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  • Writer's pictureSteve Payne

Being There

Photography as meditation.

One of a series of images of the West Virginia fall colors reflected in the moving water of The Upper Shavers Fork River at Cheat Moutain, WV. put me in the moment as I attempted to see “inside” the moving water and reflections. ©Steve Payne 2014

It’s been said that all the answers we need are found in nature.

I totally agree with that statement. It is certainly a healing place for me.

As a lifelong photographer and also as a workshop instructor, I am often asked about my methods.

Many are surprised when I say the first thing that I do is sit down in the stillness and let everything go, simply becoming part of the moment. Looking, listening, being.

Another approach to nature photography is one that I too did in my early days thinking that more is more. Drive to a state park or national park and go down the road looking around intently. See something that looks promising.

Screech to a halt! Jump out of the car camera in hand and crank off some frames. Jump back in the car and do it again.

This way of working defeats the entire purpose of what I think good photography is and what it can do for you to improve your quality of life.

This “trophy fish” approach is really a waste of time. And, time is all we really have, so slow the blank down!

Instead. Sit. Be. Let it come to you. It will if you let it.

The key is to take in the experience and not get down in disappointment if you don’t get a keeper every time. If you invest enough time eventually you will have your share of “trophy fish.”

Great photography is rarely forced, but the product of becoming one with something and seeing it in a new way. Or seeing something that most don’t. The hidden image, the reflection, etc.

Now at this point in the discussion let’s get something out of the way that can actually get in the way. Not being comfortable with your camera. Not knowing how it works. Having too much equipment with you and too many decisions to make before you can even take a shot will kill your efforts before you begin.

What’s the best camera to use? That’s another discussion. For now, let’s leave it at this, one you feel comfortable with and know how to use.

How about using a smartphone? You can.

But, two reasons that I don’t recommend it are.

-It’s just too distracting therefore it should be turned off.

-For nature photography and most serious photography, I prefer a camera with a viewfinder.

I want to get lost in the viewfinder!

That being said, I shoot a hell of a lot of photographs with my smartphone camera and get excellent results but I also have above-average skills developed over many years.

Now one other important piece of equipment that helps to take things to a different level is a tripod. What’s the best tripod? Same as above. One that you’re comfortable with and know how to use.

WHAT!? A tripod? I don’t want to carry a tripod! Then don’t. But you’ll be missing a lot by simply handholding your camera.

This is especially important when you are beginning and developing your eye to see a great composition.

Three things that are essential to any great photograph are…

Good lighting, composition, and action. (A Foolproof Formula For Great Photos)

Using a tripod allows you to find that great composition and then wait on the light and action to happen without compromising the established composition. This is where the meditation comes in.

The point is to get lost in the viewfinder. Hopefully, not only seeing with your eyes but also with your heart.

Seeing. Being. Meditating on the image until you feel like you have it.

If you give in to this practice, the entire world will disappear and you will feel transformed when you’re done for the day and heading home.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve been gone for days when in fact it’s only been a few hours.

If you take this slower unforced approach to your photography, not only will your photographs improve but so will your outlook and understanding of the world we live in.

This is not to say that some very great photographs haven’t been made quickly.

A case in point is “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico. This image by Ansel Adams is one of his most famous and valuable.

Adams was driving home after several very unproductive days of shooting when he saw the opportunity. He quickly pulled to the side of the road, set up his tripod, put a sheet of film in the camera, and shot. Then the light was gone and the rest is history!

All the necessities were there, amazing light, great composition, and action in the light on the scene.

There was also one of the most skilled and heart-seeing photographers of all time who could quickly recognize the opportunity and knew exactly what to do.

This brings up another truth of great photography. You’ve got to pay your dues by going on shoots that leave you empty-handed in terms of images. But, in photography and life, there’s really no such thing as wasted time.

Then again you may find a location that you catalog in your head, knowing that when the right conditions exist it will produce greatness!

And, Ansel Adams did this a lot too, repeatedly returning to the same exact locations until it all came together for him and the image he knew was there.

If your quality of life is as important to you as great photography then slow down and learn to get into photographic meditation. The rewards are many!

Here’s to finding your “trophy shot!”

Peace. Out. SP


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