Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Student of Light

Since I was twelve years old, I have loved to see the world through a camera lens.  Several decades ago, when my father gave me his much-used SLR camera, I subscribed to Modern Photography magazine.  Of the many tips I filed away from the columns of Bert Kepler, this one tip became my "golden rule."  He said something like, "remember when you are taking pictures, that your subject is always light."  I began to see the world differently.

I always carried my camera in the car with me back then.  I was playing at being a pro photographer, which means I wasn't really making more than small change at it and it wasn't my real occupation.  It was my passion, though, and I wanted to be as good as the pros who regularly sold their scenic pictures to Vermont Life magazine.  I became attuned to the intricate play of light on the scenes I drove through as I traveled the length and breadth of Vermont.

The scene above, Main Street in Johnson, Vermont, was one I had seen hundreds of times, as I lived in the neighboring village and drove through Johnson a great deal.  One evening in May I was on my way to an appointment on the other side of Johnson, and as I rounded the bend and came onto Main Street, I saw a quality of light on the faces of the buildings that made me pull over then and there.  I got out of the car, snapped two frames of the same composition, and later sold the image to Vermont Life.  It was light that made me pull over, but Lady Luck who kept distractions out of the scene.  There are no moving cars in the image, no dog pooping at the curb, just the classic look of a small town with two white towers lined up on the same side of the street in the light of a waning day.

For the next decade, Vermont Life used my pictures here and there pretty regularly, and I realized that I had made it into the same ballpark as the "real" pros, but that I differed from them only in the ability to allocate full-time attention to the hunt.  At some point I became more interested in growing and hybridizing daylilies.  My love of photography followed that interest.

  I gave a talk to my daylily club last night and showed them this image in a section titled, "Color and Light."  To me, light is the true subject of this image, because without the slanted rays of morning sun turning the red petals into "transparencies," the picture would be cluttered and confusing.  Backlighting converts the picture into an advertisement for the pleasures of growing "spider" daylilies with narrow segments and lots of open space in each blossom.  You can also see this particular cultivar, "Red Ribbons," from all angles here.

I said I was the only person on the bus tour who stopped to enjoy the sight of these flowers before the sun rose to a height that took away the magic of this moment.  Everyone else walked right past this vision in search of "the latest and greatest" cultivars or the breakfast snacks. 

My advice to people last night was, "when you step off the bus at the first garden on the tour, look for the light."

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