“Don’t shoot what it looks like, shoot what it feels like.” ~David Alan Harvey
Due to the current state of the world, I think it could benefit of us all to be more in the here and now, in the present, where it’s easier to find peace and calm. Or even to just be more mindful, so to speak, in what we say, do, and think, since it’s tempting to lash out at others and focus on the negative during hard times. How we act, interact, and even plan forward are more vital to our mental and physical health than ever.
It isn’t a secret that this pandemic has shifted us as humans—affected our communities and our relationships in more ways than most events in my lifetime have ever done.
It has caused us to pause (okay, more of a hard stop) so that we can really look at what we want vs. what we need. To stop and not only smell the flowers, but to feel them, explore them, and be with them. To decide if we actually really like the flowers or if we want a different color or varietal; or perhaps to determine if flowers are an important presence in our life today, in the here and now.
Many people have mindfulness practices, yet they don’t realize it, whether it’s yoga, qigong, meditation, tai chi, simply taking a walk, or staring out the window. These are all considered mindfulness actions. I do them all.
One of my favorite mindful activities is “awareness breathing.” It is one of the most powerful mindful practices of all. Bringing your screaming mind back to breathing, even if only for a few moments, can completely shift your mindset into calm and present.
Aside from awareness breathing, there is one mindfulness exercise or channel that most don’t even consider. And that, my friends, is photography. Yes, you read that right, good ole, simple photography.
I have really plunged into this throughout the pandemic. I am seventy-five years of age, I travel and live in my caravan trailer, but I am truly never alone.
Something that has saved my sanity through this pandemic and while staying on the road is photographing things I feel. I’m not just talking about taking photos with your friends and family, or of your favorite food dish, I’m talking about being mindful about what you capture on digital film and letting the subjects become your awareness.
I’ve lived a long life and I plan on living to be “holy shoot” old. I truly believe that my beautiful life at this age is the result of practicing mindfulness and picking up my camera, taking it out on a stroll, and being at one with the photos I take.
There are a few things that I feel are important to know and be when it comes to mindfulness through photography. I’m sharing a few with you today with hopes that it inspires you to do the same. Photos are beautiful, personal, and they aren’t something you merely take–they are things that you make.
A few quick tips:
1. Carry your phone or an actual camera with you all the time.
I suspect many of you already carry your phone with you at all times, but probably not a camera. But no phone or camera equals no photos. So just do it. No pockets? Be creative. Hang it around your neck with a holding strap. For women, your waistband, or fanny pack, or better yet get some nice comfy pants with deep pockets.
2. Take boatloads of photos.
You aren’t on assignment for National Geographic, and no one is going to pay you squat for these photos, so go ahead and shoot whatever speaks to you.
Stop and look around, sit in silence in your home or outdoor surroundings, and take photos. It could be of raindrops, lichen, flowers, trees, the sidewalk, puddles, the sky, yourself, your foot, a piece of art, a candle burning. Anything goes. Open the cupboards, turn on the faucet, look at ice cubes, the pets. The mindful photo possibilities are endless.
3. Slow down.
This is where the mindfulness comes in. Look around you and see all of the possibilities for a photo. What is that? What if I got closer? Should I include that thing next to it? What is special about it? Is it the color or shape or texture that attracts you? Are there reflections? What if I bent over or looked at it through the grass or maybe from a different angle? What if I just lie down here and look up? Don’t be in a hurry to take photos.
Slowly in and out, in and out, just breathe. Basically, learn to relax and to not be on a mission. Mindfulness also means being here now, not doing your grocery list or figuring out what to say to your significant other about an issue that has upset you. When your mind wanders, bring it back by simply saying “come back” or “I’m back.”
5. Become a detective.
Be curious about what you are doing and seeing. Open your peripheral vision. Notice things around you. Softscapes like nature and hardscapes like houses, cars, fences, buildings. How do things connect? Where does the sky meet the earth? Where do you fit in? What are people doing if there are people in your vision? Observe and ponder.
6. Set a purpose before you go out…
…such as “today I will take fifty photos,” or “today I will focus on things that are red,” or “today I will look for reflections.” Take photos of clouds to look at them later and ponder what you see. Or if nothing is coming to you just take photos of everything damn thing you feel like mindfully, and respectfully take that shot. Just remember that setting a purpose will help you focus and slow down.
7. Go alone.
Leave your friends, children, significant other, dog, and anything that might divert your attention behind. Even if just for a teensy second. This time is for you and you alone. We have enough chatter in our heads to drag along and to bribe to shut up, so let this be about your time. Go early in the morning while your family is still sleeping or doing their morning routine. It is easy to slip out and the light is perfect.
8. Learn about your camera.
The hard truth is that you are only as good as you choose to be. Don’t blame your phone or the light or anything else for your crappy photos until you have spent some time learning just what amazing things your phone or camera can do.
There are many YouTube videos to get you started, and of course, the store where you purchased your phone or camera. Since I’ve taken a few courses, my photos are 200 percent better than they were and are getting better all the time. I love the easy format and all of the examples. I even learned to edit using a couple of apps. Yes, it cost some money. So does toilet paper. Well worth it.
Taking these photos and printing them into a journal or an online Pinterest board are great ways to share your mindful moments, and will enable you to revisit them when you need them most. Be curious, experiment, and learn all you can, but most of all just breathe, point, and click… mindfully.
Photography captures life’s moments, thoughts, memories, and feelings. It is also a very simple thing that you can do to bring yourself back into the present again. I like to think of it as another form of meditation.
It can also inspire curiosity and wonder, invoke positivity, and bring calm to your mind and body. Many beautiful things can happen through a lens. Combined with some deep breaths you can truly capture what you feel or want to feel and grab those mindful moments.
No one needs to see your photos. They can be personal and private. You can even start a mindful photography journal and refer to it when you might not feel like looking through a camera lens, but instead feel like reflecting on what you captured previously to bring a sense of mindfulness into your space.
Light, camera… mindfulness.
About Kathleen Sinclair
At sixty, Kathleen earned a Master’s Degree and learned tai-chi while becoming certified to teach. At sixty-three, she joined the Peace Corp and spent two years in Ukraine teaching at a university. In her early seventies she spent three years in Mexico. Today her home is a trailer that she tows around the country with her Outback . . . and she has never been happier with herself or her life. Visit her at kathleensinclair.com.