Stillness in Photography

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I love getting out for long walks year-round.  I don’t usually take photos on these walks but, lately, I find myself bringing along my phone.  Maybe because there are beautiful flowers everywhere that inspire me on a July morning; maybe because it’s just easier to make a picture when it doesn’t involve taking off much-needed mittens in the middle of February.

Whatever the reason, with summer in full swing (and no need of mittens), I’m having fun with the flowers and my phone.  Getting a little closer to my subjects, I can catch water droplets and prickly hairs. I can explore the textures of smooth petals and worn wood.  I love getting close.

Getting close to my subject means that I must get very still.  Physically speaking, I hold the phone steady, arms tucked close to my sides. If standing, I widen my stance, making a tripod base with my body; if squatting low, I let my knees drop to the ground to give myself a firm base.  Also, I slow my breath.  Usually, once my subject is framed to my liking, I take a slow, deep inhale and, while holding my breath, I press the shutter.  Then…I exhale.

Along with the necessary physical stillness required to shoot at closer range, an emotional stillness invariably accompanies this kind of shooting for me.  Though none of the images in this post are truly macro, they’re getting close.  Close enough that I must deliberately slow my breath in a way that I don’t do with other types of photography (except maybe when shooting with my SX-70).  There’s no room for wiggle of any kind – from me, or my subject.  If the breeze chooses to pick up just when I’m ready to shoot, I must wait.  I must be patient.  

The careful way I hold my body, the slowing of breath, and the accompanying stillness of mind all come together as I make these morning-walk pictures.  Steady body, steady mind.

Truth be told, this applies to all types of photography – this steadying of body and mind.  Focus is critical – that of the lens, that of the photographer’s artistic vision.  Even sports photography (or chasing after little ones) necessitates stillness on the part of the photographer. There must be that quiet, solid origin– the body holding steady as well as the mind and breath calling in stillness.  We must know what we want to capture within our frame.  We must make adjustments and pause as necessary.

Photography is a wonderful way to bring stillness into one’s life.  The process of making photos, which involves pausing and making thoughtful choices, reflects a generally intentional way of being.  Whether it’s flowers or doors or food on the table, whether it’s portrait or street photography, the photographer must get still and be deliberate in choice and action.   As in life, that kind of focus (that kind of intention) reaps rewards.

To photograph is to hold one’s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It’s at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.”
~  Henri Cartier-Bresson ~

Wishing you stillness and joy. Happy shooting, friends!