How to Photograph Gratefulness
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With Thanksgiving coming up here in the U.S., I thought it would be a timely topic to discuss gratitude and how photography can help you find ways to be more grateful.
Though it mind sound like a stretch to tie gratitude in with photography, it's actually a great pairing.
When you think about it, gratitude is all about recognizing the things in life that bring us joy. Photography is much the same - there's a constant search for things to photograph that we can turn into beautiful images, and who isn't grateful for a beautiful image?!
With that in mind, here's a few tips for finding the good in the world by getting behind the lens.
Find Time to Be Mindful
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It's difficult to discuss gratitude without also discussing mindfulness.
After all, mindfulness is the act of pausing and taking a moment to appreciate the people and things around you. If you don't take those moments here and there to recognize those people and things, it's hard to be grateful for them, right?
So, the first step in using photography as a vehicle for being more grateful is to find time to be mindful.
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Just a few seconds here or there to appreciate the warmth of the sun's rays, the way your kid laughs, or how your spouse's smile makes you feel can help you realize how much there is in your life to be thankful for.
And once you begin to recognize all those things, you can start to develop a list of subjects to photograph under the theme of gratefulness.
Top Tip: Mindfulness can also help you become a better photographer. By noticing the little things - light, shadows, lines, patterns, and so forth - you can develop your creative eye and create images that have more depth and detail.
Try Not to Think too Literally
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Some of the things you're grateful for will be actual, physical things you can photograph - like your pet or people, for example.
When using photography to be more grateful, though, try not to think literally for each subject. Instead, find ways for your photos to represent something you're grateful for.
For example, if you're grateful for an abstract concept like freedom, consider different ways that you can capture that in an image.
Rather than taking a photo of something obvious, strive for something that represents the concept like your husband and child running through a field at sunset or simply photograph a wide-open landscape as a means of conveying the idea of freedom and being free.
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A personal example for me would be my appreciation of starry nights.
Growing up, my dad and I would spend hours outside looking at the stars, and because of that, one of my favorite things to do is look at and photograph the stars.
But instead of being too literal about it and taking a photo of a random starry night, I could find a more meaningful way to express my gratefulness for those kinds of scenes.
That might involve going back to my childhood home to take a photo of the spot my dad and I used to view the stars. Perhaps I could take a portrait of my dad under a starry sky as well.
The point is that often the things we're grateful for are symbolic of something else - in my case, starry nights remind me of how grateful I am for my dad. The challenge is to realize how you can capture that symbolism in your photos.
Top Tip: If it's a person you're grateful for, try taking an alternative portrait of them instead of a traditional portrait. Focus on a feature - like their hands - or try a "faceless" portrait in which you photograph them from behind in the context of a particular scene. Sometimes, these kinds of portraits can have even more meaning for you than traditional ones.
Photograph Other People's Gratefulness
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In my part of the world, it's not uncommon for people to be grateful for a shorter commute than usual. In other parts of the world, being grateful for clean drinking water is more the norm.
When thinking about how to use your camera to document gratefulness, think not just about what you're grateful for but what other people might be grateful for as well.
Doing so actually has multiple benefits for you as a person and as a photographer, too.
On the one hand, focusing on other people's gratefulness allows you to see the world from their perspective, and putting yourself in other people's shoes is a great way to appreciate the many differences between us.
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On the other hand, seeking out ways to photograph other people's gratefulness is an excellent photography exercise.
You can develop your people skills, learn how to approach strangers to take their photos, and hone your portrait photography skills, as just a few examples.
The photos you create can even bring you closer together with people.
The time and effort you put into creating compelling images of someone can certainly make them feel grateful for you, and that's a good thing!
Top Tip: When photographing other people's gratefulness, strive to capture them in a candid moment enjoy what they're grateful for rather than posing them in a shot. The result can be a much more meaningful and natural-looking photo.
Possible Subjects for the Gratefulness Theme
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As noted above, what one person is grateful for might not be what the next is grateful for, so it's important to keep an open mind when trying to capture this concept in a photograph.
That notwithstanding, here's a few ideas you might try to go along with the gratefulness theme:
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It can be easy to get a little down when all we seem to hear on the news is about madness, mayhem, scandals, natural disasters, and other depressing subjects.
But there is a ton of good in the world, and plenty of things we can all be grateful for.
As photographers, I truly believe we can use our skills and talents to help make the world a little better one photo at a time.
So, this holiday season, challenge yourself to identify what you're grateful for and find ways to capture it in an image. You never know when the images you create makes someone else grateful for you and your talents!