10 Tips to Soulful Photography. #1: Slow Down

Wait for your soul to speak before you snap a picture. See the story behind this shot below.

You can do this with your cell phone!

Tip #1. Slow Down: The Discipline of Thinking before you Snap

What do you see? Wait…..

wait for it…..

What do YOU see?

Not what does the last great picture you looked at look like. There’s a frequent knee jerk reaction when we see an eye popping photo. We think, and many ask me (because a lot of my photos catch people’s eye perhaps ;-), where did you get that picture? If the questioner is a photography geek like me and shoots a lot with a serious camera, they want to know the f-stop, focal length, shutter speed, time of day. But, you who aren’t geeks start to get this uneasy feeling come over you–“I can never do this” you say to yourself. “I don’t even have the right equipment!” Maybe you’re thinking, what’s an f-stop anyway? Looks like a four-letter word.

This first tip to soulful photography is for all of us, the geeks and those who just snap photos with their phone. I do both by the way. We need to slow down Pause long enough to connect to your own sense of what is happening around you. What new thing do you in particular see or feel about a visual canopy in front of you. This is very important. After all, its YOUR eyes, your soul, your inner voice and not someone else’s that is in your place right now. Soulful photography is an invitation to unleash your own authentic vision and to share it with others. This requires slowing down enough to think before you snap. Maybe you should just even stop now. Listen to your heart.

What moves you? An expression on an elder person that is contemplating the end of their life and how they want to be remembered? What can you detect in the wrinkles on their face or hands? Did they smile a lot through life? Did they work at a desk, or love making things with their hands? Can you see this by carefully, slowly observing the person in front of you? Alternatively, what are the places you have on your bucket list? Where do you want to travel and why? What do you want to experience? What comes to mind when you think of those places? I bet a picture has played a part in that attraction.

These questions are only a start. Famed landscape photographer, Art Wolfe, recently said in a class I took that his success comes mostly from being innately curious and having an insatiable desire to learn about the world. He studies his subjects before he leaves the front door. Your answers to some of these questions point to the necessary work for anyone wanting to add something memorable to their photos. This is the beginning process of adding soul to your photography.

I love something Parker Palmer wrote about listening to one’s soul. It applies to our topic of Soulful Photography.

“In our culture, we tend to gather information in ways that do not work very well when the source is the human soul: the soul is not responsive to subpoenas or cross-examinations. At best it will stand in the dock only long enough to plead the Fifth Amendment. At worst it will jump bail and never be heard from again. The soul speaks its truth only under quiet, inviting, and trustworthy conditions. The soul is like a wild animal – tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient, and yet exceedingly shy. If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is to go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out. But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek.” (Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak)

The Skinny on this Photo:

I took this photo on Tiger Mountain several years ago of a friend, Bradley Bergfalk. We both have hiked this trail a hundred times. We’ve commented how this trail was important for both of us in times of personal crisis. The exertion of climbing 2000 feet grounded us in a deeper sense of God’s faithfulness and the goodness around us despite some of the difficult stretches we’ve experienced in life. I took this on the descent when hearts are lighter after the hard work out. This section of the forest always conveyed something mysterious to me. Walking into the presence of these trees was like an act of confronting our own demons. But we both came to a point where we felt we could look at the long shadows cast by these tall trees and say, “I’m OK.”

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