Do you remember that game called Stuck in the Mud we used to play as kids? It goes something like this; one kid is elected to be “it” and runs around to tag as many people as possible. When tagged, the other players have to freeze and stand with legs and arms apart, as if they were stuck in some glutinous mud. The only way to get free of the mud is when a non-tagged comrade climbs through the legs of the trapped players. It goes on until everybody inevitably gets stuck in the mud.
I was thinking about this game rather nostalgically over the course of this project.
Um… What has mud got to do with photography?
Actually, a fair bit sometimes. Fortunately, this project doesn’t involve wading in sticky mud (unless you want to). This project is about parking your feet for a few minutes to have a good look around – as if you were stuck in the mud yourself.
Even when going for a dedicated photography walk, you are bound to miss the subtle details of a landscape. You can’t help it. The brain prioritizes images that portend to the mission at hand – surviving. Physical activity, self-preservation – it’s all the ingredients a brain focuses on to sustain its host. That’s why the best way to draw more detail out of a location is to slow down.
We know this because often when we see a potential photograph, we stop in our tracks to take the shot. So rather than halting for a brief second, the idea of this project is to and make a little extra time to investigate an environment. The shapes, colors, people, graffiti, or details in a window sill. There are countless moments that are ready for the taking, they just have to be caught.
How to play stuck in the mud with a camera
It sounds terrible, doesn’t it? The thought of my camera even coming near mud makes me sweat. But playing photographic stuck in the mud is easy.
The first step is to grab your camera and head out the door. Wander around, find a place to take a few shots and hold your position. Keep in mind that your spot doesn’t have to appear instantly enticing. In fact, choosing a boring location would be a quicker way to train yourself onto detail. Plant your feet on the ground and have a good look around. I would recommend holding your position for a good one to two minutes at first. You’ll notice the time tends to go faster each try. In order to concentrate, set an alarm on your phone and get shooting!
Rules of the game
Apart from taking a few minutes to study the spot you’ve chosen, there aren’t any hard and fast rules to the stuck in the mud project. To advance, add a higher photo count or hang out in one spot for a longer period of time.
Want to stop every 100 steps? Do you want to be able to swivel around in a circle? Want to halt at particular points on a map? It’s totally up to you. You could even go out with a friend and compare shots from the same spot after! But I do recommend staying in the one spot for at least a minute or so – to truly get into that state of mindfulness and awareness. Sometimes it can be hard to get into that creative flow, so slowing down your process can help activate what I like to call “The Photography Zone”.
Also, it’s probably obvious, but don’t stop in the way of others or get yourself in a dangerous situation. This isn’t Pokemon Go, okay?
This short collection below surprised me a little because I’ve walked the route many so times before. But that’s what is so great about this project. It slows down your photographic practice, making room for unusual subjects to peek through.
Sometimes the stuck in the mud project yields a cohesive series in itself. This image is the remains of Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station in Australia. But instead of walking around to hunt out the obvious subject matter, I took a few minutes to plant my feet and take a good look at the detail around me.
It’s the act of staying put in the one space that allowed me to capture a different perspective of the old station.
Over to you
I would love to see the results of your stuck in the mud sessions. By taking a few moments to truly check out a landscape, odd little moments become clearer. You’ll almost definitely leave your spot thinking, “Wow, I never noticed that before!” So have a go! and share your images in the comments below.
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