Zen Habits for Photographers
Sarang Naik shares a few zen tips to improve your photographer’s mind.
Zen is an ancient Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism that puts emphasis on the practice of medition and intuition. It is difficult to explain Zen in words as it is more of an attitude, a way of being, than a belief. But even today, a lot of people find its teachings extremely helpful in making their lives better.
I surmised that if these Zen practices can be applied to life in general, then they can also be applied to photography in particular. So here are a few Zen habits we can practice to become better photographers.
“Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.” – Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk.
Our minds have a tendency to be stuck in the past or the future. We forget that they don’t really exist; we live only in the present moment.
It often happens that you go out for a shoot, but you spend half the time thinking about yesterday’s events or worrying about that important meeting you have to attend on Monday. Cut all that out. Quiet your mind. Let the image present itself.
This is where meditation is very helpful. And no, you don’t have to sit cross-legged and chant mantras; that is just one way of doing it. I find the very act of photographing as a kind of meditation. I become aware of everything that’s happening at that particular moment. When I notice distracting thoughts forming in my mind I nip them in the bud. When my head is clear, I’m free to make meaningful images.
“All true artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place of no-mind, from inner stillness.” – Eckhart Tolle, German writer and public speaker.
Productivity is overrated, period. When you are racing against time, you can either have more or better, you cannot have both. They say, “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.” To that, I like to add, “Be still and all the birds will come and perch beside you.”
There’s an art in doing nothing. How many times have you managed to stop frantically making pictures of the sunset and just sat down to enjoy it? Or stood in the corner of the street and just watched the world go by? If you practice this stillness regularly, you will begin to see a subtle change in the way you perceive photography.
Accept Change, Don’t Fight It
“To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.” – Alan Watts, British philosopher, writer and speaker.
Things can go wrong in so many ways when you are out shooting – it begins to rain, your camera won’t start or you realize you forgot the spare batteries at home. The list is endless.
Your default reaction in such situations is to fume and sulk and ruin your whole day. Or, you can just smile and make the most of it. DSLR stopped working? Take out the cellphone and continue shooting. Caught in a shower? Find a shelter and photograph the storm. Battery juice drained out? Pack your bag and just enjoy the view!
“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” – Henry David Thoreau, American author and philosopher.
Life, over time, tends to get cluttered and so does your photography. Equipment, projects and photos pile up until you can’t bear the weight anymore. Don’t let yourself reach that point. Find out what is essential for your photography, then chuck the rest out the window.
Sell that lens you haven’t used for a year. Stop trying to break your head over when and how you’ll get your next big break and just go shoot. Commit yourself to just one project at a time. Think hard before you buy new gear – do you really need it? Have you truly appreciated what you already have? Have the discipline to say ‘no’ to all the things that are superfluous.
Stay Humble, Stay Patient
“Two things define you. Your patience when you have nothing and your attitude when you have everything.” – Anonymous.
Perhaps the most profound thing that the Zen philosophy teaches us is that in the grand scheme of things, we are completely powerless beings. It is this realization that humbles you more than anything else. And this is so important for us to remember as photographers – to stay humble and true to our vision regardless of the kind of feedback our work receives from the world.
Patience is, doubtless, an essential quality of a photographer. Spending hours on location in the hopes of getting the perfect picture is a life-lesson in itself. When you learn to be patient, you become more tolerant of failures. In fact, you realize that they are a necessary part of the process.
There you go, these five lessons will not only help you become a better photographer but also a better human being. Maybe you’ve already realised that the two are one and the same.
This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Better Photography.Tags: patience, Buddhism, Practice, Sarang Naik, Zen, Zen philosophy, Zen Habits for Photographers, Thich Nhat Hanh, Eckhart Tolle, Alan Watts, Henry David Thoreau, present, present moment, stillness, simplify, simplicity, humble