Understanding Zen Photography

What is Zen Photography?

Buddha Statue by Carl Weaver

Zen photography is the application of Zen principles to the art of photography. “Zen” is a term that literally means “mindfulness,” so what we are talking about is being present in the moment in which we take photographs. Complete concentration on the present moment during photography can lead to the perfection of getting the shot you want, but more than that, the ultimate reward in Zen photography is the act of taking the photograph. Zen is about the process, not necessarily the outcome. Concentration and single-pointedness of mind result in greater calmness and satisfaction with life, and will also improve your photography. It is a virtuous cycle.

Two sides of photography deserve equal attention when thinking about establishing Zen photography as a regular practice. Both technique (the more scientific side) as well as vision (the more artistic side) need attention to achieve the harmony you seek in Zen photography.

Perfecting Technique

One way to establish concentration for Zen photography is to get mastery over the various elements of exposure. Learning this information will help you become one with your camera and understand how it works. This may seem hokey, but in all seriousness, the camera should be a natural extension of your hands and eyes. Just like your hands are natural extensions of your arms and you know all the intricate ways you can use your hands, the camera should become a further extension of your body.

Knowing all the controls will help you react quickly when you want to press the shutter release to get a specific photo. Practice with your camera. Attend a photography class for individual attention if you need to, but definitely learn how your camera works. I like to think of a modified version of the Rifleman’s Creed: This is my camera. There are many like it but this one is mine…

Perfecting Vision

The technical side is one thing, but the other side of photography is the more creative, artistic angle. Zen photography incorporates the useful rules of composition so that the resulting photo is not just technically correct but also reflects the artistic vision you have. This requires practice also, and study about what makes great composition. This might include the rule of thirds, finding intersecting lines and vanishing points, or possibly just showing repeating patterns. Many tutorials about photographic composition are available for you on this site.

What I have found works well most of the time is incorporating two elements of composition into each photo. Certainly don’t try to use all of them at once; your photo will look too busy. If you use only one, it may look a bit sparse. Play with the different composition rules and see what works for your style. When you look through your viewfinder, think about what will help frame your photo. Good framing can make or break an excellent image.


Author’s own experiences studying Zen and as a professional photographer.

Photo of Buddha statue by Carl Weaver

Wikipedia, Rifleman's Creed