Waiting and Watching
Photography is a funny sort of art form. By its very nature photography captures a single moment in time. Photographic exposures, or in today’s vernacular “digital captures” are routinely made in fractions of a second, even so called “long exposures” typically last but a handful of seconds!
In 1952 the founder of modern photojournalism, Henri Cartier-Bresson, published a book of 126 images he considered to be “instant drawing(s)” which captured the “quintessence of the phenomenon [being photographed] in a single image”. The English title of Mr. Cartier-Bresson’s work, chosen by publisher Dick Schuster of Simon and Schuster, was The Decisive Moment! And thus was born one of the more fascinating concepts in the history of photography.
Capturing “that” moment when visual and environmental elements simultaneously and instantly coalesce to uniquely express the essence of a place, situation or event is thought by many photographers to be the unique purpose of photography as a visual art!
Yet, waiting and watching, sometimes for a very long period of time, is what oftentimes is required to capture that “decisive moment”. And sometimes … we just get lucky!
This image, of a black spruce tree covered small island reflected in the perfectly still waters of Lake Mentasta located near Alaska’s eastern border with Canada’s Yukon Territory, was one such “got lucky” moment. While traveling down the Glenn Highway-Tok Cutoff in a rented motor coach we decided to pull off into a gravel covered siding for a break and a bite to eat. It had been a grey, overcast and stormy day with terrible “flat light” for the entire ride from Beaver Creek, YT but I nonetheless decided to grab my camera and tripod to see if anything of interest might present itself!
I made my way through the dense paper birch and black spruce covered slope to the lakeshore, just then winds that had been gently rustling the golden foliage of the paper birch subsided and the surface of the lake began to quiet. Quickly I set up the tripod, composed the shot, and checked my exposure then… I watched and waited, as the surface of the lake stilled before my eyes! As the last ripples glided out of my field of view, I squeezed off my first exposure.
The heavily overcast sky provided gloriously even illumination from one end of the lake to the other and the heavily laden, low hanging, clouds reflected magnificently in the now perfectly still waters. Only the decaying limbs and a few floating leaves betrayed the fact that these were reflections, and not clouds that had miraculously settled neatly upon the surface of the Earth.
Then, as quickly as the calm had come, the tips of several black spruce on the distant shore began to sway. And as I stood silently on the opposite bank, the once perfectly mirrored surface was soon disrupted and disturbed as I literally watched the wind course across the watery expanse.
As I packed up my equipment and returned to the motor coach I was reminded of a quote from one of my favorite nature photographers, Ansel Adams who once said “Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.”