A Single Moment, A Chosen Viewpoint
The shutter opens, and then it closes. That's all you get. Make it count.
I've been looking through some old photographs for a project lately. I mean really old, from when I was a child. Each one captures a particular moment in time. Even though I haven't seen some of them in years, they remind me of a time in my life the moment I look at them. Did I ever really look like that?
Some of them tell the story of how I became interested in photography. Growing up, we often went camping as a family, and my father brought along a camera to record those memories. At the time, I remember being a bit camera shy. From the perspective of the present, though, I'm happy that he insisted.
When I look at some of my early photographs, I feel a similar sense of nostalgia. But my role both as participant and photographer adds an element to my reminiscences. Not only do they remind me of a time in my life, but they also point out how much I've improved as a photographer over the years. We all had to start somewhere, I guess. I did the best I could, in the moment.
The camera captures whatever you point it at, and only so long as the shutter remains open. Sometimes, we miss a shot because we couldn't react quickly enough, or because we didn't realize what could have been possible until later. We miss many possibilities entirely. To get the best shots, you have to be able to see them in the first place. There are places so special that no matter where you look, there are beautiful vistas. But more often, you have to compose an image in the midst of what is there.
When people look at an image, they can't see what lies outside the frame. They may have an idea of what came before or after, but all they can see is what happened in the moment the shutter was pressed. Out of the many possibilities, it's up to you to find and capture the moment.
Photographers may not be able to create images out of whole cloth the way painters can, but we do have a great deal of control over what does and does not end up in an image. In my experience, the best way to capture the moment is to be in the moment. Sometimes, I see photographers in too much of a hurry to get in and get out. But to make the most of the moment, it pays to settle in and get comfortable. Take the time to investigate what you have to work with thoroughly. Don't become satisfied just by finding a promising subject. Consider your options and make your choices count.
If I find that only a small patch of wildflowers is blooming instead of the expected alpine field of color, it's my job to make that patch count. Nobody will be able to see the surrounding hillside unless I show it to them. If I'm shooting at that golden hour that falls near sunrise, it's up to me to press the shutter release at the optimal moment. It doesn't matter that the soft pink and purple that fills the horizon quickly fades after I shoot. What matters is what the scene looked like when I shoot. Or more to the point, it matters what I choose to show of the overall surroundings.
The only moment that counts is the one when you press the shutter release. The only view that matters is the one you choose to frame in the viewfinder. Make it count.