Zen Camera

Creative Awakening with a Daily Practice in Photography

About the Book

Zen Camera is an unprecedented photography practice that guides you to the creativity at your fingertips, calling for nothing more than your vision and any camera, even the one embedded in your phone.

David Ulrich draws on the principles of Zen practice as well as forty years of teaching photography to offer six profound lessons for developing your self-expression. Doing for photography what The Artist’s Way and Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain did for their respective crafts, Zen Camera encourages you to build a visual journaling practice called your Daily Record in which photography can become a path of self-discovery. Beautifully illustrated with 83 photographs, its insights into the nature of seeing, art, and personal growth allow you to create photographs that are beautiful, meaningful, and uniquely your own.

You’ll ultimately learn to change the way you interact with technology—transforming it into a way to uncover your innate power of attention and mindfulness, to see creatively, and to live authentically.

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Praise for Zen Camera

“David Ulrich does an amazing job of fusing the basic concepts of Buddhist presence and concentration with the quiet art of photography. It’s not surprising, because the two have much in common—silence, stillness, reflection, presence—and this book weaves those common threads adeptly. One of the things that most struck me while reading the book is that Ulrich has managed to create a fine arts book that is accessible to all.” —thetattooedbuddha.com

“A never-before-seen photography practice that helps artists to channel their inner creativity using nothing more than their vision and a camera – even a phone camera will do.” – Signature Reads
Zen Camera is to photographers what The Artist’s Way is to writers. This master class in creativity deserves a place in your home – I highly recommend this book!” – Create with Joy 
“Ulrich…offers a deeper look at creating and capturing images — by sharing practices that can help us bring a level of presence to both the process and resulting image.” Books for Better Living
"Whether you’re a newbie, amateur photographer, or seasoned professional, this book will help you cultivate creativity with a camera and in all areas of your life.” – Lion’s Roar
"Zen Camera is a well written and informative guide to taking better pictures… Recommended for those wanting to improve their photographic eye.” – Evilcyclist blog
“We have to be able to sit and think about one thing for a long period of time.  This stillness, this ability to think and contemplate, is key to Ulrich’s philosophy regarding photography.” -- Resource Magazine

"Zen Camera gets real about what it takes to master the art of photography. In six compelling lessons, Ulrich guides us through a series of tasks to purify our seeing and allow our original self to emerge. The prize: To create authentic and meaningful work with resonating presence." —Philippe L. Gross, Ph.D., The Tao of Photography: Seeing Beyond Seeing

“Whether you ultimately take up photography or not, Zen Camera will allow you to see the world with a soulful new perspective. It will open your eyes to the wonder and magic that exists in this world! And who knows, it might just inspire you to embark on a wonderfully fulfilling photography practice.” –Agapi Stassinopoulos, author of Wake Up to the Joy of You

"Zen Camera gently nudges us to realize, in each moment, that our world is nothing like ordinary; it is dramatic and mesmerizing and constantly offers us transcendental imagery if we just remember to truly see and click!" –Elaine Clayton, artist and author of Making Marks: Discover the Art of Intuitive Drawing

“The most important lesson I learned was in a photography class with David Ulrich, who taught me that I had something to say. It was life changing. I’ll never forget David’s generosity of spirit and how it transformed the course of my life.” —Lydia Panas, photographer and author of The Mark of Abel and Falling from Grace
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Zen Camera



Photography is a powerful form of visual expression, available to everyone.

Each of you is likely to have poised in your pocket a highly advanced camera, ready to take a photograph in the very moment you feel inspired. This device is capable of taking vibrant photographs in all but the most severe lighting situations or extreme conditions. Digital cameras, especially those in smartphones, have revolutionized the way we approach the world and interact with others. No experience is complete, no meal finished, no friendship consummated until we have taken a picture. The photograph replies, I was here. I witnessed this event, met this person, or relished this experience.

All too often, today’s technology becomes a distraction that siphons your energy and diffuses your attention. But when you use a camera to look out at the world, your eyes may light on a gesture, an image, an expression—and you experience the indispensable spark of awareness and presence. It’s a flash of insight that can pierce the fog of your preoccupied mind and bring you closer to the living moment. The camera can help liberate your awareness to see clearly and keenly, to know something about who you really are, and to open your being to an unfading swell of empathy and compassion for those you meet along the way. The camera confirms the “I am” of being and existing in the world.

Zen Camera
is not only about photography; it is about you. In six lessons, it guides you to cultivating creativity with a camera and in all areas of your life. It teaches you about deep perception, learning to see, and awakening all of your senses to the present moment. It helps you realize Socrates’s great directive, Know thyself, and uncover the seeds of the authentic self, hidden behind multiple layers of conditioning and socialization. And yes, you’ll also learn to take better photographs and to communicate effectively through images. 

The six lessons found in the book are cyclic and hold many keys for your evolving work. They are relevant for anyone, whether you’re a professional or have recently discovered a budding interest in using your smartphone camera. The lessons can be adapted to different stages of development. You may have taken thousands of photos and the technical aspects are familiar to you, but you’re looking for fresh inspiration. Or you might have an inkling of what you want to express behind the camera but don’t know the mechanics beyond point and click. Either way, this book is for you. The minimum time needed to fulfill a first pass of the lessons would be twelve to fifteen weeks, akin to a college semester, and they can be circled back to over the years. For me, the better part of a lifetime has been spent in their service with the aim of personal and artistic awakening. 

This book has been taking shape in my mind for forty years. I am a professor of photography in a traditional college setting and have taught a wide variety of photography classes and workshops to people of diverse ages, cultural backgrounds, and professions. I’ve taught children and adults in many places in the United States, including my current home of Hawai‘i, and developed photography programs in Hong Kong and China. Some of my students aspire to make photography a career, while others are searching for the richness of creative expression in their personal lives. I have seen countless students discover the great joy and fulfillment that comes from creative expression. They find hope and confidence, and give voice to features of their identity, either previously hidden or once blanketed in fear and uncertainty. When they uncover their unique vision, they awaken to their own potential. 

As my students adopt photography as a means of personal growth, they begin to stretch beyond their perceived boundaries of thought and expression. I have been touched to the core and learned so much from their observations of the world through a camera. Their requests—for tools, exercises, and guidance—created this book. Its six lessons have proven their worth to generations of students. To my students, I owe my deepest gratitude. 

About the Author

David Ulrich
DAVID ULRICH is a professor and co-director of Pacific New Media Foundation in Honolulu, Hawai'i. He teaches frequent classes and workshops, and is an active photographer and writer whose work has been published in numerous books and journals including Aperture, Manoa, and Sierra Club publications. Ulrich's photographs have been exhibited internationally in more than 75 one-person and group exhibitions. He blogs about creativity and consciousness at www.theslenderthread.org, and is a consulting editor for Parabola magazine. Visit his website at: www.creativeguide.com. More by David Ulrich
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