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Mental Health Awareness week #4: creativity, mindfulness & photography

Use different creative techniques and effects to better represent the mood and moment you are experiencing at that location (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.
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Mindful photography is showing what you experience in a very authentic way. People often interpret this as not allowing creativity, but the beauty we see is created by someone or something, so I encourage you to use your skills to match experience with expression. 

The key is to see the world with wonder and awe – as a child sees it with innocence and curiosity – but then apply your experience as a photographer to bring the images to life as you perceive them. 

In-camera movement, multiple exposures, and long exposures all yield differing expressions, emotions, and translations of a moment. The same is true when using film simulations or shooting in monochrome. 

Symmetry is very calming to me. It gives my mind order, while reflections reveal a hidden beauty or unseen, surprising symmetry. Long exposures can make images calming or meditative, while multiple exposure can reveal an abstract vision that is unique. 

Often I deliberately over or underexpose, not worrying about blocked blacks or featureless whites. If that’s how I see the moment, that’s how I photograph it.

I usually shoot with limited depth of field, f/2.8 or f/4, selectively focusing to bring attention to what I see and am captivated by. 

It is important to try not to put yourself in a box that states “I only do long exposure” or “I only shoot in colour”.  Allow yourself to experience all genres of photography, class it as seeing more of what is around you. 

If you see the world as a blur, defocus the lens. The wonderful thing about mindful photography is that it can’t be wrong: if the image reflects what you see or feel then it is true to the moment.

Use long exposures to create a calming image

1. Get set up
Mount your camera on a tripod, then attach a filter holder (opens in new tab) and cable release (opens in new tab), and check your battery is charged. Turn the long-exposure noise reduction off in the camera’s menu.

• See the best tripods (opens in new tab) in 2021

(Image credit: Paul Sanders)
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2. Compose the scene
Set your composition, paying attention to what you want in the frame. Look at the edges of the frame to avoid unwanted clutter. Try to use the whole frame, but remember to leave space for your subject to breathe.

(Image credit: Paul Sanders)

3. Exposure
I always set up without any filters, as this allows me to understand how it feels before I start. Take a test exposure without filters, aiming to open up the shadow areas and let the highlights blow. 

(Image credit: Paul Sanders)
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4. Filter
Add a graduated ND filter (opens in new tab) to control highlights (usually in the sky). I use the Lee system because it gives total control over the placement of the graduation – normally a medium transition with around two stops of neutral density will be enough. Check and remember your exposure.

(Image credit: Paul Sanders)
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5. Focus
Focus the camera on the main part of your subject. Once you have focused, turn the autofocus off. Often when using a ten-stop or 15-stop filter the autofocus will hunt as you press the button, so turning it off maintains the focus point. 

(Image credit: Paul Sanders)
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6. Exposure times
Work out the correct exposure with your ten-stop filter and don’t adjust the aperture or touch the focus. I use the free Lee Filters app, but there are others available for a small fee. Take the exposure from step 4, dial the shutter speed into your app, apply the filter you’re using – in my case a ten-stop – and read off the new time. 

You can also use the apps to time the exposure if you don’t have a built-in timer. Set the camera to B or Bulb mode, release the shutter using a cable release and lock the release. 

Unlock after the time the app calculated has passed. Always check your aperture is the same as the initial exposure – often changing to Bulb mode does not copy across the aperture settings especially on Canon cameras.

Paul Sanders

(Image credit: Paul Sanders)
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Read more: 

Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK (opens in new tab)
Learn the craft of slow-shutter-speed photography (opens in new tab)
Can photography improve your mental health (opens in new tab)?

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Lauren is the Managing Editor of Digital Camera World, having previously served as Editor of Digital Photographer (opens in new tab) magazine, a practical-focused publication that inspires hobbyists and seasoned pros alike to take truly phenomenal shots and get the best results from their kit. 


An experienced photography journalist who has been covering the industry for over eight years, she has also served as technique editor for both PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine (opens in new tab)PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine and DCW's sister publication, Digital Camera Magazine (opens in new tab)


In addition to techniques and tutorials that enable you to achieve great results from your cameras, lenses, tripods and other photography equipment, Lauren can regularly be found interviewing some of the biggest names in the industry, sharing tips and guides on subjects like landscape and wildlife photography, and raising awareness for subjects such as mental health and women in photography.