Zen Photography & Self Acceptance

Updated: Oct 30, 2018

Author Jenn Mishra

This article continues the series exploring characteristics of Zen Photography. I outlined 9 Characteristics of Zen Photography in a previous article.

This article explores ways in which a Zen Photographer accepts themselves. On this topic, I wrote in the original article:

A Zen Photographer Accepts Self

Zen photographers accept where they are in their own vision and skill. Though always seeking improvement, they check their desire to compare themselves with other photographers and envy other photographers’ successes. Zen photographers work within themselves to create the best possible photographs they can. They acknowledge and accept natural human insecurities and negative desires, then refocus their energies on creating compelling photographs.

This photo was one of my first attempts at capturing an event. I attended a ceremony beginning the creation of a Tibetan mandala. I didn't want to interrupt by being obvious with my photography, but managed to capture this monk in prayer. I could judge everything wrong with this photo, but it represents who I was at the time and I accept the image for that stage of my life.

This characteristic hits close to home as I spend a great deal of time working on developing this characteristic both in photography and in my life generally.

In essence, be where you are - accept yourself. You are perfect right now – for right now.

This doesn’t mean you will never grow. Humans are pre-programmed to learn. We start learning from Day 1 and keep learning. We WANT to know things.

Humans are naturally curious. We wouldn’t have all the inventions we have if we didn’t always try something new out of boredom or to make our lives easier. Where ever you are now, I guarantee that one day you’ll be just a little curious about what that button does on you camera or you’ll try out a new app to use on your iPhone. See my article about curiosity and Zen Photography.

We can find out anything we want to know by searching the web – or finding a friend who knows how to do something you don’t.

I remember learning how to make water go silky like this and going to this very same place to practice long exposures. This photo was taken 2 weeks ago and I'm still working on this technique.

When I was commuting, I’d listen to podcasts on photography. There were many times that the presenters were talking way over my head or about camera gear I didn’t own - or care about. I decided early on to let these episodes play in the background. I’d pick up what I could.

The podcasters may have been talking over my head then - about focus stacking or luminosity masking or some other advanced technique - but I’d glean what I could. I’d learn when I was ready to learn. These types of topics tend to repeat. I’d hear about them again on another show and the next time I’d pick up a bit more.

I decided not to get frustrated and be down on myself because I didn’t know everything about photography instantly from Day One. I’d accept where I was in my photography skills and when I got curious enough about how to do something, I’d figure it out.

The important part was no self-judgment. I didn’t decide that I SHOULD learn about focus stacking because I’d heard about it on a podcast. When I was ready, I’d learn – or maybe not. That was ok, too.

I recently participated in a print competition focusing on black and white photography. If you follow me on social media, especially Flickr or Instagram, you’ve seen a lot of my recent black and white photographs. I’m working on it! I’ve not done a lot of B&W so I’m still exploring what I can do.

Working on my dramatic black and white photography with some of my Tuscan images.

I got an HM in the competition, but I lost out to other photographers who knew much more about printing than I did. That’s ok, I’m not ready to dive into the art of printing. I may never be – I love taking the photos and post-processing. I could say I SHOULD learn about printing because other photographers print better, but right now I’m not ready. Maybe one day I’ll wake up and call a friend with a printer and more knowledge than I have and find out more – but I’ll wait until I wake up ready to learn.

Part of accepting your photography is knowing what you like – even if others don’t seem to like what you like The important part is that YOU like your images. I have a whole series of macro images of texture. I absolutely LOVE these images, but they seem to get a lukewarm reaction on my social media. Too bad. I love them anyway and will continue making them.

I love to make macro photos of one bit of 2'x3' sheet of metal that's used to extinguish the burning wax of during the encaustic painting process. The process creates random shapes and textures in a multitude of colors, though blue predominates. Some photos may look like maps or galaxies, others are more abstract. I call these "splatter art".

I’ve run into many photographers who are shy about sharing their images because they feel insecure about them – like they won’t favorably compare to other’s images. These photographers can choose to share or not to share their images, it’s up to them, but don’t let comparisons or insecurities drive this choice. I’ve written before about photo envy – wow do we need to watch this one! LINK

Stop for a minute and center yourself where you are in your photography. Don’t judge! Some of you will judge yourselves (I know, I do it, too). This judgment may take the form of deflecting or justifying.

Checking in with myself. A photo I shot yesterday. This is where I am. I like the dark images and saturated colors when I can get them. I like to photograph alone in remote places. My main camera is in the shop, but my backup camera is just fine.

“I use this camera now because I can’t afford anything better” or “I only shoot x because I don’t have time to travel to get better photos” or whatever else you say to yourself to make yourself feel better.

Instead, accept that there’s nothing wrong with where you are or what you’re shooting. You are who you are and your situation is what it is. Check back in again in a few months or a few years and things may be different, but that’s for the future.

Right now, think about where you are comfortable technically with the camera. What do you know how to do? What don’t you know how to do? What don’t you know how to do, but would really like to learn?

Artistically, think about the types of images you make. What do you like to shoot? How and when do you like to shoot?

Knowing where you are is the first step to accepting where you are.

In Zen thinking, desire is the root of all unhappiness. We WANT something we don’t have. Accepting where we are is difficult and those who follow Zen philosophies sometimes take a lifetime trying to master this basic concept.

The trick is to be happy where we are right now. Own it.

Could we be better? Better photographers, better people? Of course – everyone can be better. If we get better, we can always be better than that. This cycle is vicious and can lead to madness.

We often feel the chasm between where we are and where we want to be or feel we should be. The gap feels too wide and many of us give up. The truth is that there’s nothing wrong where you are right now.


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Article Written by Jennifer Mishra

Jennifer Mishra is an American travel photographer born in Colorado and based in the St. Louis metro area. She has a background in classical music and academia. She is the founder of PhotoYoga. Her photos are published at Wits End Photography or follow her on Facebook or Instagram.

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