The Untold Want
Eighteen miles on foot, backpack laden with gear, surrounded by granite and Jeffery pine, I walked on the rooftop of California.
There are times that define us, that seek us out and ask the deep questions of self that only you can answer. Along a small creek, deep in the heart of the John Muir Wilderness was such a time.
It's easy to capture an exposure; it's far harder to see what is possible in a subject. I failed to see what was possible. I'd been awake since before dawn, easing out of my warm sleeping bag and away from camp, searching for the first subjects of the day. The cloudless sky hinted at a beautiful, yet photographically boring High Sierra Mountain day ahead. I was eager to capture the early light before it turned harsh. I hopped over granite slabs and through the sub-alpine forests hunting for suitable subjects. I'd captured a few forgettable scenes before happening on this intimate little waterfall.
I set up quickly, loaded a fresh roll of BW film, added a few neutral density filters (neutral density uniformly reduces light entering the camera thus allowing water to appear soft and graceful), metered the scene using my spot light meter, set my exposure and...click. Or rather a click to open the shutter, then, fifteen seconds later, another click to close it. But looking down I realized I forgot to add the filter factors into my exposure (all filters placed in front of the lens reduce light, so added exposure time is needed. I forgot to add that time). I quickly 'fixed' my exposure and shot another frame, and another after that for safety. The light was rapidly changing, so I packed up and continued on in search of new subjects.
Weeks later in my darkroom, I had forgotten about my exposure 'mistake.' Upon pulling my film from the wash I saw that it was no mistake at all. I had inadvertently captured the true feeling of that waterfall, that morning and indeed the entire High Sierra experience. The other frames I shot at the 'proper' exposure were predictable and boring. Mystery is a wonderful thing in any image.