5th of July and Positive Thinking

July 05, 2010  •  Leave a Comment

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I opened the back of the Jeep to get my tripod and there sat our folding chairs, and nothing else. The rage that filled my head at that moment was embarrassing and I did my best to conceal it from Matthew. I closed the hatch and hung my head while my mind stepped through the last 20 minutes trying to figure out what had happened. Pausing for a moment to peek in the back seat just in case, I accepted the tragedy and began the long walk to the lake. It was July 5th and we were going to catch the fireworks in Loveland.
 
The day before was of course 4th of July weekend. Here in Colorado it was pouring rain most of the day Sunday and as we came down from the cabin, necks craned out the window studying the sky, it looked pretty bleak. We kept searching for open patches of bright amidst the clouds and finally as we hit Longmont and made the turn North the sky looked like it was brightening. Hope. As we pulled into Loveland huge splats appeared on the windshield as wipers skidded and thumped across as if to deny their existence and we knew it was futile. I had my gear and was ready to take killer shots of fireworks for the first time. Matthew just liked the boom.
 
We headed home hopeful they'd reschedule them for the next night. After all, what's 4th of July weekend in America without bar-b-que, ice cream and fire works? Monday night we were both excited as we finished dinner and piled into the car. My iPhone rang just as I was loading my gear into the car and once again I was nailed by my inability to do 2 things at once. A half hour later we stood in the dirt parking lot shaking my head as I realized there was no time to race home and grab it.
 
We set up our chairs in the field - a truly great spot. There was a bank of trees to the left, a baseball dugout to the right, and a nice gap straight in front. If the fireworks were there we'd have a killer seat. If they were to the sides we'd miss the launch, but would still be able to see them above the foreground. "I'm so incredibly mad right now..." I muttered. "Why?" asked Matthew. "Because... this was it. This was my shot." Matthew paused a moment, wanting to console and encourage me and said, "There's always next year." At this I just shook my head again, tempted to argue my point but knew it wouldn't help. "Sometimes you're so negative," he said. He was right.
 
Photography has a definite technical element to it. Workshops, textbooks and education are full to the brim of technical instruction - and to a whole new level with now digital cameras. We're inundated with data as we compose, shoot, analyze, adjust, pixel peep and re-shoot – hundreds and hundreds of frames. We study guide numbers, range and candle power of new flash heads. We scrutinize the effects of one light box or umbrella's dispersal pattern over another. We try warming filters, cooling filters, expensive color altering filters, NDGrad filters, slim line circular polarizers and just about anything else in search of that "perfect look" right out of the camera. We work to form a useable understanding of hyperfocal distances, circle of confusion, chromatic abaration, color fringing and depth of field. We agonize for perfect exposure calculations, ISO useage, noise, grain, the flatness of film against a transport gate. We scrutinize a new lenses and camera bodies for corner sharpness, vignetting, misaligned focus points, back focusing... on and on and on. All thinking that the careful study of such errata will yield the perfect image. I swear - sometimes I get so caught up in the mechanism of making a photograph I just feel like a bumbling idiot, dropping things, misplacing things, putting something down in a hurry and forgetting where it is, fumbling with gadgets when I should be shooting... anyone else ever feel like this?
 
So - when my 12 year old son looks at me and essentially says, look on the bright side: "we're here - just enjoy the show," I can do one of 2 things: 1-forget all about taking pictures and enjoy the fireworks, or 2-let the night be ruined. Now, in my mind, only a true monster would let a wonderful night at the fireworks with their son be ruined because he forgot his tripod (right?). But perhaps there was a third option.
 
Rewind a couple years to Barington, Illinois. Our creative team from church had made the trip to the Willow Creek Arts Festival, an enormous assembly of creative talent dedicated to pouring it into the worship of our great God. Up first the speaker was photographer Dewitt Jones, talking about, amongst other things the process of creativity. One of the big take-aways from that talk was the idea of just being out there, open to whatever happens. Being flexibile, responsive and adaptable as circumstances change.

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So as usual these days I'm working my F6, loaded this evening with Velvia 100. I have the 28-70 ƒ2.8 focused at infinitiy (checked the lens barrel marking with my head lamp in the dark), zoomed down to about 28mm. My ML-3 cable release stays in the bag, as does the spirit level. No need for that. I take the camera out, sit in my chair and brace my left arm on the chair's arm, my right arm against my chest and rest the camera against my forehead and proceed to watch the fireworks with my left eye as my right eye looks through the viewfinder. It was a fantastic show. Excited yells echoed as booms reverberated through our bodies and shook the night. We'd unknowingly settled in a spot so close to the launch the acrid smoke began to drift into our noses adding this new dimension to the experience.
 
We had a blast - no pun intended. The take away? Sure, there are times you're tying hard to get everything perfect. But sometimes lightening up and going with the hand you're dealt opens up new creative opportunities you'd otherwise not anticipated. I always tell my very patient family, "some day you'll be glad I took all these pictures. We'll be able to remember when..." But, I don't want that memory to be how uptight I was trying to get "everything perfect."

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