Mel Collie


How to slow down the mind to take better images

About a year ago I was coming back down to Cornwall from an 18 month stay in North Wales.

This weekend I had the opportunity to have a day there again. Having just been to a workshop run by 2 of my photography heroes, Doug Chinnery & Paul Kenny, my mountain guide other half came with me to visit old climbing haunts at the Peak District followed by a quick visit to North Wales before coming back down to Cornwall.

One of the places I wanted to visit was an old slate quarry near Llanberis.

It is vast. I could spend a year there and barely scratch the surface.

What I noticed this time around was a whole lot more.

The walk from the van to the quarry was so interesting. It was as though a layer had been removed from my vision. I started to notice the lychen on the rocks, their shapes, their layers, the detail in the ferns, the layers of the trees, feel the wind, hear the trees, notice the shapes of the grasses as the wind changed direction.

A path I usually just walked up, to get to a place I wanted to photograph, had now become a place I slowed down to see.

To pause.
To examine
To see the simple compositions amongst the chaos.

The pathway was revealing its beauty.

The barriers were lifting.

Seeing means using your senses.

Using your whole self to see, not just your eyes.

A barrier of expectation of what you will do with the photo, where to post it on social media, who will like it, who wont, if it will win a competition, can all cloud the final image we capture.

How can we capture the innocence of a child again , lose ourselves, forget about "me", be lost in the light, the magic, the dance of the universe?

For some of us, it might be an easy thing to just slip into this childlike exploration of the wold around us.

For some of us, it might be a struggle. As with many things, its a practice.

When we go on a diet, we don't do it for one day and expect to have a result and thats it, we practice often. As with an exercise programme, we don't practice for one day and expect a result, we practice as often as we think we need to, then change our expectations as we need to..adjust, notice, adjust again, notice.

Want some help? I've labeled every point as number one.

1. When you learn about photography you learn about rules. How many can you list? The rule of thirds is many others are there? Sharpness. Tripods. Histogram..theres quite a few...
Break the rules. In life there are many rules - one of those is that breakfast is the most important meal of the day is one of them, however, for many of us, me included, it isn't true, happier to eat at lunchtime or later in the day, breakfast leaves me feeling tired, so I don't often eat it, I don't play by those rules. Rules like these are very general sweeping statements. They may work for many and get good results, but when they start to grate and you NOTICE, then thats the time to LISTEN and change. Practice change.

1. Remove labels. Our language labels everything so we can communicate with each other. Remove labels so a Daisy isn't a Daisy, it has shapes, it has edges, it has texture, the textures change, the lines change, the depth changes. Look closer and take time to look. Turn it upside down, sideways, in water, on its own, with other things, in darkness, in bright light, under a microscope, on a scanner. What colours can you see in its leaves?

1. Empty your mind...Seated, hands on lower belly, breathe into your hands. Breathe out through the mouth. Slow each breath down as you take in more air, and exhale more air. Notice when the mind wanders and what is taking it away from the practice of noticing the breath. Notice how often the mind is wanting to take you away from this simple practice. Notice that. A busy mind will distract. Imagine that as you wander the woods or beach looking for the image of the day. Imagine what you are missing as it pulls you away from noticing the breath and slowing down.

1. Observe. Look at an object. For this I chose a sultana as we were baking cakes at the time and there was a jar in the kitchen. Just one sultana in my hand. I looked at it as if it was the last one on the planet, the most precious thing in the world. Every line, as it curved, every shadow that created, every dent, every wrinkle, where the smooth patches were, the changes in colour, the texture changes, how it felt, how it felt if I was small enough to wander along the lines as if they were roads, pathways, or if they were streams and i could swim them. Which area did I like the most/least.

Just a few simple ways to slow down and observe, to see, to notice.

Every chapter is chapter one, empty your cup so you see with no preconceived ideas of what there "should" be.

Everything presents itself as an opportunity for visual exploration.

Its up to you to notice.

Mel Collie

Photo workshops which focus on the workings of the mind, not the working of the camera.