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What Is Mindful Photography?

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What Is Mindful Photography?

I practice mindful photography. Mindfulness is a natural ability that we all have. It involves paying attention, on purpose, with all of our senses, in the present moment. It also involves suspending most judgments about whether the moment is good or bad, and suspending our normal thought chatter. Of course, we use wise judgment. If our house is on fire, we use wise judgment that leads to taking action and running out of the house. Once we have taken wise action, mindfulness involves suspending all the extra judgments our minds tend to add on to experience.

When creating photography images mindfully, I first slow down and experience the moment, taking in all sensory input, but especially the visual field. If I am drawn to look at ripples in the water for example, I pay attention to them, noticing the changing colors and motion, noticing reflections on the water, and what I can see under the water. I also open up my field of awareness and look at even what is behind me and pay attention to my emotions.

Mindfulness is a natural state, but it has competition from other states, especially "busy mind" states. The reason we train in mindfulness is that our minds are also trained by our cultural upbringing to constantly think about other things, darting to the past and the future, and making judgments. For example, while I am looking at a ripple on the water, my mind starts to get busy with a chain of thoughts and judgments. “Oh that was a beautiful ripple.” “Oh, this one is not as good.” “That leaf floating on the water is marring this ripple.” “What will I cook for dinner later?” “I want to plan my next vacation, maybe I’ll go to the Grand Canyon.” “But then I’ll need to get a new and better camera.” And so on. Cultivating mindfulness involves training our minds to notice when our minds wander, and then following these instructions. "Relax." "Release", where the mind has gone. "Return", to our chosen focus, in this case paying attention to this water ripple. Cultivating mindfulness in the flow of our lives is supported by mindfulness practices, such as mindfulness meditation and mindful photography.

Many artists cultivate mindfulness, often without even having a label for it. I find it’s nice to be aware of mindfulness and to cultivate it more purposefully and deeply. Andy Karr, one of the authors, along with Michael Wood, of "The Practice of Contemplative Photography: Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes", explains more about this practice in this article here:”. Julie Dubose also writes more about mindful or contemplative photography in her book, "Effortless Beauty: Photography as an Expression of Eye, Mind and Heart".