Photography: An Exercise in Mindfulness and Gratitude

Updated: Aug 31, 2021

Self-care doesn’t have to be serious all the time! Photography is a great way to find and appreciate the beauty in everyday life.


Backyard eggs. Photo by Kate Farrell


We all know that being mindfully present and grateful is good for our mental health. Yet, being present and grateful is often easier said than done!


When I got into photography it was to stop time and capture images of my beautiful babies for whom I was so thankful. As the kids grew to school age, photography taught me some things about being present, finding beauty and being grateful.


We are nearing the start of a school year like no other; there is little of the usual back to school excitement. We nervously and hopefully watch COVID-19 numbers locally and around the globe. We parent, work and take care of ourselves from home 24/7. In these times, stress management needs daily attention.


When we are able to manage our internal response to stress, we are in a better place to respond intentionally rather than reacting instinctively. To do that, we need to be mindful: noticing both the situation and how we feel about it, almost as an outside observer. Enter photography! (Yes, there are many other tools that work, but photography might be the most fun!)


When I’m getting ready to photograph a scene, I carefully observe my surroundings. What’s the light doing? What’s happening in this place? What story do I want to capture? What image will best tell that story?


I only photograph moments I want to revisit and I’m always looking for something beautiful to capture in my images. And, that’s half the mindful photography trick: finding something beautiful, something that makes me feel grateful. Even on the toughest of days, there is something beautiful happening. The other half of the trick is pausing to take in the beauty. My camera makes sure I pause and lets me revisit that feeling of being present and grateful anytime I look back on my photos.


Early in the pandemic, pausing to photograph a midday tea and chocolate treat brought my grateful attention to the soft window light in the kitchen, the pretty pink on the chocolate wrapper and the teapot my husband had given me for Christmas. After taking this photo, with tea in hand, it was back to the balancing act that is pandemic parenting.


Help is on the way. Photo by Kate Farrell.


Lately life feels disrupted, uncertain and disconnected from time as we’ve known it. We try to maintain some semblance of “normal,” but nearly six-months into pandemic life “normal” feels like a distant memory in a by-gone era. The future is uncertain. I’m taking an hour-by-hour approach to most days.


Yet there is normal life to be found in nature. Recently, parenting responsibilities had me an hour “behind schedule” and I was hoping to go for a bike ride before another round of rain arrived. As I was about to leave, my nine year old whisper-announced, “The heron is back!” He and I spent the next ten minutes sitting on the porch, chatting about how it had been a few weeks since we saw a Great Blue Heron at the pond and photographing our visitor. About an hour later, I got caught pedaling in some heavy rain; I wouldn’t have traded the time with my 4th grader for a dry workout!


A welcome visit from a Great Blue Heron! Photo by Kate Farrell.


Sometimes when I’m feeling stuck or need a reset, I grab my camera and head outside. There is always something in nature to notice. What does the sky look like today? What’s going on in the garden and yard? Photography helped me pause and notice that the Rudbeckia and Autumn Sedum haven't gotten the memo about 2020. They are as beautiful as ever on a late summer evening!


A summer evening in Vermont. Photo by Kate Farrell.


You don’t need to be “a photographer” to use a camera to help you be present and mindful. Ask yourself, “What’s beautiful or special about this moment?” Photographing it will likely bring you into a present and grateful state of mind. No need to have an audience in mind either! Take a photo just for the sake of pausing time right now. There’s nothing wrong with leaving the pictures on your phone to be rediscovered in a few years or recalled late at night when you are wondering if anything is as it should be. It won’t fix the world’s problems, but it might bring you into the present moment with a feeling of gratitude. Give it a try!


Kate Farrell is a photographer, writer, endurance athlete and former science teacher. She and her husband live with their four children in Vermont.


Also by Kate Farrell: I Got Through PTSD and It’s Helping Me Now


Kate Farrell Photography on FaceBook

Kate Farrell Photography on the Web


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