Defining Zen Photography

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I have been learning a lot about different kinds of photography until now and I can say I know a lot. But sometimes there is always a new kind and not so new that I just know. So today I want to know another kind of photography that is 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 sounds to me like a philosophical belief of peace, calm, balance, and nature for me.

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

A Deeper Look into Zen Photography Itself

Since peace and balance is a subjective term, it sounds to me that zen photography feels like some kind of fine art photography. With a 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 a 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 its simplicity. You only have a subject and a background. Where a subject is a small part of the frame and the background is vast and empty. Because of that, you can’t help yourself but draw your attention only to the subject of the photo.

2. Minimalist

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

Basically, minimalist photography is really about how simple the composition is. You don’t need too many elements in the photo.

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

3. Long Exposure

Another thing I can think of is Long Exposure photography.

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

Since we’re talking about zen photography, I think it is more like a really long shutter speed. About 1 minute or more. With super long shutter speed, the moving elements can appear calmer, than moving. For example, if I take a shot of a river with a 30-second shutter speed, the water probably still appears in motion and some freckle. But if I’m using a 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.

4. Monochrome

Since there’s the word “calm,” that means we also talking about affect (mood, emotion, and feeling). Then what better way to convey effect 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 better than color photography. Because it removes the distraction (I mean color) so we can look deeper into the picture. With that, zen photography can be great in monochrome because it can really emphasize the effect of calmness.

Look at It Differently

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

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


Zen photography really associated with calmness, simplicity, and peace. The idea is to create a photograph that represents that and there’s a lot of ways 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 the idea of zen is, be calm and in peace our self.

Which do you prefer?


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