Bring Your Mind into Frame and Focus
Most of us have easy access to a camera. Whether that’s on our phone, a compact or a digital SLR camera, we usually carry some technology that enables us to capture whatever we see in a few clicks. We live in a snap happy society, photographing everything from the everyday to the unusual, from scenes of wonder, to comedy, to shock. And of course – don’t roll your eyes, you know you’ve tried it – phone cameras now offer a world of selfies!
There is nothing wrong with the culture that has evolved to document our lives through photographs. Images are a great way to help people connect and communicate. Through just a single photograph we can share a moment of joy, a scene of beauty, a hilarious moment or a valuable piece of information. Photographs are a universal language that can tell a story and help us connect with others far and wide. They are also a wonderful art form to be admired, and can help us see the world around us differently or, simply, for what it is.
The joy of photography
I am passionate about photography. I love taking photos and looking at photos. I enjoy using a digital SLR camera, but also using my phone when on the go. I like sharing photos with my friends and family in conversation, as well as admiring other peoples’ creations.
What I have noticed though is that the joy of photography itself can sometimes be lost. In our fast-paced lives, I think we can miss out on the enjoyment of the whole act of looking for a photo opportunity, taking a photo and enjoying the results.
Days of film
I grew up taking photos from a young age, influenced by my father who has always been a keen photographer. The cameras of my childhood had film. I love digital photography; the quality of the images, the flexibility to take as much as your memory card can handle, the instantly viewable results. Films were tedious and it could be rather dull waiting for someone to set up that perfect family gathering photo, and even more annoying if after all their efforts you would discover, once printed, someone still had their eyes closed! Having a limited number of images per film, however, I think made you take more time over each photo, serving to focus your attention.
The other difference I’ve noticed, is that as photographic technology advances, keen photographers can put themselves under pressure to take more accomplished photos. Whilst I love the challenge photography brings, such as trying to capture moving scenes, and I continually try to improve my photographic abilities, I have seen people focus so much on capturing an amazing shot they don’t enjoy the experience as much.
A critical eye
I joined a local photography group for a time. We’d meet up at different events and locations and all walk around taking photos. Although mostly amateurs, as you can imagine most of the people there had some impressive cameras and were excellent photographers. I enjoyed seeing how each person would take a different version of the same scene and picked up some helpful tips. What struck me though was that the more competent the photographer, the less happy they seemed to be with the photos they had taken. Many of the members seemed very critical of their images, which to me looked fantastic, and from my perspective this detracted from the enjoyment.
I now own a Digital SLR camera, however, when I attended the photography group I was still just using a compact. It was a very good compact but still, I was concerned people would think I didn’t belong in the group if I didn’t have a ‘proper’ camera. It didn’t take long for me to let that worry go, however, as I discovered it was actually liberating to not have an excellent camera.
I didn’t feel under pressure to maximise the use of technology and take amazing photos. I could do what I have always done and take photos for enjoyment, without judging everything I took. Yes, sometimes there’s a purpose for my images, such as ones I’ve taken specifically for my blog (hyperlink to www.smilebeingyou.com), but for the most part photography is a passion of mine because it’s an activity I enjoy.
How can we bring the pleasure of simply taking photographs into our snap happy culture?
My answer is mindful photography.
Okay, it’s not a term I have invented – Google ‘mindful photography’ and you will find others talking about it. And yes, you may be thinking yet another activity has the word ‘mindful’ tagged on to it in an attempt to make it sound hip! I am telling you about this though as, firstly I started practicing mindful photography without knowing this was what it could be called and, secondly, I want to share with you the joy of this activity!
What is mindful photography?
Rather than describe the concept, I’m going to tell you about a day.
It was a lovely sunny morning and I was sat at home, at my computer, working on job applications. If you’ve ever found yourself looking for a new job, you’ll know that searching for jobs, speaking to recruitment agents, writing applications, updating you LinkedIn profile and emailing companies, easily becomes an all-consuming activity. And, as arduous as it may be, it’s essential to just keep working at it until you land the right job for you.
On this day, I felt like the summer was passing me by and decided I had earnt a short break. I wanted to get some fresh air, enjoy the nice weather and give my mind a rest.
I decided to go to go to a local park for a mindful stroll and to take my camera in case I saw any pretty flowers or birds to photograph. Although the park I picked is not particularly scenic, by really focussing my attention on what I could see, I started to notice more points of interest.
The more closely I looked, the more flowers and plants I noticed. The more I studied the flowers, the more I noticed the bees and butterflies hovering around in search of nectar. I soon found myself absorbed in taking close up photographs of the various different plants and insects.
The act of concentrating closely on the petals and the bees, trying to photograph them from a decent angle, in focus, took all of my attention. The whir of thoughts in my brain and the rest of the world around me, pleasantly just faded into the background. I had no planned purpose for the photos. I simply just enjoyed being in the moment, appreciating the sunshine and the beauty of nature, concentrating on the whole process of taking photographs.
The result of my mindful photography session, was that I felt relaxed and refreshed. I was then able to return to my desk calm and ready to be productive. Yes, I was pleased with many of the photos I’d taken. However, my goal had just been to have a relaxing, enjoyable break from working at my computer. Mindful photography had enabled me to achieve this in a healthy, happy way.
How can you practice mindful photography?
I hope I have inspired you to give mindful photography a go. It’s an activity you can enjoy at any time of year, all you need is a camera and a little time. The camera on your mobile will suffice, and in fact may be better, although you may want to turn off Wi-Fi and data for the duration of your mindful photography session to avoid unnecessary interruptions.
Simply go to public place, indoors or outdoors, with your camera and focus on what you can see. It could be somewhere you think is interesting or beautiful. Alternatively, it could be somewhere that’s seemingly quite dull, as when you look around the place just might surprise you!
You might be best to avoid photographing other people for this exercise. I suggest you look at the buildings, the objects, the ground, the sky and nature around you. See what shapes, colours, textures, angles, shadows and reflections you notice. Then take photos of anything you feel drawn to. Of course, make sure you are in a safe space and you maintain an awareness of what is all around you, so that you and others are not at risk of accidental harm. It would certainly halt your enjoyment if you find yourself walking into lamp post!
Without expectation for what you might see, without a goal to take ‘good’ photos, without judgement of any photographs you take, simply try to capture points of interest around you. When your mind wanders off, or is distracted by sounds, smells and sensations around you, simply refocus back on what you can see. The more you do this, the easier it will become, and the more you’ll experience a sense of flow.
Afterwards, you may choose not to look at the photos you have taken. If you do though, try not to critique them in terms of their quality and skill, just look at the sights you captured and think about what they illustrate. More importantly, take a moment to reflect on your experience of being in the moment, mindfully taking photos.
I hope that you can discover the joy and relaxing benefits of mindful photography as I have. I would love to hear about your experiences if you do give it a try after reading this, so do please comment below.