Sunday, August 24, 2008

"Boinga, Boinga, Boinga" Shots

My family and I recently returned from a "mini vacation" in the Adirondacks, near Lake Placid, NY. The trip evoked many wonderful memories of taking similar trips with my mom and dad over 30 years ago. Though I haven't been in those parts for many years, the Adirondacks' unique charm and quiet ambiance almost instantaneously enveloped my soul. I felt as though I had come home.

Since the trip was geared more for "family" and camping, I spent relatively little time prowling with my camera. Of course, I did manage to catch a few images of the "rocks and water" variety...particularly on the ausable river.

Indeed, there is a short story attached to the images I took there, which I'd like to share in this blog entry. The title - "Boinga, Boinga, Boinga" Shots - refers to the "bounce" (translated as a "Boinga" sound) that all intrepid photographers perched on exposed trail bridges over the river go through while patiently waiting for the reverberations caused by (largely disinterested) passerbys to die down so that they can finally click the camera's shutter. Since I wanted to produce silky-smooth water flow, I needed my exposure times to be fairly long (> 5 to 10 sec). But, being the tourist attraction that it is, the ausable river trails are naturally overrun by adventurers; not all of whom appreciate the "fine art" of taking long exposures. Capturing a shot such as the one that appears at the top of this entry thus requires an enormous amount of patience; both on the part of the photographer and, unfortunately, on the part of the passerbys.

This particular shot was the result of - what must have seemed to an outside objective observer - a comedy of errors. First I had to wait for the clouds to block out the sun. A process which played itself out multiple times over the course of a hour or more, as small bands drifted in and out of view. Next, I had to "coordinate" cloud-blocked composition opportunities with stretches of time during which the bridge was entirely free of passerby footsteps. This was far from easy. I had to make quick sideways glances to the left and right, while holding my camera in position for a preplanned shot. Of course, there were several "opportunities" which misfired. Typically, if I clicked the shutter and the bridge was free of hikers, a cloud would dissipate faster than I had anticipated and the shot was ruined. Just as typically, the clouds would stay in place and the light would be just right, but a hiker (or two, or three, or an entire family!) would appear - mysteriously - from out of the woods (and off the trail) and noisily make their way - boinga, boinga, boinga - across the bridge.

Once, just for good measure, a family of three started on their way from one end of the bridge toward me and my tripod near the middle, and stopped in mid-stride when they saw me lift my eye and head (and may have heard me mutter something like "Arghh" after missing a chance to get a shot). Seeing that the cloud cover was still good and that the party was (at least for the moment) motionless - and upon hearing one of them say to the others, "Hey, look, a photographer is taking pictures, let's be quiet" (which brought a smile to my face) I bent back over my viewfinder and was preparing to press the shutter, when - boinga, boinga, boinga - forward (and onward and closer) went the boots.

The unfolding events were far from over. I lifted my head, uttered another soft "Arghh" under my breath, and felt the group halt again (and heard the same member softly admonish the others, "Hey, he's not done, hold on a minute.") Back to my viewfinder I go, only to see the clouds break and the bright sun beat down on the water. I lift my head back up, this time because of the blinding light; but this time hear, "OK, he's done, let's go." Before his sentence is finished, the cloud cover comes back and my eye goes back to the viewfinder, only to see the effects of the - boinga, boinga, boinga - footsteps coming closer to me. I keep my eye glued to the finder, hoping for a miracle. As the group passes me, one of the hikers accidentally trips over one of my tripod's legs (though there was ample room to maneuver around). I straighten up and accept the sincere and immediate apology; but as I do the cloud cover vanishes.

The group of hikers is now standing a few feet from me, and is both quiet and intrigued by what I am taking pictures of. I answer a few questions (while waiting for the clouds to come back to block the sun), and - seeing the cloud cover return - quickly turn back to my camera, and hear a "Hey, good luck with your shots fella" followed by the now omnipresent boinga, boinga, boinga sound (and reverberation) as the group moves away. I lift my head (in half disgust, but with still a bit of humor at the Monty-Pythonesque predicament my desire to capture this little scene has placed me in) and see the group, once again - and for the last time, since they are now getting close to the other side of the bridge - stop, and no doubt seeing my increasing angst - sincerely wish to allow me to take a "quiet" shot. Gratefully, I bend down, see that the cloud cover is still good, and take my shot. As soon as I hear the click of the shutter after the exposure is complete (though there is no way the group of hikers could have heard from where they were standing), I feel the boinga, boinga, boinga of their steps as they step off the bridge and move off into the woods and out of site. That whole process, to capture that one shot, took about 40 min.

When I got back to my car, and after I had a chance to reflect on my experience, I admonished myself for my infantile-like reaction to the not-always-accomodating natural elements (cloud cover vs no cloud cover) and the presence of hikers with heavy boots. Apart from the obvious fact that I had no more right to be on the bridge than the hikers (so that, in truth, they "owed" me nothing by way of accommodating my purpose for being there) , we were all a vital part of a little self-contained "world" out there on that bridge. And the hikers, whose boinga, boinga, boinga certainly affected my ability to capture an image at the instant that their boots were going "boinga, boinga, boinga," actually helped me produce what I feel is a better image than what I was likely to have captured were it not for their presence.

The simple reason is that the interplay between the bright sun, cloud cover and the boinga, boinga, boinga all conspired to slow me down. These elements collectively helped ease my mind and soul to a slower pace; one much more attuned to the Adirondacks' own natural rhythms. I may have wanted to take a quick picture and go, but I didn't take the time to ask the ausable river whether it wanted its picture taken in such a quick and impersonal manner. As a photographer, I ought to have known better. And I humbly and sincerely thank the merry band of hikers - who kept going boinga, boinga, boinga - for reminding me of the need to just slow down, immerse myself in the environment and quietly listen to my subject.