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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Becoming The Camera

When the cosmos speaks to you, listen

Labels: ColumnBasic Jones
This Article Features Photo Zoom

A receding wave on Papohaku Beach on Molokai left a puddle with a perfect reflection at Jones' feet. It only lasted for a moment, but in that instant, he had exactly the right camera and lens combination to get this photo.

In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell postulates that you need to work at something for 10,000 hours before you can even begin to call yourself an expert. Cartier-Bresson brought this into focus for photographers when he said, "Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst!" And he meant shooting film, not digital!

It takes a long time to become really good at photography. To train your technique; to both learn the rules and know when to break them. To train your eye; sensitize it to color and line, shadow and contrast. It takes a long time.

To me, however, by far the most interesting part of this process is training your intuition, your ability to listen to that quiet inner voice and have the courage to follow it.

Sometimes it's hard to tell intuition from technique. I've learned well what constitutes a good photograph and, in most situations, my mind and my eye can guide me toward finding it. Then, occasionally, there are times when I'm not guiding the situation at all, times where I'm just following...or being led...or perhaps being used as the camera that makes the photograph.

Ephemeral as these times are, they're equally fascinating.

Recently, I was on Papohaku Beach in Molokai shooting waves with several other photographers. Beautiful turquoise waves crashing on the shore. Everything in me said, "Get your long lens out, set the shutter speed at 1⁄2000 of a second, and get in tight on the action!" Well, almost everything. There was another voice, a quiet voice, saying, "No, put on your wide-angle lens and walk down the beach."

I don't always hear this voice, but when I do, I've learned to follow it, whether my brain can understand or not. I headed down the beach, my mind still complaining that I was missing the shot. The sound of the waves crashed in my ears, but through my 18mm lens, they were far in the distance; most of my frame was just sand. I kept walking.

Then a particular large wave pushed hard to the beach, sending water up and over my feet. When it retreated, there before me was a glimmering puddle reflecting the sky and clouds above. It didn't last long, but I was right there in the perfect position with just the right lens. Click!

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