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!
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?
- notice colors and textures in your environment
- photograph nature without passing judgement
- converse with nature, ask your subjects permission and offer them thanks
- notice your body and breath
- explore a new location
- listen to the sounds around you
- enjoy nature's company by noticing your place within the ecosystem
- notice how you feel before and after
Here are three life lessons I've learned by experiencing nature through the lens...
Lesson 1 - Letting Go
Through the lens of a camera, we have an opportunity to slow down and shift our attention to the shapes, colors, and textures of life simply by relaxing our focus. Look at the image below. With a relaxed focus, we can ask: What does my heart see?
Lesson 2 - Impermanence
With photography, we use our cameras to freeze a moment in time, but nature doesn't stop cycling. Look at the two images below. What has changed?
Lesson 3 - Embracing Shadows
When we step into the shadows, it becomes easier to see the nuances that makes your subject unique. Look at the image below. What textures are seen from within the shadows?
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.