Expand your nature connections
Texture: Marigold foliage is angular and spiked, but the blossoms are smooth and fluid. Opposing textures adds variety. We can imagine marigolds as hosting a party where all are welcome!
Color: Analogous colors (colors next to each other on the color wheel) typically lend a sense of restfulness, but marigold's bright hues create a more vibrant and youthful quality. We can imagine marigolds as childhood friends who stick together.
Shape: Circles offer a feeling of connection, wholeness, timelessness, and cyclical movement. We can imagine the marigold community as an endless ring of belonging.
Read more on shapes here.
Mindfulness through photography helped me engage with a subject I'd typically avoid, the marigold taught me to listen more deeply (even to messages I may want to ignore) and my camera allowed me to see complex beauty where my eyes/brain/nose saw only irritation.
Channel the message of the marigold in your own practice by photographing something that disgusts you.
I'm not suggesting you force yourself into liking something or that you confront your deepest, darkest disgust. I'm talking about deepening your curiosity about something you might overlook or be turned off by.
When you see this disgusting thing from your camera's perspective, how do you feel?
Just a reminder, if you still feel disgusted, that's totally ok. You've just spent time honoring your own emotions and seeing from another's perspective. No need to force anything, your empathy muscles have been stretched!
EXPANDing "nature Photographer"
Before I talk about my personal experience, I want to share a bit about my professional experience. I went to school for photography in 1999, worked in the photo industry from 1996-2007, and, though I was never a professional nature photographer, my nature photos have been in art shows and gallery exhibits. In addition to public displays, I've also created several commissioned pieces of nature-based photographic fine art.
I share this not to establish expertise or claim anywhere near perfection in my images, but to highlight the fact that my personal experience as a woman supersedes my professional experience and conditioning as a trained photographer. I'm grateful this is the case, because nature photography has the potential for providing healing when we expand our views.
As a divorced woman who photographs solo and has been twice diagnosed with and treated for violence-related PTSD, there are a few things I do differently than many who call themselves nature photographers.
- I remain vigilant of my surroundings. For me, staying safe means I need to be able to move quickly. I travel light, I don't use a tripod, and I rarely set up in one location for an extended period of time. Traveling light is not only good for me, but less gear means less nature destruction through less production.
- Visit the Slow Photography Movement's blog to read my article "Relational Nature Photography."
- I keep mid-day hours, regardless of the location. Full sun isn't considered ideal for most nature photographers, but being out in broad daylight makes me feel safe and gives my stressed-out body the Vitamin D it struggles to produce.
- Visit the Slow Photography Movement's gallery "There is No Bad Light" for a collection of images made in full sun.
- I center myself and my relationship with nature. While out, I've come across folks who warn me to be careful, who tell me what/where to photograph, and who run me off trails. I don't allow these interactions to shape my experience, unless I choose.
- Read my blog using lines and shapes to notice and honor your subject's energy.
- I honor my comfort-zone. Lately, that has been my own neighborhood. I don't let my need to stay close to home and photograph within the city make me feel less of a nature photographer. Plus, staying close to home makes me feel like a better steward because I am on my feet rather than in my car.
Staying close to home provided a bit of comfort and connecting to the natural world within my city neighborhood provided a bit of joy. Because my mind and body are still a bit heavy at the moment, I'm only going to share a simple, one-sentence insight: there are many ways to connect with nature and many ways to serve as nature photographer.
choose supportive styles
The style of photography you choose at any moment has the potential to express your current state of emotion and/or help shift you to a different state. Both options have their benefit, but, either way, the benefits are maximized when you're using your camera intentionally.
Before I move into my personal insights on how I perceive photo styles, I want to be clear: this is by no means the only way to view the purpose of macro and landscape photography. Feel free to take what you want and leave the rest and/or adapt it to your own personal experience. Continue reading below for ideas on how to use macro and landscape styles of photography to support yourself.
This perspective became vital when, at the end of November 2016, I was uprooted from my life - work, home, social circle, region, etc. Over the next four years, I didn't really have my own home. I was fortunate to be hosted in other's homes in Minnesota and in England, Scotland, and France. While I always had a loving place to land, the losses, big and small, kept on coming.
My photography became more "universal" during that time, as I found myself making images of nature's details regardless of where I was living. Even when I was feeling homesick or like I couldn't survive another loss, picking up my camera got me closer to nature and I felt comforted. I didn't need to worry about the bigger picture, what was coming next, or how things were ever going to improve.
Try using macro when you're feeling overwhelmed by change and uncertainty
and/or to provide comfort to others.
Even though I still gravitate toward macro and I'm not great at landscapes, I choose intimate landscapes to express my gratitude for returning home. I can now use that photo style to reconnect to a bigger picture perspective and see more expansive beauty without feeling lost and untethered. I've also found that, without all the constant change and crisis management, I sometimes start to ruminate about what's happened in the past and I begin to feel isolated. When I get too focused on this narrative of loss, I can pick up my camera to get a broader view.
Try using landscapes when feeling overwhelmed by repetition and rumination
and/or to provide connection to others.
After having a broken wrist that prevented me from making photos during a very stressful time, I can attest to the fact that this strategy can also be used without a camera. With or without gear, no matter what may be going on in your life (and there is likely a lot going on), you can use macro and landscape perspectives to support your emotional needs.
Embrace Subtle Beauty
Point-and-shoot was my basic strategy for making images the first many years of my photography practice - even after going to school for photography, knowing all the rules, and possessing the technical skills. Don't get me wrong, there are benefits to making snapshots and I still make them 21 years post-graduation. Practice is vital for refining your art, but continual refinement and clear intentions is what differentiates snapshots from art.
It wasn't until I had life experience, a refined perspective on beauty, and something I felt I needed to say, I finally began to use my camera settings and the rules of composition in an intentional way. In other words, I may have known what I was doing, but I didn't know why or what I was trying to say.
Recently, I was beginning to wonder if I was communicating my intentions (yes, I still cycle through wondering if my art is saying anything to anyone, which is also valuable for refining your story), when artist & poet Gabriele Glang gifted me with this compliment, "Imperfection, wabi-sabi, haiku - I'm thinking your images are beautiful because they are spare, focused, elegant, concise. In fact, they are poems, to my mind."
Wabi-sabi and haiku are Japanese artistic concepts, and my photographic style was informed by a life-changing experience in Japan. Feeling seen in this way inspired me to share a few ideas about how to create photographic poems.
Before I share my ideas, let's take a moment to breathe in this elegant painting by Gabriele from her "Pond" series, where she returned to the same pond over and over, sensing its subtle beauty through the seasons. Visit Gabriele's poetic pond paintings here.
Back in Japan, I learned about the design concept miegakure (hide and reveal) which gave me the seed for how I wanted to transform my photographic story.
Miegakure is used to create awe-inspiring gardens that encourage visitors to slow down, to contemplate, to experience mystery and anticipation.
A similar approach is seen in Yamato-e style art, where clouds and mist are used to obscure parts of narratives told through large scroll or screen paintings. The idea behind this aesthetic style reminds the viewer that life is a mystery, that imagination is vital, and it suggests you'll never know the complete story.
Enjoy a few of my favorite Japanese photographers:
Nyoro: See their work here. Follow them on Instagram here.
Eiichiro: Watch their short film here. Follow them on Instagram here.
akiyama: See their work here. Follow them on Instagram here.
fujicco: Follow them on Twitter here. Follow them on Instagram here.
And with that intention for my life, I have been experimenting and slowly refining my artistic voice to express delight in our world's subtle, mysterious beauty.
Here are a few ideas for adding subtle beauty to your images:
Try looking for hidden subjects. Often, I find my subject nestled within shrubs, rocks, leaves, etc. Use the "nest" to hide elements of your main subject.
For this image, I intentionally placed my jade rock (also from Japan) within my houseplant during a mindful photography event hosted by Tonya Peele on the meditation app, Insight Timer.
Try breathing on the lens (put a UV filter on your lens to prevent damage) before making your image - the results are unpredictable, uncontrollable, and impermanent. And also soft and subtle.
For a deeper perspective on the breath and why I believe subtle beauty is important to the culture of nature photography, read my article "Relational Nature Photography" on the Slow Photography Movement blog.
Try framing your main subject through foliage in the foreground, right up close to your lens. This gives a "painterly" effect.
I was able to do this much more intentionally after watching Kathleen Clemons' course "Creating Painterly Photographs" on Creative Live.
Try simplifying your composition by getting clear about your subject and using your camera to support your intention.
For ideas on how your camera can help you, read my blog "Into Simplicity" here and download the free PDF reminder.
Try writing haikus for your images. Putting words to your images helps you notice your composition in new ways, from there you can continue to refine.
Read my collection of haikus inspired by current events, deep emotions, and nature's guidance through it all.
Nourish your LIfe and Photo Practice
Since moving back to St. Paul, MN four months ago, I’ve encountered more woodpeckers than I’ve encountered across my entire lifespan. There’s a Pileated Woodpecker I often see in my apartment courtyard and, because of my woodpecker neighbor, this is the first year I’ve known their laughter. It might’ve taken me 41 years to understand the theme of Woody Woodpecker, but I finally get it. I hear you, Woody!
Over the decades, I’ve become very aware of my sensitivity to sound. In fact, I think sound was one of a few factors in my divorce. I have a high startle response; I wake up to subtle noises in the night; I can’t have my stereo volume past four on a scale of eleven; my skin crawls when the TV is kept on for "background noise"; if I'm lost while driving or there's snow/rain/traffic, I have to turn the car radio totally off; and I have heard "damn, you have good hearing," by more people than I can count. It’s often a curse and can be a point of contention. Today, I intentionally focused on the blessing.
When I went to my local park to share the nature love this afternoon, I knew I was going out to focus on sounds because of a prompt from fellow mindful photographer Kim Manley Ort and her 2021 project "Seeing Clearly." In the woods of my local park today, and pretty much every time I hike there, I hear the woodpeckers.
Specifically, I heard a Pileated Woodpecker. For a more biological and ecological perspective on this amazing bird, please read this creatively written blog by Ken Bevis, a DNR Stewardship Wildlife Biologist, "Just About the Coolest Bird Around: the Pileated Woodpecker."
Back in the woods, I heard the knocking first and, when I froze on the path to locate the source, I heard tree bark raining down directly in front of me. And there was Woody, pecking away!
Side note: I do not have the gear, the skill, or the patience for bird photography. Please enjoy this playful image by Jeanette Mayo. See more of Jeanette's work here.
Suddenly, it dawned on me: Woodpeckers don’t move when nourishment is being received and, when nourishment ends, they fly away, laughing joyfully! I started thinking about how many times I’ve banged my head against the same person/problem/experience over and over, even when it was not the least bit nourishing. That’s exactly how I stayed in an unhealthy relationship for nearly a decade.
>>> I need to take a quick detour from this woodpecker metaphor to acknowledge the sudden, tragic passing of my ex-husband in 2019. I grew up (literally and figuratively) through our relationship. May he rest in peace. <<<
Nature photography is an experience I'm happy to continue banging against. It's something I've worked at for 25 years and, while the intention behind it has evolved and there have been real challenges I've had to overcome, it has been mostly nourishing - even when I don't get the image I intend on the first attempt or the final attempt!
I've attempted to photograph this tree with the woodpecker excavations multiple times. This last time, I followed the woodpecker's lead and made micro-movements between exposures. Here's an example of how minor movements can change an image. What do you notice about how the micro-movements changed these two?
Mindfulness and meditation are intended to help us fully drop into our lives. When we practice mindfulness, there are very real benefits:
- Finding inner joy
- Knowing ourselves better
- Focusing on authentic values
- Generating love and compassion
- Finding insight and wisdom
- Dealing with difficult situations clearly and fairly
- Embracing the process of life, from birth to death
- Overcoming greed, selfishness, negativity, and worry
- Feeling intimacy and closeness with ourselves, and life itself
- Experiencing freedom and committing to freedom for all
If you become aware that you are causing or have caused harm, it's not too late to turn it around! Quit the practice, re-focus your intentions, make amends, and do better moving forward.
- Feeling aware
- Feeling receptive
- Feeling present
- Feeling grounded
- Feeling connected
- Feeling centered
- Feeling focused
Here are three ideas for beginning a nature-based art mindfulness practice:
Choose a nature image that brings you joy. Explore every aspect of the image. What do you see? What might you hear? Smell? Feel? Taste? Now, close your eyes and continue to experience the scene in your mind's eye.
This practice can help develop imagination. As you continue to practice, notice if you see colors and forms, or hear the calming sounds of nature. See if you can tap into a brightness and sense of well-being. Practice regularly to experience deepened awareness.
Choose a nature image that brings you joy. Explore every aspect of the image. What do you see? What might you hear? Smell? Feel? Taste? Now, close your eyes and focus on your connection to and place within that nature scene. Listen, reach out, move around, and touch, smell, taste. Nurture your connection to everything by noticing how things respond to your movements.
Practicing this way will bring your full attention to and acknowledgement of what it means to be within this world of interconnection and cause/effect.
Choose an image of your favorite flower and put it in a space where you need a gentle, persistent reminder to stay present. Let the love of these flowers become its own meditation. Let your eyes take in every detail, expression, color, and shape with love.
This meditation will attune you to the beauty of this world and, when practiced regularly, you will begin to pay more attention to the beauty that is always around you, giving you an experience of the mystical and magical every day.
Also, remember that mindfulness is a self-care practice to help you stay grounded and focused so that you can take action toward creating a better world - it is not meant to be a consumer product and it is not meant to stand separate from compassionate action. Keep it simple, get centered, and then use that divine Love to fuel the fight for freedom, equity, justice, and peace.
courage. creativity. curiosity.
exploration. inspiration. transformation.
Yes. It’s absolutely possible to make great images using your camera on automatic and pointing the lens at nature’s stunning beauty. To tell your story through images, though, takes self-awareness, thoughtfulness, an understanding of the way your camera sees, and an ability to navigate manual settings - even on a cell phone.
Kristin Perry is a nature photographer navigating life's complexities by focusing on beauty.