I am very new to ‘proper’ photography with a DSLR rather than a mobile phone, and learning to use the camera has been a challenge to my impulsive, somewhat acquisitive nature. Like a toddler with a new toy, when my Canon camera arrived I ripped off the packaging and went straight out to the woods, pointing and shooting in Auto mode. I felt dismayed and affronted when the results were no better than my trusty Samsung Galaxy S20: I wanted off-the-shelf, saturated, silky, seductive images like the ones you see on Instagram! Impatience aside, underlying my frustration was the fear that I wouldn’t be able to master manual mode: I had looked at the dial settings and the menu and was baffled. As if confronted with algebra or the Arabic alphabet, my brain slunk off to a corner and sulked.
Because my reflex is to buy my way out of a problem, I then purchased an expensive, niche lens called a Lensbaby Velvet, which produces a beautiful blur effect. It’s a difficult lens for even a professional to master, and you simply cannot use it on Auto mode; it is manual only. I convinced myself that acquiring it would compel me to knuckle down and get to grips with manual mode – and, to my own surprise, the flawed thinking paid off: one beginner’s course and a bit of practise later, I now understand what the f number is, and how ISO and shutter speed combine with it to create the exposure triangle. Most importantly, I have learned to be patient, to go back to nursery school as it were and start by stacking bricks.
Yesterday, I spent the afternoon with my Lensbaby lens, strolling in field and woodland (with a bit of crawling and some wading through brambles). While I was crouching by the trunk of an oak tree, photographing a stump with cavities in it that looked rather like a howling ghost’s face, a young boy running along the path came to a sudden stop before edging towards me, crab-like in his halting approach. His curiosity got the better of him, and he came closer with the inevitable “What are you doing?”
I explained why I was taking photos of a tree stump, and he frowned over my shoulder, shaking his head as I showed the camera screen to him. “No, I can’t see a ghost!” He then asked me what my name was, misheard it, and introduced me to his rather hesitant-looking dad:
“This is Lucy, she’s taking photos of a ghost.”
After solemnly explaining to me that they were out Having An Adventure and would probably see me again if I was going the same way, he half-ran, half-skipped off down the path. “I hope we see Lucy again on our adventure, don’t you?” I heard him say, as they disappeared into the dip.
Our paths did indeed cross once more, as I was kneeling on a mat of last year’s dead bracken, photographing a pile of branches lying by a young silver birch tree. “Hello again!” he beamed, asking what I was photographing this time and not waiting for the answer. “Do you want to know what my name is?” “Why yes I do!” I replied. “I’m Marcus!” he declared, before updating me on his revised itinerary and the dark and scary abandoned bunker in the corner of the field. Then off he went, criss-crossing and doubling back in the seemingly random yet utterly resolute way that only a child can, his dad trotting gamely along in his wake clutching Marcus’ stripy ball.
It occurs to me that I might not have had the pleasure of a glimpse into Marcus’ world, had I not been behaving in a ‘childlike’ way when he first saw me – down at his level, exploring, looking at the world through the eye of a camera, hunting for the small and the half-seen things, the unaccustomed angles. Trying to see familiar things in different ways.
That is, perhaps, the main reason why my newfound photography hobby gives me so much joy: it is the most childlike and purposefully aimless I have felt since I turned into a grown-up.
Here’s to Marcus – although I think he was wrong about the tree stump: the photo didn’t come out very well in the end, but it does look a BIT like a ghost, doesn’t it?!