“The challenge of photography is to show the thing photographed so that our feelings are awakened and hidden aspects are revealed to us.”
Photography is hard. Those brilliant captures you see in National Geographic? They don’t just happen. Someone spent months researching them, spent thousands of dollars on equipment, and then spent days, weeks, months or even years waiting for just the right moment. PBS’s brilliant Planet Earth series did a great job illustrating that with their “Behind the Scenes” segments.
“Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like.”
David Alan Harvey
So what does that have to do with anything? Well, this week our travels took us (unexpectedly) into The Palouse, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. It was magnificent really – mile after mile of gently rolling hills with geometrically perfect abstracts of golden yellow wheat, sapphire blue skies and verdant green fields – all topped off by the occasional farmhouse or the sudden appearance of a field of giant wind turbines.
“I still find the camera to be an endlessly intriguing partner that challenges my imagination and knowledge.”
Photographers flock to the Palouse having planned their itineraries far in advance. They know where the best scenes are and at what time the best light will make them glow. I, on the other hand, didn’t even know we’d be passing through. As we raced by at 60 mph, my wide angle lens and tripod were neatly packed away under 2-months-worth of luggage. The sun was high overhead, creating deep shadows, as huge trucks full of grain, or produce, or farm equipment made it nearly impossible to pull over in the narrow roads.
“Creating great images isn’t about the tools….the real challenge is coming up with an image that resonates, first of all with yourself and hopefully with an audience.”
So, I explained to my ever-patient husband when asked, I was not using my camera to capture the incredible scenes as we flew by, I was using my eyes – taking it all in and trying to memorize every moment the way I imagine a painter might if he or she were trying to capture a scene for later re-creation.
“I realize more and more what it takes to be a really good photographer. You go in over your head, not just up to your neck.”
Several years ago, while in China, we visited a beautiful Buddhist temple. As we rounded a blind corner I saw a very young monk – maybe 10 or 11 years old – peeking out of a pair of huge yellow doors. He was dressed in red robes and, framed perfectly, would have made a fantastic subject. Alas, as soon as I noticed him he darted back inside and the moment was lost. I’ve been haunted by that miss ever since.
This week, once again, I saw a scene that captivated me. It was a young girl – maybe 5 or 6 – with curly blonde hair lit by the sun. Behind her was a broken-down clapboard house with peeling paint set in the midst of a farm that had seen better days. Dorothea Lange would have loved it. But just like that the moment passed, never to be recaptured except in my mind’s eye.
“A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense, and is a true expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.”
“The photograph is an undeniably powerful medium. Free from the constraints of language, and harnessing the unique qualities of a single moment frozen in time.”
So I don’t give up, I keep looking – more importantly, I keep seeing and keep shooting. I work to capture images with my eyes, my mind and my heart. Someday, with enough study, and preparation, and yes luck, I just might find that perfect moment when it all comes together just as I know it can. In the meanwhile, I’ll be out there enjoying the journey.