Photography as Meditation

December 7, 2020

The idea of photography as meditation has been mulling around in my head for quite some time now. The more I go out to take pictures, the more it feels like a form of meditation.

Dark-eyed Junco– Well into the end of November and the beginning of December, we were getting relatively warm, sunny days that were perfect for all-day photography outings

Northern Pintail on a warm November day

Meditation is commonly described as a “practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state.”

Black-capped Chickadee– Four days after the warm, sunny pictures of dragonflies and turtles shown above, it snowed!
Downy Woodpecker

Whenever I arrive at a woods, a field or a pond to take pictures, a sense of calm washes over me. I quickly become so focused on looking for interesting things to photograph, that there’s absolutely no room in my brain for any of the usual clutter.  Three hours later, I emerge from my ‘trance’, relaxed and ready to face the world. It seems a lot like what I think of as a meditative state.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of Sandhill Cranes flock to the open cornfields this time of year. They are a sight (and a sound) to behold!

Much has been written about the therapeutic effects of time spent in nature, but I had never seen anything written about the therapeutic effects of nature photography or, more specifically, ‘photography as meditation’. I decided to do a little research to see if anyone else had come up with the same idea. Surprisingly, there were entire books on the subject!

Female Mallard in the early morning light
Male Mallard and a Female Mallard Hybrid going head to head
Trooper Swan– a cross between a Whooper Swan (pronounced ‘hooper’) and a Trumpeter Swan

“For many people, photography serves as a form of meditation; a way to separate themselves from their stressful lives. Meditation and photography have much in common: both are based in the present moment, both require complete focus, and both are most successful when the mind is free from distracting thoughts.” (Photography as Meditation by Torsten Andreas Hoffman)

Male Mallard conducting an orchestra of Trumpeter Swans at the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary
Female Mallard, possibly leucistic — Leucism is a partial loss of pigmentation which causes white, pale, or patchy coloration of the skin, hair, feathers, scales or cuticles, but not the eyes.

 “Both photography and meditation require an ability to focus steadily on what is happening in order to see more clearly. Whether you are paying mindful attention to the breath as you sit in meditation or whether you are composing an image in a viewfinder, you find yourself hovering before a fleeting, tantalizing reality.” (Stephen Batchelor, Yale University Press, Meditation and Photography)

Snow Goose migrating through Michigan
Female Bufflehead
A well-camouflaged Wilson’s Snipe who was migrating through Michigan

I had tried ‘regular meditation’ once or twice before, where I would sit quietly and calmly for a short period of time and try to focus my attention on only one thing, but I never mastered the art. On a picture walk, though, I can stay focused for hours and there’s absolutely no room in my brain for the worries of the day to intrude— quite a godsend, I’d say, given this horrifying pandemic and the deplorable state of our government.

Trumpeter Swan on the run!
White-tailed Deer
Woodchuck, also known as a Whistle Pig!

A picture walk continues to be the perfect form of meditation and the perfect antidote to today’s chaos.

Rare Old Bird

First Snow

November 10, 2018

path through woods 11-9-2018 9-02-16 AMI was so eager to get out the door yesterday morning to take pictures that I didn’t even take time to eat breakfast. It was the first snowfall of the season and I was hoping to catch lots of beautiful shots of otherwise ordinary things. I felt like I was ‘racing’ against time, though, because the forecast called for rain in just a few hours. Not wanting to lose any time driving somewhere, I just walked out our front door to explore the woods, streams and ponds in our complex.

It was so beautiful—and so incredibly quiet! The snowfall muffled all the sounds and it felt rather

squirrel 11-9-2018 8-56-05 AM
“What’s up world?”

magical walking so silently through the woods as a few lingering snowflakes drifted lightly to the ground. I’ll probably be sick of all the snow in a month or two, but yesterday, it was a wonderland. Even the squirrels looked cuter in the snow!

RUBY CROWNED KINGLET 11-9-2018 10-34-30 AM
Ruby Crowned Kinglet–A tiny bird seemingly overflowing with energy, the Ruby-crowned Kinglet forages almost frantically through lower branches of shrubs and trees.

golden crowned kinglet 11-9-2018 10-31-051
Golden Crowned Kinglet–Though barely larger than a hummingbird, this frenetically active bird can survive –40 degree nights, sometimes huddling together for warmth.

 

My favorite surprise, though, was finding and ‘capturing’ ruby crowned kinglets and golden crowned kinglets. I rarely see them. They are very small and  very quick –which makes it a bit of a challenge to get them to sit still long enough for a picture!

At that point in my walk, I had the added challenge of a camera that wouldn’t focus properly. I thought maybe the battery had gotten too cold to function so I pulled it out and tried to warm it up—ha! I wasn’t any warmer than it was! Eventually, though, I got it to work and had another ten minutes or so of picture taking before my little flock of kinglets fluttered off into the woods somewhere.

white throated sparrow 11-9-2018 9-51-56 AM
White Throated Sparrow–another bird I don’t often capture and was thrilled to see.

Just for the record, yesterday’s bird ‘count’ included:  white throated sparrows, goldfinches, cedar waxwings, golden crowned kinglets, ruby crowned kinglets, cardinals, tufted titmice, mallards, geese and house sparrows.

 

 

 

 

gazebo 11-9-2018 10-58-32 AM
Willow Lake, another great spot for birds!

bridge over cherry creek 11-9-2018 8-24-04 AM
Cherry Creek bridge where I often see herons, geese and mallards.

buck 11-9-2018 9-45-56 AM
My 8 point buck!!

snow on berries 11-9-2018 9-31-31 AM
The new snow on the not-ready-for-winter trees looked lovely!

tufted titmouse 11-9-2018 9-11-37 AM
Tufted Titmouse–Tufted Titmice nest in tree holes (and nest boxes), …they use natural holes and cavities left by woodpeckers. These species’ dependence on dead wood for their homes is one reason why it’s important to allow dead trees to remain in forests rather than cutting them down.

deer 11-9-2018 8-39-04 AM
One of several beautiful deer I saw yesterday morning that were easily within 10 or 15 feet of me.

mallard 11-9-2018 11-02-34 AM
A mallard on the wing

cardinal 11-9-2018 10-16-50 AM
The cardinals really stand out in a winter woods.

golden crowned kinglet 11-9-2018 10-32-051
Golden Crowned Kinglet