You’ve heard it before – “Life is short.” Too short for some. Tomorrow is promised to no person. We all owe a death. But it’s not the death we live for, it’s the life in between. When you’re in your 20s, you think you’re untouchable – you’ll live forever. When you’re in your 30s, you live as if you still have most of your life ahead of you. When you’re in your 40s, you start to realize that you have less time than you thought to accomplish your dreams. When you’re in your 50s, your friends start to pass with alarming frequency. You no longer just suspect – you now know your time is limited. In your 60s you finally understand what your parents were trying to tell you and you start planning for the next phase of your life, whatever that may be. I can’t tell you what happens to folks in their 70s, and beyond. You see I haven’t made it that far yet – and have no idea whether or not I will.
What I do have is today – right now – this moment. And I’ve learned that living IN THE MOMENT or FOR THE AMAZING MOMENT can be very rewarding. But getting to this place was a process. It didn’t happen overnight. And the WAY I got here is the reason I’m writing this post. You see, it was in large part my photography that taught me to live for amazing moments.
Henri-Cartier Bresson is closely aligned with the phrase “The Decisive Moment.” And this tracks with my life philosophy of living for AMAZING moments. Another Bresson quote really drove this home for me. He said, “There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative,” he said. “Oops! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.” Isn’t this much like life itself?
I see this in the birds I love and photograph. Unlike us, they aren’t self-aware. They have no idea that someday, they will die. They just grab a worm and enjoy breakfast. They don’t immediately start worrying about tomorrow’s worm or anything else. They are born with a gift – that gift is to just BE! And by spending time with them, I have been lucky enough to take what they offer me, and turn that into (what I think) is art.
We’re offered thousands of moments each day. What we do with them; How we react to them; Our opinion of them — These things all influence the quality of our life, wether or not we acknowledge them.
When I look at my favorite photographs (both mine and yours) I see lots of special and amazing moments. In my own work, I am rewarded not only with the visual reminder, but an emotional reminder since every photo I make is also part of my life’s experience. I’ve been very, very fortunate to go places and see things most never see. Some of these moments were truly amazing. Like walking into the Lower Antelope Corkscrew Canyon for the first time, or cresting a ridge to find a wolf standing on a waterfall. Or the time when I stood a few yards from the big, Coastal Brown Bear in Alaska’s Kaflia Bay or photographed my first bald eagle in flight.
These are just a few of the amazing moments I’ve enjoyed.
So what makes a moment amazing? That depends. Sometimes moments borne out of tragedy or simple mistakes are amazing because of what you learn from them. Sometimes the chance to simply CREATE is amazing. So many of us walk through life going from task-to-task as if that is our only choice, until our time runs out. Being able to recognize our inner need to make a difference, to matter, to make something that lasts, to contribute – that is amazing.
Then there is the simple realization that not all amazing moments come when there is a camera in hand, or at least the camera doesn’t matter. It might seem strange to read this paragraph on a photography site, but I don’t think you can separate your photo life from your real life. They fuel each other. It’s impossible to be the best photographer you can be without pouring the real YOU into each image. So it follows that the real YOU is something you should develop as fervently as you study your craft of photography. On occasion, I have been somewhere, or seen something, that was simply so beautiful and yes, amazing, that I didn’t make a photograph. I got caught up in the moment, and merely forgot to press the shutter or just lost interest in making a picture. I decide to LIVE that moment instead of photograph it.
My first trip to Bosque del Apache was just such a moment. I went there to photograph what we call the “blast off.” This is the moment when the tens of thousands of geese take off and make their way north each morning looking for food. They take off all at once. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, and the wind’s right and the conditions warrant it, they take off against a brilliant sunrise.
Decades ago, on my first trip to Bosque, I had such a moment. I’d been briefed on what to expect. But nothing I read or heard about the experience was able to really prepare me for its amazingness! The birds took off and like a statue, I stood there in awe. It was amazing in every way. I merely forgot to press the shutter. And guess what – that’s okay if it happens to you too — really. Nobody has to know unless you’re a fool like me, and you pour your heart out to thousands of people every day on a photography web site!
I’ve often said that being creative has little to do with finding something new and much more to do with simply being you. The bare, naked soul within you is your number one source for photographic inspiration. That’s where the desire to tell amazing stories about amazing moments comes from.
If we live and photograph with purpose — If we make images because they matter — at least to us — If we participate in the amazing moments instead of just letting them pass us by, then we are not only better photographers, we’re better humans. Oh, and we’re likely to find more amazing moments as a reward.
I am spending what time I have left on this planet in hot pursuit of amazing moments. Both those I can photograph and those I that I can simply be a part of, no matter how small. I want to take big bites out of life. There’s probably not as much left for me as there is for most of you. but regardless, I’m not wasting any of my time and hope you aren’t either.
My camera and my ability to make images with it have taken me lots of amazing places. I’m not settling for less any more. If it’s not amazing, I’m moving on to where amazing is hanging out. We all deserve a chance to live for amazing moments, no matter how many we have left. I hope this post (long as it may be) has somehow inspired you to go find yours.