On a recent day trip to the forest to find autumn colors, I made the photo above. It’s an HDR (high dynamic range) composite of five photos. We don’t have many maples here in New Mexico; lots of gorgeous golden aspens, but not the vibrant red of maples. I was quite focused on finding red, so I was somewhat surprised that I was drawn to this scene, apparently for some unconscious reason. There were several moments on my hike that I would just stop and listen to the silence or to the soft breeze through the tall evergreens, look and admire. It was a glorious afternoon to just soak in the beauty and tranquility.
When I post-processed this photo, an amazing feeling came over me. Processing an HDR photo has been likened to “wet” development of a photograph from the days of film. You hope and wait, and the picture emerges. Sometimes it’s better or not what you expected. Other times it takes your breath away. When this photo “emerged”, the adjustments seemed to be just right, and I thought to myself, “Hmmm. This is nice.” I imported this photo back into Lightroom for some additional tweaking. It was at this point that I realized that I had something sacred. There was not one thing that I wanted to or could do to the photo without feeling that I was somehow desecrating it. I could not even watermark or sign it. I had made other photos that were much more colorful and accurate depictions of the season. So what was it with this photo?
Perhaps it was the distant light in the depth of the forest, or the way the late afternoon sun glistened in the blades of grass. Maybe a part of me recognized it as a portal into another dimension. I don’t know and it didn’t matter. I could feel this photo in my soul and it didn’t matter if anyone else felt the same, or if they even liked it. It verified for me how much of a spiritual journey photography is, and how important emotions and feelings are in the process.
I don’t always know why I make a photo, but when the voice inside me says “now” or “here”, I don’t question it and follow. I now understand what Ansel Adams meant when he said, “Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have someone click the shutter.”
I use words like magic, mystical, spiritual, intuitive when I talk or write about photography. And it is all of those for me and can be for you if you want and let it. There are many ways to pray and to meditate, and I realize today more than any other day, that for me photography is just that — a prayer of gratitude, a psalm of hope and amazement, a tribute to the Everlasting . . . Amen.