Zen Camera

Zen Camera book cover
Zen Camera – the book cover that first caught my eye

Recently this book caught my eye. Well, it was the title that caught my eye first, as anything ‘Zen’ always draws me! And then it was the book cover, with a long-exposure shot of the seashore and the sky in black and white – elegant, uncluttered, with a Zen feel to it. I was curious to find out more!

Disclaimer: I am not advertising this book. I don’t know the author or the publishers. My interest is purely in my own interaction with the text and the enjoyment and illumination I have gleaned from reading it and following the exercises, albeit in my own way!

I’ve been seriously engaged with my camera(s) for 7 years now, and I am always on the lookout for ways to refresh my photography, to quite literally keep my photography ‘fresh’. Usually I collect books centred on the work of famous photographers, past and present, or on a specific area of technique – but this promised something rather different. Book shopping for me has to be online, as I live a little too remotely to access a bookshop – so I read online reviews and decided to take the chance, and bought it. Not a Kindle version, but the real thing, as I do still love the physical experience of a book – and this one looked like the design and physical layout might be rather special, and an experience not to be missed!

I have not been disappointed. More than a month on and I am still revelling in the first two ‘lessons’, reading and re-reading, and engaging with the text and the exercises that round off each lesson. There is so much to enjoy, to think about and ponder, so I decided to write about it all as I go along. My division of topics here will follow the six lessons of the book, but picking out parts that resonate especially for me.

1) Daily Practice I expected to skip these first steps that are designed to get the reader into the habit of using the camera every day, regularly, to snap everything that catches his/her eye. To start seeing as a ‘photographer’. I do something similar already – but I was surprised when I took a trip down memory lane!

2) An Open Mind Getting into the ‘zone’ – the right frame of mind for the ‘magic’ to work. For me this is the centre of the refreshing experience I want to find through the book. Mushin is the Japanese name for the state where the mind is calm, uncluttered, no distractions, no rush.

3) Show – Don’t Tell Learning the language of photography. This set me pondering the wider implications of the question – why don’t we teach our children visual literacy? We teach them verbal literacy – to speak, read and write. But where is the teaching of how to see?

Back to Basics Section.
A look at Ulrich’s 5 basic elements that together give us the visual photography ‘tools’ we use every day. He divides it into: The Frame – The Light – The moment – Colour and tonality – Treatment of the subject.
Sounds easy and straightforward! But the elements are all interlocking, and each covers a whole lot more than you think!
So I’ll still use Ulrich’s division – just separating out one more element, Composition, to look at in depth. And to make it easier to navigate through the elements I’ll split them into 1 or 2 elements per page, then link on to more in-depth pages. That way you can take a quick look, and move on – or click through and go a bit deeper. So:

4) Back to Basics 1 – This covers The Frame and Composition. Just a few thoughts on both, and how I think of them and use them myself. Then there are extra pages that delve a little deeper into these two areas:
a) The Frame – and how to use it
b) Composition – and some thoughts on shooting trees and ‘still life’
c) Negative Space – some more thoughts on composition

5) Back to Basics 2 – This covers The Light. Light is the absolute basis of seeing, and the absolute heart of photography! A few thoughts on this essential subject, and looking a little deeper into some interesting areas:
a) Shooting with natural light
b) Shooting with artificial light
c) Mixing natural and artificial light sources
d) The elusive Bokeh and lens flare

Back to Basics 3 and beyond (still to come)
d) The Moment
e) Colour and tonality
f) Treatment of the subject

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