(I'm consolidating my photography sites, so I'll be posting a few posts from other sites here in preparation for shutting them down…)
Mindful Photography: Be Here Now
In landscape 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 our environment can help us 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 us that the process, the journey, is its own reward.
On an artistic level, we will many times find perspectives we might not have otherwise noticed. Even if we end up not making them into photographs, they will inform our approach to the photographs we do make. Being present in the landscape will often lead us 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 northwoods, 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 mosquito 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. (Even the mosquitoes – can you tell I spent formative years in the northwoods? 🙂 )
Eyes open again, I wander, feeling rock and soil and leaves beneath my feet. My eyes wander as well, taking in everything as I remember to look up and down and back the way I came as well as ahead and to the sides, seeing shapes and colors and light. As I move through the space, I touch my surroundings – bark, pine needles and sap, grass, soil, rocks, water, snow, ice. (I do leave wildlife and hazardous plants alone, but otherwise it's mostly fair game.)
As I begin to feel in touch with the spirit of the place, I see possibilities and compositions, and I start photographing and feeling my way toward the images I want to make. The minutes and hours vanish into irrelevance. What matters is the rushing water, the whispering wind, the shifting light. I am entirely where I am, and life is good.
At some point I start to feel that I've made the images I want, or as close as I'm going to come that day, and I begin to transition back to a work-a-day, plan-and-drive-and-back-up-my-photos consciousness. I bring back a bit of a glow, though, a little something extra that reminds me that at the root of all things I am never not a connected part of all that is, and life is good.