Why Photography Is Meditation

by Peter Zack


Wave at sunrise

Early morning shot of a wave at sunrise. By taking a moment to just sit and watch my surroundings, I noticed how the light from the rising sun was just touching the top of the water. If I hadn’t taken a moment to enjoy the spot, I would have missed this opportunity.

Before I dive deep into my reasons for photography and it’s meditative qualities. I would also compare it to Golf. Golf is a unique sport unlike any other. You are only competing against yourself. You can go out with a foursome and enjoy a great day, compare scores, discuss the great shot and the one that should have been. But in the end, you are alone with the game. Every other sport is you or your team, competing directly against an opponent. Most sports involve direct physical contact with the opposition. Not golf (well that does depend on if, you like the people you’re golfing with), golf is trying to do just a little better than the last time, trying to perfect the swing just a bit more. Getting the next great drive to hit a little further or straight down the fairway. It’s a solo pursuit to perfection, shooting par for the first time in your life.

See any parallels? Photography is a solo pursuit to that perfect shot. It’s why you are reading this web page today. You are hoping you’ll find a little tip or trick to get better. Maybe some inspiration to start a new project.  Photographers scour the internet, forums, books and magazines for that great new lens, tripod or camera body that will improve the shot by 10%. I don’t know what they call it in golf but we have LBA* in photography. Some of us have GAS* as well. It’s the quest for perfection in the gear and the shot we have hunted for. It can be consuming, disappointing and uplifting  at times. Hopefully it’s enjoyable most of the time.

So how do golf, photography and meditation connect? Well maybe they don’t entirely. Golf is meditative as well if you let it be. You need to go to the course and allow yourself to just enjoy the game, relax and take everything in, leave everything behind and focus on the game. When you do, your game improves. If you drive yourself, the game is no fun and your shots will be in the trees. Photography is similar. Learn the skills. Read the information that gets you where you need to be. Then enjoy the process. Observe what’s around you. Take a walk in the woods or your favourite shooting area and just sit there enjoying the place you like. You will see new things that were never there before. Don’t always have the camera to your eye. Breathe in the space you occupy for that moment in time.

Bleeding hearts and dandelionsAnother shot where slowing down helped. I was shooting flowers in a garden. Nothing seemed to be any different than the many times before. So I put the camera down and just enjoyed the spot. I noticed that the dandelions in the background created a wonderful colour palette of green and yellow. So opening the lens wide, this shot was created.

Meditation takes on many aspects for many people. But I believe in the end, it’s the pursuit of a better connection to yourself and your world around you. Photography offers that to many, including me. I’m a member of a photo club and enjoy going out with the group on photo projects but the best shooting is always alone and at my own pace or my own project.  Where the group fits in, is being able to share those shots and discuss photography.  To learn from others and what they see.

The point I’d like to make though is about focus. To focus on the world around you. Meditation can focus your life, photography can focus your vision. I hear so many people say, I’ve lost my photo mojo. I just don’t know what to shoot.  I think sometimes, they miss the point. Look down at your feet and you will see something worth taking a picture of.  Try to look at the world differently and focus on the small details that enhance the surroundings. Shoot a style that isn’t what you normally would consider. If you like sunsets, then go out and shoot a sunrise at 5:00AM. I bet you’ll see something different. If you take landscape shots all the time, go out and shoot homeless people on the street.

SteamNot every shot has to be a masterpiece. Just capturing the mood of the place. I just liked the look of the steam rising from this large cappuccino while someone was enjoying a book.

While you are at whatever shooting spot you choose, put the camera down and watch the life that surrounds you. Soak it in. There have been many times when I’ve been out shooting and the place I found was so calming, I just had to stop and enjoy the feeling of the area. The photos that followed those moments, where much better than my usual stuff.

Cheers and good shooting –Peter Zack

*LBA is attributed to Lance Blackburn of Australia who coined the term Lens Buyers Addiction. GAS is a corrollory expression meaning Gear Addiction Syndrome


8 Responses to “Why Photography Is Meditation”

  1. This has been an article loaded with pure truth. I am asked often by my kids or friends, why I like going to the same places over and over again. My answer is always the same. While I may go to the same place, it is always different. There is always something new to capture. Even taking a picture of the same thing twice on a different day will give you a different picture. Yep in the same way an sunset is different than a sunrise (yet it is the same sun), a flower and or a person is different in the same way. Great article Peter.

  2. Thanks Dave and Javier, I’m glad you understood the thought behind the article. I hope you enjoy your favourite spots even more.

  3. Great article. It was a real pleasure to read it and to remind myself reasons for taking pics (although my photos aren’t great, i enjoy myself making them). Thx

  4. hrvoje_fila That’s entirely the point. That you enjoy the shots you take and you enjoy the place where you take them. Our lives can be so busy, that photograpghy can be an outlet to center yourself and just enjoy that part of your life. It’s not a competition for the best shot, just a way to express yourself in ways that maybe only you would enjoy.

  5. Thoughtful practical article. Lovely insights, and the relationship between the quiet inner reflection and the creative moment very well put.

    The best part of photography, for me is the heightened visual awareness combined with graphical creativity, application of logical principles and beautifully crafted implements. And perhaps even storytelling to boot. And it forces to the mind to perhaps give way to the spirit a little, in a life and world dominated by the endless pulsing of the cerebrum. The worst is not having a camera on hand when you see ‘that shot’.

    Your article reminds me of a chapter in a superb book called ‘Who Ordered this Truckload of Dung’, (Ajahn Brahms, a buddhist monk) the chapter title is ‘The Idiot’s Guide to Peace of Mind’ in which the author describes several types of people who go to sit in the garden, and only one can sit and enjoy, the rest are thinking about the jobs to do or something else.

    Many thanks, excellent.

  6. I recommend picking aggressive inline skating; it is 80% mental work to accomplish a trick 😉

  7. Well written, Peter. I agree wholeheartedly. Photography has allowed me to see things I would have missed, thought about things I would have ignored, touched things I would have avoided. I am always happy walking around with my camera, there must be a reason. Keep up the good work.

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