There are times when we stop, we sit still. We listen and breezes from a whole other world begin to whisper.

 – James Carroll

“BE STILL” MEMORIES

There comes a time when we all need to slow down, be still, take deep breaths and simply “be.” I used to do this a lot when I was growing up, especially in my teens. My still place was always outside. Sometimes, I would bring a blanket into the backyard and find a place in the shade to lay down and daydream. We had lots of green grass and clover in our yard. I remember the fresh smells and soft breezes and the comfort of those quiet times. Times when my mind was not filled with pressing to-do lists. Sometimes I would bring a pen and paper with me and write poetry. It didn’t matter whether it was good or not, only that I found and made the time to express myself.

In those days, and for many, many years, writing was my creative outlet and my soul feeder. I would also ride down to the bay and find a quiet place on the dock and just sit for a time with my eyes closed. I would listen to the water lapping on the pilings, hear the dock boards creek, and the seabirds and more make their sounds. I know there were boats and cars swirling around, but on my dock-sits those noises were somehow muted. When I consider these times, I remember how calming and restorative they were in those younger years.

People should learn how to just be there, doing nothing. (Thich Nhat Hanh)

MAKING TIME FOR STILLNESS

What happened to those quiet times? How did they spread out in time to the point of fading slowly off my radar? I have my guesses, and they’re probably right on. After high school my family moved to North Carolina. I was on my own. School and work and college filled my time for four years before I, too, moved South for more college and then “real world” work. I involved myself in plenty of activities, so I clearly had the free time available to reinstate my still times. I just didn’t. I think this happens to many of us.

More and more I am seeing that the quiet, unencumbered times are important. Recently, I’ve realized that not only do I miss those quiet moments in time, but I also need them. I need them so that my mind can meander, wander and clear aimlessly and without pressure. The mind clearing is good for us. It allows us to refresh and reset and come back to “reality” with clarity and calm.

When I started in photography and bought my first camera, it was at a time in my life when I faced challenges that made me realize that I am not invincible. It took over thirty-four years to accept my mortality. What a lightbulb moment. My time with the camera became more and more of a soul feeder, a new one. It took me a while to recognize that my photo time could be as calming and restorative as those times with blanket and grass, pen and paper and even dock time.

Finding subjects that enthrall me makes the whole world disappear. My breathing slows, my shoulders drop, and all the busyness of the day and all the pressures melt away. As I think of this transformation that happens in the field, I begin to wonder what makes an image, a scene or subject calming. It would seem that the “in the moment” experiences transfer to the subjects and are reflected in the images. Do I intentionally seek calming, healing moments in the field? Not really. However, I do latch onto and embrace them when they happen.

A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms. (Zen Shin)

FINDING CALM IN COLOR, CURVES, TEXTURES & LIGHT

I thought of colors, curves, textures and light. What about these makes me feel calm, peaceful and hopeful? What instills comfort? As for colors, it’s the soft pastel shades of blues and pinks and orange, any shade of purple (my favorite color) and gentle greens. Curving lines and smooth textures bring me to a quiet place in my mind. Soft, muted light does the same.

When I did some research on the psychology of color, I was not surprised that “my colors” were on the list. What was interesting to learn is that blue – darker blue – is said to be the world’s most relaxing color. It is considered to be peaceful, calm, gentle and soothing. Who knew that the favorite color of my youth held these properties? Remarkably, I have very few images where blue of any shade is dominant. Then, there’s green, especially the blue-greens and pale yellow-greens, connected closely to nature and among the most stress-reducing shades. Greens in general offer qualities of restfulness, quiet and harmonious feelings.

I learned that pink can promote tranquility and peace and can soothe energies. It’s fairly certain that the louder bold magentas and hot pinks do not reside in the calming corner. It’s the pastel and lighter shades that are linked to calmness, hope and gentleness. As to my favorite color, purple of any shade, it is perceived as uplifting and calming to the mind and said to offer a sense of spirituality and encourage creativity. My searches went further and noted that those whose favorite color is purple are creative and intuitive. Good to know and be in the company of other creative purple lovers. I’ll just add “dreamer” to the list. What are your favorite colors? Do they lift you up or calm your spirits? Or both? (I am a lover of bold and uplifting colors, too, and at different times with a different mindset will join the celebration of more energized scenes and subjects. Food for another study and self-assignment.)

Be still, and know that I am God … (Psalm 46:10)

You cannot perceive beauty, but with a serene mind. (Henry David Thoreau)

Looking at curves, smooth, flowing lines and softened textures, each adds to the calming effect of any image. They are generally soft and smooth, feathery or velvety. They stimulate the senses of sight and touch and give us a sense of the tactile quality of the surface of a given subject. And, the choices we make in depth of field, perspective and composition can amplify any calming effect we want to convey to the viewer (us being the first and most important). In most cases, you wouldn’t want every detail to be recorded. Wider apertures and shallower depth of field convey softness and calm when paired with calming colors. Keeping things simple overall is very relaxing, allowing the mind to wander at a slower pace.

As for the light, it changes everything in our images – how the scene or subject looks and feels. Stormy, moody weather does little to inspire calm. For that, we look for softer, more muted light – light that occurs in early morning, late afternoon, and on light, overcast days. On sunny days we can still achieve softer light by using a diffuser and reflector. I do this all the time as I’ve yet to be able to control the weather. All of the above elements work together to create images that can instill a state of tranquility. It’s a team effort, and you as the photographer are the team leader. Where do you want to go with your images?

Within you, there is a stillness and sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.           (Hermann Hesse)

A “SEEKING CALM” ASSIGNMENT

So, one of the things I did to confirm or affirm the relationship of color to calmness was head out to the local arboretum and nursery with camera in hand. We’re still in transition from the brown and gray stick season with only early spring flowers sporadically in bloom. The choices were somewhat limited in the arboretum. The nursery had more color, but as one might imagine, there were more bold and vibrant colors than soft and muted. In both places I looked for the colors and textures that made me feel relaxed, that gave me a sense of calm. While I was searching for subjects, I spoke these words -quiet, peace, still, comfort and calm. If a subject didn’t inspire me to connect it with any of these words, I kept walking. I only stopped for subjects that matched these words.

Another choice I made for this assignment was to use my new Lensbaby Soft Focus II optic. It offers another level of softness at wider apertures that in my view help to create soft, peaceful and calming images. In the gathering of images to share here, I also took a tour of my archives in search of ones that shared the element of calm. I looked for images that made me feel “chill”, that brought me to that old familiar “still place” of my youth.

Nature is the best medicine for serenity, peace, calmness, stillness. It’s good for the heart. (Karen Madewell)

ADDING INSPIRATIONAL WORDS

To refine the results of the assignment for this post, I gathered inspirational quotes related to the topic and paired them with the images. It was all an exercise in awareness, attention, being mindful as well as creating and harvesting images that exhibit a sense