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Slackershot: Nikon D40Got a camera? Nearly everyone does these days, from tiny cameras built into mobile devices to prosumer mammoth DSLRs that professional journalists would have traded their children for a generation ago. Like most things in human nature, we very often make woefully little use of the potential of what we have with us. Our cameras are pulled out for pub crawls and the occasional roadside accident, or for the junior sporting event and family photo, but most people don’t tap into the potential at all.

Believe it or not, cameras can be an incredible tool for helping you reclaim your life and get more out of every day. How? Nothing helps you practice mindfulness and being in the present moment like looking for something to take a picture of.

By the way, far too many folks focus on gear, thinking they need the best possible camera in order to take photos. Like many things human, it’s more about the person behind the gear than the gear itself. There’s a group on Flickr called Cameraphone that demonstrates some amazing photographs taken with relatively poor quality cameraphones (compared to, say, full DSLRs). So put the gear question out of your head for a moment.

So how do you use a camera to get more out of life? Simple: look for things to take photos of. Be very specific and aim for themes rather than subjects. Here are some examples:

– intersecting lines
– light and shadow
– contrasting colors
– complementary colors
– moving objects
– things that are blue
– food
– circles
– squares
– kids playing
– triangles

The subjects of your photography can be endless. Pick a theme for a day, commit to taking X number of pictures that day, and then go walk around life trying to take those photos. You’ll be amazed at how many examples of your theme suddenly reveal themselves when you go looking for them. It doesn’t matter whether the photos are good (in a commercial sense) or not as long as you do the exercise.

Why? Because looking for subjects to photograph requires presentness, requires awareness. You can’t phone it in – you have to be present, you have to be aware, you have to be alive and awake enough to look for the subjects you want to shoot. That’s something my Zen friends call zanshin – mindfulness.

Once you’ve got your brain trained to be aware, awake, alert, and alive, extend the exercise. Look for more difficult items to photograph, things that are rare. Learn composition.

When you’ve got the hang of mindfulness, you’ll find that your brain starts to do it more frequently, even without a camera. Keep training your brain to be mindful and aware of things you want to be aware of. Suddenly, life becomes richer. You notice more things. You’re present in more conversations. Little moments, little details that completely passed you by suddenly appear – and isn’t that the joy of a rich life?

Here’s one last point, one last idea: you’ll find that what you look for, you find. Look for sharp contrasts of shadow and light and you’ll find them. Look for any subject, any theme, any idea and you’ll find it. Some topics and themes might take longer than others to find, but you will find them in time. You’re also guaranteed NOT to find them if you’re not looking for them…

… which extends to life as well. Looking for reasons to be happy? You’ll find them. Looking for reasons to be dissatisfied? You’ll find them, too. Training your brain to find what you seek works whether you’re looking through a viewfinder or your own soul. Decide what you want to look for in your camera and in life, and that’s what you’ll find.

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