The other day I picked up a book called 'A Year in the Woods' by Tobjorn Ekelund.
Essentially it a journal of Tobojorn communing with nature by repeating a small, simple ritual every month. Finishing work early one day he heads off into the woods, spends the night before returning to work the next day. And as the title suggests, he did this for a year, camping in the same spot over those 12 months.
The book is a wonderful documentary of his experience and one I found inspirational.
This got me thinking and exploring the possibility of doing something similar myself. Recording the changes of the seasons in one place and reconnecting with nature.
It reminded me of my own photographic project some years ago called 'Origins' where I visited the riverside meadows of Charles Darwin's childhood home, photographing the small details of what I saw there throughout the year. Whilst I didn't camp out over night, the regular visits I did over 12 months were a wonderful experience and one that taught me a lot about nature, the changes of the seasons, and how to properly see the world around you.
One of the takeaways from my 'Origins' project was a technique I now use pretty much every time I go out with my camera. It's a ritual I do that helps bring me to the present moment and avoids my mind from wandering.
It's a technique I also use when writing haiku poetry. An important element of Japanese haiku is that the poem has to be in the moment and not about the past or the future.
The technique involves focussing on each of your senses and describing to yourself what each one is experiencing.
I start with hearing, and I simply try to identify what sounds I can hear and where they are coming from. I don't make a judgement about these sounds, I just accept they are there. So traffic noise for example may have negative connotations, but I try not to entertain that thought. Instead I simply acknowledge its existence and where it's coming from. I find that even in the quietest places there is always some sounds to be heard if you just listen. This makes me acutely aware of my surroundings like nothing else.
Next I move on to sight, and I begin this by simply describing in my head what the sky is like. Cloudy, clear, whatever. I look to see where the sun is and then I check out the shadows, if any. Looking at the shadows is a quick an easy way to identify the quality of the light. Dark shadows with clearly defined edges are a result of strong directional light. Softer shadows with less defined edges, or no shadows at all tells me the light is soft a defused. All important stuff for a photographer to know.
I move on to the other senses, but usually spend less time on these and unless the shoot involves food or drink I skip taste altogether.
Touch on the other hand is more about how my exposed skin feels. Is the air cold or warm, is there a breeze, or rain.
With all my senses properly checked out I find myself not only acutely aware of my surroundings but my mind is very much in the present. Not thinking about the day before, or what the week has in store for me, simply in the here and now.
Of course this is the perfect mindset for a photographer as I am now able to notice so much more, as well as being able to anticipate moments that I may otherwise of missed.
This simple technique is now part and parcel of my approach to any photoshoot and definitely took my photography up a notch when I started practicing it.
But beyond that, it's also a great technique to help clear your and its one I use in other situations. Walks become more enjoyable, movies become more fulfilling, the applications are endless and one I would definitely recommend to you.