Hummingbirds and Contemplative Photography

John Howard Griffin loaned Thomas Merton a camera and that began Merton’s exploration of contemplative photography. Two years ago, I co-led a retreat on Merton with Father James Behrens at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia. Father James, like Abbot Dom Michael, is following in the footsteps of Merton’s contemplative photography. I am learning form them and I recently taught a course on The Zen of Photography at the Institute for Continuing Learning at Young Harris College.

Contemplative photography teaches me how to be present to what is happening here and now. It does not fall in the mode of travel photography where you shoot numerous pictures of places you have never really been (You have been too busy just taking pictures.)

My latest rich experience of contemplative has been photographing hummingbirds as they come to our feeders. Sometime I get sneak shots of them through the kitchen window. Most of the time, I sit in a folding chair in the front drive with my camera on a monopod and armed with a 400 mm or 300mm lens. To get the pictures you have be in a contemplative mode—sitting quietly and patiently waiting for the hummingbirds. They hum back and forth. They spot me and fly away. Soon, however, they get used to me sitting there and come to the feeder. Their little hearts can beat as much as 1260 beats per minute. They can hover. They can fly backwards. Their main food is insects; however, they love the nectar in the feeders. They manifest the glory of their Creator.

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