In previous essays published in this series I have featured the work and the writings of workshop participants. However, so far I have not featured an entire essay written by one of our students. This is about to change as this essay, number 12 in the Reflections on Photography and Art series, is entirely written by Jeff Ball and addresses his experience during our Summer 2005 Northern Utah Workshop.
Photographic workshop days are physically and mentally exhausting. The hours are very long. Mentally, you are engaged in creative exercises all day involving composition and technical considerations with the imaging equipment. This particular day was no different. We had engaged in a full day of creative photography and were enjoying some friendly conversation at what looked like could be the end of the day as clouds began to roll in. We had a few drops of rain, some loud claps of thunder, and were treated to a beautiful double rainbow.
As the sun fell in the west we could see a break in the cloud cover. Few words were said as all participants prepared compositions for the moment that might happen. I returned to an area where I had pre-visualized the composition below and had actually taken a few photographs for practice. On this particular workshop I was working on my "near-to-far" compositions and technical skills associated with this type of composition with the large format camera.
The composition was in place with film loaded and shutter release in hand. Now to wait for the dramatic light and meter the scene appropriately (I can go into this at another time.) Then...it happened...the last breath of light bending through the Earth's atmosphere and falling as red powder over the entire scene. It was exhilarating and only lasted for two minutes, but seemed like seconds. The light was special because we could feel the excitement, everyone was busy photographing during this special light. Physiologically it felt as though the starter had just shot the gun at the 100 meter dash. Euphoria, thankfulness, anxiety, focused thought, frustration, deliberation...all of these emotions and physiological functions were coming together in a complexity that is hard to describe. It is in some ways a miracle that I recorded anything accurately on film. But preparedness and experience had paid off with good results.
Alain posted a beautiful composition where the camera is facing the sun with the flowers in the foreground. I was anxious as to whether or not I had captured the moment accurately with the 8 sheets of film I had exposed. After returning home and placing the transparencies on the light table, I had one piece of film with the proper exposure for the flowers and shadows. The post processing of this image is largely impacted by my current studies of landscape painting. I will have more to say about the impact of landscape painting on photographic visualization in future writings.
As I prepare for photographic journeys, I try to take note of the following guidelines while in the field to increase my odds of capturing that special "emotional light" when it happens:
1. Get familiar with the entire scene. I like to go to a location and spend a lot of time taking in the scenery, calculating sunrise/sunset locations, pre-visualizing photographs, and looking for structure/lines/shapes/color.
2. If I find a composition of interest, I give the composition time to find the right light. No matter how tired or hungry I am, I give the composition time for what may be that "once in a lifetime" light.
3. Be prepared in advance...just in case that "emotional light" breaks through. Plenty of film should be loaded or available with plenty of storage for the digital photographer. Focus should be set and a rough idea of exposure should be calculated. Whether using film or digital, I bracket as many as 4 stops over and under in order to have information for post-processing where dynamic range can be maximized.
Whether you use film or digital, if you are not prepared for the photograph before that special "emotional light" takes place, odds are you won't get the photograph you envisioned. I hope you enjoy the photograph below and I wish you all of the best in your future photographic journeys.