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When the Light is Right

 

“I have captured the light and arrested its flight.”

– French photographer Louis Daguerre

A honeysuckle hedge runs the length of the fence on one side of my house. In winter months, it’s a wooden sculpture of interlaced branches. Last week, it leafed out and bloomed seemingly overnight. Now the birdhouse on my back deck is perched in a tumble of honeysuckle. One morning, I grabbed my camera and focused on the birdhouse, but there was a shadow on the hedge that I wanted to edge out, so I lowered the birdhouse in the frame of the photo and snapped the picture.

Later, reading in the sunroom in my favorite rocking chair, I glanced up and noticed that the shadow was gone. The shot I originally wanted was available. But I was now focused on an article I was reading. Just a few more lines, I thought, and then I’ll get the picture. When I finished the article, I picked up my camera, but a curved shadow had fallen across the entire face of the birdhouse. Again, the light was not right.

Because I take pictures of shadows, I’ve learned the lesson about the light over and over again. If I like a particular shadow, I have to get the picture right at that moment or the light will shift and change everything. I’m obviously an amateur photographer, but I’m learning a most important lesson: the light has to be right.

Professional photographers insist on the right lighting and know how to get it. They come to photo shoots with large lamps and screens to soften or deflect light. My older son used to light sets for film and video shoots, and he would spend hours getting the light just right.

In nature, some things show up only in the right light. Rainbows. Reflections in water. Sparkles on stone. The light has to be right.

Life often feels like a process of trying to get the light right. Some days we’re navigating through fog. Not only is the light not right, it’s not there. Sometimes we’re making our way forward, but the shadows keep shifting. At other times, it feels as if the sun is fully out, clearly revealing the path.

I’ve been reading the artist Shaun McNiff’s book Trust the Process. “The creative spirit will always have its good days and bad ones,” he says. “This inconsistency is an essence of the process, which moves according to its inherent chemistry and not my expectations. . . I am asked, ‘What is the essential quality that carries us through difficult times?’ In my experience it has been acceptance tied to a faith that the weather will change. Through it all I have to keep ‘showing up.'”

Life is a process, and you are the work of art. If the sun is not out today, it may be tomorrow. Or the next day. Keep showing up. The beauty in you is illuminated when the light is right. And the truth is, when the light comes from within you, the light is always right.

“My candle burns at both ends;

It will not last the night;

But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –

It gives a lovely light.”

Edna St. Vincent Millay

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Text, birdhouse, and shadow photos © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Rainbow and candle photos courtesy pexels.com.

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