Next time you head off to do a spot of photography make the effort to look, to actually really look at what you are capturing. Take the time to do it with true intent and purpose, but without any attachment to the outcome of your images. No judgement, remember! Try not to enter into thoughts about what could go wrong, what didn’t work in the past, what you want to achieve with the shot, how you want it to look, how you might edit it, none of that. Seriously. Just remain open to what you are capturing and explore it fully by truly being in the moment.
This is a very different approach to photography from how most all of us learnt to go about it. We normally have a head full of thoughts about how to compose an image according to various rules and guidelines. We limit ourselves to what we are comfortable capturing and what we know that we can do well. Where is the challenge or potential for growth and new experience in that? Where is the deep focus and connection to the process of photography, place and subject?
Limit yourself to exploring a single subject or theme at a time. Then really explore it, investigate it in every way you possibly can, try and capture every aspect of its persona in a wide variety of photographic ways.
A great way I like to get the juices flowing is to spend some time investigating my potential subject before even getting the camera out. Notice its structure, how it is positioned within its surrounds, it’s textures, patterns, colours, shape, dimension, form, the way light plays across it.
Then, pick up the camera and explore it fully, really get engrossed and intrigued by your subject to the point of everything else disappearing from your mind so that your subject is your only thought!
Make photography an investigative exploration of your chosen subject. Don’t make it a chore though! Enjoy the process of unravelling the character of your subject, whether it is a person/persons, a place, a building, a plant, an animal, or a thing of any variety. Mindful Photography is about the journey and your absolute and full immersion in that process. It is through deep observation, inspection, surveying and probing of a subject that we form a bond with it, allowing us to truly be able to gain insight into its nature. From there we can play with how to present that in a creative and insightful way with a camera.
A very high proportion of images posted to social media every day are the here-I-am with [insert name/s here], here-I-am at [insert place here], here-I-am doing [insert activity here], here-I-am eating [insert foodstuff here], here-I-am wearing [insert favourite fashion label here], etc… They tend to lack a real exploration of subject and place or a contemplative attitude to the taking of them. Photography seems to have taken a turn towards merely being a quick snap without forethought, capturing proof of something having taken place in our lives to then be shared immediately with our friends, family and world at large.
I think the functions of photography are changing because of the technology. I don’t think we’re necessarily taking photos so we can remember our experiences. I think some of the photos we’re taking are so we can brag about our experiences and post them on Instagram and, you know, Facebook and just show other people, oh, look at the fabulous life that I’m having. And so, you know, if those are the functions that you’re trying to serve, the new technology may be doing that really well. But I don’t know that the new technology is serving the functions of preserving memories quite as well unless you take the extra step and actually look at the photos and revive those memories from them.
– Psychologist, Linda Henkel
Here are some simple suggestions and exercises that you can easily incorporate when next you find yourself out photographing.
- Choose a single subject or theme for your outing.
- Find a subject and take 20 photographs of it, allow yourself permission to explore it in ways you normally wouldn’t and DO NOT enter into processes of self-doubt and criticism at your efforts, enjoy the process and immersion of investigation through photography.
- Don’t look at your images, checking each and every one on the back of your camera immediately after taking them, like you normally might do. Wait till you get home before looking at the results of your efforts, allow yourself to have some failures in amongst your successes.
- Set your camera to shoot in jpeg and turn it to monochrome (black and white) for an entire session.
- Explore the myriad of patterns available in nature.
- Go to a place in nature and explore how many different ways you can present it through different points of view, compositions and framing of images. Maybe introduce an item that you bring along with you.
- Join in with a 52 week theme challenge on social media, this will give you a huge amount of themes to play with investigating over a year.
- There are a multitude of techniques based on camera operation available to investigate too. Choose one and investigate it thoroughly on your next outing.