The first thing you will almost certainly appreciate from my photos is that mindful nature photography is not about taking award-winning photos. If you are anything like me, taking photos is usually a hurried point and click with the smartphone. It is made all the more random by the fact I cannot see the screen properly until I get home to a darkened space and pop on my reading glasses.
I have a bit of a mixed relationship with taking photos – it often feels like it takes me out of the moment. Instead of being with the experience, I am looking at it through a filter, often with thoughts about what people will make of the photo or technical considerations. I have to remind myself to come back to the felt experience. Added to which, whatever I capture on the camera is not really fully representative of my experience (often not even close). It does make me realise how amazing our eyes (and brains) are for picking out details at different distances and putting the scene together for us.
If I do manage to stay with the present moment in nature, I tend to take a half-hearted photo or video, not really paying attention to where the camera is pointed – you can imagine the results!
I find I do better with landscapes or plants. I have more time to first connect with the subject. This, to me, is a really key part of it. It is not about taking a technically brilliant photo. It is about connecting with how you feel about what you are experiencing and perhaps, more specifically, seeing. I stop for a few moments and ask myself “how does this make me feel” or maybe “what does this bring to mind?”
In the photo above, there was a lovely aroma from the cow parsley. However, I was also struck by the sun lighting up a mist of white flowers. Paths bring anticipation. I find myself thinking about what I might be travelling towards but also who might be travelling towards me. There is often as much going on internally in response to what I can see as to what I can’t.
Mindful photos also give us the opportunity to revisit the moment and the memories of the experience later. I find this a really enriching part of nature connection. By giving my full attention to the moment when the picture was taken and connecting with my senses and the meaning that those experiences held for me, when I look at the photo afterwards I find that the memories are much more rich and vivid. I am able to relive the moment and reinforce the connection.
It is also worth minding your judgement. We often look for photos that we have judged to be aesthetically pleasing or interesting in some way. I took the photo below of a dandelion seed head that had been caught in the rain and there was a sense of sadness that the seeds would not be dispersed. It was an interesting moment just exploring that reaction and the initial judgement that things should be different for those seeds. There is also a sense that it is “spoiled” in some way.
There is also the judgement of whether the plant is a weed or a wildflower. So we might overlook the dandelions as being commonplace and not interesting. However, it is sometimes worth looking more closely. Mindful nature photography is a great place to explore our judgements and to see what happens when we set them aside.
Finally, mindfulness helps us to change where we place our attention so we are not going for the automatic attention-grabbers or looking at the same things along the path every time (being mindful of our habitual patterns). We can look up or down, look at close detail and from all sorts of angles – not just the picture postcard angle. I like to sometimes look as a scientist and explore as though I was discovering and documenting new things. It can help to maybe go out with a theme in mind. I recently decided to try to find places where Nature was acting as a kind of photo frame. This sets an intention to pay attention differently and can be very helpful. Other themes might include “signs of new life” or particular colours or textures. Above all, it is a chance to delight in a child-like curiosity and to see the world in new ways. Have fun!