Tag Archives: patience

A visit to the hen house

When I visit Bodenham Arboretum I love to spend time photographing the chickens on the farm.  Here are some of the images that struck me from my last visit.

The chickens are very entertaining to watch and make the most marvellous little crooning noises as they go about their daily business.   I don’t know what breed they are, but the details in the feathers are stunning, with a soft, marbled effect.

On this occasion, the hen house was providing a useful vantage point for this resident.  Having checked out the view she went inside and tested the acoustics, clucking away to herself as she paced and strutted around.

Its very easy to just say “oh look, chickens” and walk on by.  However, by taking some time to watch them, their individual personalities begin to emerge and we can see the world from the viewpoint of a chicken.  Suddenly the dust is fascinating, as they peck around looking for a juicy insect or grain of corn that was missed earlier.  In the heat of the day they all nestle down in the shade of the fruit trees, in shallow scuffs scratched out in the dirt, and snooze.  From the perspective of our chaotic, complex lives, this simplicity can seem rather appealing!


Time passes

I have not picked up my camera in three weeks now. My overdrive schedule continues apace and I just don’t feel I have the luxury of time to spend on picture-making.  Of course, this is exactly when making that time is most important!  However, I’m sure this is a temporary hiatus and am reassured by my recent interest in things around me, prompting my inclination to resurrect my photographic endeavours once more.

It’s quite interesting to watch the urge to photograph come and go.  Meditation encourages us to take a step back from the thinking mind and recognise the transience of this stream of thoughts flowing through the mind.  I watch myself being drawn to particular light, shadows, combinations of objects.  I notice the composition of the scene as these random insights jump out at me and a hushed voice whispers “You know, that would make a good picture.  Go on, get the camera”.

And yet I resist.  For now I am content to merely observe, to record with the sensor of my mind.  I know that once the camera is in my hands a few precious hours will fly by unnoticed.  It always takes me a while to settle, to truly connect with my subject.  I rather like being caught out by the flashes of perception.

To be stopped in my tracks by the unexpected in the ordinary, as I was by this grasshopper.  And then exploring that moment as it arises and fades.  Perhaps turning this time of photographic reluctance into an enforced abstention has something to teach me about how I see the world.  We will see, literally.

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.

Working with film: learning to let go

Sometimes it seems to me that modern life is all about possession; having the latest gear, clothes, car, phone.  The list is endless as marketeers do a stupendous job of convincing us that life won’t be worth living if we don’t own the latest and best incarnation of their product.  Alongside this comes the ‘the instant gratification society’ where we don’t just want it but we want it now.  And this extends not only to things we must buy but to our pursuit of photography as well.  When film was the norm we had the anticipation of sending away the finished roll to be developed and printed, waiting a week or so to see how the images had turned out.  Yet with the advent of the digital camera we soon became accustomed to that JPEG preview on the rear screen. And how strange it seems now to use a camera which doesn’t allow you the option to see your image immediately after taking it. And taking this one step further, the potential that there will not be an image at all?!

As I mentioned in my last post, experimenting with old cameras comes with the risk that your films with yield nothing more than an attractive black shiny strip of plastic.  Quite photogenic in its own way, but not quite what was intended when you set out to seek images that morning.  At first, I found there was a tendency to curse the waste of time and money; buying the camera and the film, the time spent taking pictures and developing the film.  However I soon realised that as a hobby it offered repeated opportunities to practise letting go.

The ability to let go is one of the cornerstones of a mindful life.  Being prepared to let go of what is and receive what will be.  Observing your reaction to the situation as it develops and runs its course.  When I go out with a film camera I am living in hope, optimistic that my day will be successful photographically.  But how do I define this success?  When you take away the emphasis on the ‘quality’ of the outcome, the day becomes more about the process, the engagement and the moments of life fully explored through taking the time to look carefully.  Who cares if there are no pictures at the end?  I am practising to engage with life as if I had a camera, even when I don’t!

Read this week’s sister post on Letting Go here.

Taking your time: using old cameras

I have seen it suggested a few times recently that the immediacy and ease of digital photography detract from the meditative aspects of the activity.  Often, when I see people out and about with their cameras or using their mobile to snap a quick selfie, I can only whole-heartedly concur.  Modern cameras are so clever, we need know little of their workings to achieve a decent image and little thought is necessary when grabbing a set of holiday snaps in Program mode. This may be perfect if you are aiming to create a record of a day out or the fun at a party, but perhaps it is a slightly different matter when we are looking to connect ourselves more closely to our surroundings and explore the marvel of life in any particular moment.

On these occasions, I believe that slower can only be better.  Taking time to look before bringing the camera up, framing the image thoughtfully and making a conscious choice to press the shutter at the right moment.  No ‘continuous shooting’ mode here please!  Taking time allows something of who we are to be absorbed into the image, to make it truly ‘my’ picture; as much a picture of me as a picture of the subject.

I think the urge to slow down is one of the reasons I am attracted to using older film cameras.  Before handing over my hard-earned pennies, I check as best I can that the camera is functional.  Shutter, aperture, glass and bellows (if it’s of that certain age, as so many of mine are!) are all subjected to my eagle-eyed inspection.  Back home, my new acquisition receives a thorough clean and I ‘test-drive’ it with an old film, or film paper in the case of 120 film.

Then it’s time to venture out for the real ‘road-test’.  Even though this is just a test film, I find myself resistant to pointing the camera any old how with little care for the subject of my image.  Sometimes I will frame a scene, only to walk away.  If the camera takes 35mm film, it can take several trips before I finish the film.  This is somewhat ironic, given that I never know know at this stage if I will get images or not.  And strangely enough, this is what I love most about these experiments of mine, and what keeps me rescuing more elderly cameras.  With each one I have the later excitement of developing the film to discover whether my memories have been preserved…or are consigned to rest only in my thoughts. It’s this risk that makes me take my time to observe carefully and record in my mind’s eye as well; after all, this could be the only image I create that day!  It’s never quite the same once I know the camera works, and that’s what keeps me coming back for more!


Patience is a virtue

Do you believe in chance?  I have been mulling over the value of patience, one of the topics for my class at the Midlands Arts Centre this week.  I have been busy working on the lesson plans for these classes and, as a result, my copies of Black and White Photography have been piling up unread on the table.  Time, I decided, to do a little catching up, and I settled myself down with the August issue to read over lunch.  One of the articles was an interview with the landscape photographer Don McCullough and one of the questions was “What single thing would improve your photography?” His answer?  “More patience.” Coincidence, or what?

Patience can be defined as enduring under difficult circumstances, persevering in the face of adversity, being prepared to wait for things to come together.  A landscape photographer might wait hours for the right light, the street photographer might hunker down waiting for the right passer-by to complete the scene and the wildlife photographer could spend hours, if not days, getting the trust of their subject in the hope of the ultimate picture.  Patience truly is the photographer’s ally.

At times our high-speed high-tech world can suggest the opposite.  Instant gratification is offered, and frequently expected.  He who waits patiently can also become he who is overlooked in favour of he who shouts loudest.  On TV we see a proliferation of ‘quick fix’ shows where a garden or room is renovated within the space of one show, giving a false sense of instant transformation.  In the past you might have written a letter and anticipated a reply within a couple of weeks.  Now people can become irritated if you do not reply to their email or text within a few hours.  In this digital age, even our photographs are instantly viewed and shared.

In the context of mindfulness we can see patience as accepting that events will unfold in their own time, and if they don’t unfold as we wished, so be it.  Exploring photography we learn the value of patience in achieving our goals and in mindfulness we can explore our reactions to the situations that arise.   Having our plans or expectations thwarted could lead us to irritation, anger, stress.  There is no sign of the red squirrel?  We stomp off home in disgust.  The sunrise is a washout?  Well, that’s the day wasted.

Or is it another opportunity to be explored?

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!