mindfulness in photography

Mindfulness is the practice whereby a person is intentionally aware of his or her thoughts and actions in the present moment, non-judgmentally. Mindfulness is applied to both bodily actions and the mind’s own thoughts and feelings. In Buddhism, the second kind of mindfulness is considered a prerequisite for developing insight and wisdom. Right Mindfulness is the seventh path from the Noble Eightfold Path, which is in its turn the fourth of the Four Noble Truths.

websters online dictionary

zeiss on pola, 2011 © nicole davis

today amanda wrote an awesome post at mockingbird about the benefits of film cameras in honing your photographic skills. i so enjoyed this post as it spoke to me & eloquently expressed a lot of my feelings about the benefits that shooting film has brought for me. the post was followed by some thoughtful comments and dialogue by various people that greatly added to the discussion. but it was also attracting a bit of negativity from a commenter. now kudos to amanda for publishing & responding thoughtfully to it. it was a not very informed comment by someone who doesn’t seem to have really read the post or looked at the rest of amanda’s blog to establish context. i think now that it may be a troll but at the time it prompted me to write a long comment on the page & in the end maybe it provided a good discussion point. i wanted to reproduce my response here as i think it has helped crystalise my philosophy in photography – mindfulness! don’t forget to read amanda’s posts too and the comments to receive the full picture! to quote myself:

Hey Amanda

Thanks for this great article. It captures exactly how I feel about what film has taught me about photography as opposed to my DSLR. While I shot fully manual on my DSLR from early on, moving to film afterwards fully honed those skills of judging the light in a setting and being able to correctly expose for it. This was particularly true as i first moved to an old camera that i thought had no light meter so i has to use my knowledge of how to expose correctly for the light (the fact it did have a light meter is another story!). My first shots on that were of snow … eeep! Some looked great others didn’t. But it taught me a hell of a lot.

I think those who say that you can teach yourself all this on a DSLR are partially correct. But they miss the importance of the blind that comes from not being able to see your images & the effect of having to slow down. Sure, on a DSLR you can turn off your monitor but even doing this I’ve always given into the temptation of looking at the shot before I declare myself happy. With film you just have to get it right and the only way to do that is to ponder and really think about your shots and exposure. Plus there definitely is that thought that ‘hey this is costing me more money, i should get it as right as i can’.

I too am not anti DSLR. I recently used a Canon 5D Mkii for a wedding and have to say I’m in love. But I do use my DSLR almost like a film camera now. I don’t waste shots, I pause and think, I often ignore the light meter, I try not to check the photos too much.

I would never have achieved this mindfulness in photography without having gone back to film.

Keep up the awesome posts!

soon after on twitter amanda said how disheartened she was about the negative and sometimes nasty comments she received about it on both the blog post and twitter. it sucks how something that could provide fruitful positive discussion is turned into a negative.

sure you can disagree with a point of view but do it in a thoughtful way that shows you’ve analysed & contextualised the person’s thoughts.

mindfulness seems a good path to follow when commenting also!

would love to hear everyones’s thoughts – on mindfulness, photography, film, digital, commenting etc

ps the photo above is the camera of which i spoke above, it’s a 1965 zeiss ikon & i’ve posted a number of images taken with it in paris. the image was shot on my 1970s sx70 polaroid with new px100 silver shade film by the impossible project. my first shot … i love it!

11 thoughts on “mindfulness in photography

  1. GD says:

    Totally agree with this post. It’s film that makes most of the settings on a DSLR make sense. Take ISO for example. There is no need for it on DSLR. It’s just a legacy from the film days. Sure, I am a digital guy and I am glad I don’t have to endure that painstakingly long wait for that shot to come back from the printers just to find that it was slightly out of focus, or my cigarette smoke had drifted in front of the lens. However, I cut my teeth on film, and for that I’m eternally grateful. Likewise, if one has not spent any time in a darkroom and they look at Photoshop. Burn and Dodge tools for example.

    PS…. I do miss shooting Velvia though. 😉

  2. Vetti says:

    Hi Nicole, totally agree. Years of darkroom work, light meters, laboriously setting up shots etc taught me a lot about composition, ambience, communication and concentration. I rarely use film now, but its influence on my mindset and gaze are undeniable.

    1. nicole says:

      Oh that’s great to hear your experiences. I’m hoping to embark on the great adventure of the darkroom later in the year. It’s going to be fun!

  3. Jak says:

    Just as much as I enjoy Amanda’s lovely photos and interesting thoughts in photography, I enjoy being inspired anew by her ideas and opinions. I started learning on film in high school; starting over with a digital SLR had a learning curve of its own, but Amanda’s post has reminded me to take the time to think and plan, no matter which camera or format I’m using. Thank *you* for reminding me that this is a case of mindfulness, in all things – in photography, in online communication… in life, surely!

    P.S. I share your love for the Canon 5D Mk2. 🙂 Wish I had one of my own!

    1. nicole says:

      Hi Jak. Thanks for visiting and your insightful comment. I heartily agree with you about amanda’s posts. Both her words and images are inspiring. I’m glad this post spoke to you as well. I’ve learned some hard lessons this past week in my general life about mindfulness and this was where a lot of thoughts I’ve been having coalesced.

  4. Amanda says:

    Thanks for your kind words and this thoughtful post.

    I really don’t care if people prefer digital over film or vice versa. I shoot with both and love both.
    Maybe I should now write a post on how digital can make you a better photographer 😉

    1. nicole says:

      You’re very welcome! And I heartily concur with the silliness of film vs digital. I love both too.

      Hmmmm I’d like to see that post on how digital can make you a better photographer … I do think there’d be some good thoughts in it.

  5. Amanda says:

    and GD, wouldnt you also agree that if all shots were in Raw we dont really need things like white balance and picture settings?
    None of those settings matter because I shoot raw and adjust it all in post.

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