February 1, 2011

Into the woods

Words have always been my refuge. I started reading when I was 3-years-old and that was long before “Hooked on Phonics” or “My Baby Can Read”. I can not remember a time when the heft of a book didn’t make me want to curl up in a corner and do nothing but read from the first page to the last. Writing has come as naturally to me as reading. I will write on anything, anywhere, anytime. So imagine my surprise when I realized last year that there is another way that I can frame my world and give it meaning, depth and dimension. I discovered my 'inner photographer' and my life is forever changed.

One of my dearest friends, Rachel, is my own personal superhero (yes, I really call her that). There is practically nothing that Rachel can’t do but her eye behind the viewfinder of a camera is truly something to behold. Rachel, my daughter Bryton, and I have taken a number of photo safaris around the DC metro area over the past couple of years and it amazes me to watch Rachel frame a shot and to observe what captures her attention. I coveted her camera for several safaris, haunted my local Best Buy every weekend playing with the DSLRs and finally, when I was practically dreaming about it – purchased my Nikon.

The day I bought that camera something clicked in me.

Let me just disclose for good or for bad that I don’t read manuals. I keep them but it can take months (sometimes years) for me to actually read a manual for something I've purchased. I prefer to just jump in so I began snapping pictures the minute I took that camera out the box. I don’t know one technical thing about any of the photos that I take – not one. I know what I’m framing in my mind’s eye and I know which lens will capture it best but that is about it. I've managed to capture some amazing shots that I can’t begin to talk intelligently about as a photographer, what I can tell you is how I feel about each and every photo I shoot and what was happening when I took it. I like to think that if I've taken a really good picture I don't have to say anything because the picture speaks for itself.

I often seek refuge in my “Thinking Place” - Great Falls Park in Great Falls, Virginia. I rarely take anyone with me because I go there to mull things over, to find answers and enjoy the quiet of the paths juxtaposed with the chaos of the ever changing and turbulent falls in the background.  I never, however, go there without my Nikon because the camera has become my third eye.

This photo was taken  on a snowy trail that hadn’t many footprints on it in Great Falls Park. I sensed a presence before I knew what it was and turned my head to the left. There only a few feet away in a sparse clearing of trees stood this beautiful young doe. We spotted one another at the exact same moment and because I’d been shooting a bald eagle in a nearby tree, I had my long lens which made this shot possible. If I’d had to fiddle with switching out lenses I might have lost her. There we stood in a silent faceoff, the doe in the woods - me on the path. Slowly I raised the camera,  framed the shot (all the while hoping that the whirring and clicking wouldn’t spook her) and held my breath. Her brown eyes locked on mine, I began to shoot. Click, click, click. Neither of us moved. Whirr, click, click. She bowed her head deeply and slowly looked back up at me holding my gaze again. Click, whirr, click. I whispered “thank you” and walked away. I turned back for a last look to find her still standing behind the tree watching me. I smiled. She ran. At that moment a couple stepped out from behind a clump of trees to my right and I nearly jumped out of my skin. We all laughed and they told me that they’d been standing watching me with the doe. They were afraid that she would run if they continued on the path so they stood and watched us instead. The man (with a ridiculously awesome Canon around his neck) explained to me that he’d been trying for months to get close enough to a deer in Great Falls to get a photo and it has never happened. I have to admit, in all the visits and all the hours I’ve spent there, I have never seen one either. This was my lucky day.

I didn’t bother looking at what I’d captured – I knew there would be no second chance to get the shots and if I’d gotten nothing I frankly didn’t want to know until I was finished. When I got home and began uploading the photos I was shocked. Looking into the doe's eyes in this photo takes me back to the moment and our connection as if I were back on that snow-filled path, holding my breath, finger poised above the shutter. Click ... click ...click. Breathe.

THIS is why I love taking pictures. When I’m shooting all I am focused on is what I see through that tiny viewfinder. The constant din of thoughts, narrative, melodies, and lyrics that usually create my internal soundtrack go quiet, everything slows down and I becomes one with my camera and what I am shooting. I rarely experienced anything like it. Photography is a new language for me.
Am I ready to say that I’m a REAL photographer? No. I'm someone who bears witness to and captures amazing and beautiful moments, people, animals, and things.

Now if only I could remember where I stored that manual.

**I shoot with a Nikon D3000 using either my Nikon 18-55mm or 70-300mm lens and Nikon Speedlight SB-600 flash.**

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