Towards meditative photography

Oh you've been there already. You know the feeling when you just can't slow down? it's like being on a roller coaster, just riding up and down the tracks while our original gusto has been long gone. The worst part? we tend to carry all of this stuff in our photography. Hence, I believe, the need for Meditative photography.


What's meditative photography anyway?


I think it's always wise to define our terms first, the word meditation has largely been hijacked to mean something along the line of sitting down somewhere and chanting mantras. Nah, for our intents and purposes, meditation simply means a deep pondering on only one thing. That's it, nothing spiritual added or needed. To meditate means to chew on something over and over, and to take our time doing so.


I think meditation is necessary for photography, because I believe photography is a meditative act. And that, in 3 distinctive ways: Meditation on the subject, on the self and on life. But before going into that, let's look at why Meditative photography is important in a larger sense.


A cure to a modern problem

Let me guess. You're stressed. Nah, I don't own a crystal ball but if you are like most of us, you are probably stressed. The good thing about meditative photography is that in order to be a good observer, you HAVE to slow down to breathe in the environment. We're always multi tasking, never fully aware of anything. We are on our phone while eating, you can't possibly describe the full taste of what is in your mouth all the while describing with depth the article you are reading.




Fact is, attention is probably the single most important skill that will be required in the future. Take Instagram for example, look at someone using it, 3 seconds is the most spent on one image. Hence meditation is necessary. Not only because I believe it is key to photography itself but because it's a great stress reliever. Stress by default has us running right and left like a train at full steam. It hinders us from enjoying the ride while meditative photography in the other hand allows us to do the opposite, to enjoy the ride.


How to mediate


That brings us to the point, how do you even meditate? Simple, you focus on one thing and one thing only: the present moment. you can only make pictures in the present, not in the past and the future didn't happen yet. When shooting you need to zone out everything else but you, your camera and what's in front of it. It sounds simple but it's harder than it looks, especially in our day and age when we like to multi-task.


Call it the creative zone, flow, it's all the same thing: A heightened concentration on what you are doing. When you are with your camera then, remember to zone everything out and zone in photography, forget your problems, worries and everything else. Focus is like light, it doesn't hurt, but a single point of concentrated light is a laser and that can cut trough diamonds. It will take a while to sink in at first, but after it will become second nature, when you pick your camera, you zone things out.




Meditation on the subjects


Take a radio , there's hundreds of stations that are broadcasting at the same time. Yet you only hear the one you are tuned into. And I believe it is the same for photography, you get images when you are tuned into the frequency of images, and not the frequency of everything else that is going wrong with the world. You get to that frequency by meditating on what's in front of you, you pay attention when everyone else doesn't. That's when the world opens up. The clouds reflected on the glass, the soft shadows created by an overcast sky, this man coming down the streets that has a red shirt, the same as that banner in the corner….


I personally don't think you can get away from being a photographer and being a keen observer. When I have my camera in hand, my basic presupposition is that the images are out there, staring me right in my face, up to me to tune into them.


Meditation on the self

Beyond meditating on what's in front of your eyes, it's also probably more important to meditate on how you respond to what you see.  By focusing on what you respond to, you start having a clearer picture of what kind of photographer you are. When I was a Gear Addict, I didn't do that. If I did, I would have realized that I wanted to buy more and more cameras to hide the fact that I was a mediocre shooter at best back then.




Pondering why certain types of shots resonate with you time and time again, or why you keep getting certain types of shots is probably a good indication that a project is at hand. And by meditation on it, you are also probably on your way to formulating a statement about that project.

Going deeper in photography and philosophy

But I think, by far one of the best results of meditative photography is that you will start developing your own philosophy of photography . Here's what I mean: If you meditate enough on a subject, you end up getting a deeper insight into it, or maybe you.


It's hard to give an example, but here's one that comes to mind. Shoot enough billboards and you will realize that they are an illusion, people don't look or live like those depict. Meditating on that might reveal that men created idols for themselves that they could never achieve. And maybe you start playing on that theme of illusion of life, and you make a project showing on the left a model with makeup on and photoshop, and on the right the model without anything on. Just an idea. You can start from the same premise and end up with another insight, who knows. Up to you to meditate on your stuff and see what understanding on human life you come up with.


One of mine, coming from being both a pro and amateur at the same time is the Photographer as a witness of the human condition. because of my camera, I have shot joy and sorrow, photographed the lavish lifestyle of some, and the silent despair of others. At first the disparity troubled me, but then I learned to cry with those who cry and laugh with those who laugh. That's my conclusion at least, from pondering where I went because of my camera.




I think photography is all about paying attention where everyone else overlooks. the magic is in the details, but I believe those details can only come from paying attention. When shooting, try meditation next time, it works magic. Be yourself, stay focused and keep on shooting.


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4 thoughts on “Towards meditative photography”

  1. Great article,I love it. I’ve learned to slow down ever since I started meditating in the beginning of this year due to a broken heart. As you’ve said, being mindful of what we do in the moment is the important first step anyone can and should take. Whether it’s eating a meal, washing the dishes, creating a picture… Oh, and I’ve learned to put my damn phone away and switching it off…it’s so liberating to be out in the open, taking pictures and not freaking out about instantly uploading it to social media. Just me and my Canon G1X Mark II, that’s it.

  2. Your article makes my decision to sell all my gear en buy a simple Fuji X100T mor simple.
    Stop to choose a lens, read about new developments, browsing the web.

    Being a photographer, not a gear addict.

    Thank you

  3. I think there’s a real risk that without taking this path, the shot ends up as a snapshot – not a real “photograph”

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