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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Moments Of Wow!

Get a glimpse of the simplicity on the other side of complexity

Labels: How-ToColumnBasic Jones

Dewitt Jones used his iPhone to capture this scene near his home on Molokai, Hawaii. It was a WOW! moment for him, but one that needed the benefits of HDR to come together fully. The image on the left is an underexposed single capture; on the right is the HDR rendition.

There's a moment, before technique, before judgment, before even thought, when something turns my head. When light and line, texture and pattern reach out and, quite literally, grab me. My first conscious thought is simply, "Wow!" Wow!, not on an exhale, but on an inhale. An aesthetic gasp with three letters attached.

Here on Molokai, my friend Rik Cooke and I have made a pact: If we hear a "Wow!" we must shoot it. With our Canons, or our Lumixes, or our iPhones, or simply our mind-cameras, but we've taken a blood oath to honor those moments. To bear witness to our "Wows!"

This isn't idle gesture; it's serious business. Rik and I have been teaching together for 23 years. During those years, we've delved deeply into our photographic process. Below equipment, below technique, below judgment and thought, we've searched ever deeper for the essence of why we photograph, for the real reasons this discipline plays such a central role in our lives.

Long ago, we realized that it wasn't the picture that drew us to photography; it was the connection—the connection, not with the image, but with life itself. That moment when you fall through the lens and connect directly with what you're looking at.

When Rik and I talk about this moment in our classes, about half the students nod in agreement while the other half have an expression of, "Say, what? I thought I was just taking a photograph, not exposing my soul!"

It's not an unreasonable reaction. Here's why.

When we were young, we had no names for things, no judgment, no experience. We come to life innocent, unformed and uninformed. That's an easy place from which to merge with what's before you. You aren't trying to make anything; you're just opening yourself to wonder. As we go through life, it seems harder and harder to return to that state. Indeed, "beginner's mind" is so highly prized, folks spend years in countless disciplines trying to return to that place of purity.

Most of the time when we photograph, our conscious adult mind is happy to control the process. After all, it tells us there are calculations to be made and lenses to choose. Tripods to set up, filters, the Rule of Thirds! This isn't child's play; this is serious business. It's our technique that makes the photo.

Certainly true. But far too often, we get so caught up in our technique that we almost don't hear or recognize or allow ourselves to bask in the "Wow!"


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