Photograph the essence not the incidental.

Photograph the essence not the incidental.

Leading a class on photographing blossoms in Boston the other day I encouraged students to reveal the spirit of the thing, not just the physical reality. As Robert Henri says, “Low art is just telling things; as, There is the night. High art gives the feeing of the night. …. be interested not in the incident but in the essence of your subject.

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Seeing One Thing Becoming Beauty

Spring Bud.jpg

Spring is just arriving in Boston. Slowly, slowly, small buds are appearing and possibilities are emerging. I really love to photograph nature in this state. What will it become? Will this bud be a leaf, a blossom, a branch? It does not really matter. I just want to see it for what it is in this moment. I won’t be back on this path again so what it is becoming will remain unknown to me. I only know what it is today. And that is more than enough.

I love to isolate my subject so I can really focus attention on one thing at a time. To do this I simply stop, center, start. Stop and appreciate what is right in front of me. Center my breath and attention, and then start to focus my camera on the simplest subject possible. Try using a shallow depth of field setting like f4.5 so the background will blur out. Remember, you need to have your camera close to the subject and the subject far from the background. It is also helpful to use manual focus since the camera may have difficulty locking on a single stick.

I love the subtle gradation of color in the background of this image. There were thousands and thousands of sticks just like this one that I blurred into a soft background. Next time you are in the middle of many flowers, many trees, many people, see if you can choose just one and simply see that one living thing becoming beauty before your very eyes. Magic.

Sometimes what is in the way, is the way.

I am out in the Bay Area this week and the weather is wonderful. I have be able to get out and do some nature photography of salt marshes, and the bay. I happened to be in a parking lot under a bridge just as the sun was setting yesterday. I tried and tried to find a spot to stand where I could get an unobstructed view of the setting sun.

It was impossible with the bridge in the way. I was running out of time as the sun was setting quickly. Suddenly it occurred to me the bridge was not in the way, it was the way. The way to capture the beauty of this specific sunset. The bridge supports were actually strong, simple shapes, so I stopped trying to work around them and used them to frame the scene. I then started photographing the bridge instead of the sunset and liked those photos the best. (see on instagram)

So here is an idea for you to try. Next time you can’t get rid of something from the scene, or life, see if you can turn it to your advantage. Shift your mindset and vantage point to see it as essential to what makes this moment unique. You can see more of my photos from this trip on my instagram account so follow along there.

Have a great weekend! Suzanne

instagram: curioussoulphotoschool

Private photography course enrollment for the Spring 2019 series is now open. Contact me for course information and tuition. 4 spaces available.

Ambiguity engages imagination

Charles River Boston

Charles River Boston

Here is an idea for you to try. Rather than showing us everything in the scene, leave something to the viewers imagination. Leave space for us to fill in the blanks, connect the dots, or guess at what is just beyond our visual grasp. This will invite the viewer to linger, look deeply and really savor the experience rather than just recognizing the scene and moving on.

Just as I am always encouraging you to slow down and take your time when creating photos, the same advice holds for viewing images. Take your time. Slow down an participate in the scene using wonder and curiosity. I invite you to try it out with this image. Click on it to view full screen and then just relax your gaze and look beyond the obvious to see the invisible.

Some tips for creating ambiguity: over expose, use weather like fog, snow, or rain, shoot through windows, use reflections, soften your focus. Just be sure your are not creating visual confusion. What you are going for is revealing the subject layer by layer in collaboration with the viewer. Give hints, and nudges but let them find the soul of the image in their own way based on their own life experiences.

Looking Forward Looking Back

nightportraite.jpg

Since it gets dark so early now, I have decided to focus on night photography for a while. I love to seek out existing light at night and see what can be created. You do need fast glass to do a shot like this, that is a lens with capability to open to F 2.8. This allows enough light in to shoot without a tripod. You have to push the ISO up to about 2000 which creates a gritty feel, but I love that.

This image has not be photo shopped. It was taken by a security light on a building in an empty parking lot. I had my subject face me with the light striking just one side of her face. But the right eye was totally in the dark so I had her turn just enough until I could see the catch light in both eyes. Then I took two shots and we were done. I used my Sony Alpha 6000 and my F1.8/50 prime lens.

I like the feeling of the face being half in the light and half in the dark. Feels like the moment we turn from the past to the future. Perfect way to begin the new year. Looking forward to spending more time in the dark while looking toward the light. Happy New Year to You.

Suzanne

Nothing Special

Minimalist Composition

Minimalist Composition

This morning I woke up to fog and snow. The perfect combination for my favorite type of photography. Macro minimalist. To just slow down and focus on a single detail is very relaxing. I love to just stand still in one spot and slowly scan the area for any little thing that can become the center of attention. I use a shallow depth of field like 4.5 to blur out everything except the one thing I want to appreciate. And suddenly, the most ordinary thing is transformed from nothing special to a show stopper. Yes, one leaf on one twig is photo worthy.

And the best thing is it is a mindful moment that requires nothing but your full attention. I wish you happy holidays and hope you find something special to enjoy every day. I am taking a few weeks off to focus on my photography and design new programs for next year. So check back in a few weeks and see what’s new. Suzanne

Will You Take Time to Walk in Beauty?

Gestalt Composition Mount Auburn Cemetery

Gestalt Composition Mount Auburn Cemetery

Greetings Photographers! I hope you are as excited as I am about the Fall Foliage Photo season. Boston reaches it peak color point this week so I want to encourage you to take time to enjoy a photo walk. Slow down, take a deep breath and just be in a state of appreciation for the beauty of this season.

One thing I have noticed with my students this time of year is how they struggle with composition when there are many subjects in the scene. What I suggest is trying to find a single element that pulls it all together. This will create a feeling of wholeness (gestalt) rather than chaos. In the image above I primarily depend on the color to unify the scene.

Then I used the lovely path of light to lead your eye deeply into the setting. As luck would have it, there is a subject at the end of the path that is even lighter. So it all comes together. There are many subjects in the frame, trees, leaves, statues, graves, a person, a path, but because of where I stood, I was able to create balance between all the parts. Balance comes from the placement of the parts, and a unifying element (color) pulls it all together.

I hope you will get out there this weekend and create something beautiful. If you are interested, there are 4 classes coming up this month including one at the location featured above.

Suzanne

Suzanne@curioussoul.com

http://www.curioussoulphotos.com

https://www.meetup.com/TakeBetterPictures

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What is Photo Worthy?

Small moments

Small moments

What is Photo Worthy?

Last week while on the train from NY to Boston I was taking some photos out the window. I love to get the window seat in the Quiet Car so I can enjoy the view of the coastal wetlands and marshes. Most of the photos are blurry because of the train motion but I like that since it is how I am seeing the scene.

Out of the corner of my eye a flash of color caught my attention so I turned my camera in that direction and clicked. Yes, true enough it is just a photo of someone with pink nails using their iPhone. And yet, I felt this small moment was as photo worthy as the breath taking scenes flying by outside my window.

This is an example of mindful photography. One of the guiding principles is to be open to seeing beauty everywhere all the time. The unexpected small glances that result in a fresh image are of equal value to the long studied composition choices of an expansive landscape.

Try this: Next time something small catches your eye, don't hesitate, or think, or decide if you should take a photo or the moment will be gone. As soon as you see it, shoot it. It will be perfect enough. And worthy of your photo.

Seeing With Heart to Take Better Pictures

Even the most ordinary subject becomes beautiful when seen with the heart.

Even the most ordinary subject becomes beautiful when seen with the heart.

Often in my photography classes I encourage you all to capture a feeling or mood in your photos. This can sound vague and you may not have a clue how to do this. You have to see with your heart. True, it is a more subtle skill to sense the feeling a subject can evoke but you can do it with practice. Feeling is activated when we connect to our subject. One way we connect to our subject is to observe some human quality in our subject.

A flower can have a quality of tenderness, determination, or resilience for example. Or a landscape can have a quality of expansiveness, or wildness.  It is all a matter of how you experience the subject and then use the visual elements to translate your experience into an image.

 Here is a basic three step process you can use to express more of the essence of a subject.

  1.  Stop and really spend time being present until something about the subject catches and holds your attention.
  2.  Ask yourself what you love most about what you are seeing, is it the color, the light, the texture etc.…
  3.  Use your composition skills to amplify the essence of the visual element you love.

Try several different compositions until you feel a click of satisfaction. It is like when you are playing tennis or golf and you hit it just right. You will feel that with your photography too. It will happen more and more often with practice. In the photo above you can see that anything, even a feather, can evoke a mood or express a feeling if you take the time to really see it with your heart. Why not give it a try next time you pick up your camera. I would be curious to know how it goes for you. Suzanne

Why your silent pictures speak volumes.

 Suzanne Merritt©

A picture is worth 1000 words, but silence is golden.I have been thinking that silence offers a welcome and needed respite from the noise of daily life around us and within. Especially following the 4th of July!

 As I explored the 7 forms of silence described by Paul Goodman below, I became curious about to create a silent picture. Then I realized I already had created quite a few. As I looked through my files of favorites, many spoke to me in a whisper that satisfied my deep longing for quiet and stillness.

The visual qualities these images seem to have in common are monochromatic colors, minimalist style and soft lighting. I invite you to read the passage below and then try to respond with a silent picture of your own based on which ever form of science speaks to you…..

“Not speaking and speaking are both human ways of being in the world, and there are kinds and grades of each. There is the dumb silence of slumber or apathy; the sober silence that goes with a solemn animal face; the fertile silence of awareness, pasturing the soul, whence emerge new thoughts; the alive silence of alert perception, ready to say, “This… this…”; the musical silence that accompanies absorbed activity; the silence of listening to another speak, catching the drift and helping him be clear; the noisy silence of resentment and self-recrimination, loud and subvocal speech but sullen to say it; baffled silence; the silence of peaceful accord with other persons or communion with the cosmos.” Paul Goodman


I have set up a new group on my Facebook page called the Curious Soul Camera Club. You are invited to join and post your photo of silence there.
https://www.facebook.com/curioussoulphotoschool/


 

Welcome Beauty

red door suzanne merritt copy.jpg

This week a new member of our group sent me a link to a fascinating article. (Thank you Meg) I felt it did an excellent job of describing some aspects of mindful photography so I wanted to share it with you.  I really like the idea of welcoming beauty.  What could you do this week to open the door and welcome more beauty in your life? Love to hear from you.

“Stéphane Barbery, a French photographer living in Kyoto, whose photographs capture the mono no aware and hors-temp aspects of reality according to Japanenese philosophy, has emphasized photography as a process of "welcoming" soul, world, and beauty.

This is a poetic way of thinking about mindfulness in photography. It is a state of mind that is welcoming, receptive, and opening up to the beautiful visual possibilities within the world, as well as to the many dimensions of our mind and soul that enables us to see those possibilities.” From Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche by John Suler. http://www.truecenterpublishing.com/photopsy/mindfulness.htm

Mindful Photography Class 3 Tips to Try

Fern in the sunlight. Arnold Arboretum

Fern in the sunlight. Arnold Arboretum

Here are three simple things you can do to bring mindfulness into your photography today. But what is mindfulness and how exactly could it improve your photography?
Mindfulness is defined by Jon Kabat - Zinn as “Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment.”

When you apply this mindful practice to your photography you can create images that translate your experience of beauty into an image that is more deeply satisfying and surprising. It will simply delight you and those you share it with.

It is so easy to do, why not give it a try next time you pick up your camera. The only difficult thing about it is remembering to do it rather than just clicking away. Let me know how it goes.

 

  1. Stop before you start. When you arrive in a location with the intention to DO some photography. Don't just start doing. First stop and just BE there. Take one minute to physically stand still and be in this place.
  2. Next center your self by slowing your breath. Just focus on each inhale and exhale making each one a bit slower and deeper. This will result in helping you relax into a deeper state of awareness of your surroundings.
  3. Notice what attracts your attention from this deeper state of awareness. Is it the color? The quality of the light? The textures? Begin to explore this slowly and in a playful, open way staying fully present to what is there.

Simply allow yourself flow into the moment. When you feel a deep connection with your subject and then and only then click. Connection can take form of a sense of wonder, love, appreciation, or sheer joy.  How you connect is up to you. But you feel something. You know something. You discover something new about your world and your self.

More mindful methods can be found in my book Flow-tography available for ipad on the itunes bookstore or in PDF form for pc users on my website. You are invited to take a look and see if this method could help you improve your photography and take your photos from like to LOVE.

http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/flow-tography-better-photos/id499049037?mt=11&uo=4

Why do you love photography?

petals on the ground.jpg

Last weekend in Chinatown one of the participants in the street photography class asked me an important question. Or actually he was asking himself. “Why am I spending my Saturday morning out here taking pictures?”   I could only answer by telling him why I take pictures.

To deepen my experience of life and feel more alive. To slow me down and help me notice what I might otherwise miss. My life is richer and more interesting because of photography. And I always learn something about my self in the process. “Exactly.” he said and headed down the street.

Today when preparing this post, I remembered I had illustrated a nice page in my book Flow-tography about why I practiced this particular form of photography. I thought I would share those reasons with you today along with an image I feel was created from within the flow state.

Ill be leading a Flow-tography workshop on Earth Day April 22nd. You if you want to join us and explore why you love photography. Understanding this is the first step toward developing your own style and visual voice. We will explore the 8 Universal Archetypes of Beauty. If you can't make the workshop you can still get the book. See details on the website.

  1. Makes me slow down to be intensely present
  2. Connects me more deeply to my life
  3. Brings me into tune with the infinite
  4. Offers me life lessons
  5. I feel more joy and less fear
  6. I appreciate something of Beauty daily
  7. Helps me remember small moments
  8. Makes me feel happy and energized
  9. Brings me a sense of wholeness
  10. It is FUN
  11. Encourages spiritual growth
  12. Inspires my creativity

I am Curious, Why do you love photography? Leave a comment and let me know.

Wizard of Oz in Boston

Sometimes there is the promise of snow, the possibility that Boston will be transformed overnight. This week the promise was kept. And I was ready. Batteries charged, boots by the door, alarm clock set. I thought I was ready, until I actually stepped outside. It was impossible to prepare for what Boston looked like completely coated in white.

Every branch, bench and brick was now candy coated. It was like stepping out into a black and white movie. Like that scene in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy opens the door and the film goes from black and white to color, but the opposite.

 At first I was so excited by the scene I just just started snapping away for fear that it would all vanish any moment. The wind might pick and knock the snow off the trees.  Eventually I realized that the snow was here to stay so I could slow down and be more relaxed. That shift made all the difference.  Instead of taking photos, I was giving attention and enjoying the moment that ended up out lasted my batteries. 

To see the world in a grain of sand...

To see the world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour. Blake

To see the world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour. Blake

One of the fastest ways to improve your photography is to slow down. The slower you go, the more deeply you can connect to your subject. It is this deep connection that creates images that feel satisfying and fresh.  Try this simple practice and before you begin snapping away. Simply take three slow, deep breaths and just stand very still. Then see what shows up for you to focus on. It may be something small and unexpected and wonderful.

I will be leading a macro class in Boston on Saturday March 17th from 10:00 to 12:30.  See details and sample photos on my website under classes/creative seeing. Love to have you join us.

I Believe in Beauty

I believe in Beauty. That it can save the world, change a mood, open a heart in an instant.  It lives in the small moments.  I judge beauty only by the the extent to which it makes me feel alive, connected and curious. Beauty is why I create photographs. When beauty calls, I respond with an image.  Life constantly surprises me with the forms of beauty it offers, unexpectedly, continuously, quietly, like secret notes being passed from the world to my soul. These moment enter my heart and live forever.

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