Alex Mausolf




2015, 11, p354-358

ABSTRACT: This study examined the affective and cognitive benefits of taking photographs of one’s everyday surroundings. Thirty-eight undergraduate participants were randomly assigned to either take photographs in a mindful, creative way; take photographs in a neutral, factual way; or do a count-your-blessings writing exercise, an activity that is known to reliably increase mood ¹. Planned contrasts revealed that those taking mindful, creative photographs were, on average, in a significantly better mood and were significantly more appreciative and motivated than those taking neutral photographs. There were no significant differences between either photography condition and the writing activity. These results suggest that, when done thoughtfully, photography can be an effective way of improving mood and appreciation of everyday life.” – Jaime L. Kurtz

The results of Jaime L. Kurtz’ study indicate that photography when undertaken ‘mindfully’ alters the operators mood substantially and for the better! Something that I and many other photographers can attest to having occurred in our lives.

To be mindful in the holding and operation of a real camera is part of the process of using it. One must establish what they want to capture, how to frame it, what to focus upon, how much to have in focus throughout the scene, etc… Many things are decided upon when taking a picture with a real camera. This focus and concentration in combination with an instinctive searching and observing of ones surroundings lead to the easy to access experience of mindfulness in photography.

DISCUSSION: The present study had two primary aims. First, it sought to examine the affective impact of photography, both with a positive and a neutral emphasis. Second, it compared the effect of photography to that of an empirically-supported happiness-increasing strategy: counting one’s blessings in a writing exercise 1. Results revealed that those who were taking photographs while looking for meaning and beauty found the activity more pleasant and absorbing and also reported significantly higher mood and higher levels of appreciation and motivation than those who were asked to take more neutral, informative photographs. In other words, the way a person engages in photography seems critical.

Results suggest that both mindful photography and counting one’s blessings seem to be similarly effective at enhancing appreciation. One might argue that the photography exercise takes more time and effort than writing, which can be done anywhere, at any time. However, these results suggest otherwise. The mindful photo condition was not only rated as the most pleasant and absorbing activity, but was also the least challenging. While these results are not significant, they do suggest that those who were asked to take pictures were not particularly overburdened, and those in the mindful photo condition actually enjoyed the activity.

To my knowledge, this is the first study to examine the psychological benefits of photography. Future studies could further address questions of implementation. Positive interventions are more effective when a certain “fit” exists between the person and the activity, such that it feels authentic and enjoyable 4. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that not everyone would enjoy and benefit from mindful photography. In addition, the current manipulation was somewhat minimal, with participants taking three photographs of each topic, twice a week for two weeks. With the practically limitless memory capacity of digital cameras, a person hoping to implement this strategy could easily take these findings to the extreme, such that they are so busy taking photographs that they cease to be fully present in and appreciative of the moment. As with most happiness-increasing strategies, the appropriate “dosage” needs to be considered ³. – Jaime L. Kurtz”

Very interesting results were gathered from this study.

That mindful photography is as effective as counting one’s blessings in a writing exercise is quite the surprise! That both of these activities lead to increased appreciation is good news indeed. That mindful photography was also the easiest accessible and least challenging as compared to thankful writing was also a pleasant surprise.

I am glad that Jaime L. Kurtz wrote the warning that there can be too much of a good thing in the final paragraph! I have personally found that around the two hour mark is the magic time limit with photography.




EXCERPT – Part 1: Recent conversations I have had about photography with friends has gotten me thinking. First one was with Sheldon Serkin in Bangkok. He asked me what getting in the zone when shooting street meant to me. He was to give a talk the following morning about this at the 8 x 8 Street Photography Conference. About how when you are out shooting, that you get in the zone. Whatever that is. For different people it is different things.

I stopped and thought.

I think, I said, for me, it is switching off. I lose sense of my surroundings, of noises. Things become narrowed. I become super-focussed on my immediate environment, and the only distractions I have are visual ones.

Later, with more reflection, I told him – when I am out shooting and I zone out I am on an accelerated path, excited, exhilarated to be in the moment. Scenes, looks, people, flash and vanish. It is dreamlike. I am – off.

When I step out of this moment, I said, it is weird. Slowly, and then suddenly, noises, like traffic, people talking, rush in. I might find myself in the middle of the road, or down on my knees on the pavement, or pushed up against a wall and realise I need to move, to get back into the normal rhythm of things. I feel invigorated, exhilarated; alive! It is euphoric and addictive. Does it happen all the time. Hell, no! But when it does – wow!

He told me for him, when he gets in the zone, he feels invincible, invisible. Instinct and intuition kick in and he feels on. Conversely I feel off. Freed. But I do agree with the instinct and intuition kicking in.” – Brendan Ó Sé

The feeling of being “in the zone” is a commonality amongst a certain subset of photographers. Those who have the ability to zone out to the surrounding noise and the distractions all around us, become one with the place they find themselves in, truly observing it in a synchronous and creative manner, much like a child being things for the first time.

This sensation that Brendan describes of being almost alienated as you return to the world is one I experience frequently when out doing my photography. Being “in the zone” everything else recedes to the background, no more intruding thoughts, no more distractions, just the place or things I’m photographing and me with my camera! When you are looking through the viewfinder of a camera, you enter another world, being whisked away quickly and easily.

Even though Brendan’s friend Sheldon described the experience as one of “feeling invincible, invisible”. They are both experiencing the same thing, it’s just described in different ways, due to their differing experiences of life and therefore their contrasting views, with Brendan feeling “off” and Sheldon feeling “on”! Me, I feel off, when I’m in this state of awareness and experience, able to react without those unnecessary procedural thoughts that go along with doing something, it’s all instinctive, almost primitive in the way I am able to react and truly observe things.

EXCERPT – Part 2: Move on to the next conversation, one I had with my friend, Paul Moore at the excellent MojoCon conference last week. He was talking about how he likes to stay up late at night and work on his photos. He said for him it was a form of mindfulness. Now, I had never ever imagined that editing images could be a form of mindfulness. But once he said it, I banked the idea, and have returned to it over the past week or so, and I have to say he is right. Very right. It is a form of mindfulness. One that suits me. One that does bring me a calm. OK, lots of times it can be frustrating when you learn that your photo is crap. But while editing, I am immersed in the process – with each Lightroom slide, I am willing the photos to life, willing them to be right. And for those moments, I am back in zone, back out on the street and the emotion, the excitement, the connection and all-consuming immediacy of that moment is there with me again, but now it is calming, rather than exhilarating.” – Brendan Ó Sé

Paul’s experience of mindfulness when editing his images is one that many photographers share! Time slips away from the editor, the world slips away, the worries of the world too! As I said above, anything can be a mindful experience, even doing the dishes if you truly want it to be.

Personally, I find the activity of editing photographs to be a meditative process, “calming, rather than exhilarating” as Brendan put it so well. I am so focused on bringing the image to life, I become inward in that time. Again, the world at large disappears along with all its intrusions and distractions!





EXCERPT – Part 1: To understand what mindfulness photography is, let’s first take a look at what it is not.

You’re out on a shoot. You’re scanning the environment, looking for a good capture and trying to avoid bad ones. In the back of your mind you’re thinking about all those great photos you’ve taken in the past, or about great images by others. You consider ways to recreate your prior success or emulate those outstanding pictures by your heroes. You’re reminding yourself of the techniques and strategies for shooting. You’re thinking about the people who will see your work. Will they like it? You anticipate their reactions. Some recognition and praise would sure feel nice. Maybe these pictures will turn out to be crap. How disappointing would that be? You’re wanting and hoping that this will be a successful shoot. You expect at least a few good photos.

I’m sure we’ve all found ourselves living out at these some aspects of this scenario. But what’s wrong with this picture? What’s wrong is that we’re not really SEEING. Our awareness is constricted by what we’re thinking, expecting, and wanting. The internal chatter and emotional desires act like smoke that clouds our vision. We’re experiencing all the stuff going on inside our heads and not much of what’s going on around us.” – John Suler

There’s no way I could have put that better! John has described what mindfulness isn’t perfectly, it’s probably a state-of-being familiar to all of us, especially with the busy-ness of life in this day and age.

EXCERPT – Part 2: … The Balance between Mindfulness & Concentration …

In his book on mindfulness meditation, Henepola Gunaratana talks about how it is actually a combination of mindfulness and concentration. Mindfulness is a process of opening up and detecting something new, like highly sensitive peripheral vision. Concentration, on the other hand, is a one-pointed awareness that zooms in to focus on an object, like a laser. In photography as well meditation, the two work as partners to balance each other. In the state of mindful awareness, you notice something in your field of view. Then, using the powers of concentration, you consciously direct your awareness to it, sink into and explore it, and finally, when doing photography, record it without memory or desire – not unlike the archer who selflessly lets loose the arrow in that fully focussed moment of Zen awareness. Once the photo is taken, your mindfulness opens up again to notice something different. During the shoot, the process repeats itself over and over again, with mindfulness providing receptivity to the “big picture” of new visual possibilities, while concentration guides the immersion into the selected subject, culminating in the photograph. Mindfulness is inclusive, concentration is exclusive. If you find yourself being overwhelmed by visual sensations – i.e., too much mindfulness, which can happen to people with acute visual sensitivities – try boosting concentration. If you find yourself slipping into a stupor-like focus on one thing, try returning to mindfulness.

a Camera IS Mindfulness

Photographers who practice mindfulness sometimes say that simply holding a camera can induce this state of awareness. It is a kind of conditioning effect: your mind associates doing photography with mindfulness. I might add that when we are mindfully aware of our surroundings, we are doing photography, even if we don’t have a camera with us.” – John Suler

John’s explanation that mindfulness meditation is “actually a combination of mindfulness and concentration” describes exactly what occurs when one enters the zone whilst doing photography using the camera as a tool to enter the state of mindfulness easily. His next sentences describe exactly what is happening when in this state. It is the action and combination of “opening up and detecting something new” along with “one-pointed awareness that zooms in to focus on an object, like a laser” that makes photography such a beneficial activity to experience regularly. There is a healing nature to this practice that is extremely beneficial for those that experience mental health challenges in their lives.

That this state of being is actually easy to enter into by using a camera is great news!

I find that the action of holding the camera, and even packing my photographic equipment, in preparation for its use helps shift my mental state from busy to calm and clear! This has been reinforced through regularity of experience over time, and hence why I feel it important for my sessions to occur for a minimum of eight weeks. An ongoing weekly activity of this nature is best though, as it allows the participants the opportunity to establish this as an entrenched experience over time and through regular repetition.


Mindful Photography

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.


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.



Mindfulness – a simple explanation.

Here are a few definitions of Mindfulness to get you going.

  • “Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.”  1
  • “Mindfulness is wordless. Mindfulness is meeting the moment as it is, moment after moment after moment, wordlessly attending to our experiencing as it actually is. It is opening to not just the fragments of our lives that we like or dislike or view as important, but the whole of our experiencing.”  2
  • “Mindfulness is about training yourself to pay attention in a specific way. When a person is mindful, they:
    • Focus on the present moment
    • Try not to think about anything that went on in the past or that might be coming up in future
    • Purposefully concentrate on what’s happening around them
    • Try not to be judgemental about anything they notice, or label things as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.”  3
  • “Mindfulness is the act of being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling at every moment – without interpretation or judgement.”  4
  • “Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment, which can be developed through the practice of meditation and other training.”  5
  • “Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.”   6
  • “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally.”  7

So as can be seen, it has two major components to it. Firstly, there is observation and genuine acceptance of what is observed, which leads to being engaged in the moment. Secondly, there is the action of choosing not to react with judgement to this observation and experience of being present in the moment. Sounds easy, but it actually takes a lot of practice and commitment to consistently achieve this state of being! Especially in this day and age with so many expectations and burdens put upon us all by ourselves, those around us and our larger communities.


Absolutely not! In my opinion, this is a key instruction of all religions and spiritualities, getting us to be truly living in the moment and without judgement of the Self or others, regardless of what is occurring. This is something that many religious and spiritual texts talk about at length.

I recently read a beautiful quote of Sylvia Boorstein, in this regards and would love to share it here:

  • “The Dalai Lama once said, “My religion is kindness.” I think everybody’s religions are about kindness even if they don’t frame it that way. Either explicitly or implicitly the core teachings are that it’s a kindness to give up egocentricity and to love your neighbour as yourself.”


No, Meditation is a tool which can assist with accessing a state of Mindfulness, but it is not actually Mindfulness itself! Through practising Meditation one eventually gains the ability to quiet and still the Mind from intrusion, allowing one to be in the moment of quietness, but you can actually be Mindful at a loud concert, quietness is not necessary to be in a Mindful way. There are many things one can use to become Mindful, for some it could be playing golf, for others it could be jogging, for others it could be any process that induces a state of being in the zone, such as the process of preparing the veggies for dinner! And that is what Happy Snappers is all about. Getting in the zone, easily, through the use of photography, which has been shown in studies to be one of the simplest activities that induce this state of genuinely being in the moment. Check out our “Benefits” page for some extracts from these studies.

1Greater Good Science Centre – Berkeley
2White Wind Zen Community
3Reach Out
4Mayo Clinic
6Sylvia Boorstein
7Jon Kabat-Zinn