Presence, to me, is the feeling that you are in your body and you are where you are. It's the relative absence of thoughts and worries, you are awake to the moment you are living, you feel at peace and can sense some sort of connectedness with everything around you.
Somewhere I’m trying to bring myself back to presence is through photography, I’ve been using it as an activity to stop thinking and start being present to the beauty around me.
I notice the results are different when I’m very mind-dominated taking photos, trying to get ‘the shot’, focusing on results versus when I’m just present and there in the place. With presence, I’m better able to sense and appreciate the little details, moments and scenes that make that place special, and I can mostly capture them through my lens.
Some people would say the act of taking photos makes you not present at all. I’ve talked to travellers who say they have to go weeks without picking up the camera so that they can feel like they’re present to all the things they’re witnessing. But for me, I’m always going to take photos and in some ways it makes me more present. I think I use my camera as a way to appreciate and acknowledge the beauty in places, moments, people and things.
I’m no photography expert but this is just the advice I give myself when I need it, on practising presence through photography...
Switch Everything Off
Leaving your phone at home or at least turning it off can help, you really don’t have to answer your emails or check instagram for the next little while.
Take a Few Moments to Centre
Try to take just a few moments to centre and stop your whirring mind before you walk in to wherever you're taking pictures. Close your eyes and clear your mind as best you can. I think this is especially important if you're meeting someone inside.
Expectations and judgement kill everything. Don't demand of yourself that you take incredible pictures. Go in with the idea that if you get the shots you like, you get them, if not, you can come back another time.
I remember my photographer friend remarking to me once when we were taking pictures, ‘I can’t believe you check your photos while we’re still here, I can’t even look at them until I get home or I get too critical; it kills it for me completely.’ And I've carried this idea of hers with me since, that this is a process that should be treated with a little reverence, care and non-judgment.
Just Be There
Take some time just being in the space before you pick up the camera. Give your travel/meal companion some attention (or yourself if you're alone) and experience the space how you would really experience it without the camera in your hand and face.
Wait For Inspiration to Arrive
Wait until you feel inspired before you pick up the camera. Trust inspiration will come, trust you will notice things that you want to capture and express about the place through the imagery, don’t panic and snap, snap, snap away. Wait for the moments and scenes to present themselves to you a little.
Don’t Force It
Don't try to look for things to photograph, stop seeing the table or the chair or the door, stop looking for objects. To move into presence, stop thinking and try to sense the beingness of the scene…what makes that scene really feel like that place? How is it unique? What stands out to you as just being so typical of that place?
Spend Time Appreciating
Move around the space calmly appreciating what you can see and what is unfolding before you. Capture what you appreciate.
Another benefit of being very present while you photograph is that your timing is better. I think you can sense when a person is about to walk through the shot perfectly, you can be alert to that perfect moment presenting itself better if you let flow.
Acknowledge The Process
Acknowledge that you might not appreciate the photos you’re taking in the moment. Photography is an art form after all (even if you're just photographing a coffee shop, you're still creating) and artists are always critical of their work.
Wait until you get home, even give it a few hours before you look at your photos. You’re not a subjective viewer, you’re very involved in the creation of these images so you might not see them for what they are until you’ve created space to become objective.
Don’t Wait Too Long To Edit and Publish
Don't leave it too long to process and publish your photos. I find the longer I wait to make sense of the photos, edit them, put them into a story or whatever their final destination may be, the less connected I feel to the photos and the experience itself. I get further and further away from the memory of the moment as time goes on and I think it can show in the final product, or at the very least it makes the process more labour-intensive as you try to put yourself back in that moment.