I am aware that I write more about mindfulness than photography. I reckon that is OK as my focus is teaching mindfulness through photography, but I thought that you might find it interesting to read about my regular (mindful) photography practice. What I do and how I do it.
A couple of days ago I followed a mindful photography practice to produce the one photo for this week’s Mindful Photography Challenge. What follows here is a walk through of my practice, the camera set up, the intention of the practice and my feelings and reactions to each photo. I have included all 10 photos here so that I can reflect upon the idea that it is the practice that is most essential rather than the outcomes (the photos).
A Mindful Photography Practice – A Part of the Whole
The title for this practice was just a moment’s inspiration, an idea that sprung to mind. Usually I do not use a theme for the practice, previously I have used “Blue”, but it is more usual for me to centre just upon the observation of what is in front of me.
I chose a simple camera set up that I can now use quite instinctively, not needing to move the camera from my eye as I adjust exposure settings. I use Aperture Priority, an ISO appropriate for the light (200 on this day) and start with the camera in a mid range aperture (f8). Bryan Petersen in his books on exposure calls this a ‘who cares’ aperture, one where the depth of field is not a big issue and the object that you focus on will be super sharp. From this point you can choose to change the aperture, without removing the camera from your eye, knowing which way to move the relevant ring/button – because you have practiced! I also chose to use my 35mm lens (a 50mm equivalent on my camera) to encourage a literal creation of photos that were a part of the whole.
I decided to create 10 photos in 30 minutes on a short walk to a local park. I also set myself the intention of not looking at the review screen after each photo and keeping count of the number of photos created in my head. The purpose of this is to centre my mind upon the visual, to use seeing as my anchor, the thing I return to whenever I notice my busy mind.
This is the first photo I created, only a minute from my front door. As I reached the corner of the first road I have to cross, I looked up. I was drawn by the blue, blue sky and saw the tenacious plant clinging to the building, framed against the sky. I chose to change the aperture to a wider one to focus the eye upon the subject and used the edges of the building to create lines that lead to the plant. All of this decision making happened in an instant. Only now reflecting on it am I aware of that process. The more you practice the more instinctive that process becomes. The photo opportunity also resonated as a symbolic representation of nature and man made parts of the whole.
A few yards further on the red of this dismembered tennis ball caught my eye. Red is the strongest colour to include in a photo and in retrospect my decision to keep the wide open aperture was not necessary. Perhaps the wiser option would have been the mid range aperture, the subject is bright enough and the background, which has its own interest a little lost.
At the entrance to the park I saw this opportunity. I do like to include myself in photos; part of the whole! But my eyes deceived me. They of course have a higher dynamic range than the camera, which struggled to make out the faded word at the bottom of the frame. I didn’t know until I reviewed the photo at the end of the practice that the exposure compensation button had also been left at +1.75, from recording videos the previous day! Wisdom learnt: check all settings before starting practice. As I was shooting in raw, as well as jpegs, I was able to rectify the impact.
The simplicity of this opportunity stopped me. I like a diagonal in composition and the way the leaf shadows broke up the line suggest that they were part of the puzzle (the whole) that could be remade.
More diagonals, and sun and shadow attracted my attention here. By choosing to use my 35mm lens including just part of different elements, through deliberate placing of the frame, suggests part of the whole. It also creates triangles of shape in structure and light, which are a feature of my work.
I had wandered for a while before I came across this bench. It was the word ‘loved’ that drew my attention. That the bench was dedicated to a lost loved one reminded me that we are all part of the whole, that every element of what we are becomes something else in time. I chose a wide open aperture so that I could draw the viewer’s attention to the word that first caught my eye. Choice of point of view created the diagonal lines that lend dynamism to the composition.
The water in the lake is quite low at present, due to low rainfall (in Wales, who’d have thought it!) These old foundations the ducks are sunning themselves on are usually underwater. Of course because of the high dynamic range, the shadow and bright sunshine, some rescuing of detail has had to take place. Whilst these photographic mistakes were made during the actual practice they do not detract from the value of the practice in centering me in the moment. Fortunately some of the errors can be recovered with a little editing!
I got up real close to this plant. Creating lots of lines and shapes, with a decision to use a wide aperture to draw the viewer’s eye to the leaf that caught my eye.
Leaving the park I turned back and noticed this interplay of gate and its shadow behind. The rusted, unused chain was part of the attraction. The instinctive ‘who cares’ aperture lent itself to the opportunity.
Walking back up the hill to my house I was pretty sure I had one shot left to create. I was initially drawn by the texture and patterns of the wall on the left of this frame, but as I moved closer I saw the potential of the dead leaf. A kind of counterpoint to the first photo created. Man made and nature, also illustrating that everything is impermanent. Ironically this photo opportunity is just 5 feet from the first photo.
Normally I would not share all my photos from one practice. I would probably choose just the one or two I thought strongest. But here I wanted to share the process, warts and all. For it is the practice that is important. Mistakes helps us learn, both photographically and in life. A photography practice is providing opportunity to practice seeing like a camera, this is at the heart of photographic creation. Whilst there are also opportunities to practice and learn about our technical and compositional choices, it is the seeing that is the foundation of mindful photography.