Mental Health Awareness week #2: Connecting with your photo subject

I love weather, as it reveals mood and can help tell the story of where you are. After reading the history of Glen Coe, the murder and treachery that happened there, I felt the weather and mountains really reflected that dark mood. While the rain poured and the wind howled, the experience was incredible. I remember feeling so alive and part of the landscape while photographing the valley (Image credit: Paul Sanders)
Meet the pro: Paul Sanders

Paul Sanders

(Image credit: Paul Sanders)

Paul has been a pro photographer since 1984, and by 2004 he was Picture Editor at The Times. In 2011 he became a full-time landscape photographer, and is passionate about the power photography has to help people overcome anxiety, and to positively adjust their outlook on life.

Every second of the day we are presented with visual gifts, we just don’t notice them because of the demands on our time. Allowing yourself time to notice the beauty that surrounds you is a wonderful gift. 

The key is to browse the place you are in, whether that’s the kitchen, garden, office, train or wonderful location; all have gifts to give. We tend to write much of our awareness off during the day as just a transit from place to place, rather than living in the moment and engaging with that time and making it special. 

I find myself seeing pictures when I am queuing at the supermarket, waiting for pizza, sitting on the train, in towns and cities, as well as in the more classical locations. Everywhere has a possibility if we open our minds.

I had watched the hornets eating the pears on our tree for a few days, noticing how they ate in circles, going around the inside of the fruit, the rotting fruit falling to the lawn below a week or so later. The simple beauty of the pear with a hole in it really drew me in, then I saw another and they just cried out to be photographed. I set them up on my studio table and photographed them simply in a blacked-out room with the tiniest amount of light from a lightbox masked with cardboard. Still life allows so much time to really connect with a subject. The smell of these pears was like cider, but the textures were incredible. (Image credit: Paul Sanders)

 Noticing how beautiful or unique things are is the only key. It involves being in the present moment, not dwelling on things that have happened or may happen, appreciating what you are with, what is in front of you. Think about who made it, why it appeals to you. 

Try not to think of it in terms of a photo, just enjoy the simple beauty presented. After a short time you may feel moved to photograph whatever has caught your eye. Allow yourself that time, just you and the subject, no distractions, just quiet, and be aware that something is happening between you and the object of your attention.

One piece of advice is to forget about the camera settings and the idea of correct exposure. The only thing to work towards is how the moment feels – leave the technical stuff aside for the enjoyment of the moment. 

One of the reasons I use Fujifilm mirrorless cameras is that I see on the EVF exactly what I want the image to look and feel like as I press the button. This allows me the distance from the technical to stay connected to the subject.

I noticed this water bottle and glasses outside a cafe in Prague. I was waiting for clients and just kept looking at the glasses and bottle. I felt it saying “photograph me”, so I did, I was utterly captivated by it. The simple arrangement of glasses next to the bottle just filled me, and I became aware of the gentle reflections and curves – something beautiful in the most mundane of objects. (Image credit: Paul Sanders)

Read more: 

Mental Health Awareness Week
Learn the craft of slow-shutter-speed photography
Can photography improve your mental health

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