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“Photography is putting one’s head, one’s eye and one’s heart on the same axis”
Henri Cartier Bresson

I do love this quote. Not only does it summarise my view of photography beautifully, it has also been an inspiration for my development of a mindful approach to photography.

Henri Cartier Bresson was a French photographer who is generally regarded as the father of photojournalism. He was an early user of 35mm, which with his rangefinder Leica and 50mm lens attached allowed him to develop his candid style of street photography. He is perhaps most famous for coining the phrase ‘the decisive moment’, to describe the optimum time to press the shutter.

This quote neatly encapsulates the key aspects of outstanding photography and is worthy of a brief analysis.

The Eye

What we see through our eyes is light and colour. Our eyes do not know what it is that they see. In that way they are very much like the camera, they record the light. They do not label what they see.

Our eyes also see like a combination of two lenses. They have a focal length similar to a 50mm lens, but with far wider angle of view. Our peripheral vision gives us the view similar to a fish eye lens – but without the severe distortion.

All of this sensory information is passed instantaneously to the brain, and that is where the trouble starts!

The Head

By head, we mean the role of the mind in photography. Its primary purpose is to interpret all of the visual information provided by the eyes. This is to keep us safe, identifying potential threats and potential sources of food. Except when we train to be photographers all of that identification and labeling can get in the way of seeing what is really in front of us.

The features before us are the light, colours, shapes, forms, lines, space, patterns and textures. Our mind receives this visual information and in a snap compares this to known similar visual data and labels the object(s). All very useful on the Serengeti Plains when out hunting, but as a photographer creating a great photo it is the features that we need to see before the label. For it is this that will guide our artistic creation through compositional choice.

So how can we learn to forget the names of what we see and truly see everything, and every possibility? Practice. In the books I have available I share practices that can help to develop this ability.

The Heart

The heart is used here to signify the emotion of a photograph. If we are to create photographs that rise above the ‘good’ to be ‘great’ we need to engage the heart. Both ours and the viewers. How can we do that? Guess what? I share some of the foundations of how photographers first attempted to do this, and some useful mindful practices to support your development as photographers in my books.

If you are intrigued why not download the free eBook below and then you’ll get some great information, and 9 Mindful Photography Practices. These will help you to develop mindful attitudes: Patience, Beginner’s mind, Non striving, Trust, Letting Go, Acceptance, Non Judging, generosity and Gratitude. It’s a win-win!

Mindful Photography in action

Digital Photography is fantastic. Its ability to capture what we see and allow instant review has revolutionised photography. It has changed how we create photographs and how we edit them. But perhaps the most fundamental change is that it has supercharged the creation of a photograph. Photographic creation and sharing is now like a Ferrari 812 Superfast. Back in the film days it was more like a classic mini.

Now, using a digital camera you can take eight photos per second. Take fifty of a scene, review them instantly and discard the ones you do not like. It is this that has fuelled a disconnect with the experience of what you see. You know that you can take lots of photos, at no cost and reject all the ones you don’t like. You pay less attention to what you are seeing, and crucially how you are framing the photos.

By applying mindfulness to photography you connect through the visual to the present moment. You walk with your camera – not looking for a photograph but noticing what you see – everytime you notice your busy mind, you return to what you can see in front of you. The seeing becomes your anchor, just like the breath when you meditate. This also has the potential to improve what you see and how you see.

The practice of clearly seeing everything that is in front of you is something that you can learn and develop. You can learn how you see. You can learn how you interpret light, colour, shapes, forms, textures and patterns to make sense of the world; and you can begin to understand how a camera represents the same scene. Then, with practice and contemplation of the photographs you create, you can begin to hone your ability to create photographs that represent what you see.

Maybe you still hanker for that classic mini experience. We are currently experiencing a growing interest in film photography. Perhaps there are elements of that slower pace, more engaged process and almost ritualistic nature that we are missing from the digital experience. However, there are ways of experiencing a film like experience with your digital camera, ways of slowing the process down and re-introducing some ritual.

In a desire to provide you with techniques to connect you with the creative experience, I offer you the following 10 tips to slow down your photography. This slowing down is a fundamental element of becoming more mindful with your photography, of becoming a Mindful Photographer.

10 Tips to slow down and connect with your photography

  1. Turn off your review screen or tape a small piece of card over it – Just like a film camera you can’t see what you have just created. This assumes you have a viewfinder to compose the photo. If  you don’t you could still follow this tip and shoot blind, imagining what your camera is receiving.
  2. Limit the number of photos you create – go filmic with a 12, 24 or 36 limitation
  3. Use a small packet of sweets or nuts to count/remember the number of shots you have used – Count them out before you start. As you can’t see the screen (Tip 1) use 12, 24 or 36 sweets/nuts in a little bag. After every shot eat one sweet or nut. It’s a win win!
  4. Limit your location area – Combined with 1, 2 and 3 this encourages you to really notice what is around you. Limit the area to a 100 meter square area, or less if you are feeling bold.
  5. Turn your lens into manual focus – Turn off the auto focus. It is a great art re-learning how and where to focus, and it also slows you down!
  6. Shoot from the hip – Now this one could actually speed you up. But if you hold your camera at your hip, and compose by imagining what your camera can see, you will slow down. Especially if you combine it with 1 and 2.
  7. Return to the visual – Whenever you notice your mind thinking about your next meal, tonight’s activities or some aspect of photographic skill, STOP and return to what you can see in front of you.
  8. Do not download or look at your photos for at least 2 days – Back in the film days we had to wait. Unless you were developing your own film, but even then it took time. I used to send my film off for developing and then wait a few days before looking through the returned photos, hoping at least one was a keeper. So, wait for a few days – at least 2 – before downloading. When you do look through them, pay attention to your thoughts and feelings. Notice the judgement and the commentary.
  9. Set your own mini photo marathon – Randomly choose 4 words, set aside 4 hours and create 4 photos in order, to represent the words. Photos must be in the word order and you must finish with only 4 photos. You could limit and slow yourself even more by ONLY shooting 4 photos. No deleting.
  10. No deleting allowed – Closely linked to number 2, do not allow yourself to delete any photos. Knowing that you cannot delete will encourage choice: whether to photograph or not, and this will slow you down.

PS The three photos accompanying the post follow some of these tips

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

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

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

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

Every week throughout the summer I will be posting a photography challenge that is designed to bring you into the present moment. They can be completed with any camera, even your phone. Your favourite photos are posted to our Facebook group, which is a public group so that you can invite your friends to join in.

This week’s mindful photography challenge is ‘Self’. I would like you to create just one NEW photograph that responds to the theme. But I only want you to press the shutter once. Consider your idea for a photo. Visualise it. Frame it. Think about your technical choices for exposure. Consider what is in and out of the frame. Consider your composition. Then release all expectation and press the shutter.

Notice your thoughts when reviewing your photo. Is there any judgement creeping in? Are you tempted to create another one? How would it feel if you just posted the one you have created?

Share your one photo here. This is mine which was created just now! I went to collect my camera from the lounge and caught sight of myself in the mirror. Generally when I create a selfie I do not have the camera clearly in sight. I thought I would create a photo that celebrated my relationship with the camera. Not only is my new camera front and foremost, but one of my favourite photos is in the background.

See what you can say about your ‘self’ in one photo

 

Every week throughout the summer I will be posting a photography challenge that is designed to bring you into the present moment. They can be completed with any camera, even your phone. Your favourite photos are posted to our Facebook group, which is a public group so that you can invite your friends to join in.

This week’s mindful photography challenge is ‘Through’. Take a walk somewhere you love and create just one photograph that responds to the theme.

The challenge is to only create one photo. To walk until something shouts out at you to be photographed.

Walk slowly and observe. Observe your surroundings, the colours, the light, patterns and shapes. Pay attention to your mind. When it shoots off thinking about creating the photo, reflecting on a past event or worrying about the future, come back to what is in front of you.

Share your one photo here. This is mine which was created this morning. The sunlight shining through the leaves, highlighting the structure and shape of the leaves is what drew me in. I only had my phone with me, but that’s all you need!

 

My refocusing of my photography business as an online service that offers self development and enquiry through photography, with Mindful Photography at its heart, has encouraged me to reflect on why I have applied mindfulness to photography. Jon Kabat Zinn (Full Catastrophe Living), who has probably been one of the main catalysts for the growth in popularity of Mindfulness in the West, explains some of my thinking.

“….bringing Mindfulness to any activity transforms it into a kind of meditation. Mindfulness dramatically amplifies the probability that any activity in which your engaged will result in an expansion of your perspective and your understanding of who you are.”

Expanding your perspective

I like this a lot. “An expansion of your perspective” is a fabulous way of saying that you are totally immersed in the moment. Aware of what you are experiencing. Aware of the emotions coursing through your mind and feeling them in your body. Aware of the ground beneath you and the sky above.

As a photographer that would translate first and foremost to being completely tuned into the visual experience in front of you. The light, the colours, shapes, forms, patterns, textures and more would be what would provide your anchor. Like the breath can in meditation.

Furthermore the relationship between this visual experience and creating an equivalent of it with your camera (taking a photograph) would provide the opportunity to practice mindfulness with your technical and compositional choices. This is a huge subject; one I address through my online course.

Understanding who you are

The final part of the sentence, “…..and your understanding of who you are.” opens the possibility of using photography as a vehicle for personal enquiry. This is something that interests me greatly and I will continue to create resources throughout the next year to support personal enquiry through photography. I’ll be testing them on myself first and sharing them here.

Henri Cartier Bresson provides us a glimpse of how this enquiry is possible in his famous book ‘The Decisive Moment’ 1952

“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.”

It is these two areas: expanding our perspective and understanding who we are, that will be threads running through my mindful photography offering into the future. It is going to be a fascinating journey I do hope that you will join me.

You can subscribe to my mailing list in the right hand column of the Blog page or you can subscribe and receive a FREE ebook using the form below this post.

 

The following post has been generously shared by Alan Wood and details his own exploration of mindfulness and photography

A Personal Journey to Mindful Photography by Alan Wood

I have been a photographer since, as a child of 7 or 8, my grandfather gave me his box Brownie camera. Over time other cameras followed but I eventually found that work and then family commitments were such that there was very little time, or perhaps energy, for actual photography. But I did read books and magazines about photography, its equipment and techniques. I would daydream of being like my photographic heroes, going where they went and capturing the sort of images they did. However, when I did get out with my camera the reality seldom lived up to the dream and, perhaps unsurprisingly, I was frequently disappointed with the results. I became increasingly frustrated until, after many years, there came a moment of crisis.

I was on holiday in Devon, out for an early morning walk with my camera before the rest of the family woke up. I stood on a footbridge across a stream in a beautiful wooded valley trying to find a composition for a photograph. But my mind was in turmoil, thinking, thinking, thinking about the camera, its settings, the lens to use and the right technique, and beyond that to where I was going to go next, what I was going to have for breakfast when I got back and on and on. I felt as if I were not really there, completely separated from my surroundings. Even the camera in my hand seemed to have become a physical and mental barrier to my being able to see the reality of what was in front of me. The frustration became unbearable. I stopped and there and then vowed that I would not take another photograph until I learnt to see and to be truly present with what I was seeing. I kept that vow. I put my camera away and also stopped reading the photographic books and magazines through which I seemed to have been living vicariously.

There was of course more going on in my life. The relentless pressure of my work, amongst other things, brought me close to breaking point. Then, one day during a lunchtime browse through a bookshop, I came across a book, called “Teach Yourself to Meditate” by Eric Harrison. On the back cover I read “Many people are turning to meditation as an effective way to relax and bring inner peace.” I thought that I could certainly do with some of that and bought the book. I soon established a practice of daily meditation. I would get up early and in the quiet of the morning sit for 20 minutes, following the breath as my focus. I quickly found it invaluable as a means of calming the mind and becoming grounded and ready for the day ahead (although I have since discovered that meditation goes much further than that).

After a couple of years I decided I would like to go on a meditation retreat. That brought me to Gaia House, a retreat centre in the Devon countryside for my first silent retreat. I was nervous to start with, fearful in case my self taught meditation practice was wide of the mark. Fortunately it wasn’t and I benefited from the deepening of my practice. There then followed further retreats including a one month silent retreat attended during a sabbatical from work, a prelude to a run down and eventual early retirement.

Influenced by my meditation practice, I was finding that I could now go for a walk and, being mindful, see and experience more directly what was around me, aware too of my emotional response, to be present in my surroundings.

I wondered then if I was ready to pick up my camera again. I did and tentatively started to re-engage with my photography. The camera no longer appeared to be a barrier to seeing and I found that I was able, not only to use the camera to reflect something of my response to what I was seeing, but also to be more focussed on that seeing and to be more deeply engaged with it. I am grateful for that and am enjoying my photography more than I have ever done. I don’t see the final image so much as a goal in itself (although I do get a sense of satisfaction if I produce an image with which I am happy and if that image is appreciated by others) but rather as part of a process from the mindful seeing, responding and then using the camera and even the post processing on the computer to reflect that response.

I am now at a point where, as well as it being a reflection of my response to what I see, I would like to use my photography to explore how my inner world affects that seeing. And who knows where that will take me.

Below are three simple images from one of my retreats which I feel reflect something of my emotional response to the seeing.

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

Mindful Photography is mindfulness developed through photography. It starts with seeing clearly and extends through the technical and compositional choices, towards an encouragement to align your eye, your mind and your heart whilst you are completely present.

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 development of mindfulness through photography and strong identification is often 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. 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 barriers; these include 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 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.

Your eyes see light. It is your mind that then makes sense of what you see. In micro seconds your mind assembles all that visual information and applies labels. Colours, three dimensional depth, form, shape, pattern and texture are identified and the objects are given names.

But your camera doesn’t see like that. It captures light, just a small rectangle (not the almost 180 degrees that you see) in two dimensions. It does not know what it is seeing. So to ‘create the equivalent’ of what stopped you in that moment of visual stimulation you 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 build upon the foundations offered through contemplative photography. It must offer practices that support your intention to remain with your clear seeing, whilst all that photo thinking and emotional experience is occurring. As you develop as a photographer, as you learn the technical and compositional context, there are mindful photography techniques and practices that you can follow that will help: wherever you are on that journey of 10,000 hours.

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

Mindful Photography Practices

I have created many activities that can help you to develop a mindful approach to life through your photography. I call these activities Mindful Photography Practices.

Each one of the practices is an activity designed to either apply mindfulness to the art and science of photography, or to support your development of a mindful life through photography. Within this exploration of life and photography there is an opportunity to become more familiar with who and how you are.

What you need is an example! Here is an example of a mindful photography practice that will support you on this exploration.

What happens when you practice mindfulness?

When you practice mindfulness, be it simply sitting for meditation, following a mindful movement practice like yoga or engaging in a mindful photography practice, you have the opportunity to notice what your mind is doing. Many people new to mindfulness have an expectation that it will help them respond skilfully, rather than react habitually, to the stress in their lives. This is true it will, but there is more to be aware of.

As you focus upon just doing one thing (sitting and following the breath) you begin to notice how busy and noisy your mind is. As you continue to practice over many days, months and years this experience allows you to become more aware of your mind’s habitual thinking. It is quite possible, even likely, that the more you practice the more older thoughts and feelings will arise.

These previously well buried thoughts and feelings emerge into the space and quietness that you have created. You may find this very uncomfortable. I have a mindful photography practice I am going to share here that may help you hold this experience with gentleness, as you move towards accepting what you are experiencing.

Mindful Photography Practice – Feel the photo

This practice is designed to support you through a time when you are experiencing thoughts and feelings that you do not like. You may be angry, upset, annoyed, frustrated, fearful or confused. Whatever it is that you are finding uncomfortable this practice is for those times.

  • Set up your camera in a shooting mode that you can use instinctively. Auto is fine, or if you prefer a little more control use aperture priority (choose an aperture of f8 and ISO auto).
  • Turn off your view screen so that you cannot see or review what you are creating. If you are not sure how to do this tape a piece of card or paper over the view screen, taking care not to cover any essential buttons. You can create photos by looking through the viewfinder or just shoot blind, from the hip!
  • The purpose of this is to tune you in to what you are feeling and release the control you may experience about creating photos.
  • When you are experiencing strong emotion, set your camera up as explained above, and go walking with your camera.
  • Choose any location you feel drawn to.
  • As you walk do not look for a photo opportunity, just walk, paying attention to what you can see
  • Notice the thoughts and feelings that relate to your difficulty.
  • At some point something will catch your eye. Stop and consider what it is.
  • Move closer. Frame tightly. Create the photo and move on.
  • Repeat this, paying attention to your feelings and the visual feast before you.
  • Act instinctively and release your attachment to what your photos look like.
  • Finish when you feel ready.
  • Return home and DO NOT LOOK at your photos! Leave it a day.
  • Next day review your photos and notice the feelings you experience.

It you find this practice useful please share it with your friends.

10 reasons to embrace Mindful Photography

My top 10 reasons to embrace mindful photography are outlined below. These may stimulate more questions for you than they answer. Some of those will be explored in my forthcoming online course. In the meantime I am happy to answer any questions you may have, just use my website contact page.

1) Learn how to see like a camera – A camera does not know the name of anything in its viewfinder. It sees light. You can learn to see the light, but you must forget the name of things!

2) Use what you see as your anchor – In meditation the breath is often used as an anchor; the thing we return to when we notice sensations, thoughts or feelings playing out across our mind. In Mindful Photography we return to the seeing.

3) Develop your photography skills and knowledge whilst remaining connected to the visual feast before you -My online course will explain how you can use the visual feast before you to return to the present and create photographs that capture that moment.

4) 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.

5) Use photography as a vehicle for self enquiry – The more you practice mindfulness the more you discover about yourself. Photography can be used to explore your world and can act as the intermediary between your inner world and the outer one.

6) Cultivate your ability to let go of unwanted thoughts and feelings through mindful photography practices This is perhaps one of the greatest challenges that mindfulness and meditation can support you with. Practicing mindfulness provides the opportunity and training to recognise the thoughts and feelings that are playing through your mind. There are mindful photography practices you can follow to support your intention to allow these to dissolve.  I provide these on my new online course.

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). There are mindful photography practices you can follow that support your development. These allow the quality of patience to develop as you pay attention to the thoughts and feelings that arise in the process of learning your craft.

8) Develop your ability to see the world as if for the first time – A beginner’s mind is a mindful attitude. It is 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. At this familiar place you can practice “giving the mundane its beautiful due” as John Updike suggested. This ability, cultivated through mindful 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 authoritative then you must listen to your heart, as well as your head. You can learn to trust and follow your own intuitive guide. If you cultivate this skill through mindful photography practices 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 developing mindfulness through photography we expand our potential to be fully present in our life.

Don’t miss Developing Mindfulness through Photography Part 2

 

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

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

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

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Mindfulness is paying attention

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

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

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

Mindful Photography - Beach-1

A Personal Approach

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

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

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

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

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Why Mindfulness?

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

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

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

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My thoughts of late have been much around how I can share more effectively what I have developed. It has taken me 55 years of living, a couple of years of development, an online course, live workshops and some significant life events to really bring my thinking on delivering mindfulness through photography – or Mindful Photography as I usually call it – into a coherent whole.

I now believe that I have reached a key point. I have several live workshop sessions I can now deliver anywhere, and I have three planned for September and October in Swansea, Porthcawl and Cardiff. I have an 8 week Mindful Photography Course planned and have started to approach private, public and third sector organisations with a view to delivering this course for their staff, volunteers or participants. This week and next I am re-visiting the work I have created to date on my Mindful Photography book and once I have completed a second draft I am hoping to re-develop an online course.

It remains a challenge to develop and deliver all of this whilst still working part time, but regular income is of course essential. Keeping all of this on track, whilst also working through personal challenges and falling in love provides rich territory for practice. I try to sit quietly once a day and also share my gratitudes for the day with my sister (in Canada). These are practices that keep me present with all that is passing through.

Lately, I have been reading a passage from a book just after I have sat. The book is called Perseverance by Margaret J Wheatley and she shares little vignettes and quotes a page at a time that build towards a way of living with challenge. This morning’s offering included this quote below which summarises clearly how I believe our life is, and it is also enlivening to see yourself as a warrior. In fact, I imagine that I am a spiritual warrior and that my offering of Mindful Photography is my way of sharing that potential with the rest of the world.

“The basic difference between and ordinary person and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge, whilst an ordinary person takes everything as a blessing or a curse.”

Don Juan, Carlos Casteneda

 

 

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.

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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 top 10 reasons to embrace mindful photography are outlined below. These may stimulate more questions for you than they answer. Some of those will be answered at photography workshops later this year and next. Others will be explored in my forthcoming book. In the meantime I am happy to answer any questions you may have, just use the contact page.

1) Learn how to see like a camera – A camera does not know the name of anything in its viewfinder. It sees light. You can learn to see the light, but you most forget the name of things!

2) Use what you see as your anchor – In meditation the breath is often used as an anchor; the thing we return to when we notice sensations, thoughts or feelings playing out across our mind. In Mindful Photography we return to the seeing.

3) Develop your photography skills and knowledge whilst remaining connected to the visual feast before you -Find out how here

4) 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. Workshop coming in September.

5) Use photography as a vehicle for self enquiry – The more we practice mindfulness the more we discover about ourselves. Photography can be used to explore our world and can act as the intermediary between our inner world and the outer one.

6) Cultivate your ability to let go of unwanted thoughts and feelings through mindful photography practices – Autumn workshop coming!

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 we can follow that support this development. These allow the quality of patience to rise unbidden as we pay attention to the thoughts and feelings that arise as we learn our craft.

8) Develop your ability to see the world as if for the first time – A beginner’s mind is a mindful attitude. It is one that we can apply to the practice of creating photographs. If we choose to return regularly to the same location, to spend time slowly exploring the visual feast available we may begin to see beauty which once eluded us. We can practice “giving the mundane its beautiful due” John Updike. This ability cultivated through photography can support us to look at our daily experience with fresh eyes.

9) Develop trust in your own feelings – If you are to create photographs that are personal, unique and authoritative then you must listen to your heart, as well as your head: to 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.

 

 

 

Wales is well known for its rugby, singing, daffodils and sheep. Perhaps as today is the first weekend of the Six Nations 2016 I should be blogging about the chances of Wales winning the tournament (which are pretty good), but I have been overwhelmed this morning by the reason for all those sheep. After all you can’t have sheep without grass, and you can’t have grass without rain. And boy has it been raining this morning.

This morning, despite the deluge, I felt the need to be out walking. I pulled on all my waterproofs and equipped myself with a camera small enough to fit in my water tight pocket. After all, there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. My intention from there was just to pay attention to what was happening and create a few mindful photographs that captured the experience.

It was a fine intention and one that could be just about achieved by carefully sheltering the camera under my body or shop awning, but the rain still gets in. So these three photos tell some of the tale. The header photo is of the path through Brynmill Park, cleverly disguising itself as a river.

By the time I reached the Uplands, a ten minute walk, the torrent had found its way through the gaps in my waterproof apparel. This photo captures my mood, and the suggestion I should just take my medicine almost brought a smile to my face (not)

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Obviously, after completing my shopping chores, somewhere to dry out was required. I sheltered in a local cafe, once most appropriately named Steam, but now re-branded Squirrel. Perhaps it was apposite; I must have been nuts to venture out!

I sat there facing the scene you see below, watching the locals scurrying about, hooded and hunkered. I reflected that the rugby later in the day was likely to be attritional, but at least the sheep would be happy – it’s still warm enough for the grass to be growing!

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Mindful photography is about being present with what you see. It is also about adapting to the situation. I often use a simple set up for my practice; usually a single focal length lens (a 40mm) on my DSLR. This is my go to, walkabout lens.

I choose to use this lens because the focal length is very similar to how we see (which is around 43mm, albeit with a greater width and a mind that looks to zoom in). Using one lens regularly, particularly one that is similar to how we see improves our seeing and how best to create photos that reflect what we see. Using this one lens I become attuned to the camera’s way of seeing. I begin to think in terms of how the camera will record the scene.

Over time this photographic thinking, which includes colour rendition, the framing, composition and the dynamic range of the light, becomes learnt and familiar. With continued practice, reviewing the outcomes and adjusting my technical choices, I begin to know what to expect from my camera. Through this doorway lies the possibility of reacting more instinctively to the scene, allowing my subconscious to make more of the technical and compositional choices. In this moment I let go of trying (to take a great photo) and allow the creation to occur. Through this process the possibility that there may be something of me, and the way I feel about the world, in the photo becomes more likely.

When I first tried shooting a whole year using just one lens I did it for reasons of artistic impression. Using just one focal length creates a unifying similarity to your photos. This can be beneficial if the photos you are creating are part of an ongoing project. It is ideal for those 365 projects that comprise of one photo a day. Then along the way you will also reap the benefits of instinctive creation and greater connection between what you are seeing and how you feel about the the world you are experiencing.

The photos that accompany this post illustrate my musings. A visited Caswell Bay, the Redcliff end, with Taylor to take him surfing. However, I decided to take my camera with the 40mm lens on, rather than the big zoom, and not shoot surfing photos. Instead I would see what was there and respond to my experience. I chose a black and white edit because of the high contrast of the scene.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

 

 

Intuitive cameras?

Would you like a camera that senses what you are photographing? A camera that knew how you felt when pressing the shutter? A camera that used all of this information to adjust the colours, tones, exposure and contrast to take account of your intentions and record a photograph that best invoked your feelings?

Nikon imagine that you will. Earlier this year they published a report based upon current life and social trends that predicts our future photography habits and needs. 

 ‘As far as people continue to be emotional our aim or our goal is to help people to capture their emotional moments and support them from an image capturing perspective. There is no limit to capturing intuitive images.’ Tad Nakayama, Corporate Vice President of Nikon

 

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Take a look at this imaginary camera screen display from Nikon. Notice how the camera ‘detects’ what the scene is of, including location and weather, the subjects in the scene, who the photographer is and how they are feeling (heart rate). Whilst I can imagine that some of this could be pre-programmed choices, much as we can currently choose the type of scene we are shooting and choose the relevant mode on our settings, other information (heart rate) indicates some form of personal monitoring.

I understand that Nikon are targeting the mass market with these predictions, not the enthusiasts and professionals, but I do find it all a little sad and that they are missing a fundamental truth.

Conveying emotion in a photo

The fundamental truth I feel Nikon are missing is that what we choose to photograph and how we choose to create that photograph is a melding of the intuitive and the learnt. These choices reflect our inner world (see post Inner world – outer photos). Those magic moments when what we have learnt and understand about our camera, its capabilities and limitations, are held so gently that we instinctively make choices in the moment that connect to a deeper place in our soul. This is the art of photography. The true magic.

This experience was beautifully described by Eugen Herigel in his book ‘Zen in the Art of Archery’, where we can imagine replacing the bow with a camera and the art of archery with the art of photography.

 “Art becomes ‘artless’, shooting becomes not shooting……the teacher becomes pupil again, the Master a beginner, the end a beginning and the beginning perfection”

The header photo of this post was chosen as it represents how I was feeling when I created the photo. The beauty of this, is that whilst I had an intention in that process, you might see or feel something else. Our experiences and feelings associated with colour, shape, light etc may be similar, but they are also personal. So what I feel my photo conveys might be different to how it makes you feel. This feels like a gift to me. Each photograph offers the gift of opportunity. Opportunity to experience  your feelings and that, my friend, is enough for me.

I believe that this concept is at the heart of mindful photography – photography that connects us to our feelings – and it is a key part of my online course, The Mindful Photographer. The third course in the series is titled Feeling and explores this terrain in detail. It considers how mindfulness can support us to connect with our feelings and then explores how photography can be used to represent our thoughts feelings and emotions.

If this sounds interesting you can find out more by enrolling on the FREE introduction course. You never know you may well be an intuitive expert by the time Nikon finally develop their magic camera!