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Capturing Time

It's been said that time is nature's way of keeping everything from happening all at once. Perhaps. But whatever does happen while your camera's shutter is open will leave its mark on the resulting image. Photography captures the times of your life.

Set a short shutter speed and your image will freeze time. Utilize a longer one and the passage of time will be recorded in the blurred motion of your subject in the photograph. So long as you compensate by means of an inverse change to either the aperture or ISO speed, the exposure will remain the same. The difference will show itself only in how much time you've captured in the result.

But this isn't really what I wanted to talk about this week. Instead, I've been sorting through a lot of old images lately, which has me thinking about how photography captures time as memories.

Generally speaking, people tend not to be that aware of the passage of time unless they're late for something important. I remember once back in high school though riding in the back seat of a car driven by a friend after school one day. Through simple lack of experience, he had an accident, ending up against the freeway entrance ramp guard rail. As we swerved and screeched back and forth, time seemed to pass in slow motion. I walked away with a minor break to my upper arm but my brother who was riding shotgun in the front seat required stitches after his head impacted the front windshield. The driver was fine. So much for karma I guess.

But I also walked away with a deeper appreciation for time and how we relate to it. Something like that sticks with a person.

Photography fascinates me as a way of capturing time and remembering events. There's an ancient Kodak commercial featuring a song called "Times of Your Life" as the soundtrack. Back then, it struck me as a bit overdone in part because it played on TV so frequently. But in a way, I think they were indeed onto something.

Any of you who have been trying your hand at photography for any length of time no doubt have more than a few memories. Although some may perhaps more rightly be described as horror stories. There was the time I was down at Mt. Rainier with the camera on a tripod pointed up at a vast expanse of glacier. Just when knelt down to get something out of my camera bag, a gust of wind whipped down the valley blowing my tripod over and everything with it. The lens was totaled and the camera required major repairs. Not one of my better days. But there have also been days like the one high up in Olympic National Park when a deer with rack in full velvet strolled out from behind a rock right in front of me. It was just me and him. That was a good day. I got much better images then than the day my camera took a face plant onto the ground down at Mt. Rainier.

Nobody really wants to share the bad memories except as lessons in what not to do. But one of the trends I've noticed in these days of cell phone cameras is that even the good memories tend not to last as long. Often, they get posted on Facebook and scroll off the bottom of the page after friends and family comment accordingly.

Most photographers these days shoot more than folks did back in the days of that Kodak commercial, but sometimes I think it's becoming easier to value the results less. Photography has become more disposable it seems. Sure, we can still print the results out and hang our work on the wall just as they could back then. It's in fact even easier now with cost effective inkjet printing at home.

No, lack of technology isn't the problem. What with no film costs any longer and, apart from the implications of Adobe's shift to subscription based licensing for Photoshop, the ability to affordably control the entire process has never been better. I some ways, perhaps it's now too easy to shoot it and forget it, if you will.

Of course not everyone does this. Serious shooters can still be found just as they always could. But back when I started only the serious stuck with it very long. These days, taking pictures is something everyone does. You don't have to be good at it. You don't have to work at it.

If you haven't done so lately, take some time out to look through what you've shot. If you've shot enough, within those images you will likely find both good and bad memories. Each frame will show not only your subject, but each also captured some of how you felt at the time you shot it. Somewhere in all that you will likely find the inspiration to get even better at your craft. If you just want to take pictures, that's easy. If you want to achieve the best you are capable of more often, it can still require hard work.

Date posted: September 8, 2013


Copyright © 2013 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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