Committing to an image means doing whatever you can - devoting enough time and energy and patience - to get a picture. If there’s a fence between you and the optimal viewpoint, find a way to get over it. If the light isn’t quite right when you arrive (it seldom is…), be prepared to wait for the light to improve (anything from, say, a few minutes to a few hours). When a picture presents itself, commit to taking the image there and there; promising yourself that you’ll come back another day and get the shot is just another kind of postponement.
I have to be single-minded (not multi-tasking…), which is why I generally photograph on my own. A companion might get bored, just hanging around waiting for the light to change… or I might imagine they are getting bored, which would have the similar effect of taking the edge off my concentration. If I’m thinking about someone else’s welfare (or preoccupied with anything else), my powers of observation may dip by 20%, which might represent the difference between a shot that’s OK and one that really works.
I’m sitting in the Romahome, which is parked up near Brougham Castle, just outside Penrith. The light looked promising a few minutes ago; now I’m not so sure. The sun has disappeared behind a long bank of cloud, and I may not see it again for a while. The sun may appear for a few seconds, through a gap in the clouds. If I’m ready, I get the shot; if I’m not ready, I’ll miss it. This kind of light - that lasts only a few seconds - can often be very special. But the camera needs to be on the tripod, the lens cap must be off and my thumb should be on the infra-red shutter release.
The aperture and shutter speeds need to be set - not for the lighting conditions right now, but for what the lighting conditions will be like, when the sun makes an appearance. That’s not a complex calculation, on a summer’s day. With the ISO set to 100 and an aperture of f11, that leaves the shutter speed as the only variable: 1/125sec for hazy light, 1/160sec for direct light, 1/200sec when it’s bright, 1/250sec when it’s really bright.
I enjoy that combination of being patient… then acting quickly. It keeps me on my toes. And the time spent standing and staring is never time wasted. It slows me down. I stood on the old sandstone bridge over the River Eamont, which used to carry the A66 road. Behind me was the new road bridge, with Bank Holiday traffic crawling along the dual carriageway.
A heron flew upstream, the last swallows dipped and swooped, a pair of yellow wagtails explored the water-margins. A guy stood next to me and took a picture; if he’d waited another ten seconds the castle would have been illuminated, briefly, but by that time the camera was back in its case and he was on his way. A group of teenagers walked accross the bridge, with three llamas. I didn’t ask. An old guy stopped and we chatted about the good old days. He mentioned the Romans too, but was hazy about his facts. We marvelled at the swallows, preparing to fly to sub-Saharan Africa. “It’s the survival of the fittest”, he said. Then we looked at each other, and wondered how the hell we’d survived for so long.
I felt the warmth of the summer sun on my back and watched my shadow on the ground go from pale to dark - the soft edges hardening into sharp definition. The clouds drifted across the sky, and a patch of light moved across the fields, then swept across the facade of the castle.