Last September I choose to do a year long course in photography. I wanted a break from my usual academic pursuits and had a longing to nurture my creative side through mindful activities and I thought photography would suit my desire.
Mindful photography is simply the process of being truly present and paying attention while photographing; being Here, Now. It is perceiving and engaging, without judgment, photographically, that which is. It is the path of incorporating photography into my practice of mindfulness, and incorporating mindfulness into my practice of photography. My path leads me through the beauty and serenity I find in nature, so this is the context in which I will most often speak; your path may lead you another way, but I trust that we will still be able to understand and help one another in our respective journeys.
With photography, there’s often a feeling of built-up anticipation by the time we reach our destination. Whether we’ve traveled a thousand miles or driven two hours from home to a favorite spot, the temptation to mount camera on tripod and start photographing immediately can be powerful. However, there are real benefits to slowing down and taking a more contemplative approach.
On a personal level, slowing down and connecting with my environment can help me relax and ease the self-imposed pressure to Get The Shot. It lets us enjoy the location for what it is, and not just as a photographic target. Mindful photography reminds me that the process, the journey, is its own reward.
On an artistic level, I will many times find perspectives I might not have otherwise noticed. Even if I end up not making them into photographs, they will inform my approach to the photographs I do make. Being present in the landscape will often lead me away from the tripod holes of those who have been here before us, and toward those compositions that speak to our own vision.
So, how do I go about establishing – or, better said, recognizing – this connection? Here are three ways I relax into a more mindful awareness of my environment.
One of the first things I do is find a safe spot (out of the way of other visitors and away from potential hazards like cliff edges or slippery rocks), close my eyes, open my mouth a bit, and breathe. I breathe slowly and deeply, inhaling the scent and the flavor of the place, bringing it into myself. In the forest, I smell leaves and branches decaying to soil, and new plant life growing from that soil. In the woods, I smell the evergreens, the tamarack bogs, and the tannins in the soil and water. Standing next to a waterfall, I catch the tang of ozone from the rushing and tumbling water. Smell is a powerfully evocative sense, and can in an instant recall connections across the years and miles.
While my eyes are closed, I also listen. When I think I am surrounded by either noise or silence, it means I’m not paying attention. The noise is the movement of wind through trees, water roaring over rocks, geese honking in the distance, a mosquito buzzing near my ear. The silence is really the backdrop for the thump of a clump of snow sliding from a single branch, the periodic drip-plop of water seeping through limestone, my breath, my heartbeat – and yes, a bee buzzing near my ear. And in between the extremes I hear a marvelous range of the sounds of life, of my presence in the physical world – sounds I don’t want to miss or take for granted.