I’d set my camera’s intervalometer to take 400 shots at 8-second intervals, I’d be at this spot for some time. Before me in the far distance stood the Tanzawa mountains, unfortunately, obscured by clouds today and just out of reach of my 16-55 lens Fuji lens. However, tonight I was here for the sunset and the rolling clouds. With the camera set and securely clamped to a wall on the rooftop car-park of my local shopping centre, I took a deep breath and watched the evening clouds float by one by one as if being pulled by invisible strings. The glowing sky illuminated by the last light of the day’s sun, as my part of the Earth rotated into the cool darkness of the night. With nothing to do as my camera went about its business, I stood there, observing the evening sky and marvelling at nature’s generosity. She provides us with a sunrise and a sunset every day, I often wonder how I manage to miss so many of them. But not tonight, I’m here and absorbed in this pocket of time. No thoughts of work, past memories or future plans could penetrate my mind and disturb the moment, I felt truly present.
Photographs are usually captured in fractions of a second, no sooner have you pressed the button, the pleasant sound of the shutter signals the end of the moment and it’s onto the next composition. But nature moves slowly and should be enjoyed at a leisurely pace.
How can we combine the mechanical speed and precision of photography and the slowness of the natural world, I’ve recently been practising two approaches that allow for a much slower and contemplative pace and I’d like to share them with you.
The first approach is shooting a time-lapse, that’s what I was doing on the roof of my local shopping centre. Ironically a time-lapse, when played back actually speeds up time, the clouds travel across the sky in seconds, but actually capturing a sequence of still images for a time-lapse is a long process measured in minutes not seconds, giving you plenty of time to be present and enjoy the passing of time and subtle changes of nature.
Many digital cameras have a time-lapse function but if not you can buy an intervalometer, they aren’t that expensive, you can set the number of images you want to take and the time between each shot, you will also need a tripod. All that’s left is to forget the past and not think about the future, just be present in the moment.
My second approach is long exposure photography and my favourite subject to capture is water, especially the many beautiful flowing Tanzawa rivers and waterfalls; the sound of flowing water and the roar of a cascade are music to my ears and increase the pleasure of the moment ten-fold. The silky dreamy images have an air of magic about them and always bring a smile to my face. To make a long exposure you need to limit the amount of light hitting your sensor (or film), to do this use an ND (neutral density filter) they come in a range of densities. Blocking the light will increase the amount of time the shutter needs to be open for a correct exposure. I have a variable ND which lets me dial in how much light to block, from 1 stop of light to up to 10 depending on what effect I want.
If you haven’t tried these techniques please give them a try and enjoy the time in-between pressing the shutter button and the end of the exposure or time-lapse. It’s the perfect chance to really absorb the scene in front of you and notice some of the smaller details.
Do you have any other approaches to mindful photography? Please let me know below.