Vanessa Reading, Antigua, Guatemala
 Vanessa Reading, Antigua, Guatemala


Vision Quest Workshops Student Photos Page

Facebook Student Photo Sharing Page

Doug’s Personal Facebook Page

Vision Quest Photo Workshops Facebook Page

Doug’s Instagram Page

Shots Magazine


Preparing For a Workshop

Workshop Survival

Preparing For a Photo Session

The Difference Between Snapshots and Making Photographs

Cheat Sheet for Critiquing Photos

The Danger of Critiques

Judging Photo Exhibits: A Confessional

Doug’s Tech Tips

Photo Editing Tips

Photo Math

The Holy Trinity of Depth of Field

Lighting 101

My Lighting Process

Framing Suggestions

Pricing Photographs

Preparing For a Location Photo Shoot

Tips for Working With Models

Nourishing Creativity

Post Workshop Re-entry Blues



Asking Permission for Portraits

Travel Tips for Photographers

Travel Security

Cultural Sensitivity in Travel Photography

Silence & Solitude as Teacher



What is Zen & the Art of Photography?

Looking Within/Photographing Without

Zen & the Art of Emotionally Expressive Photography

Why Zen? What is Zen? 

How Does Zen Relate to Photography?

Zen Meditation cheat sheet



Media List

Zen & the Art of Photography

The Emotional Landscape

Art, Writing & the Creative Process

On-Line Photography Magazines

Film & Videos About Photographers



MN Original feature on Public Television

Photographing the Figure

Vision + Spirit from Boreal Sky



Zoom Magazine, (Milan, Italy)

Nueva Luz

Minnesota Monthly, “Sky and Bones”


Polaroid Magazine (London, England)

Format, “Pursuing A Vision”

B&W Magazine

Calumet Student Photo

AIGA, “Profit With Purpose”



Lenscratch, “Success Stories”

Alternatives, “Inner Eye”



Beyond the Seflie: Going Deeper Into Meaning + Metaphor
White Bear Center for the Arts, White Bear Lk, MN
Opening June 2016

She’s Not There: The Myth of the Muse
Gallery 122, Minneapolis, MN, 2013

The Sacred Landscape, Group Exhibit
Newspace Center for Photography, Portland, OR, 2012

The Self Revealed, Self-portrait Group exhibit
Gallery 122, Minneapolis, MN, 2011

Figure in the Landscape. Badlands, SD, Group Exhibit
Umber Studios, Minneapolis, MN, 2007 & 2008

South of the Border, Group Exhibit
Icebox Gallery, Minneapolis, MN, 2007





• Read a book about creativity, technique or the creative process

• Look at photo and art books, as long as they are inspiring or make you think or feel

• Meditate or simply daydream

• Seek solitude and experience silence

• Engage in direct contact with nature

• Go for a walk in a new place or walk a familiar route in a new way

• Take a drive to somewhere new, slow down, take the scenic route

• Journal or write about your artistic process, struggles. Don’t forget to write about your success too.

• Set specific intentions about your creative life

• Actively listen to passionate music without multitasking

• Play a musical instrument or sing, join a band or choir

• Prepare and cook healthy, nutritious sensual meals to share or just for yourself

• Pay attention to your heart’s longings

• Acknowledge emptiness; don’t mindlessly fill it

• Look at the work of other artists and photographers, without comparing yourself to them

• Go to galleries and museums and experience art in person

• Attend a live music event or see a play

• Nourish your spiritual needs

• Enjoy simple or repetitive tasks: sweeping the floor, washing the car, mowing the lawn…

• Practice being non-judgmental towards both others and yourself

• Be less self-deprecating

• Start a dialog with friends about art, creativity or the need for self-expression

• Practice saying no to something that takes away from your creative time

• Say yes to something new, scary or different

• Leave space in your daily and weekly schedule or routine for serendipity

• Put yourself first occasionally; value yourself and your time as much as you do others

• Support the creativity of others and help others develop their artistic process

• Don’t overschedule yourself, make time for play

• Do not neglect your own needs

• Cultivate friends who value or actively and regularly participate in making art

• Revisit and/or re-edit past photos or photo projects

• Take a class or a workshop, maybe in another discipline like drawing, painting or ceramics

• Join or start a photo, art or creativity support group 

• Look at and comment on photos on the Vision Quest Facebook page

• Post your photos to the Vision Quest Facebook page, ask for specific feedback if desired

• Sign up for a Vision Quest Photo Workshop to have something to look forward to!

• Go make new photos!


© Douglas Beasley 2017


There is nothing wrong with taking snapshots. They are a great record of where we went, who we were with, and what we saw. For those who aspire to make photographs rather than take snapshots, here are some guidelines to help tell the difference: 

– The snapshot is made by pointing the camera at what one hopes to ‘capture’ + clicking
– The photograph is composed in the viewfinder, even if quickly and intuitively

– In the snapshot what you see is (hopefully) what you get
– The photograph is pre-visualized as to how the scene will translate into a photo

– The snapshot is a record of what the camera is pointed at
– The photograph is an interpretation of what is seen, thought or felt

– The snapshot doesn’t acknowledge the relationship between foreground + background
– The photograph deals with the relationship between foreground and background

– The snapshot is primarily about the subject + is minimally aware of the rest of the frame
– The photograph is responsible for the entire frame and all it’s contents

– The snapshot does not pay attention to the corners and edges of the frame
– The photograph pays extra importance to the corners and edges of the frame 

– The snapshot is only about what is visible
– The photograph is often as much about what isn’t seen as much as what is 

– The snapshot is taken at the aperture chosen by the camera
– The photograph is made at the aperture chosen by the photographer

– The snapshot has its’ depth-of-field dictated by the cameras’ choice of aperture
– The photograph has its’ depth-of-field dictated by the photographers choice of aperture

– The snapshot has its’ perspective dictated by zooming in or out
– The photographs perspective is dictated by choice of focal length + distance to subject

– The snapshot can be fixed later by cropping, so careful composition is not valued
– The photograph is cropped in camera and can be fine-tuned later, only if necessary

– The snapshot only needs enough light to take the picture, or flash can be added
– The photograph is aware of the quality of light falling on the subject and background

– The snapshot does not go beyond technique
– The photograph transcends technique to reveal vision

– The snapshot is usually a reaction to external stimuli
– The photograph is often guided by internal stimuli

– The snapshot is often taken as a one-of-a-kind reaction to a subject
– The photograph is often made in the context of ongoing concerns in larger body of work

– The snapshots beauty is on the surface
– The photographs beauty often lies below the surface

– The snapshot has no metaphorical meaning, unless unintentional
– The photograph often contains intentional metaphorical meaning

– The snapshots intent is pure in that it is only interested in ‘capturing’ the moment
– The photograph’s intent is often murky in that it understands that nothing can actually be captured…

All of these parameters of what constitutes a snapshot can and will be intentionally used by individual artists making incredible fine-art images, and those adhering to all the parameters of fine-art photographs can be perfectly boring, so there are no absolutes! There is even a wonderful ‘snapshot aesthetic’ in fine-art photography that can be very fresh and vital in its approach.

And even with all of this, it is easy to find examples of fine-art photos made by point-and-shoot and cell phone cameras in the hands of artists, so it is still not technical mastery that makes the difference but the skill, vision, intent and execution of the photographer. 


© Douglas Beasley 2016


– Visualize the kind, style, mood and feel of the photos you want to make

– Become aware of what you want the photos to express

– Format the memory card (after downloading any existing photos)

– Set the file size to RAW or large JPEG (RAW is best, JPEG easier)

– Always bring an extra memory card with you

– Put in a freshly charged battery before every session every day on location

– Bring an extra fully charged battery with you

– Make sure the camera’s sensor is clean and dust free

– Set the ISO to the lowest approx. setting for conditions imagined

– Choose the lens you anticipate using

– Make sure front and back of each lens is clean

– Make sure you have the right lens hood for each lens

– Choose an exposure mode: usually Manual or Aperture Priority

– In Manual: Set the Aperture and shutter speed to approximate settings desired

– In Aperture priority: Choose aperture according to the depth-of-field desired

– Shoot a few frames and review the exposure, to make sure you are in the ballpark

– Set your intentions for the type, style or mood of the photos you want to make

– Be prepared for the unexpected, leave room for serendipity

– Remember your purpose yet don’t hold on too tight as you may miss new or even better opportunities!


© Douglas Beasley 2017


There is a strong tradition of embracing the arts in Zen: archery, flower arranging, haiku poetry, sumi-e brushwork, pottery. Photography can be embraced as a new part of this tradition.

– Mindfulness in every moment and action

– Paying close attention, especially to the ordinary and mundane

– Refraining from judgment about worthiness of subject

– Tuning in visually

– Seeing deeply, penetrating below the surface

– Self-awareness through self-consciousness

– Bringing awareness of the present moment to our photography

– Using the camera to continue and deepen that experience of awareness

– Photographing to experience and express the connectedness to our subject

– Not being attached to results, yet aware of how our actions and choices affect outcomes

– Awareness of Samsara: The cycle of life and death, then rebirth

Dharma: The Wheel of Cause and Effect

– Acknowledgement and connection to materials: camera, film, computer, paper, etc.

– Being prepared to embrace what is given rather than what we wanted or expected

– Accepting and embracing serendipity

– Abandoning the notion that anything can be captured, especially ‘the essence’

– Staying connected to that spark that gave the impulse to make a photo in the first place

– Remembering your breath through your photo process

– Maintaining a direct real connection to your subject, not just intellectual

– Tuning into and strengthening the power of intuition

– Using intuition to lead us to make strong insightful compositions

– Taking responsibility for whole frame and everything in it, including background, edges, corners

– Not having too much or too little in the frame

– Not being too close or too far away from our subject

– Distilling our composition to its simplest form, yet without oversimplification


©Douglas Beasley 2014


Zazen”: Sitting Zen meditation as in “sitting zazen
Translates from Japanese into “facing the wall


– Find a quiet spot with few distractions

– Sit comfortably on a zabuton (meditation cushion), there is no need for pain

– If sitting is difficult or you have bad knees use a chair

– Sit upright, but not rigid

– Find intentional position of legs, not haphazard or sprawling

– Ground yourself into the floor, if sitting in chair have feet firmly on floor

– Find stable base, not wobbly, with knees preferably on the floor

Mudra: hand position in zazen- fingers laying atop one another, thumbs lightly touching

– Set timer or timer on cell phone (turn down volume of ringer)

– A stick of incense can be used as timer

– A candle can be lit


– Start with a gassho (deep intentional bow)

– Ring bell or chime to announce your intention to focus awareness on present moment

– Turn your attention to your in and out breath

– Eyes are half open in soft stare at wall in front and looking downward

– Slightly lengthen exhale by extending the out breath

– Count breaths to 10, if you are distracted or drifted away start over again at one

– Try and let go of internal chatter; when noticed simply return to the present moment

– No need to berate yourself for not being better at it

– When thoughts come up, notice yourself thinking and then let them go

– See noises and distractions as invitations to return to the present moment

– Return to your breath


– Ring bell or chime to bring yourself to the present moment

– Gently bring your awareness back into the room

– Gassho (bow) of gratitude, recognition

– Stand up next to cushion, fluff and straighten cushion for next person or next session

– Gassho to cushion, gassho to each other (Sangha: community)

– Walking meditation to exit, turn and gassho to room


©Douglas Beasley 2011


“The Zen the can be explained is not the true Zen.”
But I will make an attempt anyway…

We all seem to have an idea of what Zen Buddhism is. Contrary to popular belief, Zen is not necessarily just about being blissed out or euphoric. It is about seeing ‘what is’ more clearly, like cleaning the windshield of your car, or polishing the mirror. It’s about owning your thoughts and emotions without being them, then dealing with what comes up, moment by moment. If you’re angry, be angry. No one ‘made’ you angry, that was the response you chose. You can also choose how and when you express that anger or how you channel it…

Zen is a sect of Buddhism, one of the world’s oldest religions. Buddhism originated in India, with the enlightenment of Buddha under the Bodhi tree. It is believed that after his death he chose to come back (reincarnation) to help others work towards enlightenment rather than dwell in nirvana. The Buddha is not God but an awakened one who can help us all to achieve that state of being fully awake. We are all Buddhas in the making, somewhere along the path to enlightenment.

Buddhism moved through India, then across China where it melded with Taoism. From there it migrated to Japan, where a branch of Buddhism based on rigorous contemplative meditation became ‘Zen’. Zen came to America in the 1930’s from Japan. Many were introduced to Zen Buddhism when Japanese teacher and Roshi DT Suzuki opened the first Buddhist Zendo in the US and then wrote his classic book Zen Mind, Beginners Mind. Zen entered the mainstream consciousness in the 1960’s with scholars such as prolific author of Eastern philosophy Allan Watts, beat poet Allan Ginsberg and then Gary Snyder, and with musicians like John Cage and Leonard Cohen.

Zen is now not only practiced as a religion but as a philosophy. It is widely studied by many as a guide for mindful living by people of many faiths. There is a strong history and tradition of Zen practice among Jews and there are numerous Rabbis as well as Christian clergy that are also serious Zen practitioners, and not seen by them as a contradiction to their faith but rather an enhancement.

Some essential concepts:
– The Zen that can be explained (or taught or read about) is not the true Zen
– Understanding can only come from direct experience (contemplation, meditation)
– Essence: being fully present, aware and awake
– Experiencing fully the continuing and unfolding present moment
– Learned by sitting zazen (Zen meditation or “facing the wall”)
– Zen has little emphasis on achieving enlightenment or Nirvana like other Buddhist sects
– Everything, including ourselves, is impermanent
– Everything is interconnected
– Central concepts: Impermanence. Interconnectedness.
– Buddha is not ‘God’ but an enlightened or “awakened” being
– Buddha chose reincarnation to come back to teach others

The Buddha taught “The Four Noble Truths
1) To be human is to experience suffering
2) Suffering comes from cravings and attachments
3) Cessation of suffering is attainable
4) Understanding impermanence and practicing meditation leads to cessation of suffering

The 3 Treasures of Zen:
– The Buddha
– The Dharma (teachings)
– Sangha (community)

The Eightfold Path
1) Right View
2) Right Intention
3) Right speech
4) Right Action
5) Right Livelihood
6) Right Effort
7) Right Mindfulness
8) Right Concentration
How can we apply these to our photography?

Zen Koan. A traditional method of helping students understand Zen. A question given by the Zen master, or Roshi, that the answer cannot be found by thinking and logic.
These could be great photo assignments!

Evolution of the term “Zen in the Art of Photography”:
Zen in the Art of Archery, Eugen Herrigel, 1953
– Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig, 1974
– Zen in the Art of…everything! 1990’s overuse

Photographers who embraced Zen:
– The photography and teaching of Minor White (in the shadow of Ansel Adams)
– Minor Whites’s students and followers like Paul Caponigro, George Tice, Wynn Bullock
– John Daido Loori, Roshi of Zen Mountain Monastery, was also a student of Minor White
©Douglas Beasley 2013


It is easy to make pictures that show where you were and what you saw. But what about pictures that show who you are and what you feel? It is a valid use of photography to make a snapshot for memories; it is troublesome when acquiring those snapshot moments substitutes for genuine experience. The artist’s challenge is to not just record but to respond. Photography can also be used as a tool for connecting to the world and helping find your place in it. Yet often the camera is an obstacle to experiencing the world and your own life directly. Taking pictures is can be used to remove and separate us from the stream of life, becoming an observer rather than participant. That observer status is sometimes touted as a goal, but if one seeks connection rather than separation you can use your camera as a tool to investigate deeper, both externally and internally. Photography as a tool for connection is there for those willing to not only see, but feel.

One method is to develop a stronger visual point of view. Personally, I am not interested in making documentary images (in the sense of passive or objective observer) but rather more personal pictures that reflect not just the outside world but also reflect the inner vision and state of mind of the photographer. It’s not just the “Mayan man” or “colorful weavers” but how you react, respond to and ultimately connect with these people and events. I am always more interested in how things ‘feel’ visually rather than how they ‘look’. My hope is that the photographs I make begin to build a bridge from the viewer back to not only the people or place but the emotions felt when the exposure was made. It is about seeing all places, things and moments as sacred and less about making distinctions.

To facilitate this emphasis on vision over technique I have learned to simplify my approach as well as my tools. I often use one camera, one lens, one type of film. This is done in part to distinguish myself from the ‘tricks’ of the travel photographer; who seek to sensationalize the differences and emphasize surface details like exotic fabric colors. I want to enable myself to engage with my subject rather than worry about making lens and camera choices. My energy goes into the subject and situation rater than equipment choices. I want my photographs to be visually strong yet quiet, simple and of substance, rather than decorative. Vision over equipment! Passion over passiveness! I am trying to penetrate deeper, working past stereotypes- even my own, to a place of deeper understanding and empathy, where there are more similarities than differences and where spirit is celebrated rather than sublimated.
©Douglas Beasley 2011
Reprinted from Tensegrity News


Photography is the art of looking out; out through the lens, out from your own perspective, out into the world. But to make (as opposed to ‘take’) better photographs I believe that if you go inward first you can make this process much more effective and rewarding. This inwardly derived vision will allow you to better communicate your point of view as well as better understand and express your own inner ‘voice’.

To be in touch with your inner self is to quiet the inner chatter and strip away layers to get at what is really important. Meditation, yoga, breath awareness, long walks in nature, solitude; there are many ways of getting there. This same process can be applied to making a strong photograph. You strip away the outer layer of visual clutter (in-camera framing and choice of perspective) until you focus in on what is really important to the meaning of the picture. Most people point the camera at their intended subject, place that somewhere near the center of the viewfinder, and then snap away. But if you can stop and breathe, turn inward for a moment, then more concretely identify what your subject really is and your deeper relationship to this subject; be it people, place, thing, or even mood or emotion. You can then remove what is extraneous while keeping what is essential. The more you leave out the stronger what remains becomes. Feel your connection to your chosen subject. Feel your relationship to the place or space your subject occupies and hold that as important as the subject itself. Then tap into your intuition to arrange these forms within the space of your frame. This will make your composition even stronger. It is an act both of simplification and of clarification. The more you do this the more powerful your photographs become.

This ‘less is more’ approach applies to photo equipment as well. Many believe that more equipment, cameras and lenses give more chance of success. Really it just helps us feel more like a photographer because we have all the ‘stuff’ we believe photographers should have. I believe the more we bring with us the less our chances are of making good photographs. Ansel Adams said “the more lenses you have the greater the chance of using the wrong one.” With more choices our energy goes into choosing what equipment to use in a situation rather than connecting and engaging with our subject. The less equipment you bring, and the more you become really familiar with what equipment you do have, the easier it will be to react to and engage with your subject or situation. This allows you to move past the generic snapshot and towards a more personal and unique view of your chosen subject.

“It is only with the heart that we can see rightly.
What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
                        -St Exupery from ‘The Little Prince’


©Douglas Beasley 2012


Is it time to put more meaning into your imagery and move past pretty pictures? Are you finding technically competent photographs often have nothing to say? Would you like to add a spiritual dimension to your photography? Have you have heard the term “Zen” thrown around with regard to art and photography but are not sure what it really means?

Zen is one of the most overused and least understood concepts, applied indiscriminately to almost everything in recent years. It is generally used as a replacement for ‘peaceful’ or ‘serene’ but really it means so much more than that. Although a sect of Buddhism, Zen is both religion and philosophy. There is much emphasis placed on fully experiencing the present moment. This is facilitated by practicing ‘zazen,’ which is sitting meditation and simply translates to ‘facing the wall’ while concentrating on your breath. So how does all of this relate to photography?

Bringing heightened awareness of the present moment to our photography, while tuning in visually and tuning out extraneous internal chatter or noise, can often help make simpler, more succinct and emotionally powerful photos. We are using our camera as a tool of connection rather than of separation. Continuing that experience of heightened awareness and connectedness to and in the present moment helps make photos at a deeper, more authentic level.

Be the camera. Be the film. Be the pixels. Be the subject. Be the print. We are bringing together the past (camera, lens and location choices) together with the future (visualizing the final print or image on the computer screen) with choices made in the present moment (shutter, aperture, lens focal length, perspective, composition, moment of shutter release). Even pre-visualization is practiced in the present moment. With this awareness of the effect of our choices, we learn how the camera ‘sees’ in order to better help your camera see like you do, more effectively expressing how you want your photos to look and feel.

By not being overly attached to results and by being ready to embrace what is given or already there, we expand our notion of what is appropriate subject matter for ourselves. It is less about what we photograph and more about how we photograph. It is about how we live and making conscious choices. There is acknowledgement and connection to materials (camera, film or memory card…) yet we are not bound by them. They are merely the tools we use to express ourselves, as a hammer and chisel are to the sculptor or paint and canvas to the painter. And yet in the Zen tradition, embracing paradox and inconsistency, we are our tools and our tools are us– no separation. We are also one with our subject as our subject is one with us– again, no separation. We are using our awareness and our camera to dissolve the illusion of separation between self and subject. Our spirit merges with the spirit of our subject to become one at the moment of exposure. This is the melding of our spiritual practice with our photography practice. This is Zen in the art of photography.

“We have allowed the picture and the picturetaker and the picturetaking to become one. Inseparable in a moment of no time. And then we forget.” Robert Leverant

And then remember and begin again. -Doug


©Douglas Beasley 2012
Reprinted from the Santa Fe Workshops blog