One of the most important skills a landscape photographer can develop is a deep sense of awareness. This is defined as a deep knowledge or perception of a situation or environment, and as you might imagine, extremely useful when working in nature. Why? There are many reasons, some of which I’ll outline here based on my own experiences. But in general the more you’re aware of your surroundings, and more importantly how you perceive them, the easier it will be to connect with what you’re feeling inside. Without that critical insight, it becomes very difficult if not impossible to make images that convey what you see and feel to others.
So much of a successful photograph is about conveying personal opinions and perspectives, your unique vision. That comes from seeing deeply into nature in a way that goes beyond the obvious. Our senses are constantly feeding us with all sorts of valuable information, yet often only a small percentage is consciously recognized. This is because our brains are constantly thinking, judging, grasping, and doing all sorts of other mental gymnastics that keep us from perceiving what is actually happening in the moment. Whether the movement of light across a meadow, the gesture of a tree, the subtle colors of the sky during twilight; all of these become more interesting and potentially more enlightening the more aware we become. And as they say, it’s all in the details. Without a certain amount of mental silence, these details often go unnoticed.
“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” – Ansel Adams
Mindfulness is the key to awareness, and the best method known to develop mindfulness is meditation. I’m not referring to anything religious based, or new agey, but scientifically proven techniques that allow us to recognize our constant thoughts for what they are, thoughts and not reality. I’ve been meditating for almost six years now, and I can honestly say its helped me with stress, anxiety, and deepened my experiences in nature both as a landscape photographer and human being. We have so much going on in our daily lives that often gets in the way of creativity. Taking a relaxed walk or hike in nature is certainly a great way to reduce some of that mental baggage, but combining that with meditation really helps to see what matters from what doesn’t. I’m not at all suggesting that this is some sort of panacea or solution to better photography, but rather another tool you can utilize that has stood the test of time.
Recently meditation has become more mainstream and popular, largely because it has been scientifically studied and shown to provide numerous health benefits. I think it’s a great way to gain a broader perspective on life, reduce stress, and practice photography in a more relaxed, open minded approach. A simple exercise consisting of following your breath every morning for 10 minutes is a great way to start the day, and can lead to more profound benefits down the road. If you’d like to explore mindfulness, here are some great resources to get started. I highly recommend giving one of these a try…there’s not much to lose, and much to gain.
- Real Happiness – 28 Day Program – a great down to earth month long program
- Eight Minute Meditation – Quiet Your Mind, Change Your Life – the book that got me started 6 years ago.
- 10% Happier TV anchorman Dan Harris describes how meditation helped him professionally and personally after a nervous breakdown.
- Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion
- Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity – filmmaker David Lynch describes his personal methods of capturing and working with ideas, and the immense creative benefits he has experienced from the practice of meditation.
Apps and Websites
- Headspace – great website and companion apps to get you started with mindfulness
- Mindful.org – website and magazine
- Guided Breathscape – video – mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), takes you through a 20-minute meditation focusing on the breath.
- Free guided meditations from UCLA
Meditation Center and Mindfulness based workshops
- Omega Institute – Nature Photography and The Art of Seeing – a 5 day workshop I teach focusing on a mindful approach to photography.
Has meditation been beneficial for you?
Thanks for reading as always, and any questions or feedback, please leave them below.