Perhaps a photographer's most important ability is to take notice, to pay attention. Simple, but profoundly important. No camera or lens provides this. Looking is what we do passively all day long to negotiate our way through our lives. Some things we notice, and we may linger a moment in that noticing, but most things we don't notice. The cinema of scenes in our lives, and the things that make them, barely enter our consciousness.
Active, mindful seeing takes you deeper. It is thoughtful and reflective. It is a state of energized stillness. You take much greater notice of how light gives shape and colour to things, how shapes relate to each other and create areas of contrast or the lack of it. With living things you notice what they are doing and anticipate what they are going to do. You look at the signals of gesture, body posture, expression. You are patient. You take in the environmental context and interpret how it either contributes or distracts.
In short, you pay attention. Do you do it all the time? No. That would be too exhausting. But when you are shooting, you shift into gear and step of the gas. You get in "the zone".
"The zone" is where most other thought processes are pushed away and you are fully engaged in shooting. You are mindful of the pulse of life, both internally and externally. It is a kind of meditative state. Worries disappear. You release tension. You slow down. Time seems to vanish. You are open, accepting and non-judgemental. You are fully awake, in a state of high alert. Your radar is on. Everything is a potential subject.
The zone is joyful place. To me, it embraces attitudes such as acceptance, patience, gratitude, humility, compassion and curiosity.
Active, mindful and creative seeing can be blocked or hampered many things. Stress and deadlines are at the top of the list. Mindful seeing is also hampered by the mundane cascade of thoughts and dialogues we have with ourselves that can cut us off from openly experiencing the external world. These mental barriers are caused by many things such as our concerns about our relationships ("did I say the wrong thing"), or by the need to get the car fixed, or what to make for dinner, or the unending flow of disturbing news on the media, and so on. This background noise can prevent you from getting in the zone. Instead of seeing the beauty of the raindrops we think more about the downside. “I don't want to go out in this. I hope it clears up for the weekend.” Being mindful and fully present is the opposite of this. Perhaps it is not possible to stop the chatter in your head (especially for some of us) but you can make it quieter as you engage in mindful seeing and enter the zone.
So next time you are out and about with your camera, I invite you to shift from passive looking to active, mindful seeing. When you do, your experience deepens and the images you create will inspire.
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