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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

 

Future Of Imaging image - FINAL_web

 

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!

 

 

 

This is the fourth in a series of posts exploring the 7 attitudes that underpin mindfulness practice. The 7 attitudes are detailed in Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn and are Non Judging, Patience, Beginner’s Mind, Trust, Non Striving, Acceptance and Letting Go. Each article will be a personal reflection about that attitude, both from the perspective of mindfulness generally and mindful photography particularly. Each will be tagged ‘7 attitudes’ so that you can find them all using the tag search in the blog’s right hand column.

Mindfulness perspective

Mindfulness practice encourages you to trust your feelings. Your practice is personal to you. By trusting your own authority and guidance, confidence in your experience gathers. As you tune in to the experience in your body and mind, you develop an understanding of what is happening. Your ability to trust in your experience grows.

This may exhibit in a greater understanding of how to support your body. If you practice yoga or any sport, trust in your intuitive body response, watch it and follow its guidance, you will support your body’s development.

I am able to speak from experience, as someone who heard the messages from his own body, but paid them no heed. As a committed long distance runner I had plenty of physical indications that my body was stretched. If I had trusted that body wisdom, the physical challenges I now experience would not have developed.

Trust your experience. Trust your body. Trust your mind.

 

Trust as applied to Mindful Photography

There is a delicate balance to be struck as a photographer: between learning, practicing and trusting. As we travel the 10,000 hour journey towards mastery (Malcom Gladwell, Outliers), we are encouraged to learn study and practice our craft. We listen to wise experts, read fabulous books, follow great courses and practice our newly learnt skills.

Throughout this journey there is an implied thought, that what you are learning is how you should take photographs. And to a large extent this is true. We all need to master the technical and compositional skills. But if we are ever to produce personal, unique and authoritative work we must listen to our own heart and mind. We must follow our own intuitive guide.

‘Listening to your heart’ means tuning in to your feelings about what you are photographing. It means slowing down, speeding up and letting go. Paying heed to the technical necessities, holding the compositional choices lightly and then letting them all go in the moment you create a photograph. Something has to flow through you. This ‘something’ is guided by trust. Trust allows this paradox space. Mistakes sometimes create un-imagined possibilities. Great photographs spring from a framework of skill infused with inspiration, guided by instinct and held in trust.

Trust in your abilities. Trust in your feelings. Loosen the shackles of control

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

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

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

The Practice

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

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

Editing

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

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

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.

I am often asked what mindfulness is. Yesterday the guy cutting my hair asked. I explained, as he buzzed and snipped, that he should imagine that he was only doing one thing at a time. Only cutting my hair. Not thinking about later, or last night. Not listening to the heavy beat from his music choice. I think the irony passed him by.

But it is difficult. We have ingrained patterns. Modern culture has encouraged and taught us to do many things at once. Multi tasking is a skill. And of course there are times when it is very useful. But we have all experienced that moment when we try to recall how we ended up doing what we did (driving from a to b) and it’s a bit of a blur. Being instead of doing is difficult.

Even explaining the difference is a little tricky. Being is just being in the present moment, but that almost inevitably means that you are doing something. Even if that something is mindfully doing the dishes. The trick is that you are only doing that one thing, giving it your whole attention.

In the zone

In sport, just giving that one thing your complete attention, body and mind in sync, is described as being in the zone. I would suggest that it is mindfulness. Every sense, sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell, is attuned to that moment. This sensory information is not held tightly. It flows through you, part of you and part of your place in the world. It is noticed and supports your awareness of the moment.

This does not just apply to sport. Mindfulness can be applied to any activity. Yesterday, I practiced putting out the washing on the line, mindfully. I felt the chilly air on our still shadowed deck. The damp sheets were cold to the touch. The colours of the sheets and blue sky beyond caught my eye. I could smell cut grass and then my thoughts would intrude. “Take a photo of it”, they would say. And I would bend down, noting the thought and slowly pickup the next item to be hung out. Each time using some sensory information to return to the moment.

The photo

When I finished I extended my practice to taking a photo mindfully; well I can’t be teaching mindful photography without continuing to practice! I put my own 4 stage seeing practice into action, alongside a basic camera scan technique and attuned myself to the visual moment. There were technical choices to be made and this all becomes more seamless and part of the moment the more I follow the mindful photography practices.

This week I have mostly been reading “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari. It is a swashbuckling blast through the relatively brief history of Homo sapiens, the branch of the Homo (Human) genus that we belong to. It sets out to explain how we have managed to be so dominant on Planet Earth, in a relatively short period of time.

Its main theme is that Homo sapiens dominates the world because it is the only animal that can cooperate flexibly in large numbers. The book argues that we can do this because we have a unique ability to believe in things that exist only in our own imagination, such as gods, nations, money and human rights. The book explains how all large scale human cooperation systems – including religions, political structures, trade networks and legal institutions – are ultimately based on fiction. Feisty stuff and guaranteed to get you thinking about how you came to be who you are. Or maybe not?

Men being men

Just before I left the house this morning, to retreat and reflect, one of our Sitting Group members turned up, thinking that we were meeting today. Phil has been considering setting up a “Men’s Group” in Swansea and had heard that I was interested in being involved.

Now, before you leap off thinking that it’s all about male bonding rituals and deep and meaningful chats about football, here is a little summary (from this website)

Men’s Group explores what it means to be a man and supports men to:
* Clarify their direction and purpose
* Strengthen their integrity
* Become more trustworthy
* Be clear and grounded
* Be strong and consistent
* Know what it means to be at their edge and be held accountable
* Find peace, inwardly and outwardly

Sapiens and Sex

In his book Mr Harari clearly defines that there is one biological group Homo Sapiens and two sexes. He distinguishes sex from gender because gender has cultural interpretations. This came to mind when I was discussing the purpose of a men’s group with Phil.

Perhaps one of the main reasons for men to gather, share stories, listen and exchange ideas, is to understand how our gender has been shaped by current culture and to determine how we come to be who we are. This works for me and fits in perfectly with my own ongoing self enquiry.

Photography as a tool

I have started to use photography as a tool for self enquiry. I have begun to explore this area in The Being Course that is part of the online course, The Mindful Photographer. Over 2016 I am exploring using mindful photography as a tool for self enquiry. This initially will be in the form of a series of personal projects which I later hope to shape into a personally supported online course.

Of course, in order to do this, I shall have to continue my own primary research: continuing to explore mindfulness, practicing mindful photography, joining a men’s group, creating photos that represent how I feel and sharing it all via my blog. I guess that I am using you, my newsletter and blog as part of my continuing voyage; to boldly go where many of us fear to tread, but some of us get thrown into when it all goes pear shaped!

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.

The moment you pick up a camera there are decisions to be made. As a photographer you spend minutes, hours and years learning the basics, developing your experience and finding your voice. Throughout this process decision making is central and yet often our favourite photos are taken instinctively, when the decision to press the shutter at the decisive moment, is seemingly taken for us. Let me explain.

The Wedding Photo

I’ll start with a photo. A while back, whilst working as a wedding photographer, I had to complete the formal photos in a hotel bedroom. I had just managed to squeeze in the bride and groom photos after the ceremony before the rains, whipped along by a strong wind, drove us all inside.

The hotel offered us an empty hotel bedroom. A pretty sterile environment, but at least it was dry. I remember opening all the blinds, turning on all the lights and noting that I could bounce flash off the white ceiling to at least get some half decent lighting. This was my least favourite part of the event and it was not quite what I had hoped for.

However, the decision making was straight forward. After having sorted the light I chose a mid range aperture and appropriate ISO to ensure I would get a shutter speed of 1/100. I was ready. Then all I had to do was arrange the guests in their chosen groups and take the photos.

At some stage during the movement from one group to another I took the photo below. I had no recollection of taking the photo, of composing it or changing anything on the camera. When I first saw it after scanning through the photos taken I laughed. ‘When did that happen?’ I thought. I had taken the photo on instinct. You could say, ‘I was in the zone.’

Janine-and-Tony112-w

Getting out of the way

As photographers we are in the zone when we are able to apply everything we know, see all the opportunities and create fantastic photos intuitively. Such moments are rare, but we know that they are the product of both hard work, study and practice, and an ability to relax into the moment. To let go of our attachment to the outcome and to allow ourselves to get out of the way, so that the decisions are taken on an almost sub-conscious level.

Trying to make this happen rarely works. I imagine that masters of their craft experience it more often. However, I have many more hours practice before I reach that position. Malcom Gladwell in his book Outliers, suggests that mastery of any skill takes at least 10,000 hours practice. That seems a way off. If I practiced for 2 hours a day, every day it would take nearly 14 years. Ah well, I shall just keep at it, enjoying the journey and maybe along the way such moments will occur with increasing regularity.