At the mention of Zen, a Buddhist monk in search of enlightenment might come to mind. When I think of Zen, I think of an approach to photography, especially my own wildlife photography. For me, Zen is a state of mind. A state of quietness and stillness and contemplation when engaging with the natural world and finding beauty in all things. I try and remember that Zen photography is more about mindset than the subject matter.
I completely absorb myself in the process of photographing wildlife and nature and think of nothing else during the process. Time slips away like a flowing river. All that matters is the subject, the light and the creativity. It’s a way of meditation. A way of Zen. Nothing else seems to matter.
Look at the light. See how it forms the shapes, lines, textures, patterns and shadows of the world around us. Notice the colour and quality of the light. Listen to the sounds and the smell of the location. Observe your intended subject. When photographing fungi emerging from the leaf litter, I get down to their level. I can smell their habitat. I can smell the fungi. Feel the wind and sun on your skin. Become part of the location. I spend several minutes getting into a Zen mindset, a Zen zone before setting up the camera.
Set up your camera.
When photographing fungi or botany, I will generally use a tripod or a beanbag. It slows me down. It makes me think. Don’t just point and shoot. Don’t think that you have the definitive shot and fire the shutter. Take your time and really look at your subject through the viewfinder or on the camera’s screen. Try different compositions or exposures or focus adjustments. See everything within the frame. You will almost certainly be more creative and come up with better ideas by resisting the urge to fire the shutter and quickly get the shot.
Look closely at the world every day.
For me, Zen-like observation works very well when photographing wildlife and nature but it’s something that I like to undertake every day. I can’t do it all the time – I’d be walking around in a complete introspective trance. Whenever I am in a wood, meadow, park or wildlife situation I ‘switch off’ and observe. I make mental notes, or use a notebook, to return if the light isn’t right or if the subject ‘isn’t ready’. Or I may have a camera with me and begin my Zen photography process. When you truly open your eyes and your senses there is so much to see. And photograph.