defining zen photography

Defining Zen Photography

I have been learning a lot of different kind of photography until now and I can say I know a lot. But sometime there always new kind and not so new that I just know. So today I want to know another kind of photography that quite famous and I want to Understand them. So now we gonna try to defining zen photography.

Defining Zen Photography

The word is simple, “zen.” What’s that?

So according to Wikipedia, The term Zen is derived from the Japanese pronunciation of the Middle Chinese word 禪 (Chan) which traces its roots to the Indian practice of Dhyana (“meditation”).

“Zen emphasizes rigorous self-control, meditation-practice, insight into Buddha-nature, and the personal expression of this insight in daily life, especially for the benefit of others. As such, it de-emphasizes mere knowledge of sutras and doctrine and favors direct understanding through zazen and interaction with an accomplished teacher.”

So it sound to me like philosophical believe of peace, calm, balance, and nature for me.

So what it got to do with photography? I DON’T KNOW. I just learn the term few months ago. So let’s figure it out.

Defining Zen Photography

A Deeper Look into Zen Photography Itself

Since peace and balance is a subjective term, it sound to me that zen photography feels like some kind of fine art photography. With specific theme and style in mind.

So what come to mind when we heard the word “peace, calm, balance”? What kind of photography that we could associate with those words. I can think of few.

1. Negative Space

“Negative space, in art, is the space around and between the subject(s) of an image.”

Negative space is a photography composition that emphasized on it simplicity. You only have a subject and a background. Where a subject is small part of the frame and the background is vast and empty. Because of that, you can’t help yourself but to draw your attention only to the subject of the photo.

2. Minimalist

If we’re talking about the word, “simple.” What more better way than minimalist photography.

Basically minimalist photography really about how simple the composition. You don’t need to much element in the photo.

It does sound the same as negative space. But the different is that negative space photography really empathize on the empty vast background that make us direct our focus to the subject. Minimalist photography on the other hand not only empathize on it simple composition, but also the element in it. Like a photograph of line (yep, just line), can also become minimalist photography.

Defining Zen Photography

3. Long Exposure

Another thing I can think of is Long Exposure photography.

Long exposure photography is a photography with long shutter speed (about 30 sec or more). With long shutter speed, it give a sense of motion to moving element in the photo.

Since we’re talking about zen photography, I think it more like a really long shutter speed. About 1 minute or more. With super long shutter speed, moving element can be appear more calm, than moving. For example if I take a shot of a river with 30 second shutter speed, the water probably still appear in motion and some freckle. But if I’m using 2 minute shutter speed, the water will appear calm with no motion at all, as if some kind of misty smooth water.

So there you have. But of course it’s also should have a simple composition to be called a zen photo.

Taken from Long Beach, Bengkulu, Indonesia

4. Monochrome

Since there’s the word “calm,” that mean we also talking about affect (mood, emotion, and feeling). Then what better way to convey affect than monochrome photography, among others.

I said this a lot, monochrome photography or black and white photography (not the same thing) can give the sense of emotion for the viewer more better than color photography. Because it remove the distraction (I mean color) so we can look more deeper into the picture. With that, zen photography can be great in monochrome because it can really emphasize the affect of calmness.

Look at It Differently

There’s also another way to look at it. Instead of thinking of making a zen photography, you can be zen yourself and then photograph.

Calm your mind, be in peace and then shot. A calm mind can give a new perspective of photography and automatically a zen photography for you. Don’t think of anything beside the present, what in front of you, and what you can photograph.


Zen photography really associate with calmness, simplicity, and peace. The idea is creating a photograph that represent that and there’s a lot of way to do that. It’s just like fine art photography, you don’t have to be specific in photography theme or genre. Or we can be what idea of zen is, be calm and in peace our self.

Which do you prefer?

2 thoughts on “Defining Zen Photography

  1. having exploring zen off and on for some decades now, you have brought a thoughtful and evocative approach to the melding of zen and photography. i am reminded of zazen which mean “just sitting” – and for the photographer wandering for the right shot, it might be helpful to just sit with landscape, whether nature or urban, to see what is already there. i was out on a photo excursion yesterday and now i realize how much i spent dashing about in pursuit of “the just right subject”.

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