I’ve become increasingly aware that I’m interested in writing not so much about what and where to photograph, but how and why we photograph. I happen to be a travel photographer, but more I’m interested in writing about photography as a life-choice – a way of seeing the world – rather than the nuts and bolts of travel photography.
I recently wrote about how photography helped lift me from depression and I heard many stories after that web posting about others who integrated photography into their lives to add meaning and for reasons of health and well being. The act of photography can bring meaning to life and reduce stress.
Photographing is a life experience and it changes the way we see and interact with the world. The following quote sums it up. The quote, inspired by B.K.S. Iyengar, was originally about yoga.
Photography does not just change the way we see things, it transforms the person who sees.
I launched a website this week called PhotoYoga. This is a photography education website designed to explore ways of integrating photography into our lives and how to use photography to help us live a well-balanced life.
Photography is about getting out into the world and enjoying life as it happens. Photography is about finding out about who you are and focusing on the world around you. PhotoYoga is about stretching yourself and your photographic skills to capture your creativity within the frame.
PhotoYoga is designed as a positive place for photography where photographers accept at each other. We are all at different levels with our photography and it’s important to accept where we are, acknowledging what we don’t know and be willing to share what we do.
PhotoYoga is a safe place for learning and growth.
PhotoYoga is based on a way of thinking about photography – a Zen approach to photography.
I am not the first to talk about Zen Photography (street photographer Eric Kim has an entire website called Zen Photography). Zen Photography is the mindset we bring to the act of photographing. The following are 9 characteristics of Zen Photographers:
A Zen Photographer is Curious
Zen photographers approach life each day with a sense of youthful curiosity, being wide-open to the wonders of the world whether they be formed as a grand landscape or found in the simplest blade of grass. Zen photographers explore the world without preconceived expectations and accept the world as it is rather than how they think it should be. They learn about the people in the world seeing the world each day as if for the first time. They bring this sense of wonder and exploration to their photography.
A Zen Photographer is Intuitive
Zen photographers are intuitive in their picture making. This doesn’t mean the photographer is ignorant, but that the emotion and experience of the frame supersede photographic theories and rules. Rules for composing a good image are helpful, but at the end of the day, they are only there to serve our photographic vision. A Zen photographer balances vision with technique.
A Zen Photographer Seeks Beauty
Zen photographers seek beauty in all things. This is not necessarily about seeing classic beauty. Even the most disturbing photograph may be beautiful in the power or emotion that is depicted. A scene may be beautiful in its balance or symmetry. Zen photographers approach the world as a beautiful place and in doing so find the beauty. Even when the world appears to be ugly on the surface, a Zen Photographer actively digs deeper to find the sense of beauty.
A Zen Photographer is Focused
Zen photographers photograph with attention and mindfulness. They bring their entire sensory awareness into the act of creating a photograph. Photography happens in the moment and the photographer focuses on and engages in that moment. Zen photographers minimize distractions, including those of artistic insecurity, in order to be fully committed to creating a photograph.
A Zen Photographer is Calm & Neutral
Zen photographers bring a sense of calm to the photography. They interact with the world in a neutral or a positive way rather than creating a negative or destructive disturbance. They leave the world as they found it or leave it better for their presence. Zen photographers seek to become comfortable in their surroundings allowing them to be open to all the subtleties of the scene.
A Zen Photographer Seeks Simplicity
Zen photographers seek simplicity, finding and documenting the essence of a scene. Life is chaotic and art is a way of simplifying this chaos into one story, one emotion, one idea. Zen photographers seek to communicate clearly their vision through the photograph.
A Zen Photographer Accepts Others
Zen photographers accept other photographers with genuine compassion. They nurture those who are less advanced in their photographic journey and learn from those who are further along the photographic path. Instruction and photograph critiques are always from a positive place seeking only to help each photographer embrace their own vision. Personal agendas, egos, and photographic preferences are carefully placed to the side in order to help support fellow photographers.
A Zen Photographer Accepts Self
Zen photographers accept where they are in their own vision and skill. Though always seeking improvement, they check their desire to compare themselves with other photographers and envy other photographers’ successes. Zen photographers work within themselves to create the best possible photographs they can. They acknowledge and accept natural human insecurities and negative desires, then refocus their energies on creating compelling photographs.
A Zen Photographer Connects
Zen photographers connect with their physical world through their vision. Their photographs bring people together allowing insight into the human condition using photography to inspire, to soothe, or to change the way we look at the world. Through photography, they experience the world in a deeper way. Above all, Zen photographers are a positive influence on the world through their photography.
Few master all of these characteristics but PhotoYoga is designed to help photographers of all levels and genres create the best art possible.
Zen photography develops through practice. It isn’t a mindset that happens over night. Just like practicing yoga or meditation, the stillness and focus comes through practice. As Rick Sammon notes: “The camera looks both ways.” Our photographs reflect back on ourselves.
I’m a travel photographer, but it matters not whether you enjoy photographing travel or wildlife or bits of rusty metal. It’s the way we approach the photography – the experience of making the photograph that matters most. The final product, the photograph itself, might almost be incidental. Through our photographs, we share our experiences, our lives, and maybe even a bit of our soul.
Finding ourselves through photography is a journey. Let’s take the next step together.