Author Topic: Photography and Meditation  (Read 782 times)

Michael Erlewine

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Photography and Meditation
« on: February 03, 2022, 14:28:35 »
I can remember when I first tried to share my explorations into focus stacking on various photography forums. I was treated as if focus stacking was equivalent to the garish style of HDR (High Dynamic Range) that was common at the time, and which was not considered ‘real’ photography by most. It reminds me of the endless argument on jazz forums, the thread: “Is Kenny G Jazz?”

I felt bad that ‘Focus Stacking’ was considered ‘a cheap shot’ or somehow just ‘bad’ photography. I’m sure that view will be denied having existed today or has been carefully walked back, but I remember it well. Nevertheless, I persevered because I could see beauty in this emerging technique, if used tastefully.

Actually, I was coming to focus stacking, not from the HDR crowd, but rather from my 50 years or so of practicing Tibetan-style meditation. And I thought it might be interesting to sketch that approach out today, as it makes a certain kind of sense, the similarity of focus stacking and nondual forms of meditation like Insight Meditation (Vipassana).

Today the ‘meditation’ world has been muddied when it comes to describing ‘meditation.’ The word ‘meditation’ used to refer to the Asian techniques of ‘mindfulness’, meaning in particular what is called Tranquility Meditation (Shamata in Sanskrit). In this modern world the popular meaning of meditation for many folks are the various forms of relaxation therapies, just the opposite from what teachers like the Buddha intended. The Buddha taught ‘mindfulness’, waking up and awareness, while relaxation ‘meditation’ is for cooling out, letting our hair down, and relaxing. Nothing wrong with either technique, just some confusion when one is mistaken for the other and vice versa.

And ‘Mindfulness’ meditation is generally subdivided into the beginning forms of meditation, which are dualistic, meaning they have a subject (ourselves) and an object (everything else) like Tranquility meditation , and the more advanced forms of meditation like Insight Meditation, which are non-dualistic, meaning we are in a state (or process) of complete immersion, without the dualistic subjects and objects as a main focus of our attention.

It is the complete immersion and suspension in that immersion that allows the mind not to be bothered by self-consciousness, with its endless comments, annotations, and distractions. It’s not that what we know as the subject and object in our dualistic Samsaric view are not present in the non-dual dharma practices like Insight Meditation and Mahamudra. Of course, they are. What made up the subject and objects are still present, just no longer present as subject and object, but rather seen as they naturally are in themselves, part of the whole picture.

In other words, it’s not that the subject and objects that make the Samsaric view of ‘Samsara’ are not present and visible, but rather that, in the non-dual practices they are, as mentioned, no longer seen as subjects or objects, or this or that. They are just present as an equal part of the whole picture, but independent of being particularized or divided against one another dualistically.

So, it is not that what we are immersed in with Insight Meditation is not distinct or clear, but just the opposite. Insight Meditation is crystal clear and luminous because there is no confusion of subject and object. Everything in Insight Meditation is of one nature and our attention is not being led to the so-called ‘subject’ here as opposed to the ‘object’ over here, and so on.

It’s very much like what we do in still photography via what is called ‘focus stacking’ as mentioned above. Whereas with the traditional photograph we always have a photographer’s view, a single point (and plane) most in focus that constitutes the center and our angle of the ‘view’, while with ‘focus stacking’, everything can be in perfect focus (or as much in focus as we want) and there is no particular subject or object and no particular view.

In my opinion, this lack of either subject or object confuses our habitual tendency to have but a single view and frees the mind to choose whatever view pleases us and we are not used to having that degree of freedom or choice, any choice at all for that matter. We are habitually used to being led or prompted to see a photo from a single angle/plane and point of view.

Take that single view away, and perhaps almost subconsciously we can feel and sense the difference. Instead of being led or directed within the photograph, we are free to just relax and look around the photo, free to choose our own view.

I find the similarities between the non-dual meditation techniques in meditation and the techniques of focus stacking interesting.

For those interested in learning to use focus stacking as a technique, here are 24 free videos I put together for that purpose:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL5xDr8mWUwrzi4bxY978O1DQykUrj-S2I

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golunvolo

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Re: Photography and Meditation
« Reply #1 on: February 03, 2022, 14:38:51 »
Thank you Michael for your generosity

Bill Mellen

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Re: Photography and Meditation
« Reply #2 on: February 03, 2022, 14:50:41 »
...
It’s very much like what we do in still photography via what is called ‘focus stacking’ as mentioned above. Whereas with the traditional photograph we always have a photographer’s view, a single point (and plane) most in focus that constitutes the center and our angle of the ‘view’, while with ‘focus stacking’, everything can be in perfect focus (or as much in focus as we want) and there is no particular subject or object and no particular view.

In my opinion, this lack of either subject or object confuses our habitual tendency to have but a single view and frees the mind to choose whatever view pleases us and we are not used to having that degree of freedom or choice, any choice at all for that matter. We are habitually used to being led or prompted to see a photo from a single angle/plane and point of view.

Take that single view away, and perhaps almost subconsciously we can feel and sense the difference. Instead of being led or directed within the photograph, we are free to just relax and look around the photo, free to choose our own view.
...

Michael, I like what you have said very much.  I need to spend more time on learning to make effective focus stacked images.
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Michael Erlewine

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Re: Photography and Meditation
« Reply #3 on: February 03, 2022, 14:58:13 »
Michael, I like what you have said very much.  I need to spend more time on learning to make effective focus stacked images.

Well if you have a modern Nikon DSL or mirrorless camera and a lens with autofocus, nothing could be easier. For years I held my nose and insisted on stacking images manually, by hand. I was sure there was something magic in my doing it like that. However, when I tried the built in focus stacking feature of some modern Nikons and looked at the result, I couldn't say that anymore. LOL.

However, I do wish the smallest 'step' was .5 rather than 1 increment.
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Bill Mellen

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Re: Photography and Meditation
« Reply #4 on: February 03, 2022, 15:26:07 »
Thank you, I have a Z6, Adobe LR/PS, and Helicon Focus Pro. 

The Z6 does make it amazingly easy, I just need to methodically spend the time working on technique; especially step width, and the number of images when considering subject distance for a given focal length and aperture.

Now that I am semi-retired and 72 years old, it is time for me to do that.  Your images have been an inspiration to me for a long time.
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Michael Erlewine

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Re: Photography and Meditation
« Reply #5 on: February 03, 2022, 15:29:24 »
Thank you, I have a Z6, Adobe LR/PS, and Helicon Focus Pro. 

The Z6 does make it amazingly easy, I just need to methodically spend the time working on technique; especially step width, and the number of images when considering subject distance for a given focal length and aperture.

Now that I am semi-retired and 72 years old, it is time for me to do that.  Your images have been an inspiration to me for a long time.

Well, we can always overshoot and then truncate what we don't want to keep or show. That's what I do. Easy. Then throw away all the images, which I don't do at this point.
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Robert Camfield

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Re: Photography and Meditation
« Reply #6 on: April 25, 2022, 02:25:08 »
Of course, they are. What made up the subject and objects are still present, just no longer present as subject and object, but rather seen as they naturally are in themselves, part of the whole picture.....We are habitually used to being led or prompted to see a photo from a single angle/plane and point of view.

Michael,
I appreciate the well articulated perspective...which I interpret to be a convergence (or parallel) of the art of the meditation which you describe and the more complete and full photo view obtained via photo stacking. It seems to me that this perspective-no clear distinction between objective and subject-is also implicit with panorama photographs.

Robert


Michael Erlewine

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Re: Photography and Meditation
« Reply #7 on: April 25, 2022, 02:46:47 »
Of course, they are. What made up the subject and objects are still present, just no longer present as subject and object, but rather seen as they naturally are in themselves, part of the whole picture.....We are habitually used to being led or prompted to see a photo from a single angle/plane and point of view.

Michael,

I appreciate the well articulated perspective...which I interpret to be a convergence (or parallel) of the art of the meditation which you describe and the more complete and full photo view obtained via photo stacking. It seems to me that this perspective-no clear distinction between objective and subject-is also implicit with panorama photographs.

Robert

Of course, for those of us who actually study and practice meditation, we know that practicing meditation is not meditating, but only practicing meditation.

Actual meditation, such as Vipassana, Mahamudra, Dzogchen, is not relative, meaning having subject and object like we have “We” the subject take a photo of “That” the object. Actual meditation is a full immersion in the process of photography. Years ago, I wrote this little poem about practicing meditation as opposed to actually meditating. I try to do my photography fully immersed, so to speak.

PRACTICE A HABIT

Meditation,
While not practice,
Is a habit,
That can be practiced.

Practice builds habits,
But should not itself,
Become a habit.

In other words:
Practice,
To form a habit,
But don’t make,
A habit of it.
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Robert Camfield

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Re: Photography and Meditation
« Reply #8 on: May 07, 2022, 16:36:50 »
Michael,

Thanks for further clarifying, though I can't say the distinction between meditation and it's practice is fully internalized, at least by me. Regardless, the hand of poetry is thoughtful, artistic...Robert

Michael Erlewine

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Re: Photography and Meditation
« Reply #9 on: May 07, 2022, 16:55:26 »
Michael,

Thanks for further clarifying, though I can't say the distinction between meditation and it's practice is fully internalized, at least by me. Regardless, the hand of poetry is thoughtful, artistic...Robert

It's pretty simple. Practicing to play the guitar is not the same as playing music. It's the effort involved, and the various things one has to work on, scales, fingering, tone, etc. The goal, so to speak, is playing music. And, we can put our favorite Django Reinhardt CD on and hear what we want to sound like. However, with mediation (and there are several main types), there is no CD, VCR, Vinyl, or DVD that we can put on that will allow us to sample what it would be like to experience the fruition of actually meditating. And so, practicing meditation is not the same as just meditation, when all the scaffolding involved in practice is taken away, all the effort.

So, the poem says: yes, by all means to practice, but don't make a habit of practicing, but eventually just meditate.
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Fons Baerken

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Re: Photography and Meditation
« Reply #10 on: May 08, 2022, 11:48:01 »
With the elements in place