5 Mindful Photography Exercises You’re Not Creative Enough To Try [Maybe]

Mindful photography is taking a stand against the current trend of mainstream competitive photography. It’s not about the one-upmanship or the desire to take the “best photo” and be number one. It’s a slower, more Zen style of photography.


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What Is Mindful Photography?


Mindful photography is one of the many different kinds of mindfulness exercises.

Just like with regular mindfulness meditation, the principle of mindful photography is to be consciously aware of the present moment and without judgment, while taking photos.

Mindful photography is not about taking a good photo. It is about experiencing the world with the lens, not through it. Too often when we take photos, we are interrupting our ability to live in the present moment. We become too consumed with the idea of capturing the perfect shot.  Mindful photography, on the other hand, is about being in the moment while also doing photography.

What’s the Connection Between Mindfulness and Photography?

You may have heard that mindfulness can improve your creativity [READ: Meditation For Creativity]\

SImilarly, photography can make you more mindful. Or less midful. It all depends on the way in which you take your photos. For instance, if you are obsessed with taking what you consider the best photo, you will always be being judgmental of your surroundings or of the people you are capturing (a judgmental attitude is the very opposite of mindfulness).

Then again, there are many times when I will go for a hike with my camera. I will walk mindfully through the forest and really pay attention to the sensory experience of the forest. Then, if I see something I want to capture, I will let my subconscious take over and direct the shot. I don’t care about the technicalities of photography at these times. I’m cool with just trusting my feelings, taking one shot, and accepting whatever shot I get. That’s mindful photography. It’s about not judging the photo, just trust your intuition, taking the shot, and being grateful for both the moment and the photo that I get from that moment.

My mindful photography definitely increases my overall mindfulness. It makes me want to experience the places  visit and to explore them so I can get  good photo, but without judging the photo or caring about technicalities or, heaven forbit, giving any kind of a damn as to what people on Insta might think of it.

Do you see how photography and mindfulness relate? Photography can make you more mindful or less mindful, and it is really all about your attitude. So, with that in mind, let me share with you some great mindful photography exercises you can try.

Mindful Photography Exercises

Take A Stunning Photo with Your Mind, Not Your Camera

This mindful photography exercise is going to be a challenge for you hardcore photographers. In this exercise, you deliberately go somewhere where you would be bursting with enthusiasm to take photos… but you don’t take a camera.

What?! Huh?! Why?! I hear you all saying.

Hear me out on this.

Mindfulness is about being consciously aware of the present moment. But photography sometimes works against this. Instead of focusing on the moment we focus on the shot. Instead of living in the moment we save it for later, and then never really experience it.

In this exercise, you’re going to go somewhere stunning and imagine you’re taking a photo with your mind. Just like you would if you were taking a real photo, you will find the perfect angle and the perfect lighting, wait for the perfect moment, and then capture that moment in your memory. You will do this by being 100% focused on the moment. Then, you are going to consciously observe what happens in your mind when you have the perfect image.

This mindful photography exercise does two things. First of all, it makes you more aware of the moment without the camera. You’re training your mind to be consciously aware. And second of all, you get to experience what it’s like taking a photo without actually taking one. This makes you more aware of the mental processes behind photography. It will open your eyes to many forms of mental phenomena that occur when you take photos. And you will leave this exercise with a new understanding and appreciation for what photography truly is. Because in the end, it isn’t the camera that takes the photo. The camera is just an instrument. Mechanical. Thoughtless. No, the camera does not take the photo, your mind does.

Take A Self-Portrait Without Judgment

In this mindful photography exercise, you take a picture of yourself without being judgmental.

Go ahead and set about taking a self portrait. Actually… wait… meditate for at least ten minutes before you do this. That will calm your mind and make you more aware. After you’ve meditated, set about taking a self portrait. Now observe all the thoughts and feelings that go through your mind while taking a photo of yourself.

This exercise will make you more aware of a lot of self criticism that goes through your mind, a lot of which you will have previously been oblivious to.

When you notice thoughts and feelings, simply label them. Say to yourself, “This is just a thought / feel. It isn’t real.”

Now take the photo. And meditate on the photo. Again, observe thoughts and feelings that arise when you look at that photo of yourself. And again, label them “Thought / Feeling” as you did before.

This will bring up lots of different thoughts and feelings about yourself, and once those thoughts or feelings arise you can dispel them by simply reminding yourself that they are only states of mind and do not represent reality.

Take A Portrait Without Judgment

This is essentially the same exercise as above. All the steps are the same. Only this time you are taking a photo of someone else.

When you focus on someone else, you will naturally have many thoughts, feelings, and judgments that comes to mind about the other person. Be mindful of those things. Like you did in the previous exercise, label them “thought / feeling” and so on and realise that those thoughts and feelings are not real. Now challenge yourself to see the person in a different way, a way you usually wouldn’t. Now capture that new perspective. Not only will this change the way you think and feel about people, it will also give you a unique photo that is shot from a perspective you don’t usually see.

Intentionally break every rule of photography

This one is for you hardcore, pro photographers. It can be easy to get too pinned down by the technicalities of photography. And oftentimes, those technicalities will inhibit your natural creativity. That’s where this exercise comes in. Deliberately take one photo in which you break all the established rules of photography. This will train you to see photography beyond the constraints of methodology.

Upload your worst photo to Insta or Facebook

And here it is: The most horrible mindfulness exercise you could possibly do. But also, perhaps, the most rewarding.

As photographers we can become obsessed with proving our brilliance, with getting those LIKES on Facebook and Insta, and with impressing other people. This is limiting. The more perfectionist we get the more unwilling we are to try new things. The best way through this is to deliberately upload one of your worst photos to Facebook or Insta.

Why the hell would you want to do this?

Because it will help you overcome your fear of showing the side of your photography that you usually hide. You will get over the obsession of being validated by the community. And you will realise that you don’t have to be perfect. This, in turn, will make you more willing to take risks with your photos, and you will ultimately be liberated to try new things.

Mindful photography may be a challenge to some. When you’ve become so set in way of doing things (especially something you’re passionate about) it can be scary to try a new way. However, I believe mindful photography is the solution to the overly competitive photography we do today. By experiencing the moment and letting go of judgment, we liberate ourselves to see the world in new ways, to take photos in new styles, and, ultimately, to let go.

Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison is a yoga teacher, meditation teacher and writer. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential through mindfulness, yoga and meditation.

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