Being There

A new photography site called recently recruited me to serve as a professional contributor to their forums, and while browsing recent posts I came across a topic in one of the forums asking which is more important, the act of recording the original raw image or the post-processing necessary to create the final photograph that represents the photographer’s expression of the image. It got me thinking that there’s something more important than either of those options: the experience of simply being there.

Just being present to witness whatever it is we choose to photograph, even if no image is recorded, is of tremendous value. For instance, I tend to be out “in the field” before dawn only when I plan to photograph at sunrise, and I’m incredibly grateful that over the years photography has provided the motivation. The time I’ve spent out in the pre-dawn light watching the first rays of the sun play across the atmosphere and landscape is precious to me. I can’t count the number of places that photography has taken me, and I’d rather have those experiences and memories incorporated into my being than a set of perfect photographs but no memories or lessons learned. One of the greatest things about photography is that it encourages us to get out, look into the world, and be a part of events that we might not otherwise encounter.

Of course, I take for granted that every image for which I have a meaningful application will require some amount of work, be it basic RAW conversion or more involved Photoshop work, to prepare it for publication or printing. I also consider processing essential in terms of my expression of what I am trying to communicate to the viewer. So, yes, it is important, and as Ansel said (and I paraphrase) it’s like the performance of a musical score, but give me the personal memory of an exceptional moment in nature over a perfect finished print any day. In our long rush to master technology and technique, it’s important to remember to live life to the fullest and make the most of every new experience we’re fortunate enough to have.

–Justin Black

First light over the Owens River, Eastern Sierra, California, by Justin Black