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Travelers of Both Time and Space

A lot can be conveyed in a single image. Exploring the world around you with a camera, you can make choices as to what you want to convey. A camera is a magic box that captures both time and space.

You press the shutter release, and time is frozen as far as the image is concerned. Even fleeting moments can be recorded for posterity by a photographer who is paying attention and has quick reflexes. Time itself moves on, but we can be temporarily transported back in time to that precise moment by looking at the resulting image. Even if it is vicariously, a photograph allows the viewer to experience time travel.

We also have choices as to where we take pictures. If we go someplace special or just into our own backyard, we can take pictures there. Looking at those images later allows us to recall the experience of being there. It's a powerful tool.

A photograph is a projection of a three-dimensional world flattened into two dimensions. From the photographer's vantage point, some objects may lie hidden behind other objects and thus be missing from in the resulting image. But a great deal remains of the special relationships of that can be seen in the image. Objects that are closer to the camera appear larger and other similar queues tell the viewer a lot about what the original three-dimensional space must have been.

As photographers, the exact moment and the exact place we choose to press the shutter release is up to us. The choice should not be arbitrary or capricious. Since we can choose, we should make the most of each such choice.

Time and space are both somewhat malleable concepts. In daily life, we generally don't notice this, but our perceptions and experiences are subject to conditions and circumstances. Back in high school, I was riding in the back seat of a car that struck the guard rail on a freeway overpass entrance ramp. The car suffered serious damage, and one of my fellow passengers nearly did also, requiring stitches in his eyelid. It might have been much worse. It was indeed not a pleasant experience for any of us, even if is one that has stuck with me for quite some a few years now. But perhaps the most lasting impression was the way that everything seemed to slow down in the moments leading up to the impact. Others I've talked to report similar experiences at times of immanent crisis or impending disaster. Space can be somewhat malleable too as a concept based on what one is used to. Someone unaccustomed to being in confined spaces may feel claustrophobic, and the exact opposite may be true for a city dweller on their first trip to the great outdoors. It all depends on what you are used to.

But a camera allows us play with this malleability in ways that go beyond ordinary experience. A quick enough shutter speed will freeze droplets from a waterfall in mid-air. A longer shutter speed will yield waterfall images that look almost like cotton candy. It's all up to you as the photographer which you want, or whether you'd prefer something in between. In a similar fashion, you can vary focal length and subject distance to control perspective and apparent size far beyond what we can see with our eyes. At least not without putting your head in some pretty awkward places that is.

To me, images that show us something we don't normally see or don't normally notice are generally the most compelling. The best images don't lie, but they do often show us a truth that goes beyond our conventional experience of truth. In the hands of a photographer, a camera and lens can be used to augment our ability to perceive the world around us. In this way, a camera and lens truly are tools that let us travel in time and space.

Rather than merely being a means to an end to allow us to record what we see, a camera and lens function as tools that extend our ability to see and understand our world. This is a true testament to the power of photography.

Date posted: January 18, 2015


Copyright © 2015 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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Some Thoughts on Being in the Right Place at the Right Time
What the Eye Does Not See

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