Monday, March 24, 2014

Thoughts on Contemplative Photography

by Dotti


Contemplation seems to be the only luxury that costs nothing.
                                                    Dodie Smith, ‘Capture the Castle’



Last month, my husband I accompanied our girls {daughter and granddaughter} to Harry Potter World and Walt Disney World. And as I always do, I looked forward to taking as many photographs as I could. But then something happened. In fact, it’s happened before. I go on a trip, come home, download my photos  … and I’m disappointed.

And, I believe I know why. No, it’s not unrealistic expectations but rather something else. Those of you who follow Kim Klassen’s blog may remember some time back when she asked, ‘Do you make a picture or take a picture?’

Well, that’s my problem at these vacation hotspots. I like to make photos and everybody, including my own companions, is in a hurry. How can I make a photograph in such an environment? Somebody will be rolling their eyes. Somebody else walking behind me won’t be paying attention and will mow me down. Well, you get the idea. The whole atmosphere clutters up my brain and slows down my creative juices.

This past January, I took a course with Kim Manley Ort called ‘The 50mm Project’ and she hit on something that has stayed in my mind … the art of contemplative photography. I refer you to her website where she has several blogs about this subject and she’s made a point to study it far longer and far more in depth than I have.


I am a newbie at truly learning this art of contemplative photography but I’d like to begin the discussion here today. Here’s a simplified summary of what I understand of contemplative photography thus far.
  •  Avoid giving the world around you a cursory glance. Instead, take time to really ‘focus’ on your subject. For example, if you come to a ‘photo op’ and there are already other photographers there, mostly shooting from the same view, take a little walk. Look at the subject at hand from every imaginable vantage point. Stand up straight. Bend down low. Lie down on your belly if you must. {That’s easier for some of us than others!} Find the light. And then, make the picture that only you can make because you took the time to have a good long look before pushing your shutter button.
  • As you begin to contemplate the photo you are making, ask yourself what you want the photo to say. Is there a story you want to tell?
  • Focus on the little things. This goes hand in glove with taking a long look. Don’t be so blinded by Mickey’s big white glove, that you miss the shiny buttons on his jacket.
  • Take the road less traveled. Again, if the crowd is going one way, perhaps you’d best take another route. Find that thing, that sight, that image that everybody else misses because they’re too busy staying on the super highway.
  • And the last point for today: see with feeling. This is not easily accomplished but the more we practice it, the further along we’ll be on our journey to contemplative photography.


In some ways, this is just what Focusing on Life is all about. Learning to be more attuned to life around us, the people we love, the things we love and finding the beauty in our everyday worlds. Let’s zoom in on the wonders of nature, all the little things that were unnoticed before we picked up those little ... or not so little ... black boxes that we carry around. There is beauty all around us, we just have to find it and contemplate it.

There is no instinct like that of the heart.
                                                                         Lord Byron



15 comments:

Carol said...

Miss Dotti, I cannot believe you posted this today, because on Saturday I checked the yes box, and signed up for a weekend in New Hampshire with Kim to study .........wait for it.......contemplative photography! I've been reading a lot about it along with my studies of the senses in photography, and I think I will love the combination of meditation and photography. And I do see it as an extension of what we do here. Once again, this group has so much in common!

Linda said...

Love this so much Dotti! Whenever other photographers gather to take a picture of the same thing, I will walk away and look for something else to photograph. You make good points! Take the road less traveled, see with feeling (love this!) and focus on the little things-they are what really tell the story!

Deanna said...

Wonderful post Dotti, I think we all suffer sometimes with following the crowds and not stepping back or out to capture with feeling. Wonderful start to my week and since I am leaving tomorrow for my week in Charleston, I will keep this post in the forfront of my mind. Thank you!!

terriporter said...

Wonderful and thoughtful post, Dotti! Trying to capture what everyone else was capturing used to be a habit of mine. If he's shooting it, it must be good so I'll shoot it too. And I wasn't happy with the images. They didn't speak to my heart. Having just come back from a trip where I spent a day shooting with two amazing photographers, I have to say those habits are pretty much gone. The images I love the most are the ones that called me to shoot them and not the copycat images that someone else thought were worth capturing. I want the images I come home with to be the things I saw and the images that I wanted to make. I agree that it is hard to do sometimes when you are traveling with non-photographers who don't quite "get it". You may take fewer images when you are trying to shoot from the heart, but they will be the images you want to make. Love that Edward Weston quote! I'll remember that when my husband says, "Why are you taking a picture of THAT?"

Susan said...

Great post Dotti! I agree completely... Im guilty of snapping a picture just for the pleasure of pushing that little black button lol! But Im learning, thanks to you and everyone here at FOL. I have learned so much, but still not quite there yet. Im definitely going to take the road less traveled! Thanks for sharing and have a wonderful week!

Peggy said...

What good advice today. I too seem to just take the obvious pictures. I need to slow down and think...not just snap and be off.

kelly said...

this is so timely for me dotti having just come back from vacation. and i totally agree! it's so hard to 'make' the kinds of photographs i'm used to whenever i'm with a group for the very reasons you mentioned. (well that is except for photographers who get why sometimes you have to stop and lay on your belly.) but whenever i do slow down and really pay attention, that's when i'm happiest with my photos. great post today!!

Kim Stevens said...

Contemplative photography...is why I have a hard time getting into my zone when I'm with others (photography related or not) because for me contemplation has no time frame, and I take very long time to feel the things around me. For me, contemplative photography is very much a spiritual experience...and following a crowd makes me anxious. :) Fabulous post!

heyjudephotography said...

Love this post Dotti. Contemplative photography for me is very meditative, and I too have trouble in the 'vacation spots' with family. I don't want to just take a photo, I want to make a photo, but sometimes, many times, it doesn't happen. That's why I love to shoot with fellow photographers, or by myself.

AFishGirl said...

Beautiful post. Thank you, Dotti.

Sarah Huizenga said...

The last time we went to Disney, which has been too many years already, I focused on taking candid photos of the park and the family. I already had enough of "shots" of the park. I wanted to capture that moment in time of us. One of my favorite trips to Disney because of that. Contemplative is so hard when you are rushed or with a group, for example our trip to Montana last year. I need the time to stop and absorb the scene and look for the things I love to shoot.

kimmanleyort said...

Dotti, what a beautiful post and thoughts on contemplative photography. Your last image is especially exquisite - seeing the light. You've touched on two of the most important aspects of contemplative photography (and living), in my opinion, taking a long look and seeing with the heart. I hope you continue your journey into this most worthwhile pursuit.

Roxi -Coppercurls Designs said...

Great post. Dotti. LOVE those green images.

Cathy H. said...

Dotti, I've taken three of Kim's classes because I love her focus on contemplative photography. They have helped me slow down, although I'm still working on that! Wonderful post with great thoughts to keep in mind!

susan said...

YES to this post and everything about contemplative photography! Yes to getting on your belly, laying sideways, upside down…whatever it takes to 'create the shot' and not just 'take the shot'. xo

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