Therapy of Now

The raw material for photography is right now. You can’t take a photo tomorrow. Of course, you can wait until tomorrow, for that particular now when you press the shutter button. But you can’t capture the photo, neither before nor after, if you didn’t do it then. In the same way, you can’t capture a photo yesterday, if you didn’t do it then, in that now.

Photography forces you to be in the present. It’s all about finding the right now to press the shutter button. You can’t vast the moments if you want to photograph. Whatever you didn’t capture now, is forever lost. Photography forces you to pay attention and notice whatever is happening right in front of your eyes. Right now.

The camera is an instrument for presence. By default, photography facilitates mindfulness. No doubt, all creative activity, which allows us to enter flow, will have that affect, but in particular, photography is a forceful catalyst for mindfulness, exactly because it forces us to be so aware of the now.

You can’t worry about what has happened before or about the future, when you are fully aware of the present moment.

The photographic process pulls us into the moment, makes us seize this precious time we never get back. The ability to concentrate and be present is a prerequisite for taking good pictures. What more is, practicing being in the presence when photographing, makes it easier to be present even without a camera.

Whether you capture a photo at a fraction of a second or with a minutes’ long exposure, your mind will be focusing on what is happening right now. In our modern society we all too much think about and plan the future, get stressed by all the things we need to do, have regrets and are bothered by whatever we didn’t get a chance to do or did do but erroneously; there is so much to think about, that we forget to live. In this very now. No matter what, life happens here and now. Not tomorrow and not yesterday. Future plans have no value before they actually happen, or even worse, if they don’t ever come to be realized.

Thus, photography is a mental health catalyst. It gives us a feeling of mastery. Because the way to master the present moment, is also the way to master everything else. It all starts with the first, uncertain step, the first, terrible photo. Right now. Photography is therapy for the mind. It keeps the mind healthy.

48 thoughts on “Therapy of Now

  1. Your post is so timely. Yesterday I had raspberries for breakfast. One still had the tiny green leafs in the top. I photographed it. Posted it today. And I thought about being mindful im the present. Today you described exactly what I experienced. Serendipity. Thank you Otto.

  2. Nice post!
    Love the idea of photography as practice of being present! I’m always taking snaps on my cell phone of something of the moment…usually shadows and light that catch my attention. I do have to say…when I shoot with my camera there is an excitement of…looking forward to the future…when I can play with the images in Lightroom. It’s always fascinating to me how what I thought I saw becomes interesting in a different way…after it has “gone through the lens” and time has past.

    1. The fact that you have to photograph in the present now, doesn’t mean it’s not possible to look forward to further prosessing the photo. But I think the thought appears in the mind only after the photo has been captured – or maybe before – but not in the very moment you press the shutter button.

  3. Capturing that moment forever, that moment that will never happen again, is my favorite part about photography. And it does make you very aware of whats around you.

  4. I went through a period of being so aware of how many “nows” were happening simultaneously, it was hard to settle down and engage with the “now” in front of me. Eventually, I learned to slow, and accept my role as a limited photographer with unlimited subjects. Choosing where to focus, not rushing the process, and setting aside thoughts of everything I might be missing helped me understand what you’ve written here.

    1. You point to something that is necessary when photographing; the need to slow down, whether you are a limited photographer or a full-fledged professional. By the way, I don’t buy into the idea that you belong to the former even if you are not a professional photographer.

  5. I am at my happiest when walking about , hoping the spot the perfect picture…rarely does that wish come true , rarely is the end result what I hoped what It would be …but…when you lose hope it probably is time to quit.

  6. It is said you enjoy a journey three times: first when you plan it, second when yo do it and third when you remember it.
    I think the same is valid for photography: when you have an idea, which could be a complete projetc or a portrait session with a friend or a familiar you already enjoy it, previewing the final image. When you take it you are “in the moment”, you are in, you are in the zone and feel the energy of the process, the connection with your subject and after the shot when you postprocess, edit, print or post in a social or web site you enjoy it again.
    And yes, the moments fly away, you need to take them now: Thanks for your post Otto

  7. I have not heard of photography facilitates mindfulness. That is very true indeed. It is about the present moment. Even you click two consecutive capture of the same subject the two pictures are not the same! (although it may appear to be the same to your eyes but at the smallest possible different photons were captured already).

  8. Time is everything in photography, releasing the shutter captures just that very moment. At the same time it already presents the past , because that moment is already gone. The future is when people view those images, and enjoying the moment of the past and that moment is preserved for the viewers. I hope all this makes sense of our work as photographers.

  9. What a beautiful and interesting photograph, Otto. I really love it. I hadn’t considered photography as you’ve described it here, but it’s a very apt description. Even as a rudimentary amateur, my relationship with the camera always brings me calm and provides a quieting of my mind, which I do associate with being in the moment. I am glad you provided a very valuable way of seeing photography as therapy.

  10. I agree that the being in the present can catapult us into a quiet and serene place, a place where the world outside our mind does not exist. To discover the mechanism for that space is part of the creative process, even being human. Still, to gaze into the camera where a boundary is framed can be a moment of sanctuary.

  11. I agree completely. We need to quieten our minds so we may see and hear what is in front of us. Being in nature, hiking with a camera does it for me 🙂 Thank you for a lovely post!

  12. ‘whatever you don’t capture now, is lost forever’… that line freaked me out and broke my heart!!
    oh and the photo that goes with this is awesome xoxoxoxox

  13. This may sound trite, but this post makes me think of the 365 Project. I’m not sure if it’s still going, but I did participate for a year or two. I found the mental exercise of having to post a photo every day forced me to pay attention, to look around me throughout the day seeking what might prove an interesting way to document that day. It was a year of thinking in the now. Sometimes I think I should replicate that process, even without sharing every day, the act of physically taking a photo each day could be darned good exercise in many ways.

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