A Toolbox for Slow Photography
“Slow Photography is the ongoing experience of an intentional, attentive, mindful, patient process of making photographs.” ~ Jim Austin Jimages.
Our thinking and imagining is often the core of our photography. Here are seven more ideas to expand our Slow Photography:
Purpose, patience and practice are the essence of Slow Photography. I believe intentional work is more interesting over time. Also, it may be that when the intention and purpose of our work is crystal clear, we create more coherent bodies of photographic artwork.
Practice techniques for patience. Take a single frame without looking at the camera back. Trust that you did it right. I have often rushed and tried to get an image too quickly, only to miss focus or compose awkwardly. When I am patient, I make better pictures. It helps to explore all angles when we photograph, framing from below and above. Waiting to press the shutter until we get a sense of rightness or aha works well. Know how a place feels, even with your eyes closed. Hear the silence within your scene. Take your time.
When I take images at the Godforsaken speed of light, the camera distracts from my full attention and I lose the sense of place.
Be deliberate with your attention. A while ago I used to say: “I was in a hurry, so I forgot to...pick one: compose, use the correct ISO, think. This is a poor excuse. Think of a pop singer. When singing the national anthem, no musician says: “I was in a hurry, so I left out two lines in the second verse.” To perform at a consistently higher level takes daily practice and this is true for Slow Photography.
When I make photographs with my undivided attention, the camera fades into the background. Photo outings become more memorable, like exquisite meals. They are not only fun, but are savored for their vivid colors, pleasant companionship, and memorable experiences.
4: Be Still
Photo tutorials tell us we should hunt and be always on the prowl for pictures. This may work well for specific ways of seeing. However, a Slow Photography approach invites us to be still and allow the image to come to us. There is no golden rule that says we must have 20 frames per second. Instead of spray and pray, let us savor and meditate. Today, with capture rates so rapid, it’s easy to be imprisoned by the earsplitting marketing myths that we should use a camera like an automatic weapon. Speed, like sharpness, easily become obsessive. A poem by David Wagoner says, when you are lost, “Stand still, the forest knows where you are. You must let it find you.”
5: Never Before Seen
Seek Vuja de, the French for the “never before seen.” Make time to notice the fleeting sensation and feeling: "I've never seen this before." This sensation happens when we do something we’ve done a hundred times before yet suddenly feel as though we’re experiencing something completely new. The idea is credited to comedian George Carlin in a book by Stanford’s Bob Sutton called Weird Ideas that Work. Sutton says “The 'Vuja de' mentality is the ability to keep shifting opinion and perception. It means shifting our focus from objects or patterns in the foreground to those in the background.”
Ask yourself, “What place do I enjoy going back to? and Where do I go, or imagine I’m going, where I’m most in my flow?” Choose places that breathe life and energy into your being. You may find your interior worries and doubts─your “me bubble”─evaporating when you are fully immersed in your chosen surroundings.
7: Be Curiously Attentive
Think of the last time you left a room to do something and could not remember it once you were in another room. This happens, in part, not because we don’t pay attention when we leave a room and go into another. It’s that we forgot the idea to which we were paying attention. To be remindful is to appropriately recall a past experience into the present in a healing manner.
Text and Photographs by Jim Austin, author. His 2020 book is SUBLIGHT: Seasons in Slow Photography.
A Sharp Lookout
Text and Photography by Jim Austin
Bill held up an HO train engine. On its cars, he put the Boy Scout oath that read: "To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight." We were touring Deltaville, Virginia, and chatting about two of Bill's passions, model railroading and the maritime museum.
An active member of the Rappahannock River Railroaders (RRR), Bill Goettle belongs to a group of model railroad craftsmen and enthusiasts. They tour and give presentations with their working O and HO setup inside a trailer. The setup includes a DIY tool for cleaning the small tracks. As Bill showed me the HO, O and G guage railroad city he called "The New Deltaville", he added props to parts of the realistic scale model.
Bill's day starts with physical therapy. At 82, his stories are like his trains, full of life and energy. A 350+ hour volunteer with the Deltaville Maritime Museum, Bill knows the history of the museum in detail. We saw a reproduction of the Explorer, Captain John Smith's 31 foot long, 22-inch draft shallop. We also boarded the F.D. Crockett, a 1924 buy boat named for its original owner Ferdinand Desota Crocket. This vessel is the last largest log boat built for power, constructed with nine logs that were shaped, fitted and fastened to form its hull. As a buy boat comes into port, its crew raise a black ball, so fishermen know to sell their catch and crops to the boat. Bill told us that crops included watermelons loaded into the vessel below decks.
Bill is a Army veteran, a mason, and a Scoutmaster for Troop 341 in Virginia. He helps Boy Scouts design and build wooden rowboats from scratch during Deltaville's Family Boat Week held each July. An avid sailor, he cruised from the Bahamas to Maine with his wife in two sailboats, an Allberg 30 and an Allied Princess 36 ketch. Bill's kindness and generosity were as sharp and strong as his experience. Conversing with him, I was reminded that staying sharp means looking out for your life long passions.
Text and photography by Jim Austin Jimages.
What do we do when our creative light goes dim?
"I'm not feeling creative with my photography", "I'm out of subjects to photograph", and "My camera's been on the shelf for a while" are all things we may feel. Indeed, dark thoughts and creative ruts happen to each of us at some time. We might even think there's nothing for us to photograph. While these thoughts are a natural part of our path, when we brood on them, a sense of self-doubt may take over.
We may feel like quitting photography altogether unless we can find our way out of the darkness of a creative rut.
One way is to st small goals that tie into our habits. When we first started taking pictures, the craft of photography probably felt bright and energetic. To reignite our craft, we need a spark. Our habits provide the fuel to get out of a rut. Since there are things we do repeatedly every day, we can harness our picture taking to these actions. Make the bed. Put on our shoes. Ride the subway or bus to work. The key is to put on our camera like a piece of clothing, and then commit to a few pictures. To escape the immobility and powerlessness of a rut, go through the motions. Get your camera shutter moving on any subject. For instance, I think: "I'm going to take five shots between the bedroom and the front door."
The subject matter can be mundane. We have to put aside ideas about "epic" "good light" and "photogenic subjects." Just make yourself, and the shutter, move. Get more oxygen to brain and minds eye, and you will be surprised by the ideas that emerge from your subconscious.
Taking a photo walk is a time proven way to reignite our process. To her delight, I walk our dog about four times a week. The camera always goes round my neck after I get shoes (and mask) on. The dog pulls me outside, and then I just snap a few shots of ordinary things along the way.
To paraphrase Thackery: "There are a thousand pictures lying within you that you don't know until you get moving and raise up your camera to shoot.”
(For my pal EB).
The dog pulls abruptly on her leash. Ahead of her, a tiny fawn flits away and bounds around a dogwood tree. Virginia rain lashed the pines moments ago, yet in minutes the sun and humidity have returned. Encompassed by emerald radiance, the world of tech, devices, speed and stress melts away and disappears.
We are walking a dog-friendly, well-marked forest trail that winds between the marsh and the Albemarle-Chesapeake Canal. We came not only to walk the dog, but to enjoy some morning forest bathing. Forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, is not about filling a tub in the trees. A health practice among the Japanese, shinrin-yoku embodies respect for the divine nature of the trees. It involves a myriad of ways to improve mental and physical health. For the Japanese, whose working culture suffers from "overwork death" (Karō shi 過労死 ), forest bathing is a way to balance stress with the benefits of immersion in nature. Studies from Japan suggest the practice can improve sleep quality, reduce heart rate, and lower cortisol levels.
Virginia is a forested state. We saunter by a diverse group of tree species. Overhead, stately pines are graced by sunlight beams. The ground is moist and needle-covered. As we walk, we pass native magnolia and sassafras. By the museum and parking lot, docent master gardeners who specialize in historic gardening are planting trees with deep roots in American history. Docents Linda Bradley and her husband have planted Eastern Redbud, Regal Prince Oak, Sweetbay Magnolia and Allegheny chinquapin (dwarf chestnut). The tulip poplar tree is also here; it was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson, who had one planted at his Monticello estate in 1807.
Two Local Heroes from Long Ago:
On the walk home, we soak up details of the Battle of Great Bridge, fought here on December 9th, 1775. Trail plaques mention heroes of the battle. Polly Miller, a single 35-year-old owner of an ordinary (or inn) served spirits and food at her establishment. Miss Polly ordered refreshments for the Patriot troops. She gave aid and comfort to injured Virginians but took charge of the British wounded as well. According to historian William S. Forrest, she saved the lives of half a dozen men.
William “Billy” Flora was cold. A rime of ice encrusted the march grasses of the Great Dismal Swamp that lay on both sides of the narrow spit of land where Flora was posted. An African-American sentry and freight company owner, Flora was the last to leave his post as the British advanced. He was crouched down in the lee of a pile of shingles next to a burnt out building. Less than 70 yards ahead, on the other side of the Great Bridge, British soldiers were about to charge. Amidst a shower of musket balls, Billy kept firing his Old Betty musket at the red-coats before he turned, crossed the causeway and lifted up a plank. This obstruction prevented the British regiment from crossing. Under fire from the Virginia Patriots, the British retreated. Flora was one of 5,000 Black free men who helped bring about American Independence.
LINK to an interactive map, click gbbattlefield.org/The Great Bridge Battlefield & Waterways History Foundation (757.482.4480.Open 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday-Friday)