For the most part I'm not keen on social media. It's useful, of course, especially if you're running a business as we are, but I've come to the conclusion that it's often a bit vexatious and leads to the sort of behaviour that is the antithesis of mindfulness. All that obsessive scrolling down, checking and posting - no it's not for me. But one form of social media does appeal to me and is becoming a favourite platform among many of us mindfulness types. It's the photo sharing platform, Instagram. For the last two years I've been posting a photograph every day on Instagram and it has proved to be one of the most rewarding practices I engage in. Not only is it a really good discipline, it has connected me to a whole community of mindful photographers who are doing exactly the same thing. I don't consider myself to be a "proper" photographer, most of my pictures are taken on my 'phone and some on my DSLR camera, and I have no pretensions to be an expert; I just like to take photographs and share them with other people. It's something I can thoroughly recommend to anyone as a mindfulness practice. So if you want to give it a go, here's some of my tips for mindful photography.
- You don't need a fancy camera. Your 'phone, or compact camera is just as good as a top of the range DSLR. Sometimes the limitations of the equipment can be an advantage.
- Less is more in mindful photography. You don't need to snap hundreds of frames in the hope of getting the perfect shot. Limit yourself to a single photograph a day, or if that's too much of a challenge, keep it to half a dozen or so.
- Any subject matter is ok. Anything. I like to photograph natural subjects and often return to the same subject over and over again in order to see it in as many aspects as possible. Nothing is too trivial or mundane to be a subject. A city pavement or shadows on a brick wall can make a wonderful composition if taken in the right spirit.
- Experiment. Take risks. Photograph things that you would normally never dream of. Look at things in close-up or in wide angle. Notice textures, light and shadow, space, juxtapositions, colours. Look at the world from unusual angles. Look up, look down at the ground, look at the same thing at different times of the day or seasons of the year. Nothing is off limits. This way you avoid visual cliches and the language of the snapshot. You want your pictures to be interesting and spontaneous.
- The photograph is not about you so take your self out of it. If you are open and receptive to what you see, the photograph will come and it doesn't even feel as if you have a hand in it at all. Wendy Ann Greenhalgh, whose Instagram handle is @artofmindfulness, calls the process "Stop, Look, Breath, Create." The first step is always to pause and just see what there is to see. Breath, relax and, when the time is right, take the picture. Don't struggle with it. If you were a professional photographer taking a beautifully framed image that you intended to sell, you might approach it differently, but you're not. The image doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be honest. Capture the image that is in front of your lens and don't worry about it. Judgement is unnecessary.
If anyone is interested in mindful photography you can take a look at my own pictures on Instagram, I'm @grimwayfarer. Others I've linked up with are @agnostic108, @scotsdug, @artofmindfulness and a host of others. And keep checking in to the website. Over the next year we will be doing a number of creative mindfulness events, starting with a mindful photography walk in March. If it's popular, we'll do more.
In the meantime why not take a look at Wendy Ann's latest book. It's very good. And you could just try the mindful photograph a day thing. Good luck with it.