Updated: Jun 22, 2021
Mindful photography is an opportunity to "open yourself up to new perceptions and to understand your own vision." 21 Days of Mindful Photography Alexandria Searls (2019)
Many of us today are looking for ways to slow down, to become less stressed, to live a healthier lifestyle and to form more healthy habits. If you are one of those people and you also like photography, you may be interested in exploring mindful photography. My last few blogs have considered some aspects of mindful photography and given some of the benefits which this practice can bring to our lives.
Mindful photography is not about getting a technically perfect shot, it is not about getting lots of likes on social media, it is not about comparing ourselves to other photographers or always needing to capture an image.
Mindful photography is about being, it is about slowing down and becoming more aware of what is around us, it is about observing more closely.
Mindful photography is about bringing a consciousness to our practice; it is about watching and waiting, not frantically trying to grab the next shot.
So, how do you become a more mindful photographer?
Here are some suggestions:
Cultivate a habit of being more mindful in everyday activities, whether it is cooking, eating, walking or even driving. This will help you to slow down a little and lessen your stress. Taking time to become more aware of your breathing is also an effective technique to encourage a more mindful approach to living. You might like to download the free app Breathing which can alert you to stop and deepen your breathing, particularly if you are not used to doing this.
Take more purposeful mindfulness walks. Walk slowly, feel the sun on your face, the breeze in your hair (or on your head if you don't have hair). Listen to the sounds around you, especially the nature sounds. Take in the scent of flowers, newly mown grass, vegetation after the rain. Taste the salt in the sea air; touch something and feel its texture. Don’t rush - take time to see, feel, hear and smell.
Resist the temptation to always take a photo. It is even said that when we are mindfully aware of our surroundings, we are doing photography, even when we don’t have a camera with us. The more time you spend without using a camera the more you’ll begin to really see, and your photographs will improve as you sharpen your powers of observation.
“I’m always mentally photographing everything as practice” ~ Minor White*
When you do go out to take photographs don’t always look for a finished product. Look for shape, texture, form. Look for light and shade and the mingling of the two. Take lots of images just for you. Walk in the woods, in the forest, by the sea, near a river. Climb a mountain or hill, overlook a town or city. Look up at the trees, at the sky, at the moving clouds. Look down, find something tiny, something you haven’t noticed before. Look at something ordinary, something mundane, and see the beauty there. Experiment, discover, ‘be’ with your camera and allow each subject to speak to you and call you to make an image. Make your image as technically perfect as you can, but don’t feel pressured. If it’s not perfect, don’t worry. It is as it’s meant to be. Enjoy the journey, savour the experience.
This is an image of an old door handle. But it is more than that. It is a way into a room. It is worn, well-used, full of fingerprints that cannot be seen, a teller of numerous stories.
“One should not only photograph things for what they are but for what else they are” ~ Minor White
Does 'gear' matter?
Most serious photographers will favour a dedicated camera for all types of photography rather than a phone camera, and I agree that the versatility of a camera, with its choice of lenses and myriad of settings to achieve different results, is generally preferable to a phone camera which is essentially a ‘point and shoot’ camera, albeit an ever improving one.
I do not wish to suggest that mindful photography is not serious photography, but this is an area where the saying, ‘the best camera is the one you have with you’, really does apply. We can of course do mindful photography on a planned photography shoot, when the focus is on perfecting technique and getting the best image, since practising photography mindfully is a mindset which we can use at any time. Yet much of mindful photography is spontaneous, it is often a result of something catching our eye, drawing us, speaking to us as we walk along, and it is at this time that the camera in our pocket, the phone camera, has a role to play. We become more mindful photographers when 'gear' is less important than connecting with our subject. Photographer Paul Sanders, who is passionate about becoming more mindful in his photography, urges us not to think of our subject in terms of a photo, just to enjoy the simple beauty presented.
"Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field." -Peter Adams (Commercial photographer)
Follow where your inspiration leads you
At its very heart, mindful photography is spontaneous. Allow yourself time to notice the beauty that is around you. Open yourself to possibilities and opportunities. Connect with your subject, notice how you feel and be aware of what is drawing your eye.
Experiment, follow where your inspiration leads you and above all enjoy the wonderful experience that is mindful photography.
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
If you know anyone who might enjoy this post, please feel free to share the link.
*Minor White (1908-1976) was an American photographer whose interest in Zen philosophy and mysticism influenced his photography. Before becoming a serious photographer, White studied botany and, later, poetry. He became a serious photographer in 1937 and through his mystical approach to photography he became one of the most influential photographers in the mid twentieth century.