Thursday, September 01, 2005

Being There

The first rule of photography is that you must have a camera in order to get the shot. The second is that you have to be there.

You have to be there when all the world conspires to give you that fleeting chance for a spectacular photo. It means being there when the stars are aligned, when the sun breaks over the ridge or bursts through clouds, when the fog rolls in off the river, when the man peers off into the horizon, when the full moon rises behind the city, and when the distant headlight appears down the tracks. Being there for even a few of those moments means being there for so many more, when that last piece of the puzzle never fell into place. That is both the challenge and the reward.

It sounds like such a simple request. "If you're already going to be there taking still photos, how about taking along one of my video cameras? Just plop it down on the tripod and hit record when the train's coming." I photograph trains, you see, and I have a good friend who records them on video. Most photographers are extremely attached to their own work, but not Camron. He just wants footage, and he'll take it any way he can get it, including loaning his expensive, hi-definition video cameras out to most anyone who will take them. Of course, that also involves an incredible amount of effort on his own part, and I've come to respect him and his devotion a great deal.

I've been putting off telling him about my upcoming trip to China, where, with any luck, I'll photograph at least a few steam trains, some of the last in the world. I knew he'd press me to shoot video for him, and I wasn't anxious to tell him no. I had to, though.

There's a tantalizing temptation in photography that goes along with being there. Once you're there, it seems so easy to bring an extra camera and record that once-in-a-lifetime moment from multiple angles or on multiple formats . . . like still and video. I've tried that before. I've tried it with multiple combinations of two different still cameras. I've tried it with a still camera and a video camera. On one trip, I was even ambitious (crazy?) enough to try it with two still cameras and a video camera.

What I learned from those experiences is that with every additional camera, I was that much less there. My photography suffered, and so did my appreciation of the moment, my enjoyment of being there. I love the challenge of photography, and I love some of the images I've created. More than that, though, I love being there when those moments happen. I suppose it's the first camera, and not the second or third, that creates the largest obstacle to appreciating those moments, but it's also that first camera that gets me there in the first place. So I make that trade, but no more.

I did a poor job of expressing that to Camron the first time he called. It's difficult to say no to his requests. He's persuasive, but more than that, he's so sincere and passionate about his work. I took two days to think on the matter and discuss it a bit, and finally wrote back. He called me that night, too, but not to change my mind. He understood.

My refusal had another effect that I wasn't fully anticipating. Now he wants to go to China, too. There's not much time to make the arrangements, but there might still be enough. I hope it works out. I know how much the footage would mean to him. More than that, though, I know how much he'd enjoy being there, too.

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