“The Path that leadeth on is lighted by one fire – the light of daring burning in the heart. The more one dares, the more he shall obtain. ”
(Helena Petrova Blavatsky)
It’s always about the learning for me, and participating in this last photo challenge was no exception. Despite limited time, I found my Self becoming rather obsessed with my “grotto” idea and I think when it was all over I’d snapped off well over 1,000 shots over the course of the actual week of shooting.
The biggest hurdle was properly adding the element of fire. My very wet little grotto, carefully balanced on the birdbath, turned out to be quite a lovely “set” and one photo taken at sunset during the 3rd session was particularly and quietly poignant:
For the purposes of the contest, however, it was too quiet. Though all done in miniature, I really needed more fire than just a single candle flame – but how?
It was time to break out some serious combustibles. Lighter fluid was the most immediate one at hand, and after Bob ever-so-kindly moved the whole birdbath to a spot in the yard where the sunset light comes piercing through the trees, the better to illuminate the falling water, I rebuilt the tiny grotto, soaked it down, placed the candle deep inside, and positioned the camera.
With Bob acting as the flame thrower, the results were nothing short of amazing! At least to my eyes.
Now the trick was to get exactly the right balance between wet and hot. This is much easier said than done, however, since every shot of flammable fluid creates a big burst of light and then burns down very quickly. If I started shooting as Bob started squirting, even with the correct exposure the result was just too hot:
While rather spectacular, Dante’s Inferno wasn’t really what I had in mind.
As an experiment, we tried using charcoal lighter fluid, thinking it would perhaps burn a little longer than plain lighter fluid. It was an interesting effect, both in terms of the flame and its color:
But even though I liked it, there was only wetness and I really, really wanted to capture falling water.
So we went back to using lighter fluid. Lots of lighter fluid. Lots of candles, too, since they had to be very small and ended up getting very wet as each round of shooting progressed.
In all, there were at least 10 different sessions, each held at various times of the day (and once in the dead of night; a rather memorable failure despite the use of spot lighting), finally settling on using late afternoon light that was uncannily clear and very, very bright; as if even the weather concurred with the idea. And after each session I would carry Matilda upstairs, plug her into the desktop computer, and painstakingly sort through the results. Hundreds of them. All in search of the One that best told the story.
The deadline was Monday morning at 8 a.m. EDT. But I wanted to post my entry before going to bed on Sunday. And when at last Sunday night rolled around I was, frankly, weary of the effort and seemingly suddenly there were no further opportunities to do more. But as is so often the case, in the end it was the element of “beginner’s luck” that held sway. We narrowed down the choices to a mere handful and I then solicited the opinion of some friends who could look at them with fresh eyes.
And I had my entry, taken during session #4. It was titled “Primordial”:
I think that I am most pleased that this is a single image. It required only minimal post-processing in the “digital darkroom”, always a sign for me that I’ve done everything right.
It placed 9th in the competition. It is not my intention to dismiss the efforts of those who scored more points in the judging, however, by definition the images that were seen as more effective were really graphic illustrations, not photographs. The majority of entries were stitched-together composites to create something seen only with the mind’s eye, not something seen with the physical eye, as is the standard definition of a photograph. Even the winner, a quite beautiful landscape, was a layered product of multiple exposures (which is really just a standard technique so I don’t mind losing to it.)
After a week’s reflection, what I find is that I’m more than a little disappointed that Photoshop skills are apparently more valued than photographic skills – in a photography forum. Yet the measure of that disappointment within the whole of my reality is very small. Because I really am very, very pleased with the result of my efforts. I was able to create and then capture my idea, my vision, and do so very well (if I say so my Self!) It was a learning experience, above all, and though frustrating at times it made me think outside my box, it took me out of my usual element of shooting animals and nature. It was more lessons in timing and that most important matter of light.
And in the end, that is all and only goodness.