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Photography as a practice has changed a lot over the last few years. Whether you’re talking about social media, gear envy or the endless hunt for more pixels, sometimes it feels like the enjoyment of taking a photo gets forgotten. In 2020, we’re using these tips to rediscover the joy of picking up a camera.

Words by Hudson Brown

Photography by Justin McLean

With high-quality cameras and smartphones more accessible than ever, there’s an ever-increasing number of photographs hitting the web. But quantity doesn’t equate to quality, and many photographers are turning their backs on the race to create, instead diverging down a path that’s been coined as ‘mindful photography’.

In the past few years, this movement of slowing down has been credited with the re-emergence of film photography. But an even more topical change is the release of cameras like the Fujifilm X-Pro 3. Packaged in a sleek retro design, the main feature is an LCD screen that is purposefully hidden away, directly encouraging photographers to pay more attention to their surroundings. For a big industry player, it’s an interesting development.

But you don’t need to buy a new camera to find more pleasure in the simple art of making photographs. We’ve put together a list of mindful photography exercises to help you find more satisfaction in the process of creating photography, rather than the outcome.

Turn off your screen

Help make yourself more present within your environment by hiding your LCD screen. Whether that means switching it off in your settings or covering it up completely, this simple change will shift your focus away from getting caught up in the details. When you don’t have the option of constantly reviewing your work, you won’t be so concerned with hitting the mark every time. Instead, you’ll be able to visualise the image you want to create, and develop your understanding of composition and light.

“Let your mind relax as you pass the world by.”

Walk and compose

Similar to meditation, the practice of mindful walking has been recognised as one strategy to engage more with the world. Pay attention to the rhythm of your stride and let your mind relax as you pass the world by. When you combine this practice with a camera, it offers a fascinating change of pace as you reflect on your area and the images you want to capture.

During a mindful photowalk, as your surroundings transform from one type of setting to the next, consider composition and how you might capture the emotion behind a certain place or landmark. Once you pull out your camera, you should also think about how you’d position your body to create a great photograph. But don’t get too lost in the photographic outcome, as this is a mindful photography exercise to simply appreciate the world around you.

Limit how many photos you take

Across social media, we’re constantly being reminded of how many images are created every day. One way to escape this grind and make each shot count is by limiting the number of photos you take.

If you only allow yourself to capture five images a day, you’re bound to try and make each one as impactful as possible. In the same way that people are attracted to film photography because they only have a finite number of shots on a roll, you can impose a similar limit with digital photography. It’s an effective way to improve your skills and be more mindful of your work.

“Pick your favourite photo of the day and spend some time reflecting on what you like about it.”

Appreciate the small triumphs

It’s easy to be disappointed when you don’t reach technical perfection. But you can learn a lot from finding appreciation for the things you did get right, which become helpful lessons for your next shoot. When you’re reviewing your photographs after a shoot, pick your favourite photo of the day and spend some time reflecting on what you like about it, and how you achieved it.

You should also consider the fact that many great photographers don’t actually aim for perfection. Consider the work of Nan Goldin and Todd Hido. Even if their work is blurred or breaks the rules of composition – it has an emotive quality that’s unmistakable.

Avoid the photographic arms race

A common trap for many photographers is getting sucked into an arms race with the latest photographic gear. It’s a tempting distraction, because buying new equipment is easy, while improving your skills is challenging.

When cultivating an approach to mindful photography, focus on using the gear you already own to achieve your photographic goals. And remember – most photographers aren’t really ever going to need 120 megapixels.

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Hudson Brown

Hudson Brown is a Melbourne-based freelance writer when he's not travelling the globe. His words have been featured in the likes of SBS Food, Treadlie Magazine and Paper Sea Quarterly, while he was previously the editorial assistant for small footprint living publication Assemble Papers. He is also a regular contributor to Concrete Playground where he covers the latest art, culture and gastronomic happenings around town.