We are not at a loss for educational access these days. For the knowledge seekers who are fortunate to have access, this is an amazing time to be alive. The internet, despite all its garbage and noise, is an invaluable and seemingly inexhaustible resource. Information on nearly anything is just a click away. If you’re in your fourth decade like me, you remember back to the time when this was not the case. Back to those pre-internet days when books, glorious books, nestled in their loving libraries, held the answers to the questions we sought. When we wanted to learn how to do something, that know-how had to be gleaned from books or taught by an instructor.
But, this is the internet age and we are fortunate enough to have the web at our beck and call. If we want to learn how to do something, anything, we can surely find a way with a Google search. It’s that easy. Articles, videos, podcasts… they’re all out there. From cooking to car repair to writing a novel and even raising a baby, there’s instruction out there.
For the aspiring street photographer, there’s a fairly rich vein of instruction to tap into on the internet, both for the novice and the more experienced shooters looking to strengthen their skill set. We here at StreetHunters have contributed to that knowledge base with Spyros’ Street Hunt videos, our blog posts and guest articles. However, we, like you, are always looking to expand our own personal knowledge bases. To hone our skills and to discover new techniques and practices. To experiment.
When Thomas Ludwig’s ‘Keep The Focus: A Meditation Guide For Street Photographers’ came to me, my interest was immediately piqued. Not only because Thomas is a close friend of StreetHunters and because as CEO of the German camera bag manufacturer, Cosyspeed, a business partner. But because the idea of meditation being bedfellows with street photography is a most interesting concept. Why? Because personally, I’ve found shooting street to be both incredibly intense and relaxing at the same time.
How can shooting street be both? I’ll share my point of view. Street photography, in practice, is not for the timid or the fearful. It takes a kind of courage. There’s the adrenaline rush. There’s the action, the busy street. There’s the noise. The possibility of confrontation. However, and I’m sure I’m not alone, I also find street to be very therapeutic. A feeling of sturdy calm when I’m completely dialed in. When I’m in “the zone”. A street excursion becomes immersive and everything else is pushed away. Everyday worries and stresses are gone. That, is solid gold. A great shot is a product of a street photographer working in the zone, firing on all cylinders, with a dash of good luck mixed in. It’s this wonderful mess that makes street such a great genre to practice.
The Zone is a touchstone in Ludwig’s guide, which isn’t an instructional guide on how to shoot street, but an instruction on how to get one’s mind right for shooting on the street. And he’s brought along an impressive crew to help show the way. Mike Boening, Valerie Jardin, Eric Kim, Marco Larousse, Thomas Leuthard, Rinzi Roco Ruiz, Forrest Walker and our own Spyros Papaspyropoulos all lend their experiences on how important concentration is to street, how it feels to do street photography and what methods they use to get into the zone.
Ludwig, who is obviously passionate about street photography, has kept his ebook short and sweet, at just 48 pages. His mission is simple. He wants to help the street photographer to focus. He promptly suggests in the preface that the key to unlocking our dormant talent lies in our ability to focus and to get lost in the zone, and that regularly practicing meditation will have a positive effect on the quality of our photographs.
“Concentration and focus are terms that both mean the same thing: to reduce distracting thoughts and emotions to a level where it’s possible to perform a certain task with the highest possible attention. This way, you will stay fully committed to what you’re doing- streetphotography, for example. If you’re distracted, though, your mind will disconnect from what you’re doing. You’re no longer fully absorbed, and the results will lack perfection. Meditation – no matter of which kind – will boost your ability to concentrate the more you practice.”
Although this concept may seem obvious, personally I find it difficult to consistently execute. And I’m sure I’m not alone. The deal is, most of us are part-time street photographers who squeeze in a few hours of shooting where and when we can during the course of our busy lives. We have responsibilities and pressures put on us, and we put pressures on ourselves. And perhaps the worst pressure we can put on ourselves is the pressure to “perform” when we do get out to shoot. A most detrimental act that often results in lackluster images and an unpleasant street outing. The thrill of the hunt is lost and we’re left feeling frustrated. A vile state that can feed off itself and stretch on.
So I found myself intrigued by Ludwig’s concept of making meditation and street photography bedfellows. Even more so because I was not very familiar with the practice of meditation. Ludwig gives us a brief history of the practice and it’s definition.
“To meditate means to turn your attention away from thinking. This will slow down or even completely halt the continuous stream of thoughts that everyone experiences and that is so difficult to ignore.”
Ludwig then quickly, yet thoroughly, describes the three types of meditation techniques (concentrative, analytic and visualizing) and then gives us “Meditation 101”, a concise course on how to prepare ourselves and our environment for the practice. But before he takes the plunge of marrying meditation and street, he drops some science on the reader with “Meditation and Brainwaves”. This section, even though it references brainwave frequencies, reads easy and is highly informative and fascinating. Here we learn about the Alpha frequency, where The Zone awaits.
From there, Ludwig gets into The Zone himself, revealing the three types of meditation for street photographer: Breathing meditation, “street” meditation, and “cat in front of the mousehole” meditation. Brief instruction on each type is given and they are simple and easy to follow. Breathing meditation is essentially the foundation. It can be practiced nearly anywhere and sets up advancement into what Ludwig calls “street” meditation. The author describes this as focusing on “feeling your body”. Not feeling it by touch, but actually being aware of it.
“The great thing about the “street meditation” is that it allows you to centre yourself once you’re proficient in it. It makes you aware of your physical presence, which in turn “anchors” you within yourself.”
Ludwig says the benefit of this type of mediation is that the street photographer will be able to analyse the things happening around you from a distance. That potential scenes will appear more clearly and the shooter won’t be as easily distracted. I found myself anxious to apply this technique after reading to see what kind of effect it has on my shooting. Ludwig’s enthusiasm sneaks out in the easy-to-read instruction and it gently urged this reader to at least give his techniques a shot. Here, in text, it seems less intimidating than I initially thought it might be.
“The cat in front of the mousehole” technique is about preparing yourself for the shot, waiting for a subject to enter your composition. It is an exercise in patience, like the technique’s name implies. While this may not seem particularly useful to the photographer who prefers to keep moving, there is still useful application to be found. Particularly the idea of visualizing the shot before you press the shutter. Even though the hectic action on the street can leave little time for this, I fully believe that being in the zone can slow time down and the ability to anticipate the shot will be more easily attained. Everything Ludwig is saying makes sense, even to this reader who is unfamiliar with meditation. After digesting these first sections of ‘Keep The Focus’, it becomes clear that meditation and street are not such strange bedfellows after all. In fact, many street photographers probably employ bits of the instruction provided here without even knowing it.
Ludwig then goes on to explain how to apply the techniques gradually and practically. Again, the instruction is brief and easy to follow, encouraging baby steps over the course of a few months towards the goal… focus. Over time, the author states that the practicing street photographer should not only become more attentive, focused and calm, but also more satisfied with their photographs. But, he points out that there is no endpoint. That the zone is a place we all should strive to reach.
The ebook’s final section features the eight seasoned street photographers and their thoughts on concentration and focus mentioned previously. Here we get a peek inside their heads but almost without any specific mention of applied meditation techniques. It’s all about focus. Eric Kim tells us that he uses his fear and intuition to judge whether he wants to make an image. Marco Larousse says that when he’s in the zone, he moves and captures his images purely by instinct, and not by an intellectual thought and analyzing process. Thomas Leuthard says he brings more keepers home when his mind is free of distraction and thought on his mind. Spyros notes that he returns home “empty handed”, without keepers, when his mind is preoccupied and that he can get himself to concentrate when shooting by focusing on a specific theme. Rinzi Ruiz does mention meditation, saying that being in the zone is like the practice and that he enjoys a feeling of peace when he gets to that point. These are just bits from each of the photographer’s features, which are clever way of ending the ebook. They back up the main objective, which is focus. Getting in the zone. These features lightly push the curious reader to revisit the meditation techniques at the heart of the book in order to achieve better focus.
I found this book a very easy, informative and enjoyable read. You can read through this guide in under an hour and it won’t feel like time wasted. Honestly, I would likely not have sought out such an ebook, but I’m thankful it found its way to me. It has inspired me to begin practicing breathing meditation, something I would have likely scoffed at previously. ‘Keep The Focus’ is not spiritual or preachy, but quite practical. And it’s free, which won’t stress the wallet. No stress on the mind and the wallet? Sign me up. Worth your time.
You can download the free ebook ‘Keep The Focus: A Meditation Guide For Street Photographers’ in English or German at: www.keep-the-focus.com