Tag Archives: habit

Marianne’s Fridge Magnet*


On a workshop I taught over the summer, I asked participants to create an image to take home with them.  A photograph that would prompt them to reflect on particular qualities they would like to enhance in their life.  Something they wanted to make more time for.  An attitude they wanted to cultivate.  Or perhaps simply a reminder of the peace and relaxation they had experienced during our few days together.  As someone suggested, a picture that they might stick on the refrigerator, or even turn into a fridge magnet!

I find these little prompts and nudges can be so useful as I get back into my daily and weekly routine.  After less than a week it can feel as if you never had a break and time flies by.  Before I know it, Christmas has arrived and the weeks have disappeared in a blur.  What gets lost in this hectic whirlwind is the time to just ‘be.’  It is so easy to bounce from one thing to the next and spend any time between in a numb state of neither being nor doing.  Watching TV and scrolling though Facebook posts come to mind…

Perhaps our good intentions become lost in the mayhem, or we never feel we have the time.  We slip back into our habitual ways of responding, because this is the line of least resistance.  That’s when a picture on the fridge comes into its own.  A simple daily reminder of our good intentions for bringing change and improvements into our life.  A magnet for the future!

If you want to try this yourself, here are three simple ideas for decorating your own fridge:

  • A peaceful scene from a favourite holiday destination
  • An image to evoke a sense of space, freedom, openness…you get the idea!
  • Something that makes you smile 


*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the innocent!

Photographic clichés and the mindful photographer

Photography offers a creative outlet in a world which can seem increasingly humdrum if we let it.  But is there a risk that rather than sparking up our latent creativity, we simply record the mundane and move on?

It’s sometimes said that everything has been done before.  And most of this has likely been copied, intentionally or otherwise.  Of course, anything new and unusual is likely to inspire others to give it a try.  Indeed, experimenting with reproducing an effect can be a good way to learn a new technique.

Sadly, given the speed of modern communications and media sharing, it doesn’t take long for the creatively different to become the latest in a line of clichés.  The once-novel effect is seen everywhere and in its overuse becomes irritating and tedious.  “Oh, not another sunset!” we groan, flipping quickly to the next page. Back in 1979, Susan Sonntag commented that “certain glories of nature…have been all but abandoned to the indefatigable attentions of amateur camera buffs. The image-surfeited are likely to find sunsets corny; they now look, alas, too much like photographs.” How many more such pictures must have been taken in the intervening years?

Many of the photographic clichés cited are based around post-processing techniques such as colour-popping or HDR.  The use of black and white to rescue an otherwise tiresome image seems to come in for regular scathing derogation.  Images of pets and flowers seem to be equally slated (no hope for me then!) as does the production of record shots of landmarks and the use of ‘Dutch angles’ to fit everything in the frame.

But what does all this mean to the mindful photographer?  It seems to me that many images which compel us to exclaim ‘Seen it!’, post-processing clichés aside, may have been created without a great deal of attentiveness.  They fall into the category of ‘spot it and snap it’ pictures, snagged with minimum mental input in the easiest way possible.  Don’t get me wrong, these record shots are great if what you want, or need, is to represent the subject objectively and accurately.

And when we begin to work with a subject, this may be what we produce at first.  It is almost as if we need to work through these initial placing images to set the context, before we can look more closely.  But have patience and stay a while longer, after you think you are done.   This is when we may truly focus our mind on the subject at hand, begin to see the extraordinary in the ordinary.  I call it ‘being in the zone’.  It is here that we find the essence of our subject’s nature, the special energy it has for us.  We explore those aspects which are not revealed to the cursory glance and our creativity is awakened.  This is when we make our best photographs, the ones really worth keeping.

Are you photographing to do or doing to photograph?

In her classic text ‘On Photography’, Susan Sonntag suggests that “Today everything exists to end in a photograph.” Sonntag’s book was published in 1977, long before the explosion in camera ownership, the rise of the ‘selfie’ and social media.  I have to wonder, when you consider the sheer number of images taken and shared on a daily basis, if we are risk of proving her right.  She may well have been before her time in suggesting that we don’t really feel we have experienced something if we haven’t taken a picture of it.  And shared it.  In many ways, this need to photograph is like a modern version of the diary.  Only instead of hoarding our treasured secrets, we snap and share ad nauseum.

Whilst I do my upmost to avoid the scattergun approach often encouraged in photography magazines, I sometimes find myself recording images of the same subject repeatedly.  I then have to spend longer on the computer choosing the best and deleting the rest.  Perhaps one carefully composed image would have done?  Given my dislike of post-processing it’s certainly worth bearing in mind.

Some days I photograph what is there.  I need to do more of this.  To explore the images I can create within the small space that I call my own.  In this way I photograph to ‘do’.

Other days I go out with the specific purpose of recording pictures elsewhere, of seeking the new and different with the explicit intention of photographing it.  In this way I ‘do’ to photograph.

Either way, I am trying to spend more time working mindfully with my camera.  Taking care with subject, lighting and composition in order to convey the essence of what I see.  Sometimes I choose to store the memories in my mind rather than on my memory card.  While this data storage system may become corrupted with time, it will never become obsolete.

Perhaps some days I should leave the camera at home.

Seeing clearly

According to Andy Carr and Michael Wood, in their book ‘The Practice of Contemplative Photography’, “Photography can be used to help distinguish the seen from the imagined, since the camera only registers what is seen.”  When we press the shutter button and light enters the camera, it falls on the sensor, or perhaps a section of light-sensitive film.  If enough photons reach this receptive surface, an image is recorded, creating our photograph.

Although this image can only represent what was in front of the camera at the time, and the differing numbers of photons reflected back from the various surfaces, a complexity of shape and form appear to us, and for a brief moment we see them as they truly are, forms, colours, shapes.  And in the briefest of next moments the mind begins to label, name, judge and classify what is in front of us.   In the subtlety of the resultant tones and we recognise the subject of our image.  We promptly label them and the next thing you know its “Oh, look! There’s Aunt Ethel standing under the apple tree in the back garden!” or “How sweet, doesn’t the baby look cute in those pyjamas?”  Frequently this is extremely convenient, as without these labels our attempts to convey meaning, in conversation or writing, would become impossibly difficult.

Learning to pause in that tiny space between truly seeing, and applying the labels, is an art in itself.  Carr and Wood refer to this moment as receiving a “flash of perception”.   These moments seem to occur when there is a pause in the flow of busy activity in the mind, our preoccupations with other things fade and suddenly, we really see what is in front of us.  I like to think of this as the way a baby might see when they first open their eyes, when they see without preconceptions.  Babies don’t know about labels, at least not until we teach them and begin to praise them for repeating the name of everything they see and hold.  Even at this tender age we are closing up the gap between seeing and labelling, tucking the fresh perceptions away as unimportant in an increasingly familiar world.  Sadly, this habit of auto-labelling can prevent us from seeing clearly and recognising the true beauty of our surroundings.  Learning to let go of our auto-labelling self and become open to the ‘flash of perception’ is the first step in beginning to see clearly and mindfully.

Textural world

When I think of the word texture, my immediate reaction is in relation to how things feel.  Soft, bristly, rough, silky, smooth, gnarled.  Our fingers are incredibly sensitive and the nerve endings in the fingertips can transmit a wealth of information to the brain based on what they are feeling.  We have a similar response when we take a bite of food; texture plays an important part in how pleasant it is to eat and we appreciate different foods for their particular textures.

Texture influences how we feel about something.  Compare the crunch of a stick of celery with the smoothness of ice cream or the crispness of a slice of toast.  We expect these sensations when we take our first bite and are surprised if our expectations are not fulfilled.  We would have a shock if our ice cream was crunchy like the celery!    These are all part of the preconceptions that influence how we react to experiences that our day presents us with, based on previous experiences that create expectations in our minds.  My dogs have very short fur and people are often surprised at how soft it is, as they assume it will be wiry.  They associate short fur with a rough feel rather than silkiness.

When it comes to photography, texture might refer to the physical texture of the subject of your image, or perhaps to a texture created by the interweaving of different elements within the scene.  The appearance of texture changes depending on our distance from the subject.  If we look out at a landscape, we might see the canopies of distant trees as a texture of colours and shades, rather than as individual leaves.  If we moved closer to those trees we would start to see the individual leaves and looking closer still, the texture of the surface or the pattern of veins in the leaf.  We see the textures within the textures as we move closer and closer.

As we explore texture with our cameras we can also explore the associations our minds make, the memories and reactions that different textures evoke for us.  Studying texture gives us an opportunity to learn about our inner thoughts and feelings, looking at what makes us who we are.

Wasted Light?

Today has been frustrating, to say the least.  I have had my eye on the weather for the last couple of weeks, hoping for a break in the cold, dreary weather when I might visit a local garden which usually produces an excellent display of hellebores, one of my favourite early spring flowers.  Yes, I know overcast is good for flower photography but it has been so dull recently that the images would appear flatter than flat and I knew I would struggle to achieve a manageable shutter speed with my 100mm lens.  At last, today dawned as the perfect spring day, and on a day of the week when my schedule normally allows me to take a morning out to do these things.  But alas, it was not to be.  I had arranged for the British Heart Foundation to collect an unwanted mattress for sale in their shop.  They were due to come between 9am and 1pm, so I was up at 6.45am to get me and the dogs ready and walked beforehand.  By 12.45pm frustration was starting to set in.  Still no sign of them.  A call to the shop revealed that they had been held up and should arrive within about 45mins.  I eventually gave in and had lunch, every moment expecting a knock at the door; not good for the digestion!  Still no sign.  A second call at 3pm elicited that they should be there within 30mins and they eventually did arrive.  The final straw?  Apparently I could have just left it outside for them to take… and to cap it all when I attempted to open Lightroom after their visit I was presented with an error message regarding the preview cache and spent the rest of the afternoon trying to solve the problem instead of getting any work done. 

And the moral of this story?  Well, by the time they arrived I was totally frustrated by wasting a day of perfect weather unnecessarily.  Cue feelings of anger, frustration and the beginnings of self-pity; why does this always happen to me? I never get the first collection…I was too fed up to do anything useful and felt the whole day had been wasted.  I was certainly in no mood to take any photographs!  When looking at this situation from the outside, it’s a clear example of a time when negative thoughts are allowed to rise to the surface in an automatic response to adversity, however insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and we follow a habitual pattern of behaviour that is not necessarily beneficial.  One of the characteristics of a contemplative approach to life is to challenge these habitual reactions and revisit their value.  We cannot always change the events that life throws at us but we can change how we react to them.  Looking for something positive about my day, I found an excellent article on how to optimize your computer for Lightroom.  Check it out here!