Mindfulness and Photography

Guest blog by Justine Murray

 Image: Saltire and Sunset over Anstruther Harbour, Fife

Hi there,

I’m Justine and one of my favourite ways to relax and be mindful is taking photos of what I see around me. 

What does mindfulness and photography mean to me?

It’s a way of returning to the present moment by focusing on one’s surroundings, aware of sounds as smells as well as sights. The fresh scent of greenery emerging in early spring and the dustiness of late summer. The rich smell of earth and plants gladdened by a heavy rainfall. 

Image: Raindrops on apple, Scotstoun, Glasgow

Curiosity in the everyday; shades of stone on buildings; the layers of paint on eroded fencing; rusted railings coloured with verdigris; moss sprouting from every nook and cranny….. 

Image: Painted wooden door and rusted lock, Hidden Lanes, Glasgow

Stilling the mind by being ‘drawn in’; “the more I notice the more I see” This happens when I start to see more of what I’m looking at, I feel the energy between me and what I’m seeing; a feeling of joy, a ‘dancing in the moment’; completely present and therefore an antidote to wandering thoughts that can distract; e.g. worrying about past or future events 

Image: Forsythia in the garden, lit by the sun 

My Story

I’ve always enjoyed taking photos, however the practice of noticing my surroundings really started in summer 2015 with a walking to work challenge. I became aware of changes in gardens over the months I walked, and how skies looked at different times of the day. I was also training as a coach at that time and doing a lot of reflection. I remember reading Eckhart Tolle The Power of Now and how he would look around him in awe of nature. 

So the connection between mindfulness and photography for me started there. On holiday that summer in Mull and Iona, I found myself drawn to small detail like washed up seaweed amongst pebbles as well as wider landscapes. It was the sense of immersion in what I was noticing that enabled me to lose all other thought: it was both energising and relaxing. 

Images: Seaweed amongst pebbles; Iona.

In 2018, looking for something to do for a ‘special birthday year’ I decided to set myself the challenge of taking a photo a day as I went about my daily life and posting to Facebook. Such is my joy in taking photos it was always several photos rather than one and over the course of that year, I amassed thousands of photos. 

The experience really developed my ‘in the moment’ photography practice and has become habit forming way to relax.

Image: Sunset over the Canal, Viewforth, Edinburgh

Here I share with you what I’ve learned about the connection between mindfulness and photography, the themes in my photography that started to emerge and some practical techniques. 

What I learned

Trust the process – on busy days or on really dreich days, I let myself trust that something would appear in the moment. So a key to my method was knowing that something would show up instead of thinking “oh no, how will I get my photo of the day” thus having s one’s thoughts and energy focused on the absence of a photo. 

I remember one day where the rain was lashing down, I had parked the car to pick up my daughter. The rain had just stopped, I stepped out of the car and happened to look behind me and there was this beautiful rainbow….the photo of the day had appeared before me….

Image: Rainbow over Dowanhill, Glasgow

Often the first picture I took was the better one as it comes from a place of intuition rather than perfection.

This, plus my familiarity with using the smartphone camera has improved my confidence in taking quick shots (see practical techniques below)

What you notice is special to you. It’s about what you notice, not a competition with others, nor necessarily with oneself. The strive for perfection can be a positive thing when feeling ‘in the zone’ with one shot leading instinctively to another, however  perfectionism can be less useful where it comes from a place of self-doubt. People often say they aren’t good at taking photos, but it’s not about pleasing anyone other than yourself and what you see is for your own appreciation in that moment, nice though it is to share and appreciate with others and reciprocate with them. 

Image: Sunrise through fencing, South St, Glasgow

Noticing how things look through fencing, gates or railings is something I love, but some people might see the fencing as getting in the way of a good sunrise photo – each to their own!

Themes

A number of themes have emerged in what I was drawn to photograph:

Close up awareness of beauty in the every day

This has come about by a practice of immersion in my surroundings; being in the zone “the more I look the more I see”; a bird feather caught in fish netting; a petal on the ground. 

Image: Petals on a path, Crail, Fife

Skies – I love looking at skies and have become much more aware of how they change at different times of the year. Scotland’s weather of ‘all seasons in one day’ is amazing for opportunistic photography. Skies can change in seconds though, and many times I’ve just stopped, knowing ‘the moment is now!’ 

Image: Summer sky, Glasgow city centre

Rain & Frost

More great givers of gifts; crisp frosted edges on autumn leaves, a spider’s web illuminated by frost, reflections in puddles, and raindrops perched on plant leaves. 

Image: Frosted leaves and grass; Stirling University Campus

The power and endurance of nature

Seeing nature blooming alongside a disused building and broken window. Or ivy,  moss and lichen growing wherever they can take root.

Image: Old building and yellow blossom, near South St, Glasgow

Using railings or fencing to frame an image – I love noticing what I can see through objects like fences and gates; moving around to see what happens from different angles. There can also be differences in texture and perspective; e.g. of railings with a blossoming flower behind.   

Image: Flowers framed by railings, Hyndland, Glasgow

Flowers – catching a glimpse of the inside of a flower and using the square function of the camera to take a shot where the shape is circular. Remember that there is beauty in weeds too. 

Image: Beauty in the end of a garden clematis

Patterns – another thing I became drawn to was patterns; sometimes in wood, on water, on stone, of shadows or on objects lying around. 

Image: Patterns in pink scaffolding, Partick, Glasgow

Light & Shadow – so many amazing ways that light and shadow can transform how you see something. In the recent sunny weather I’ve grown to love noticing how plants can be lit up from behind by the sun.

Image: Garden leaf lit by sunlight

Shadows can also create whole new images; railings on buildings are one example. It can also be fun to take pictures of your own long and short shadows. 

Image: Railings and shadow, St George’s Cross, Glasgow 

Image: Me and my shadow; autumn morning sun, Scotstoun, Glasgow

Practical techniques 

As well as using zoom in to get close ups, and cropping to tidy up an image, some other things I have learned are:

  • swipe to square to take a picture of anything circular – flower from above to capture the petals or inside. 
  • Image: garden flower taken from above using the Square function
  • Filters if it’s a dull day you can brighten it by increasing the exposure. Play around with the various filters; I’m still learning 
  • Image: Squinty Bridge through railings at River Clyde I’ve increased the Exposure to brighten the sky in the background and the weeds in the foreground.

Last but not least; you can enjoy your pictures in your own home. Having shown my mum how to use her smart phone to take photos of flowers in her garden; she now has quite a few framed in her home ☺

So have a go; see how this experience lands for you; what do you see? What is calling out to you?

Over the next seven days let’s share what we notice. You can post your photos using the hashtag #mindfulphotoweek, and follow us on Twitter at @CollectiveScot.

Thanks for reading this blog, if you want to see more of what I photograph, you can follow me on Instagram @flowyourcreativity.

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