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Tip #5: Touch the Ground. Breathe. It’s getting harder for me to voluntarily touch the ground as I lose flexibility and get older. I remember Mom telling me a few years ago when she was still with us and had her full mind. She would often say her goal as a resident at the senior center was to stay upright, on her feet. As soon as people fell it began the inevitable slide to the end. Each of my parents fought off using walkers, crutches and wheelchairs. They finally succumbed to one of Dad’s beautiful handmade canes but that seemed cool actually. His canes became famous in their community and they seemed to make hobbling around a little more dignified! The advise I’m about to give you is not about the consequences of aging and the challenges with gravity, and for the older ones among my readership I feel lead to say “don’t do this at home alone!”
The point I want to make here is the invitation to be fully present in the moment. And get this. Taking beautiful photos can only be done by applying this principle when you pull your camera out. Good photography is aided by being fully present to a situation, the place you are standing. Start by doing this–breathe deeply. Exhale, inhale. Repeat this slowly. With each exhale allow things you are thinking about to be released. With your inhale consciously put yourself in your immediate context. What’s around you? What do you smell? See? Feel? Hear? In spiritual practices sometimes a director will guide participants to self-consciously imagine their place, where one is sitting or standing. Imagine, visualize tracing a path starting from the top of your head and follow your body– bones, muscles, tendons, cells all the way down to the bottom of your feet. Try it. It’s really amazing and helpful to get grounded. Finish with literally looking at the ground you are standing on. Feel the pressure of your weight on the bottom of your feet touching the ground.
Good photography requires being fully present in a place. It’s being present in a location that fosters the discipline of paying attention. Seeing things you might not see immediately. Seeing things you wouldn’t see if your purpose was to “take a snapshot.” Too often people take pictures like they eat food–they gobble what’s in front of them really fast. Slowing down, savoring, breathing deeply, getting grounded in a place is a discipline.
This principle has much to offer life when we encounter tough places too. Recently, after a heavy week of travel and difficult situations, I realized I was carrying a weight in my chest. It was hard to breathe deeply and I was not very present to myself or my immediate context. But I’ve been here before. I soon remembered that I’ve taken some of my best photos in times like these. I needed to get outside and touch the ground. I needed to practice breathing deeply. So that’s what I did.
Photography forces me OUT of problem solving and analyzing. It gets me out of my head and office, out of my clutter and the act/react cycle of conflict situations. We can’t always escape difficulties. Nope. But beyond the tensions that life delivers, or after a tough stretch, I am suggesting the practice of touching the ground and breathing. In life. And it so happens that this will help you take better photos. Get outside. Find something beautiful. Stay in that place for awhile.
Curiously, when I do this and then post my photos it brings me back into the circles I just left. Some of the same elements and same people are still there but I’ve changed. My perspective is different (there’s another photography term). And the photos I’ve taken often elicit positive interaction with others, a new civility. It brings us all to our better selves. Maybe this is why I like to take naps outside. Getting grounded is part of taking better pictures and living better.
For more on Soulful Photography, tips and perspectives go here.