In the age of smartphones and social media, amateur photography is everywhere. But if we slow down and connect with the present moment, can taking a photo on our iPhone become a mindful experience? I spoke to professional photographer Lee Aspland to find out more…

KB: How can mindfulness be applied to photography?

LA: Mindfulness applied to photography is being present with the visual moment and the process of photographing that visual moment. The essence of this practice is seeing. In the same way that a meditator sat on their cushion uses the breath as an anchor, we can as photographers use the visual experience as our anchor.
We walk with our camera and we see the world. We do not search for a photographic opportunity, but we notice if our mind floats away with thoughts, plans and ideas. We then return to what we can see. As we walk we observe. Then, in a moment of visual stimulation, something is noticed.

At this moment we stop and stay with the visual experience. We try to remain free from thoughts, ideas, action or internal dialogue. We notice any photographic thinking that creeps in. We practice just being with the visual experience.

The final stage of the practice is receiving the photo. Before we bring our camera up to our eye we consider how we will frame the equivalent of what stopped us. Do we need to move in or out? What is in the frame? What is not in the frame? We try not to over think the photo to create a ‘better’ image. We press the shutter and receive the photo. Then we walk on.

Image by Lee Aspland

Image by Lee Aspland

 

KB: Does incorporating mindfulness into the process of taking a photograph help to improve the final image? And if so, how?

LA: Yes, mindfuI photography brings us into the present moment. I love how Henri Cartier-Bresson described photography as “putting one’s head, one’s eye and one’s heart on the same axis”. Mindful photography is a practice that can support this intention.

If we take ‘the eye’ as the seeing practice described in question one, then the alignment of ‘the mind’ is being aware of how the mind interprets our visual stimulation and how it guides and influences our technical and compositional choices.

The alignment of ‘the heart’ is essential if we are to create photographs that share something of ourselves. Connecting to how we feel whilst receiving the photo and knowing how we can share what we are experiencing through our photography raises our craft to an art.

Image by Lee Aspland

Image by Lee Aspland

 

KB: Reflecting on your own experience, how does mindful photography differ from standard photography?

LA: Mindful photography is an immersive approach to photography. It is both a practice to support our development as photographers and part of a larger practice to be totally present in all aspects of our life.

When I reflect upon the photographs I love I can only imagine that all the greatest photographers were probably mindful photographers. To be totally present at the moment of pressing the shutter; one’s eye, mind and heart in alignment, is to be a mindful photographer.

Image by Lee Aspland

Image by Lee Aspland

 

KB: Is London a good environment to practice mindful photography?

LA: Yes. Mindful photography can be practiced anywhere. We can practice in busy environments (that represent the busy mind) or we can practice in quieter locations (to encourage a quieter mind). Mindful photography can be practiced on the street, in the park, at the river or on the London Eye. Wherever you and your camera go, there you are and there you can practice.

Image by Lee Aspland

Image by Lee Aspland

 

KB: Can anyone practice mindful photography?

LA: Yes. Just as anyone can practice mindfulness, anyone with any type of camera can practice mindful photography.

Image by Lee Aspland

Image by Lee Aspland

 

KB: What can students expect to learn on your six week online course?

LA: My online course, The Mindful Photographer is an introduction to the ideas and concepts we have discussed here. Firstly we look at how we can establish a seeing practice as the foundation to becoming a mindful photographer. We then build upon this, considering how we can hold the technical and compositional ideas gently as we learn our craft. Finally we practice techniques and approaches that encourage the development of a non-judgmental mind and a strong connection with how we feel.

The course is different to many online courses that are just video-driven. There is a strong emphasis upon interaction through practice and assignments. These are provided weekly with guidance and I provide supportive comments for every photograph submitted to our private pages. Students are able to see and comment upon each others’ photos, which I believe fosters a group ethos.

Lee is also delivering an Introduction to Mindful Photography one-day workshop at The Mindfulness Project in London on Sunday 22nd March.

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