It was during the Year of the Gimp that I received the Great Autumn Revelation.
I can say “gimp” because I’m referring to myself. A torn meniscus sidelined me a year before my knee surgery and nearly a year afterward. Right about in the middle, as autumn approached, my camera and I began to panic.
A gimpy photographer is under a severe handicap. But when it happens during Autumn, panic escalates. How, I wondered, was I ever going to manage those climbs to the ridges on the Lake Superior Hiking Trail, to the hills above the state parks, in order to capture those wonderful panoramas of color? How was I going to celebrate with my lens that very favorite season of mine?
The answer was simple: I had to adjust my outlook. So, I developed my theory, “one leaf at a time,” which turned into a mantra that I’ve shared with other photographers. It has changed the way I look at autumn.
Panoramas are breathtaking. But so is that one cluster of leaves, layered on top of each other, growing on the tree in my front yard. Acres of maples in myriad hues are irresistible, but a single head of ripened grass, baked golden in the sun, is full of wondrous details.
The Revelation extended peripherally, too. When it’s not yet autumn, but I’m itching for color, I learned to turn my lens to the one single leaf that had changed, ignoring the green everywhere else. I didn’t have to wait for “peak color” to find something to fill the viewfinder. Someone looking at that photo has no idea there wasn’t any color anywhere else.
As I began to examine autumn more closely, I found nuances unnoticed when bowing before panoramas. I saw, for instance, that breaking the rules and shooting into the sun, with the blue sky as a background, allowed light to shine through the leaf and reveal its inner glow.
And, perhaps a very important sidebar, I relearned to appreciate my tripod. In order to get close-ups of leaves on trees, I needed to extend my lens, and in order to do that in the face of autumn’s almost-constant breeze, I needed the tripod to steady my hand and capture sharp details.
In the midst of this Great Autumn Revelation, I’m reminded of a friend of mine who took his camera and his car and went out to find a great photo. He was gone half the day, and when he came back, he was disgruntled.
“I didn’t find a thing,” he said. “There’s just not that much color.”
He’d never stopped driving, he’d never left his car and, above all, he’d never really LOOKED. I’d be willing to be there was color and detail everywhere, but he didn’t want to savor the details. He wanted to be wowed by the razzle-dazzle of entire hillsides on fire.
I like razzle-dazzle, too. But when I can’t have it, either because it just isn’t there, or because I can’t get to it, I’m happy to take my color in small doses.
That’s a mighty fine lesson for us gimps to learn.