The Beginners Mind in Photography

Shoshin - The Beginners Mind

is a word from Zen Buddhism meaning "beginner's mind." It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would.

Do you notice the difference when photographing in a new location compared to a location you know well? How much more aware you're in the new surroundings and how much that affects your productivity behind the lens. You’re experiencing the effects of the beginner's mind and it’s a wonderful thing, especially as a photographer as you can really capitalize on your hyper-awareness and eagerness to explore new streets. Naturally, though this feeling fades the more you visit the same location, your eyes wander less and your mind wanders elsewhere. You’ve gained too much knowledge of the area and the more knowledge you gain the less new knowledge you tend to take in. Our approach to the location becomes the same old routine, very static. Productivity goes down as we search for information that only goes to validate what we already know.

But you can work towards getting some of that beginner's minds back and approach these regular locations with the same type of enthusiasm as a beginner. Being actively aware of your state of mind is a big first step. Be a beginner and challenge your knowledge with your instinct. Here are some things you can do to start with, but I highly recommend assessing your own mind space and combating it in a tailored way.

Change your routine

If you notice that you walk in the same direction and down the same streets, then change it. Walk on the opposite side of the street or the next street down, anything to break your routine. Do you always visit in the golden hours? then visit outside of golden hour. Coffee breaks, lunch locations, and starting points change them all.

Challenge your focus

Do you tend to hunt for the same kinds of images? Consistency is important and you can still achieve it when you change your focus. Looking for smaller details if you’re usually shooting more topographical wider view images. Get closer and experience a different viewpoint

Know nothing about the place

Ask for directions, ask for a recommendation because you just never know what somebody else knows that you don't and what path that might send you on.

Embrace new

Who wants to photograph the brand spanking new buildings when you have those old places with character around the corner. You! Everything ages and whilst you might not want to photograph the new, being aware and challenging yourself to look for shots is a good way to gather new information.

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For me, it’s about getting the most from my time photographing. Getting more from documenting locations and shooting street photography in these locations. I want to get as close to feeling like a beginner in a place as possible because I know just how much it impacts my images.

Knowledge is a great thing, but it can also be a bit debilitating. Being able to draw from your knowledge whilst viewing the world as a beginner is a recipe for success.