the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

GRABBING THE GIFT

Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.  ——-George Eastman 

By MICHAEL PERKINS

WHEN I WAS ASSEMBLING THE FIRST COMPILATION OF MY OWN IMAGES, Juxtapositions, I felt a little awkward about captioning the photos in any way, since they were clearly the work of an unaccomplished amateur. In my native Catholic thinking, my default question was, who the hell did I think I was to pontificate on anything, hmm?  Notice that, since you are presently reading the musings of the selfsame unaccomplished amateur, I obviously got over past that obstacle, but anyway

Needing the book to have some kind of general structure or theme, I decided that, although my own wisdom may not be in demand, there were plenty of thoughts from the greats in the photographic field that were worth re-quoting, and which, correctly placed, might even illustrate or amplify what I was trying to say in my own photos. It was a way of channeling great minds and acknowledging that, pro or amateur, we all started off on the same journey with much the same aims.

Looking at the finished book, I noticed that the two most consistent subjects among the finest minds in photography were (1) light; how to harness it, how to serve it, shape it, seek its ability to frame or exalt a subject and (2) the importance of staying flexible, open, and able to embrace the moment.

Both objectives came into clear focus for me last week. A combination of early sunlight, dense foliage and thick morning fog came together in breathtaking patterns in the high canyon rim streets of Santa Barbara, California. Light was busting out wherever it could, coming through branches and boughs in soft shafts that lent an almost supernatural quality to objects even a few feet away, which, when suffused with this satiny mist, were themselves softened, even abstracted. If there was ever a delicate, temporary gift of light, this was it, and I was suddenly in a hurry, lest it run away from me. Any picture I failed to take in the moment was lost within minutes. Overthinking meant going home empty.

There was no time to carefully read the tyrannical histogram, since I knew it would disapprove of the flood of white that would throw some of my shots off the graph. Likewise I couldn’t “cover” myself by bracketing exposures, since there was so much territory to cover, so many images to attempt  before the light could mutate into something else. I needed to be shooting, not fiddling.

Better to burn out than to rust out, as Neil Young famously said. One particular arch of overhanging branches called me. It looked like this:

1/250 sec., f/7.1, ISO 100, 50mm

I was, after all these years, back to complete instinct. Snap shot? Certainly. Snap judgement? Hope not.

I didn’t go home empty. And when I got home, a re-check of one of Ansel Adams’ quotes encouraged me:

Sometimes, I do get to places where God’s ready for somebody to click the shutter. 

Look for the moment. Listen for God (sometimes he whispers).

And don’t forget to click.

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