Following the Light

white rose, t

Tropism - The turning or bending movement of an organism or a part toward or away from an external stimulus, such as light, heat, or gravity. ~ Free Online Dictionary

This characteristic of flowers (plants) to naturally turn towards the light is called phototropism.

Light provides energy to plants through photosynthesis, so turning towards the light evolved naturally as a survival mechanism.

We too need energy from light. We also need light for our photographs. Photography is the art of writing with light. So, knowing light, following light, is a good practice to develop for anyone.


Even Einstein said, “For the rest of my life, I will reflect on what light is.”


In our first week of Photo By Design, we spend our time noticing light. I believe that no matter how seasoned a photographer we are,  we should occasionally take a week to really pay attention to the light. It’s a way to get out of a photographic rut or even to get some extra energy.

Below are a couple of posts about turning towards the light.

Are you a Light Seeker? by Valerie Jardin, Digital Photography School

When Everything is Dark – 4 Simple Ways to Turn Towards the Light

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The Story Behind the Image – Rimmed By Light

If you start thinking that only your biggest and shiniest moments count, you’re setting yourself up to feel like a failure most of the time. Personally, I’d rather feel good most of the time, so to me everything counts; the small moments, the medium ones, the successes that make the papers and also the ones that no one knows about but me. The challenge is avoiding being derailed by the big, shiny moments that turn other people’s heads. You have to figure out for yourself how to enjoy and celebrate them, and then move on. ~ Chris Hadfield, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life

LightCommander Chris Hadfield captured the imagination of the world by sharing videos and photos and even music from the International Space Station.

After returning home and retiring from the Space program, he wrote the book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life, about how what he learned as an astronaut can be applied to life in general.

It’s a fascinating book, full of wisdom and the quote above was one of my favourites.

These words also describe the experience of contemplative photography, where everything counts and is celebrated, especially those small, ordinary and often unnoticed moments.

The image to your right is one example.

It was taken last summer while sitting outside in my backyard, working and reading. When I took a break and looked around, I noticed the rim of light on these ties attached to our table umbrella. Within a few minutes, the light was gone.

It was a small moment – but one filled with magic that added richness to my day.

** More on The Astronaut’s Guide to Life from Brain Pickings

** Awesome Lessons Learned from Chris Hadfield by Kaarina Dillabough

** Chris Hadfield’s 30 Best Photos from Space

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Perception and the Brain

In contemplative photography, we talk of perceptions as a gap in the thinking process, when we are suddenly stopped or startled by something. It is pre-conscious.

We’ve all experienced these perceptions where time seems to stop and we are totally present and in awe of the scene before us. Something in our body and mind resonates with what we see.

Becoming more aware of these perceptions is a huge part of contemplative photography. I wanted to learn more about this process – where it originates – and how it’s related to intuition and the brain. So, I did a little research and had my virtual assistant daughter, Kelly (jaykayort), put together this infographic of definitions (by no means comprehensive).


Infographic by jaykayort

Side note: While this shows the left and right sides of the brain, as well as the conscious and sub-conscious parts of our minds, the mind is not the same as the brain. Wiser minds than mine are in ongoing discussions about the definitions of mind, brain, and consciousness. Let’s just say that they all work together.
Here’s what I learned.

1. Approximately 5% of our behaviour is controlled by our conscious mind and 95% by the sub-conscious mind.

These numbers are debatable, however, no matter the number, it’s a huge difference.

The conscious mind is our thinking mind – the linear, logical reasoning part. It’s our language centre and very important for navigating the world. We tend to give our conscious thoughts the greatest importance, yet if they control only 5% of our behaviour, shouldn’t we be more curious about that other 95%?

Our thoughts are not who we are at our core. They are fleeting and ever-changing. I am more interested in how we can tap into that sub-conscious part of our minds – the part that holds the greater keys to our behaviour and our creativity.

Betty Edwards book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, is a fabulous book with simple exercises for anyone who wants to tap into their right brain.

Artists say that (when they are in the midst of creation) they feel alert and aware, yet relaxed and free of anxiety, experiencing a pleasurable, almost mystical activation of the mind. ~ Betty Edwards

Contemplative photography is another way. It is a process of aligning eye, mind, and heart – which means we bring our body wisdom or intuition into the picture.

2. Intuition is knowledge from within – non-conscious thinking.

Our bodies hold emotions and memories that are not always conscious. Intuition is processed in the pre-frontal cortex, where the brain picks up on recurring patterns. Often called the sixth sense, it is a type of perception – the ability to see, hear or become aware of something through the senses.


Contemplative Moment

Those gaps in thinking are fleeting – usually only a fraction of a second for the average person. As a matter of fact, most are not even aware of them. The conceptual mind quickly takes over, adding labels, meaning, and interpretation to the perception. However, we can train ourselves to stay with the perception longer (See The Practice of Contemplative Photography).

Intuitive thinking is perception-like, rapid, effortless. Deliberate thinking is reasoning-like, critical, and analytic; it is also slow, effortful, controlled, and rule-governed. ~ Psychologist Daniel Kahneman via Eva Schindling


It’s in those gaps where truth and wisdom reside. This is pure presence or direct seeing.


Internet Sources

The Science of Intuition – from Brain Pickings
Conscious of the Unconscious – Psychology Today
Intuition, Subliminal Perception and the Subconscious – Eva Schindling


Mindsight – by Dr. Dan Siegel
Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain – by Betty Edwards
The Practice of Contemplative Photography – by Andy Karr and Michael Wood

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Sharp Edges and Curving Lines


Graffiti at Evergreen Brickworks in Toronto

Donning our cranky costumes of logic and cause-and-effect, we may flatly deny it. But this planet, our home, is all about roundness and things coming round.
Some parts of cities are too rectangular and solid. Young men go to these places and put the curves back with the arc of their skateboards and the sprawl of their graffiti.
Anne Herbert, Peace and Love and Noticing the Details

I first learned of Anne Herbert through The Improvised Life – anne herbert’s wise + teeny meditations.

Herbert was a writer and editor of CoEvolution Quarterly, a magazine of The Whole Earth Catalog in the 80′s. She wrote a blog called Peace and Love and Noticing the Details from July 2005 until June 2012.

And then, nothing. She just stopped. And there is no record as to what she’s doing now. It’s a mystery.

Her writing is contemplative, thoughtful, and tells it like it is. I have unending gratitude and appreciation that her work is still available online and I re-visit it regularly.


A post by Kevin Kelly on Anne Herbert

What do Abstract Expressionism and Graffiti have in Common?

Note: The image above came from the Evergreen Brickworks in Toronto. It used to be a factory for making bricks. While sitting empty for many years, it became covered with graffiti. In being restored as a place that hosts a farmers’ market, garden market, and teaches about sustainable living, it was decided to leave the graffiti on most of the walls in the building. The building is often used as a movie set and for parties and conferences.

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Why do an Online Photography Workshop?


Seen at Balzacs Coffee Shop in Niagara-on-the-Lake

In his post, How to Make Perfect Photos, CJ Chilvers talks about the downside of photography workshops – ones that claim to teach you how to be a better photographer or what gear you need.

The only rule in photography is to tell a story with a compelling subject – for you.

We all strive to have a compelling subject or tell a story with our photographs. To me, though, the most important words in that quote are “for you.”

Too often I find we photographers are looking for critique or validation – something outside of ourselves that will tell us that we’re on the right track.

But, the only way to know if we’re on the right track is to look within. What attracts us? What themes show up in our work? Why do we photograph in the first place?

This is what I try to tap into during my workshops.

Yes, we need to know how our cameras work and have a basic knowledge of composition. We can learn most of that ourselves, online or by reading our camera’s manual or through practice.

But most of all, we need to learn to see – what’s already around us and within.

The main goals for my workshops are:

1. That participants will photograph daily and broaden what and how they see. Practice, practice, practice.

2. That they will learn to trust their instincts about what they see and why and gain greater self-awareness in the process.

3. That I provide a safe space to express and share their unique vision with others.

I like critique to be minimal and constructive. In the online world, interaction is fraught with misinterpretation and misunderstanding. When someone posts an image, they are sharing a little piece of themselves.

So, I encourage photographers to write about why they are posting and what decisions they made in creating the image. To me, this is by far the best way to learn – by analyzing our own images and seeing how others do the same.

It’s extremely valuable to have this type of place where we can share and learn from each other. Facilitation of this type of space is a skill that has nothing to do with photography and one I’m always trying to improve.

What are you looking for when you sign up for a photography workshop?


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