Mindful photography is about being in the present moment, seeing what is around us, accepting things as they are without judgement, finding beauty in the ordinary. It is not an alternative to regular photography but can at times be an alternative way to approach our photography practice. Mindful photography will not appeal to everyone who does photography, but for those who enjoy approaching photography in this way there are additional benefits to our lives which make this approach worth trying, at the very least.
Here are just some of the benefits to be gained from practising mindful photography.
1. Supports our physical health
No-one needs to be told that exercise is good for our physical and mental health. We know that a daily walk is recommended for us all, especially if we don’t exercise in other ways, yet it can be difficult to find the motivation in our busy lives to get out and walk. As with all photography, mindful photography is a great motivator to get outside and get exercise. Taking a camera with you, or just your phone and the willingness to observe and capture anything that catches your eye, gives you a good reason to get up and out. While you may not always be ready to go out for a serious photography session, mindful photography is gentler, it has no expectations, it gives you a reason to walk while observing and listening and being in the moment ready to capture the image that draws you. Photographer Anthony Epes puts it this way:
“For me walking and shooting requires me to set an intention to be open to everything on my walk and to approach this experience not as a journey to getting anywhere - but to simply be on a journey of curiosity and seeing.”
2. Keeps us living in the moment
Mindful photography focuses on the present moment. In a previous post I wrote of an outing with my camera where I spent some time in my local park, wandering through the walled garden, taking photographs of plants and parts of plants, observing a little bird hopping around which I tried to capture on camera, noticing how the first signs of spring were already in the air. I was focused on seeing, noticing, tuning out the rest of the world and making time for myself and the images I would capture. As I did this, I had no thoughts of anything that had gone on in the past nor had I any worries or anxieties about the future. I was fully immersed in what I was doing. In fact, the practice of photography doesn’t really allow us to be anywhere other than fully present or we might as well not be there at all!
I recently spotted how tame the robins have become and they allowed me up close to capture an image. On this occasion I just had my phone camera with me so I had to use the digital zoom to get a closer shot. Not recommended in serious photography but I did get an image of the robin that I might not have managed to get otherwise
3. Helps us get into a flow state
Anything that is absorbing and engrossing, that engages your interest and helps you forget about everything else, can be said to be a flow activity. Research in the field of positive psychology suggests that experiencing flow is linked to greater happiness and wellbeing (Csikszentmihalyi & Csikszentmihalyi, 1988). I wrote a previous post describing how, for me, photography provides one such flow activity. When I take my camera out and about I forget all about my every day cares and concentrate on enjoying the experience. Mindful photography intensifies the flow experience as you become completely absorbed in the present moment. You are 'in the zone', free of distractions and alive to all that is available to see, hear, feel and smell, as well as to the image you want to capture. Your whole being is involved in the task and you leave your everyday cares aside.
According to positive psychologists, "understanding how to enter the flow state, and maintain it is seen as a great way to enjoy the activities we get engaged in."
4. Focuses on things that give us joy, increase our happiness, improve our mental health
When your focus is simply on the things that bring you joy you are free of expectations and pressure to deliver, even to yourself, and you become open to possibilities and opportunities. You have a blank canvas every day to explore and enjoy making images of the things you love. It might be a bark of a tree or a tiny flower. It might be a stone in the water or something that felt good to touch. Photography will not be a chore, with an expectation to capture great images, it will be a joy, a chance to do what you love and accept the outcome without judging yourself.
5. Encourages self-awareness
As you wander, as you allow images to come to you, as you allow yourself to be drawn to your subject, mindful photography encourages you to become more self-aware, more in tune with your own likes and dislikes and the things that interest you. Mindful photography helps you communicate your world view to others. Walk slowly, look, listen, be present, keep an open mind, enjoy what is. Through this process you will get to know yourself. You are not answerable to anyone else, neither is your photography. As you get to know what you like and enjoy what you do you begin to trust your instincts rather than look for the approval or affirmation of others. Your photography becomes more personal, you feel free to experiment, become more creative, express yourself as you wish to, rather than fear the negative reaction of others.
I love looking at clouds and I take every chance I can to get a good image. Sometimes the cloud formation in the background will be my main reason for capturing a certain subject
6. Encourages an appreciation of our surroundings
Mindful photography encourages a more intimate relationship with your surroundings, with your subject and with your current experience as you see more deeply, breathe in a sense of place and time, observe what might often go unnoticed. You begin to appreciate your own space and expand your curiosity where you are. Mindful photography does not require travel, it just requires you to be present where you are and to make the most of the opportunities for images which present themselves to you in the here and now.
A photographic reminder of my first trip to the coast after almost four months of lockdown
7. Helps us to slow down
Mindful photography slows you down, encourages you to pay attention, to take time for yourself. If you take away the pressure of having to make great images you are free to do what you want to do, go where you want to go, walk without a camera and just be, indulge your curiosity.
8. Encourages an attitude of reflection
Mindful photography encourages you to be reflective, to make choices that suit your own mood and preferences. Today you might want to experiment with long exposure, tomorrow you might want to photograph some trees. Will you use colour, or does black and white appeal to you for that image? Will you use a DSLR and experiment with depth of field or will you keep things simple and use your phone camera? In mindful photography you can let the image reflect your feelings. You can be playful or serious, you can even choose to be abstract. It doesn’t matter, the choice is entirely yours.
9. Encourages gratitude
Gratitude is one of the keystones of mental health according to the principles of positive psychology. The benefits of incorporating gratitude as a regular practice are well researched and documented.
In my last post I considered how we can harness the power of gratitude through photography. Mindful photography, in particular, encourages gratitude in our lives.
In mindful photography we are drawn towards things which mean something to us, things that we are grateful for, thereby cultivating more gratitude for what we see. How often do we notice clouds in the sky, leaves on a tree, veins on a leaf? Yet, when we start to photograph these things, we begin to pay attention to them, to really notice them, and to appreciate them.
10. Gives us a sense of purpose
Deepak Chopra* says, “One of the strongest ways to remain on course when recovering from loss or other hardships is to find and know your purpose…Of all the things that make human beings unique, needing purpose and meaning in our lives is one of the most prominent.”
For many people it is arts and creativity which give them a purpose in life, for others it is becoming more attuned to the inner self and finding out what is of most importance in their lives. In a recent article written for Fitbit called Feeling Lost? Here's How To Find Your Purpose, According To Deepak Chopra, the author Deepak Chopra gives some suggestions as to how we might return to our purpose after this time of ‘sustained collective disruption’. I believe that every type of photography can give that sense of purpose, but mindful photography in particular has the potential to give our lives purpose and meaning. It can fulfil our creative desire, it gives an outlet and opportunity for learning and self improvement and it can be almost meditative in nature, fulfilling a need to experience something beyond ourselves.
Perhaps more important to our sense of purpose is the fact that we don’t just make images for ourselves, and when we share our images we are sharing part of ourselves and hopefully bringing pleasure to others. We can be ‘eyes to the world’ for other people - recording snapshots of particular times and places, informing, inspiring, telling stories and maybe even amazing others with something we capture. We ask others to look through our eyes, to look again, to look differently and to see things as we see them. We don’t have to belong to the league of top photographers to achieve this, we can each make a difference in our own small corner of the world and that more than anything gives a sense of purpose to our photography practice.
I hope that I have convinced you of the benefits to be gained by doing mindful photography. In my next blog I will give some suggestions as to how you can become a more mindful photographer, whether you are using a full frame DSLR, a smartphone camera or something in between.
This is one in a series of blog posts relating to mindful photography. If you are interested in this topic, you might like to read some of my previous blogs
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*Deepak Chopra MD is a well known humanitarian and wellbeing advocate and founder of The Chopra Foundation, a non-profit organisation for research on well-being and humanitarianism. Author of over 89 books translated into over forty-three languages, Chopra is a world renowned pioneer in the area of personal transformation.