareness. But they looked like a great background, rather than just a subject. (Alfred Steiglitz would probably not agree)

I wanted a subject that resonated with the other-worldliness I felt. 20 yards away I spotted these sculptures. I do not know what they represent or why they are there, but they create visions of alien craft in my mind (too much sci-fi). I wandered over found my preferred point of view and received the photo.

I made 2 creative adjustments. Firstly the sun was in front of me and so the side of the sculpture facing me was in shadow. I lightened this a little to represent the dynamic range my eyes could see (they are more sensitive than a camera’s sensor). Then I desaturated to turn the photo b&w. The blue was too dominant and earthly. The b&w accentuates that patterns and shapes, its other-worldliness.

Lilies

These lilies were collected by Beci from her parent’s garden (at least they get to appreciate them now from the comfort of their Spanish computer). I thought I would try and create some photos that celebrated the lilies flamboyance and delicacy.

For those who are interested in these things: I used a 50mm lens with a reversing ring, which turns it into macro lens with a very shallow depth of field. Great for adding some mystery to the beauty.

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What is Mindful Photography?

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.

Edges of Life: using visual metaphors

I do like visual metaphors. During a recent mindful photography practice I was walking from home to Mumbles (a three mile+ stroll) when I took the first photograph in the selection below. At the time I was drawn by the change of tone and texture and chose to represent this (in my mind) in black and white.

After the first photo I realised two things. Firstly that there were lots of opportunities for similarly themed photos. Secondly that the movement from one texture/tone to another could represent a transition in our lives. Change is a constant in life. Some of these changes are sudden, jagged and distinct, others are more gradual.

I thought they would look interesting as diptychs; comparing one life change to another. The last one I felt worked best in colour. What do you think?

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