An Exercise in Perspective

Marriott Side View

Marriott Side View

This week in my Photo By Design workshop, we’re exploring perspective.

One photographic exercise for this topic is to take at least 24 shots of one subject from all different angles. I’ve done this many, many times and it’s always enlightening as well as good practice.

Another way to approach this exercise is to photograph a subject over time, in all seasons, situations, and weather.

In preparation for the 2012 Superbowl in Indianapolis, Marriott built a new hotel complex downtown.

Since moving away, I don’t get to see it as often, but I find that whenever I’m there, I’m drawn to photograph this building as many ways as I can. It’s reflective blue surface never looks the same.

Here’s a Flickr set (which you can view as a slideshow) of a few of the images I’ve taken over the past two years. Putting them side by side shows how many different possibilities there are.

Of course, the application of this exercise is that we need to be able to see new possibilities and perspectives in everything – even the familiar people and situations in our lives.

Do you have a subject that you go back to again and again?

More on Perspective

Book: The Art of Possibility
Boredom, The Edge of Creativity

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Photography Teaches Presence

It’s hard to explain the benefits of mindful or contemplative photography. Much better to give examples.

The other day I was in our basement, beginning a thirty minute walk on the treadmill. The windows in the room are quite large for a basement and the blinds on the two windows were closed. The walls are a darkish colour.

After I began walking, I noticed these stripes of light on the wall created by the closed blinds. Then, I turned my focus to the window ledge. I felt compelled to get off the treadmill and take these photos with my iPhone.


Back on the treadmill, the bright sunlight was, of course, moving and the scene before me kept changing. It was like watching a movie.

Now, the light was extra strong through a couple of the slats in the blind, creating two very bright stripes on the wall. Off I got again.


More and more bright stripes appeared as the light kept moving and I turned my attention again to the window ledge (we were photographing lines that week in my Photo By Design workshop).


As I focused my attention on the lines, I moved in closer to show the strong, pointed shapes created by the shadows. The images were becoming more abstract.


A 30 minute walk on the treadmill turned into a 45 minute walk and photo session. You are probably now asking what was the purpose of such a photo session? None of these images will be printed and hung on a wall.

For me, there were several benefits.

1. I was practicing seeing and composing using visual design principles.

2. Watching the light always makes me feel good.

And, most importantly,

3. During that 45 minute timeframe I was totally present. I wasn’t thinking about the past or what I had to do next. This practice in being present for an extended period of time will carry over to the rest of my life when presence is especially important.

There is a movie that you are a part of every second of your life. Are you seeing it?

David Cain (Raptitude) cites 15 powerful side-benefits to living in the present moment, with number 7 being:

The world gets a “playground” sort of feel to it again. You had this all the time when you were a kid. As we become adults we learn to live less and less in the world, and more in our thoughts about the world. When you come back to the present moment, your jumble of thoughts about your life situation shrinks in significance, and the place where you actually are regains its rightful uniqueness. This makes every scene more interesting, because you’re getting your information about it from what it actually is right now, rather than from the rapid-fire associations your mind makes.

Thanks to Deirdre Walsh for pointing me to this article.

Does photography help you to practice presence?


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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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