If you ever feel the weight of the world upon you, you might want to consider letting go with your camera. I have found that getting outside and having fun with my camera is a fantastic way to combat stress and anxiety.
After watching Nigel Danson’s lovely video about easy creative ideas for outdoor photography a few weeks ago, I decided to take a look at some of my own older photos, most of which I’ve never shared because they’re so different than my other stuff. Turns out they’re not too bad, but it brought my mind back to the moment I took them and the fun I had.
I remembered that all of those times, the reason I was experimenting with slower shutter speeds and ICM (intentional camera movement), I was frustrated with something about my outing that day; whether it was because the light wasn’t doing what I wanted it to do, or whether I simply chose an inappropriate spot for the type of landscape I envisioned. I was either shaking my fist at the sky like a madman because nature was obviously out to get me, or I was mentally shaking a fist at myself because I was so stupid for picking a beautiful rocky cove on google maps, but had forgotten Check the tides. Instead of going home frustrated and possibly eating enough chocolate for a large family, I broke the chains of perfect front-to-back sharpness every time and started panning my camera back and forth like a drunken lookout. A little later, after looking at some of the images on the back of my camera, I felt a lot better about the universe and it’s conspiracy against me. I didn’t need it anymore. I created my own world of straight waves and blurry birds; I was happy.
I’ve never suffered from anxiety very badly, but sometimes I just have to close the curtains and lie in bed for a day because my head is spinning so much I can’t form a consistent or coherent thought. Luckily, over the past few years, due to some lifestyle changes, I’ve been able to indefinitely go off the medication and live a much more balanced life. But of course life gets in the way sometimes and due to some bad news in my personal life recently my anxiety crept back in. First I had to give up my balanced diet, then running fell by the wayside. The dark thoughts began to creep in. Holy shit, we can be real A-holes to ourselves sometimes. I say “we” because I think almost everyone has the ability to self-flagellation regardless of underlying medical conditions, with creatives rivaling the worst of them.
I’ve had to deal with my bad news like everyone else, but bouncing back after a big punch in the pit of my stomach is pretty tough. So after ‘cleaning up’ all the chocolate in the south west of Ireland I went back to some of my old abstract paintings and started tweaking them here and there. I wasn’t focused on straight verticals or seamless exposure blends; I was back in the moment and enjoying being creative without having to focus on technical aspects. After that, I peeked through my curtains and when I saw the stormy, moody sky, I decided to do a bit of location scouting; No pressure, just a little loop up the coast.
Lo and behold, I stumbled upon a beach town scene that is fairly typical of Ireland and Britain. The amber/yellow sand playing against a dark multi-hued blue sky where the sun seemed to be playing a game of hide and seek (mostly hide and seek) drew me to the beach. This, I thought, was a perfect time to whip out my camera for some ICM. I attached my NiSi kit with their landscape CPL and 0.9 ND so I could slow down the shutter speed. In Danson’s video, he uses a shutter speed of 1/10 with a quick sweep up. I wanted to capture more of the scene so I used a 0.8 or 1 second shutter speed while panning my camera across the beach and because of the slower shutter speed I opted for a tripod as I wanted a straight horizon. Using the properly leveled tripod helped me get a smooth pan across the scene.
This wasn’t the first time I’ve photographed outside since my last rut, but not being too limited by light, time of day or location I was able to get some decent pictures and more importantly I had fun and I was calmer. Learning to be in the moment is a powerful weapon for those battling anxiety. I know the universe is planning its next move, but next time I’ll be ready.
For me, abstract photography has a purity. It’s like a visual stream of consciousness. I’m sure some of you really dislike (and even hate) abstract art and you probably rolled your eyes at those last two sentences, but have you ever tried it? I hope this article helps nudge you in that way. And if any of you would like to share your abstracts with us in the comments section below, please do so.