Writing about Photographs through the Senses

* Inspired by the post, How to Unlock all Five Senses in your Writing from The Write Practice.
On one of the first spring-like days of 2015, I went to a park downtown, sat at a picnic table and wrote from the perspective of all my senses before taking the photograph above, which I called Magnificent Tree Shadow.

“The key to unlocking the five senses is the question behind it. The question of why you are seeing, hearing, tasting, hearing, or feeling something. Once you’ve established the sense, ask the question, What does this mean?”

Sight – What did I see? What did I not see? Describe the details.

Brand new picnic tables, puddle remnants from the rain in the previous days, bright sunshine, this magnificent tree shadow, grass still brown and yellow but starting to green, cemetery in the distance, people walking along Queen Street and in the park, children playing, the bandshell, St. Mark’s Church, parked cars, blue sky, no clouds, muddy spots, the Moffatt Inn, a white house, little wind.

Taste – Use metaphor that unlocks emotions and memories.

It was a taste of spring, bringing back memories of ice cream and iced coffee from Balzac’s, two of my favourite things.

Smell – All of them, good and bad.

Fresh air, car fumes, lake water.

Sound – Use onomatopoeia. Describe all sounds, external and internal.

Motorcycles revving, car horns honking, people talking, kids squealing with delight, motors humming, swings squeaking, slight breeze, stillness within, mind and heart taking it all in.

Touch – Use temperature and texture.

Warmth on the skin, coolness in the breeze, smooth wood on the new table, soft earth beneath my feet, hair  blowing like feathers on my face.

How did this exercise affect my experience and the taking of the photograph?

I wouldn’t have seen the shadow as I did unless I sat down where I did. Working with my senses helped me to experience and inhabit the moment completely.

It was a taste of spring
Bright sunshine, puddle remnants, warm breeze
Children shrieking, people walking and talking,
Motorcycles revving, swings swaying,
I stopped and sat,
Felt the soft ground beneath my feet
And that’s when I saw
The magnificent shadow


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Niagara-on-the-Lake Abstracts – Spring Green

One of my current projects is to create abstract photographs of my hometown of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada. With abstract photographs, we try to reflect the mood or emotions or qualities of a place. Each Tuesday, I’ll present a new image from the project.


rain, green, Kim Manley Ort

Springtime Rains

As I anxiously await spring in Niagara-on-the-Lake, I return to this photograph taken during my first spring here. While the spring rains have started, the brilliant greens have not yet arrived. This view will be available to me again in about a month.

As this is a rich, agricultural area, the spring rains are oh, so important. Because of them, plants, flowers, vines, and trees grow well and abundantly.

I took this photograph through my front window screen and purposely blurred the image to emphasize the raindrops and the green. The screen helps create a textural, abstract image.

“From a meaning of colors perspective, green is also the color of growth, the color of spring, of renewal and rebirth. It renews and restores depleted energy. It is the sanctuary away from the stresses of modern living, restoring us back to a sense of well being. This is why there is so much of this relaxing color on the earth, and why we need to keep it that way.” ~ The Color Green, Empower Yourself with Color Psychology

Green is necessary for my health, which is why spring is my favourite month. It makes me feel full of hope and optimism. It’s cleansing.

How does the color make you feel?


Niagara-on-the-Lake is a tourist town. It’s surrounded by water – Lake Ontario on one side and the Niagara River on the other. The world famous Niagara Falls are only twenty miles down the road.

It has a world class theatre called the Shaw Festival, which draws thousands from April through November.

This town was the first capital of Canada and one of the major battlegrounds for the War of 1812. You can see re-enactments at Fort George. The U.S. counterpart, Fort Niagara, can be seen across the river.

This is one of the best agricultural areas in all of Canada, known for its fruit – grapes especially, and is now home to more than 100 wineries.


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How Habits are Related to Expectations

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, has come out with a new book called Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives.

On this website, I talk a lot about developing contemplative habits, especially through photography. I’ve written about the book, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Habits like curiosity, openness, and humility are much more abstract than losing ten pounds.

Rubin’s book intrigues me because she discovered that how we develop a habit depends on how we handle expectations in general. She examined the existing books on habits and came up with four very different ways (or tendencies) that people respond to expectations. Knowing which of the four tendencies you lean towards determines how you should go about creating a habit.

The four tendencies: upholders, questioners, obligers, and rebels.

insta_Upholder* Upholders respond readily to both outer expectations and inner expectations. They don’t need deadlines or supervision; they keep themselves on track.

* Questioners question all expectations, and will meet an expectation only if it’s justified, so that it becomes an inner expectation. Questioners want to know why a task should be done this way—and whether it should be done at all.

* Obligers respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations. They need deadlines, late fees, supervision, and accountability partners.

* Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike. They want to do a task their own way.

Via Habits Downloads. You can take the quiz here to determine which tendency you lean towards.

I am without doubt an upholder. I work best if guided by inner expectations. I don’t really like outer expectations at all, but if I agree to do something, then I will follow through.

What intrigues me is how we can apply this kind of knowledge to developing contemplative habits. For example, if we want to be more curious, how do we do it?

In my online workshop, Adventures in Seeing, I suggest the following.

1. Ask questions.

Remember your school days – who, what, when, where, why? Look at a person, thing, situation happening now in your life and ask those questions. Did you uncover anything new by looking at it from different angles? Act like a 3 year old again and drive someone crazy with your questions. They just might be flattered by your interest.

2. Don’t make assumptions.

This is one of The Four Agreements from Don Miguel Ruiz’s famous book and it has saved me on many occasions. When you notice an assumption, clarify it by asking questions. Dig deeper and uncover details you might have missed.

3. Notice your motives and reactions.

Get curious about yourself. You will get to know yourself better and not deny the parts of you that don’t always do the right thing. On the flip side, you’ll see your positive qualities as well. One of the greatest things I’ve learned is that I can’t label myself as kind, generous, peaceful, etc. I am kind (but sometimes I’m not). I am generous (but sometimes I’m not).

4. Notice your judgments and replace them with curiosity.

Take note of your judgments. How are they limiting your world? Notice especially when you are labeling something as good, bad, boring, ugly, uninteresting. Ask yourself why you consider it that way. Chances are there is no good reason.

How would upholders, questioners, obligers, and rebels work best with these practices?

For me, an upholder, I could set myself a goal of asking one good question a day, or learn one new subject or skill every week. I could write down my judgments as I notice them, and then write about how they are limiting me. As an upholder, setting an internal goal works best.

Questioners are already curious. So, maybe they don’t need to work on this habit as much as others or perhaps they could notice when their questions are actually judgments.

Obligers prefer to have external expectations so they might sign up for a course, like Adventures in Seeing, where there are structured assignments for developing curiosity. Or, they could have an accountability partner, with whom they could share what they’ve learned by being curious, or what their judgments are.

Rebels will question why curiosity even needs to be developed. They could read a book on curiosity or take a look at scientific research on curiosity and then decide for themselves.

If you take the quiz (or know immediately which type you are), please tell us in the comments which tendency you lean towards and how you best develop the curiosity habit.

I’ll be looking at the other habits as well with regard to these tendencies in future posts.
My Favourite Curiosity Links

* Lauren Bacon teaches how to ask the right questions.
* Todd Kashdan’s TED Talk on Becoming a Mad Scientist with your Life.
* The Ecstasy of Curiosity from Jason Silva at Shots of Awe

Also, my book recommendations on contemplative habits.

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