Last week I dared myself to enter the BBC Countryfile photo competition, partly just to try but also to make me look for the unusual a little bit more when I’m taking my photographs every day. Whilst on that mission, it made me think about how much photography means to me and what an integral part it now plays in my life.
One of the photographs I entered, these beautiful burnet moths.
These days, it’s instinctive, my eye is trained for those angles or seeing things in a frame and it becomes a physical need almost to reach for my camera, I rarely second guess it, if I see it, it gets captured as if I’m permanently on the hunt for that deeply pleasing image or wanting to retain the visual memory I’m seeing in-front of my eyes!
It has become second nature to me and something that I find incredibly satisfying, the only frustration being if my target flies off, or the sun goes in spoiling the light.
I’ve always been into taking photos, mainly of my family, events, the dog etc, but never as obsessively as this and it’s all because my daily routine has changed and brought me back home, to nature.
My son’s reaction to the beautiful sunset over Holme Moss last Summer (i.e it’s good!!)
Bluebell as a kitten, smiling for the camera and a happy Barley of course, who gets a lot of the credit for my journey back into photography
Since getting the dog 3 years ago, it’s thrown me back into my childhood, where I spent more hours in the woods, climbing trees and swinging over rivers than I did at home, often returning covered in mud, much to my Mum’s dismay!
I was a true Tom Boy and learned everything about nature; birds, bugs, creatures and seasons from my Dad. Friends and family find it odd that I can name virtually all the birds I see, spot a buzzard from miles away, see a vole trying to cross a road or a fox sneaking over a wall that they never see.
From gulls spotted over head on Miami Beach to the striking caterpillars of Yorkshire, I’m always on the look out!
I didn’t realise it at the time, but from a young age that was my training in being highly vigilant and observant, and it’s come back to me in full force now that I’m back to daily walks in the countryside. I spy the tiniest of ladybirds, caterpillars and moths, always on the look out for what each season brings. I look up and find the squirrels nests or see jays swooping from branch to branch and in those moments, when I’m looking and truly seeing, that is all I’m thinking about.
Adding photography into those moments and that sense of being in the moment is heightened. Some people believe that by taking the photo, you are removing yourself from being fully present, hiding behind a lens but I think it is the opposite.
To me it bringing more clarity and focus, you’re zooming in and seeing, feeling the detail, wondering how a bee goes about its day, waiting for a red-crested grebe to re-surface so you can capture it’s unique silhouette out on the water, understanding the value of patience to get that perfect butterfly shot.
You’re constantly noticing the little things such as the way the light falls on an image and if you are out there often enough, you really start to recognise how the land changes through the seasons, the pattern and natural order of things and that makes you feel more grounded as a human being, part of the bigger picture. These are the benefits I’ve discovered, and why I always come back from these walks with a sense of calm and readiness for the rest of the day – it’s simply my booster tonic.
From the way the light streams through to my favourite bench in the woods to cow parsley silhouetted against a perfect blue sky….these are the sights that make my soul sing.
Yesterday I met up with an old friend who has also taken up photography as a means to making sure he keeps fit and gets out for a walk every day ! You can see his lovely work here @richard.coomber
Such has his love grown for photography, as a way of making his walks far more interesting, that he’s even now bought a macro lens and is, in his words, getting ‘slightly obsessed with it’, claiming it’s now taking over his life!
And I can fully understand that, because it is so fully absorbing, you could easily get lost in it for hours! For those of us who then share their photos online or even just print them off and put them in the album, just by looking back at them or looking again when you are editing them and uploading, you get a double / triple dose of the joy and satisfaction you originally received when taking them. Plus, it doesn’t even cost anything, it’s just a natural endorphin-enducing activity!
But don’t just take my word for it, science also backs this up, for example in one particular article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
“We show that, relative to not taking photos, photography can heighten enjoyment of positive experiences by increasing engagement.”
The researchers conducted a series of nine experiments involving over 2,000 participants. They were asked to participate in an activity (like taking a bus tour or eating in a food court) and were either instructed to take photos during the activity or not. In a survey afterwards, almost every participant who was asked to take photographs, reported higher levels of enjoyment.
Photography also opens doors into other creative hobbies (hence the main photo!). For me it’s not just the taking of the pictures that enables me to use my creativity every day, constantly searching for something visually new and unique to post on my @soothedbynature Instagram account, it also gets me thinking how to caption it, thus making me use my writing creative ideas too.
Sometimes that may be linked to how I’m feeling emotionally or what’s going on in my life at the time. Other times it may be linked to what’s going on in the outside world such as awareness days, big events or the seasons changing, again I try and switch it up each time so my followers don’t get bored!
The only downside to photography is when you become too self-critical or judgemental of yourself, there’s a great article about that here and how you can start to recognise your thought pattern and learn from it on the National Geographic website.
Plus of course there’s ‘comparisonitits’ but the great thing about photography is that you’ll start to find you own style and favourite subjects, for example Sarah Mason who I took a photography retreat course with, loves taking pictures of children and families, but in quite a dark and light style which really conveys emotion, click here for examples of her work to see what I mean.
So my advice for anyone who wants to start doing something creative is that photography is a great place to start. It’s so easily accessible, everyone has a phone with a camera and that’s really all you need at the start and you can get really good results.
You don’t need to wait for the paint to dry or to spend hours writing a master-piece but quite often photography can lead on to and inspire these other creative avenues too. I use my photos plenty of times as a reference for a painting or drawing.
My little ink sketch of this photo last week!
As with anything you start though, don’t expect to be an expert overnight, the joy is in the learning and the ability to laugh at yourself if something doesn’t quite work. The brilliance of photography is that it is instant and will take 2 seconds, or maybe a minute at the start, to rectify something or improve it.
For those wanting to get even more creative with editing or erasing things like annoying blue spots, there are lots of free Aps on the market, I use Snapseed which is really simple to use.
Don’t forget photography doesn’t have to be a lonesome pass-time either, grab a friend and create a challenge between yourselves, or take the kids over the summer holidays and do a six-week photography project on a topic of their choice.
This is another creative way to fill those weeks, get them outside in fresh air and will make a fab diary for you to look back on in years to come. You could also print off their favourite photos they’ve taken and put in a frame in their room – giving them a sense of pride of what they achieved, and of course it will bring them added joy just looking at it.
So, what’s stopping you? Get out there, be curious, stop and smell the roses so to speak and notice what sights make your spirit soar then capture it and bank it for a future happiness hit. It’s the perfect time of year to start with so much to see and the weather being kinder. It can literally be anything too, not necessarily my favourite subject!
It could be boats or buildings, cats or Thai food, the colour red or interesting doors (as above!), or you can even create interesting flat-lays to photograph to really challenge your imagination. The list is endless so take your time to find out what your passion is, what you’re naturally drawn to, what fills you with joy and you’ll love it all the more.
Do let me know how you get on, share your photos with me and happy snapping over the Summer!
Until next time…
Juliet, The Curious Creative
Ps I’m going to see Holly Tucker’s ‘Conversations of Inspiration’ Live podcast event this week in Manchester with some friends! So excited, will tell you all about it next time!
PPs Writing this has given me an idea for a Summer photo # project challenge via my @soothedbynature Instagram account, please follow and watch out for updates, likely to start on the 1st of August.