Art is a collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does the better.

— André Gide

Last spring, I was invited by my friend Melodye to take part in a yoga and mindfulness retreat in the Santa Cruz mountains, and to offer a workshop to participants introducing the concept of Contemplative Photography. I have taught workshops about creative journaling, but I had never thought about offering anyone lessons in photography – that’s best left for the professionals, not someone who just messes around with a camera and occasionally gets a good photo in the process.

But then, the point of this particular workshop wasn’t meant to be about photography, so much as it was about contemplation. Though I’d never heard or paid attention to the phrase “contemplative photography” before, it pretty much sums up how I operate. I go for a walk somewhere, look at the world through my camera lens, and push the button when I see something interesting. My problem was, how do you teach something  you just do instinctively on your own to a group of other people? I had to be somewhat more organized than, “go out and take some pictures.”

I won’t go into the all the iterations of thought that I tried out, but in the end, I managed to put together a simple lesson plan to introduce the concept and quickly get people out there shooting mindfully.  I even made a simple pocket-sized card for the participants, laminated, as a way they could carry the simple lessons with them.

Here’s what was on the front:

In my view you cannot claim to have seen something until you have photographed it.

– Emile Zola

1. Be an observer, not an interpreter
2. Know your camera
3. Detach from judgment
4. Rule of thirds
5 Try another angle
6. Your feet are the best zoom
7 . Exposure = ISO, Aperture, Shutter speed
And on the reverse:
Photo Walk Themes:

In retrospect, this list seems kind of random and mixed up. I see technical info (2, 6, 7) and artistic recommendations (4, 5) alongside contemplative encouragement(1, 3). Though I don’t don’t disagree with any of the little tidbits of advice I’ve offered, neither can I look back at the list and get a clear picture of what vision I was trying to offer in the 90 minutes we were granted that day.

I guess whatever I was doing worked, as I’e been told participants really enjoyed the session. Of course, even the worst workshop in the world would have been enjoyable, wandering among the redwoods as we were!

In order to get a better grip on the what i’m doing for the next time I teach this subject, I’m going to be writing about the different topics I listed on that card, and some different ones that I’ve come up with since. And yes, I will be teaching this again! You can join Melodye and I next June, along with author Jeannine Atkins and other special guests for Candles in the Window: A Writing and Yoga Retreat (with Chocolate!). Here are the details from the website:

A Writing and Yoga Retreat (With Chocolate)

candles in the window

Just as yoga helps bring us home to our bodies, writing helps bring us home to ourselves. Drawing inspiration from both disciplines, we’ll create a nurturing space in which to explore new ideas and develop our own essential truths. Here, our personal experiences serve as traveling guides, and our imaginations glow like candles in the window, inviting us home.

Retreat Location and Itinerary

Nestled into the redwood groves of Soquel, California, Land of Medicine Buddha is the perfect place in which to nurture ourselves, and to feed our creative urges! It’s about 80 miles south of San Francisco, and 8 miles from the sparkling beaches in Santa Cruz.

Together in this beautiful environment, we’ll enjoy:

      • Writing workshops (guided and unstructured activities for writers in all genres)
      • Gentle yoga classes, designed for beginning to advanced yoga practitioners
      • Photography walk
      • Chocolate-infused writing session, courtesy of EarthHoney Chocolates
      • Access to the Tibetan Buddhist Library materials and the Wish Fulfilling Temple
      • Six farm-to-table, vegetarian meals
      • 2 nights’ lodging (single or double-occupancy rooms; prices adjusted accordingly)

You may also schedule a massage, collaborate on your writing projects, or take a 6.5 mile run/hike through the Enchanted Forest. Avail yourself of these experiences and more, in this transformative place!

Please click to learn more – early bird registration is open now, and I’d love to see you there! In the meantime, you can look forward to (hopefully) weekly posts on the topics in this lesson plan. If you have any feedback or additional topics you’d like to see, please let me know.

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