How to Cultivate Mindfulness Through Photography
How to Cultivate Mindfulness Through Photography
In today’s fast-paced world, it’s easy to get caught up in all the thoughts and worries that run through your head. Juggling home life and a career can be stressful. One of the techniques I’ve used to bring calm into my life is mindfulness. It’s a form of meditation that has proven to be extremely effective in turning down the sound levels of the constant mental chatter in my brain. It’s a simple technique where I become fully focused on what I am doing at any given moment.
While there are several ways you can learn to cultivate mindfulness in your day-to-day life, one overlooked tool is photography. In addition to being a medium for creative expression, photography has the power to bring you into the present and gives you the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of your surroundings.
Photography has helped me to be more mindful, and I’m confident it can help you, too. In this article, I’ll be discussing everything you need to know about using your camera as a way to experience mindfulness. Take a couple of deep, mindful breaths, and let’s get started!
The relationship between photography and mindfulness
How often is your attention focused on the present moment? If you’re like most people, the answer is rarely. We constantly live in our heads. We ruminate about mistakes we made in the past, try to understand why certain things happened to us, and obsess over what we could have done differently.
We also spend a lot of time living in the future. We try to imagine what the future holds, worrying about things that might or might not happen. We run through endless potential scenarios in our minds in an effort to protect ourselves; however, this ultimately ends up generating more stress.
Having a more mindful attitude takes me away from thinking, slows my body and mind, and brings an appreciation for my environment. Photography encourages mindfulness. When I have a camera or my iPhone in my hands, I am taking time to observe what’s in front of me; I’m focusing (in more ways than one) and capturing a moment in time. Photography also challenges my perception because what one person sees as boring, another might view as the most beautiful thing in the world, so I keep an open mind as I move around looking for objects to photograph. I’m also using this awareness to understand the relationship of the objects to their environment. Each object has a story to tell, and sometimes it relates to the place it is found. A colorful leaf on a tree isn’t a very interesting photo, but if it is photographed after it falls into a pool of water, the viewer will question what happens from that point. On an iPhone, using the Wise Camera app gives you a range of artistic composition rules you can apply to add feeling to this photo. You can use the symmetry composition to suggest calmness, negative space to show the insignificance of the leaf, or dynamic symmetry to indicate the direction of the journey this leaf is about to embark upon.
Taking pictures brings you into the now, even if it’s just for a short while. It’s a highly effective tool for slowing down, getting out of your head, and becoming aware of the unique elements of your surroundings. It also encourages you to cultivate gratitude for the objects, people, and scenery around you.
This isn’t just a theory, either. Research has shown that when practiced regularly, mindfulness has many incredible benefits, including:
Less emotional reactivity
Enhanced self-insight and intuition
Improved relationship satisfaction
Improved fear modulation
Increased immune function
To experience these benefits for yourself, it’s important to make mindfulness a regular practice. Just as your muscles get stronger when you lift weights, the brain develops the neural pathways for mindfulness the more you do it.
One of the best ways to develop a mindful attitude is to have regular dates with your camera. What exactly does that entail? Let’s find out!
Make a date with your camera
A photography date simply entails selecting a specific theme, day, time, and place to take pictures with your phone camera. You can go on a solo photography date—just you and your iPhone—or you can choose to invite a friend, family member, or your significant other. Just like being on a date with a person, it’s essential to schedule and prepare for your photography date. Here are some helpful tips for doing exactly that.
Choose a day
While having an impromptu date with your camera is fine, the most rewarding dates come with some planning. Choose a day when you can focus on your photography with minimal or no distractions. The amount of time you spend on your date is up to you, but be sure to select a day when you have enough time to explore, relax, and have fun.
Choose a time
While any time of day will work for your photography date, some hours are particularly good for photography. The last hour before sunset and the first hour after sunrise are popular times for professional photographers. Referred to as the “golden hours”, these times are known for producing beautiful tones of natural light. It’s hard to overexpose or underexpose your image because the light is very even and has a beautiful golden hue.
Choose a location
Select an environment that you enjoy or are curious about. It could be a park, beach, forest, landmark, or neighborhood. Make sure the location has objects, scenes, or people that interest you, as these will become the main subjects for your photos, and they need to fit the theme for your date.
Pick a theme
Just like choosing to go to an Italian restaurant or movie on a first date, it can be fun and helpful to have a theme for your photography date. The theme ultimately ties in with the location you use for your photography date. For example, if you decide to go to a park, you might pick “flowers” as your theme. If you choose a forest, you could focus on "landscapes". If you have the beach as your destination, maybe try “seashells” for your subject matter.
After you pick your theme, take some time to mindfully reflect on the story you want to tell through your pictures. Think about your main theme (for example, landscapes) and the various elements that will support this subject (for example, trees, mountains, and paths). Your theme serves as your guide for your photography date, allowing you to focus on a topic. Ultimately, the group of photos you capture during your date will not only tell the story of the main subject but also of your mindful day.
Have your favorite camera app and iPhone ready
It’s important to prepare your photography equipment for your date. Charge the iPhone, and make sure you have storage space for all your new photos. Clean the lens with a microfiber cloth so that smudges and fingerprints don’t cause glare and fuzzy photos. Then download the Wise Camera app, which allows you to apply various artistic composition rules in real-time. In this app, you’ll see guidelines for various forms of composition on your phone’s screen. These composition lines help you to position the main subject and its supporting elements in a scene. While thoughtfully composing the photo through this app, you naturally enter a calm, mindful state of being.
Check the weather
Check the weather forecast a few days before your scheduled date. If it’s likely to be rainy, for example, you might want to postpone your date. That’s not to say that the day has to be perfectly sunny. You might actually enjoy having a date on a foggy or stormy day, which will provide a more dramatic mood for your photography.
What to do during your photography date
When you arrive to your chosen location, take a moment to pause, take a few deep breaths, and leave all your thoughts and worries behind. This is a special time for you to focus on the moment right in front of you. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to spend your time on your date, but here are some tips to guide you.
Spend time observing
Before taking any pictures, simply observe your surroundings and take in the environment as a whole. Walk around slowly, viewing your surroundings with curiosity. Try not to interpret anything as “good” or “bad”; instead, just notice what’s around you with acceptance. After all, even things that aren’t traditionally considered beautiful can be incredibly interesting and striking in their own unique way. As you wander, make a note of objects or scenery that you’d like to come back to and explore deeper with the Wise Camera app.
Once you’re more acquainted with your surroundings, it’s time for the fun part—taking pictures! Take out your iPhone and open the Wise Camera app. Revisit objects or areas that you noticed on your initial walk, or pause whenever something catches your eye. Decide what is going to be your main subject. It could be a fountain, sculpture, tree, leaf, rock, building, or flower. Then find supporting elements that will direct attention towards the main subject. Look for blocks of color, lines, shapes, textures, or shadows. In the Wise Camera app, select the artistic composition that you think will best match the scene and start shooting.
On a recent date with my camera I went to a forest and wanted to capture a photograph of the mountains, river, and trees. After hiking around for a while I eventually found a way to combine all three in the one image. I discovered a wooden footbridge that went over the river. By standing in the middle of the bridge there was a leading line to the green trees on the other side of the river, and the mountains beyond. Even the shadows of the bridge’s railings added more directional lines for the eyes to follow.
Applying the Wise Camera’s artistic compositions makes it easy to get great results straight away. You know the image is going to be appealing because the guidelines guarantee aesthetically pleasing photos. It’s still important to experiment, though. Be creative and play around. Take photos from different angles to see how they look. Get down on your knees and point your camera up, or stand tall and point your camera straight down over an object. The Wise Camera app even has a “break all the rules” option, so just let loose and go with the flow of the present moment.
Being mindful is meant to be a relaxing process, so let go of expectations. Practice acceptance when a photo doesn’t come out the way you planned. When you look more closely, this “imperfect” picture is sure to have some unique, interesting, or beautiful features that you might not have initially noticed. After you return home from the date with your iPhone's camera, look through the images you've taken. If you like a photo but it hasn’t captured the scene as well as you’d hoped, open the Wise Photos app and try another composition setting. While mindfully exploring your photos in the comfort of your own home, you can use this app to apply a different set of artistic composition rules to improve the look of your photos.
Taking it all in
A week or so after your photography date, open your photos on your iPhone, iPad, or Macbook, share them on your TV with Apple TV, or even print some of them. Make yourself a cup of tea or pour yourself a glass of wine and observe each image for at least one minute. While enjoying the pictures, contemplate what the main subject of each photo is, what the supporting elements are, and what the story of each picture is. Dive deep into each image—unpack it, explore it, and evaluate how it makes you feel. This is time well spent. It’s an enjoyable encounter with mindfulness!
Photography is the perfect tool to cultivate mindfulness in your day-to-day life. It naturally brings you into the present moment and encourages you to see intricate details of life that you might otherwise miss. Photography is a fantastic way to have a mindful journey. The more you practice mindfulness, the better you’ll become at it, and the more rewards you’ll receive. Set up a photography date today and get ready to experience the magic of mindfulness through the lens of your camera.