Thursday, February 14, 2013

Pensive lens

Considering how we see

If you've been following along with these writings, this trail of breadcrumbs I've left in the forest, then perhaps I've beaten you up enough with my struggles as well as my appreciation for the opportunity to write this stuff down. Perhaps it's time we talk about the other half of this column - photography. Now don't get me wrong, I still plan to shout from every woodland pulpit available, but didn't someone once appraise a picture to be worth several hundred words?

Likely, I'm not telling you anything new by admitting I love photography. Since starting this column I've rarely printed an article without an image to accompany it, and I've never put one up online without a photograph (no matter how loosely associated the image may have been). I have been taking photos of things outdoors for as long as I remember, even before I understood why I was doing it. In fact the why came much later.


As an interest in photography begins for many people, mine probably started as attempts to capture a beautiful landscape, stunning sunset, or foggy mornings, but what I always wanted to get out of the picture was the meaning, the feeling, the sense of imagination, wonder, majesty, simplicity. I like to think I do achieve that sometimes now, but these days I have the option of propping that up with words.

If I've learned anything about conveying these stories to you, it must be that there are seemingly endless ways in which to do it, and not one of them is entirely wrong, nor any entirely right. Still with me? What I suggest is that at the heart of everything inspiring lies a chance taken; somebody experimented, adventured, looked outside themselves, and I believe photography is a great way to force ourselves to do this.

Photography challenges viewpoint. How many pictures have you looked at and felt no real connection to? How many images in your day-to-day life are so bland you can't even remember seeing them though they pass in front of you? What I'm asking is, how many images have you seen and not seen? On the flip side, though, there are the images that inspire us. Scenes and portraits and abstractions that spur us to react.

As a part of evolution, our brains have learned to register our surroundings quickly, and to do this we skip over things that are not essential information. That means that if you're looking at something you've seen every day for the past six months, you're unlikely to note any difference, though it's likely changed over those 168 days. Photography can help us change that.

I'm swinging pretty wide here, so let me reel this in a bit - I'm challenging you. Yep, consider this a dual; 10 paces and a quick draw, friend, and try not to shoot your own foot.

I want you to look at your world differently for a change. Put yourself behind a camera and see what you find. Please, do not use the LCD screen on the back of your phone and point and shoot your yard. I know you've already done that, so step it up.

Here is my suggestion: take a camera with you everywhere for one week. At first, force yourself to carry it during your daily routine, take pictures of everything, even if what you're doing or where you are seems boring or mundane, take a photo of it. The truth is that the mundane scenes in front of you are only mundane to you - nobody else sees exactly what you see in the exact way you see it. As you take more and more pictures, you will inadvertently begin to develop an eye; you will begin to look at your environment differently.

Points to keep in mind are subject, light, color, and angle. Surely we can go on and on about each of those, but just think about a couple of those words when you've got your camera in hand. My suggestion is to start with light and angle. That should peak your interest right away.

Too often we forget our curiosity, and we write off the possibility of micro-adventures all around us. Well guess what, those tiny bits of exploration add up, and pretty soon you'll be aware of the adventure you're already living. I think it's a poor choice to spoil our chances at being light-hearted and playful. I've been doing that from a safe vantage point for years - behind the lens of a camera. So far that's panned out nicely.

“You must look within for value, but must look beyond for perspective.” - Denis Waitley

See you out there,
A woodsman in training.

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