Book review: The Mindful Photographer

This is an abbreviated version of the review. Here you’ll find the full version.

It’s with great pleasure I have read The Mindful Photographer. It’s the latest book by David Ulrich and takes a different route on photography than most photo books. It explores in depth the relationship between the photographer and the world he or she photographs.

This is not a book so much about the practicalities of the craft, but rather about the thinking behind the execution of the craft. It’s about the need to be mindful about the approach in order to capture images that goes beyond the superficial and beyond the quest for simply high impact imagery without any deeper connotations or connections, so prevailing in the popular photography—according to the author.

The Mindful Photographer emphasizes being open to the subject and being present in the moment. Many of the ideas in Ulrich’s book can help the reader to forge a dialogue with the world and culture through a camera. At the same time, and maybe even more so, he advocates the need to know yourself—as fully as possible and in an ongoing manner. As he writes, “all art is a dialogue between oneself, one’s materials, and the world. It is often a journey with only a hazily defined destination.”

The writing resonate very much we my own approach and how I have come to think about photography. It doesn’t mean I am in agreement with all Ulrich’s writes. The fact that I disagree with Ulrich on some of his thoughts, strengthens the value of his writings and makes for a much more constructive and comprehensive reading experience. Because we sometimes disagree, reading the book turns much more into a conversation between the two of us.

Having said that, some readers will most likely reject Ulrich’s approach to photographing. He draws a lot from a Zen way of life, and I am sure a few will not feel comfortable adopting the tenets of an eastern religion to their photography.

Nevertheless, if you feel provoked by his philosophy and his writing, I still believe reading the book would or could be beneficial—if you don’t reject it without giving his thoughts any consideration. One doesn’t have to agree, but going in a dialogue with his ideas might enlighten the understanding of yourself and make you become more mindful about your own approach to photography.

Ulrich’s writing and style at times feels high-flying, esoteric and a little wishy-washy. He is at his best when he is concrete and writes about or draw upon his own experiences and practice, rather than expressing overarching, spiritual ideas in what I see in somewhat bloated and bulging terms.

Sometimes I also have a problem with his ethical standpoints, not that I actually disagree with his values, but the way he raises them to universal truths. Take social media, he is very critical of them and how many people use for instance Instagram. Again, I totally agree with his sentiments, but I still think his moral enforcement and his disregard for other values than his own ethical drive, sway how others may approach social media and what justifies their use.

Despite some objections on my part, The Mindful Photographer is a book I can truly recommend. It’s inspiring, it brings a deeper understand to the connection between the photographer and his or her approach to photography and what it can be, and, as the title indicates, it empowers the way to think about photography. In the end, it will make you a better photographer.

Buy The Mindful Photographer at Amazon
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Last Month’s Instagram

Once a month I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last month. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. The pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have. For more photos; visit www.instagram.com/ottovonmunchow/

Learn to Live with Self-Doubt and Fear

Self-doubt. Fear. Insecurity. Inadequacy. Not being good enough. Marginalization. Disempowerment. Depression. Despair. Cynicism. Egotism. Have you ever felt your artistic attempts are not good enough? You feel you lack talent and can’t express what you really want?

Trust me when I say we all do. Even the best and most talented artists do. It’s part of being creative and as such, I believe it’s actually a good sign. If you didn’t doubt yourself and your creative attempts, it only shows that you are standing still and not challenging yourself. As I have written many a time, challenging yourself is crucial for all creative development.

Here is the thing: Trying to express ourselves creatively in any art form, will place us squarely in the sights of our fears, doubts, and insecurities. It reflects back to the inherent quality of any creative art and their insistent necessity on going inward. Remember, in art, we express ourselves. Our only hope to be successful in art, any art form, is to learn to be unerringly what we are, flaws and all. We cannot destroy our demons all at once, but can accept our circumstances as part of our unique identity.

Everything that you are is fodder for your creative work. Do not run; do not hide from your gifts, your shortcomings, and your background. Make them part of your creative approach.

Each of us arises from our own blend of circumstances and has unique gifts. There is nothing new under the sun to art. Therefore, your unique vision and expression can only grow authentically from yourself. There’s no one else on earth with your particular mixture of talents, gifts, obstacles, fears, inadequacies, and unique insights.

Words from the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke comes to mind. In his book Letters to a Young Poet, he writes: “You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now. Nobody can counsel and help, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you to write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart.”

From this quote, you can substitute “write” with any artistic pursuit that refers to you. Go into yourself, no matter what you do. With that comes self-doubt and fear. But it’s part of who and what you are.

Thus, take a hold of your vision. It’s yours and yours alone. Don’t try to be good, just try to be real. Each person has some genuine place of genius in their constitution, and you are not going to find it by trying to please others: teachers, parents, admission committees, or peers. Trust your own process. Take responsibility for everything that you are or are not. Your joys, struggles, trials and tribulations, longings, obsessions, and passions are all fair game for your creative exploration.


Photo Workshops and Tours in 2022
Now that the world seems to return to some normalcy and slowly opens up again, I and Blue Hour Photo Workshops hope to get our photos workshops going again.

“The Personal Expression”—a weekend in Bergen, Norway with focus on how to develop your personal, photographic expression. June 10th to 12th 2022.

”Telling Stories with the Camera”—five days in the beautiful village of Bleik in Northern Norway. A dream spot for any photographer. The focus will be on storytelling and the visual language. September 21st to 19th 2022.

”Photo Tour in Granada”—a week in Nicaragua for the adventures. We will explore the colonial city and its extraordinary countryside. November 5th to 11th 2022.

Are you interested in developing your photographic skills? Do you like to travel? Do you want to make your photos tell a story in a much stronger vocabulary? Find your own expression? Develop your vision and become more creative? Any of these workshops would take your photography to the next level. I promise you, you will be in for an amazing experience. Click any of the links for more info.

Last Month’s Instagram

Once a month I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last month. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. The pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have. For more photos; visit www.instagram.com/ottovonmunchow/

Creativity Is Being Alive

Have you pondered about why you have this desire to create? In asking, I take it you are pursuing creativity in one form or another—otherwise you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog. I also presume you find some pleasure in creative endeavours, again, in whatever shape and form you fancy.

Plenty enough people think that art and creativity is for pleasure only. It’s something some people do when they have enough time to spare and don’t need to brawl for survival. It’s an activity out of luxury. Those who create do it for some pretentious urge of self-expression. These people may think the world would go on without art and creativity for its own sake.

I think not. I think being creative satisfies a basic instinct in most people—if they haven’t shut that door completely down. Yes, biologically, our basic needs are threefold and quite mundane. Being able to find food, having a habitat to thrive in and, finally, being able to reproduce. However, there is more to life than these bare needs. One such is the drive to make.

When I create, I am happy. But it’s more than that. I feel in touch with something bigger. I immerse myself in a sea of ideas and inspirations and a void of unlimited wonders—a path in which nothing is fixed or set. Everything is possible. What more is, something tangible comes out on the other side. In creating, I make something, something of which is all my making. It makes me feel alive. I live when I make.

Why are human beings driven to make?


There is a mundane answer, which is we need to expand and develop—which we do by making—in order to survive the threatening world we find ourselves in, whether back when we were hunter-gatherers and needed to protect ourselves from saber-toothed tigers or now as the contemporary human needing to solve the climate crisis (albeit induced by ourselves).

But there is something more fundamental to it.

Since the beginning, the universe has bend towards entropy—ever more chaos and disorder. Every act of creation on our part is an act of defiance in the face of that evolving disorder. It’s almost like an intuitive response, long before science gave us the language to understand what universe and entropy mean.

When we pick up a paintbrush, or compose elements through our camera viewfinders, or press fingers into wet clay to wrestle form from a shapeless lump, we are bending things back toward Order and wrestling them from Chaos.

There is satisfaction in making this Order. But making things is often not enough in and of itself.

We also want the things we make to be filled with meaning. We’re each trying to describe what we know about life, to create a collective sense of “safety in numbers.” When we reach the end of our traditional descriptive powers, it’s time to weave meaning from poetry, painting, writing, dancing, photographing, filmmaking, storytelling, singing, animating, designing, performing, carving, sculpting, and a million other ways we daily create Order out of the Chaos and share it with each other for a deeper and more fluid understand.

Finding “the meaning in the making” is the ultimate fulfilment. That’s bliss and that’s when we feel alive more than ever. Thus, keep creating!

Last Month’s Instagram

Once a month I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last month. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. The pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have. For more photos; visit www.instagram.com/ottovonmunchow/

Keep Creating!

In times like this, particular right now, the world needs your inspiration through whatever it is you create. Yes, we need inspiration, something that will give us hope—your art, your writing, your music, your photography, your painting—again whatever it is you create. You can make a difference, not by doing anything out of the ordinary, but through whatever it is, you create.

So keep creating.

I know it is difficult to keep the creativity flowing in bleak times like this. We’d all rather feel like cover up under a blanket or go in hiding, just let things get better and wait the situation out. But I know you have it in you, you are a creative person, after all, you are reading this blog, so please bring whatever it is you create into the world.

You have this gift and it’s full of light and love and wisdom but the thing itself is worth nothing until you make it happen and then give it away. The making and the giving of it is the only thing that allows the gift to keep moving. It is the only thing that prevents that light and love and wisdom and grace from damming up inside you—and in all of us.

You may feel like you are running on empty. The world is hanging on its hinges, whether we look at it with respect to the political situation in many countries, the climate, and of course—and not the least—the pandemic that more than anything inhibits us right now. But don’t let it inhibit you from creating.

We need your art. This world needs your art. But most of all we need you. More than ever, we need people who are vulnerable and compassionate and see things differently and are willing to be as fully, brilliantly human as possible, and it is making your art and having the courage to give it forward that will make you so.

Don’t worry about whether it is good or not. It is good. Because you have made it with passion and love—and that passion and love will transcend to all of us.

It’s a new year. Blank pages. Let’s not let the pandemic be what fills these pages. Let’s live. Let’s inspirer each other. Let’s create. I wish you all the best for 2022.


Photo Workshops and Tours in 2022
In believing that the world will return to some normalcy and open up again within reasonable time, I and Blue Hour Photo Workshops plan a handful of photos workshops for this year.

“The Personal Expression”—a weekend in Bergen, Norway with focus on how to develop your personal, photographic expression. June 10th to 12th 2022.

”Telling Stories with the Camera”—five days in the beautiful village of Bleik in Northern Norway. A dream spot for any photographer. The focus will be on storytelling and the visual language. September 21st to 19th 2022.

”Photo Tour in Granada”—a week in Nicaragua for the adventures. We will explore the colonial city and its extraordinary countryside. November 5th to 11th 2022.

Are you interested in developing your photographic skills? Do you like to travel? Do you want to make your photos tell a story in a much stronger vocabulary? Find your own expression? Develop your vision and become more creative? Any of these workshops would take your photography to the next level. I promise you, you will be in for an amazing experience. Click any of the links for more info.

Happy Holidays!

We are fast approaching the end of the year—yet another year in the grip of a pandemic. Just as we thought things were going better, it all turned around again. It feels like we have been yanked back to start.

Nevertheless, I choose to stay optimistic. This can’t go on forever. Well of course it can, but I believe we will find ways to live with covid-19 and normalize life again. I have no doubt that vaccination is the way out. We just need to get the whole world up to speed, which means that the rich part needs to step up and contribute whatever it takes to help out those countries not able to finance a comprehensive vaccination program themselves.

Anyway, Christmas and New Year is coming up and I will surely enjoy some lax days and being together with family and friends (as much as restrictions allow me to). Personally, I really need some time off. The last four months have been absolutely crazy. I have worked more than I can remember having done over such an extended period. It’s been fun, but also tiring. I have been producing stories about various aspects of disabilities, travelled from the south to the north and east to west in Norway, and back again. A couple of times.

Being so busy has made my present in the blog sphere even more absent than I had thought it would be. As some of you may remember, I did plan to reduce the work I put into blogging from around summertime, but alas, not this much. I promise to be back again with more energy and power in the year coming up. Many are those of you who have commented my posts over the last couple of months. I apologize for not having been able to respond, but I assure I will get back to you all.

With the ending of 2021 I am happy to announce my next photo workshops and tours taking place in 2022. See below for more information if you are interested. Here and now, I want to wish you all—from the bottom of my heart—a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you again next year.

Photo Workshops and Tours in 2022
In believing that the world will return to some normalcy and open up again within reasonable time, I and Blue Hour Photo Workshops plan a handful of photos workshops for next year.

“The Personal Expression” —a weekend in Bergen, Norway with focus on how to develop your personal, photographic expression. June 10th to 12th 2022.

”Telling Stories with the Camera”—five days in the beautiful village of Bleik in Northern Norway. A dream spot for any photographer. The focus will be on storytelling and the visual language. September 21st to 19th 2022.

”Photo Tour in Granada”—a week in Nicaragua for the adventures. We will explore the colonial city and its extraordinary countryside. November 5th to 11th 2022.

Are you interested in developing your photographic skills? Do you like to travel? Do you want to make your photos tell a story in a much stronger vocabulary? Find your own expression? Develop your vision and become more creative? Any of these workshops would take your photography to the next level. I promise you, you will be in for an amazing experience. Click any of the links for more info.

Last Month’s Instagram

Once a month I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last month. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. The pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have. For more photos; visit www.instagram.com/ottovonmunchow/

Become a Better Photographer

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I have been pondering about what it takes to become a real good photographer. I mean everyone can capture a decent photo – particularly with today’s cameras that take care of the basic handling. However, to make your photography stand out requires a bit more than just having a camera. The question is, how can we make that transition happening? Yes, understanding and learning the craft is maybe one springboard, but it can only take you this far. The difference between good photography and photography that stands out is subtle, but at the same time makes a substantial difference. As mentioned, I believe everyone can take a good photograph if they just put a little energy into the process. But the next step, how do we get there?

It’s actually not that difficult, either. Yet, it takes commitment and finding a way to connect with you inner self – and finally make that wisdom be expressed through your photography. I know, it sounds a little phony, but it’s quite how it works. There are no simple tricks, really, but just dedicated steps towards mastering photography at a more profound and more personal level. As with everything else in life, we are talking about making priorities, that is, if you really decide to become an accomplished photographer – and this decision gets ingrained in your backbone, then you can become just that, a photographer who creates captivating and even outstanding photography.

The obstacles, of course, are that it takes time, effort and sometimes even money to make such a commitment. In addition, it follows that you’ll need to downgrade other things in life, often things that you care about, things that you enjoy, or just things that simply is easier and more pleasurable to do. The difference between a photographer who creates outstanding photography and one who merely captures good photos, may be that former is the one that works relentlessly and don’t mind standing in muddy water for hours – figuratively speaking. Nevertheless, we can all make progress, and he are a few steps that can help you on the way:

Look to other photographer. Read photography books, go to exhibitions, watch other photographers’ work and find photography online. Surely, there is going to be a lot you will not like, but the point of this is just to find photos and photographers that inspire you. Bury yourself in what you find inspiring and that which gives you energy, whether it is workshops, photo books, exhibitions or anything else. Whatever it is, see as much photography as you can find in any media or outlet, and immerse yourself in it.

Work on a personal project. Nothing brings your photography so much energy and is pushing yourself more than working on a personal photo project. But keep in mind, complete freedom is not inspiring. Instead, set some limits you will have to stick with. Find yourself a project or even a couple of projects, and work within the limits you have set for yourself. Do not be tempted to expand the boundaries simply because it is easier and more relaxing. For something really good to come out of your photography, it must have a core of authenticity and a nerve that is being expressed in the work. That is something you won’t get through boundless and leisurely respite. A project can be done in a weekend or it can take years to accomplish. The theme is not important – as long as it somehow touches or is relevant to you.

Care for more than the photography itself. Remember, photography is a tool, not an end in itself. A tool must be used for something. Whether your goal is an art expression or to tell a story, that goal must be foremost in your thoughts, not photography as such. Some of the world’s best photographers do not see themselves neither as photographers nor as artists: James Nachtwey is primarily a social reformer, and the same can be said about Nick Ut, W. Eugene Smith, Sebastião Salgado and several other of the world’s foremost documentary photographers. This also applies to many of the world’s greatest art photographers, but in a different way. They often choose to turn to the world and the viewer differently, but the desire to tell, ask questions, provoke thoughts, to make the viewer smile, react and feel alive, remain the same.

Seek cultural experiences. Cultural impulses are important, even more so it’s important not only to seek impulses from the same field you feel familiar with. The Matrix films would never have come into being without the inspiration from cartoons and their idiom, and the same applies to famous and beautiful movies like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Sin City, just to name a few. Photographers such as David LaChapelle are possible largely inspired by film and music, and others are inspired by literature, sculpture, painting or numerous other artistic expressions and cultural forms. Keep an open mind, take your pick and expose yourself to different concepts, cultures, thoughts and impressions. Somewhere in there, you might just find your brilliant idea, which you would never know exactly how in advance.

Photograph a lot and often. It takes a lot of work to master a discipline such as photography. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect – no less true in photography. What you do a lot, you will excel in, and although 99.9 percent of your shots might end up being trash, in the process you have trained your eyes, brain and finger. Moreover, taking 1000 photos of which 0.1 percent is good, well, then you have gotten at least one good shot. Not bad at all, or?