From Photography as Meditation by Torsten Hoffmann
Accomplishing expressive photography and developing your own photographic style cannot be learned by following a recipe, just as there is no recipe for meditation. Nevertheless, this is an instructional guide that provides tangible tips for readers interested in combining meditative practices into their photography experiences. The following is a sample workflow for finding interesting subjects through the acts of total concentration and meditation.
- 20-Minute Meditation: Meditate for at least 20 minutes. Empty your mind of thoughts. Allow your mind to become a blank slate for creativity to occur.
- Where is Your Place?: Lie down on a blanket, and relax in silence or with meditative music. Try to imagine places you are drawn to. What kind of place casts a special spell over you? Large, general places (like Paris or Patagonia) may appeal to your creativity, but so may smaller, specific places (such as a cemetery in your neighborhood). When different places appear in your mind’s eye, observe if you also feel a resonance in your abdomen. The area in the abdomen, slightly below the navel, is the “Hara,” an anatomical center especially important in Zen meditation. That is the place of your intuition, also referred to in English as the “gut feeling.”
- When you have ended your meditation: Record your experiences. This will prepare you for an intensive photo session. Select one of the destinations that excited you. Schedule a day when you can go there alone to photograph.
- Your Photo Day: On the day you plan to travel to your chosen location, begin the morning with a 20-minute meditation, during which you find your way to a joyous mood of intense expectation. Embrace the idea that you are entirely free on this day to express yourself with your camera.
- When you reach your destination: Do not expect exciting images to be immediately obvious. Realize how satisfying it will be to capture a very few, special photos. Be completely present in the location. If you have chosen to visit a city, go beyond the homogeneous pedestrian areas and tourist sights. Search for seemingly insignificant alleys and peer into backyards. If you are outside, encounter nature and try to discover perspectives beyond the typical cliché images. Free yourself from the notions of what you would like to photograph and embrace your environment. Try to refrain from thinking actively and just allow yourself to observe and feel.
- Your first photographic subject: There will come a moment when you sense the first photographic subject, even if you do not yet feel great enthusiasm. Nevertheless, begin taking photographs. Pay special attention to whether or not you feel an inner resonance when viewing and photographing the scene. Ask yourself if the composition appears harmonious. Are there any superfluous elements you could exclude by selecting a different perspective? Continue to take photographs until you are satisfied.
- Find a mood of enthusiasm: With enthusiasm, you will discover more motifs that resonate within. This successful mood is not easily described; again, it relates to that gut feeling. If such an intense feeling does not develop, do not be discouraged. This mood cannot be forced. These opportunities are a gift. Please do not be disappointed if, on your first day of intensive meditative photography, you are not as successful as you had hoped. It might be that you are in the wrong location, or the deep intent of what you wanted to express was not clear. Or you might be still too connected to your everyday life and not totally free to fully encounter a scene.
- Sometimes vacations are good times to use this meditative, photographic practice: If you are planning an intense day of photography during a vacation, please approach the day as I have described. You should experience this day alone. You should not be encumbered by the feeling that someone is waiting on you.
- Take photographs until you no longer feel drawn to your subject: You will notice your photo sessions develop like waves. At times you are intensely present, then the wave of presence ebbs, only to swell again. When you sense the mood weakening, you can consider taking a break. Afterwards, if you feel the momentum, enjoy the second part of your photo session. When you no longer feel drawn to your subject, wrap up your meditative photo session in an organic, pleasant way.
- Review and Evaluation of Your Results: This step is challenging, because it is easy to wear “blinders” when reviewing your own work. Select at least 20 or 30 photographs that you find interesting. Edit these photographs as well as you can with image-editing software like Photoshop or Lightroom. Print the edited images in a size of at least 8″x10″. Place these prints on a large table or on the floor so you can view them.
- Consider the first question: Which images have the strongest power of expression? Select the images intuitively and arrange them so that they are next to each other. Ask yourself what content or form these images have in common. What is the common denominator or themes you can you detect in these images? What kinds of feelings or moods do these images create? Consider these questions openly and honestly. You have now come closer to what you really would like to express, thus developing your own creativity and your own style.
- Consider the second question: Which images have the least expressive power or are the weakest? Select these prints and group them together as well. Repeat the analysis and consider why you feel these images were less successful. Mostly, you will find that the composition is not concentrated enough. Using white sheets of paper, try to frame sections within the images that you feel are powerful. You may find that smaller sections produce far better photographs. Draw a conclusion from this analytical review and accept this as the basis for your next meditative photographic day.
To learn more about this fascinating topic, read Torsten Hofmann’s book,
Photography as Meditation – ebook download now available.