There is a well-known behaviour people exhibit when experiencing a sense of wonder. We all do it, almost instinctively. But this is not an animal instinct, it is too modern.
What i’m talking about is when people visit an impressive vista or famous landmark and instantly reach for their camera or smartphone to grab a shot (grabshot). This happens often climbing a mountain, cross a bridge high-above a gorge or visit a public artwork in a city centre square. What you see is predictable. Upon arriving at the scene, people will whip out their smartphone, grab a shot, stow the camera, drop their head and off they trot to the next click stop. Like trophy hunting or a dog marking its territory then wandering off to the next marking post.
Why do we do this? What did people do before they carried cameras? Sketch I suppose. Yet sketching or painting is very different. To do it well you need to observe the scene. Think about what composition and colours to record. How does light play over the scene. A landscape photographer has the same concentrated study prior to gear setup. Its often described as being ‘in the moment’ and can be a very thoughtful, deep, often slow and considered process. Another description I like is flow.
The theory goes like this. To create a visual record of a scene you must first watch it, like the painter. Upon arrival I will stop and watch. Seeing everything from texture, lines, curves, colour, depth, movement, shadow, light and more. Move around to change perspectives and wait. If you understand a scene by being part of it, feeling it more than passing it then something magical can happen. It can be emotional. Its feels like an alternative being takes over and guides you with opportunity to create your own frame of the scene based on that deeper insight. This frame often renders a better study than any grabshot can, but not always! Light can change faster than the photographer can. There are no formulae to great photography, which is why it is challenging and thus rewarding.
This was this choice I faced this morning as a solar eclipse swept across Scotland. Unlike the last total eclipse in 1999, this time the moon would leave her kimono raised slightly exposing only the most anorexic of crescent sun behind. Being aware of the risk of retinal damage while gazing meant I was nervous about exposing my camera sensor to the same fate.
Instead of being the ‘Wedding Photographer’ of moon and sun sky-marriage, I chose to experience it. With my faithful muse – Poppy. The fact that it was the birthday of someone special who died seven weeks ago today added to my emotions. I chose to take no camera equipment and to be “in the moment”. To be open, heart racing as celestial events wash over.
So today I was an observer listening with every sense, as the moon cast its shade, cold and quiet.
Then I wept.
- I chose a perch on Witches Crag, near Yellowcraig Wood on the Ochil Hills to hopefully see the moon’s shadow move across the plains of the river Forth as it transits across the sun. Alas there is a big difference in eclipse light between 95% and totality.
- As peak shade approached, it did darken slightly and got colder by 1 DegC (Thanks StirlingWeather).
- The chatter of the birds in the nearby forest did quiet as it darkened, but not silently.
- Poppy was restless. She was often seeking assurance, wee mutt!
- As light levels dipped, the night lights of nearby businesses lit up. (Sterling Warehouse, something in Dollar and Diageo).
- Despite the moon covering 95% of the Sun, I was astounded how much light lit the landscape.
- I can grabshot & grab-a-selfie like anyone (smartphone photographs and video straight from the device – Android OnePlus One).
- Sometimes man needs to be humbled by the scale of celestial events. Restore our place in the world of worlds to have perspective. Be humble.
UPDATE November 2016: I have rewritten this slightly to remove poor spelling, dumb word choice and over extended phrasing.