The Day I Stopped Trying to Be Like Everyone Else

On our drive to pick up Geoff from work at Colby College, I found the oddest thing in the road: a balloon on a stick. Just bouncing there gently in my lane, like a reward in a video game, it gleamed with invitation. Obviously, I couldn't drive over a balloon and just kill it, so I did the humane thing and pulled the car over and picked it up. Perhaps out of a shared sense of a near disaster, the children miraculously did not fight over it. And since the sun was just about to set over the trees on the left side of the road and there was a field of hay on the right, I did what any sane photographer/mother would do. We got out of the car to play in the field and take pictures. My son, who usually enjoys this kind of thing, for whatever reason was really engrossed in some grocery store flyer, so he sat off to the side. I had visions of my daughter smiling and something about her outfit showing, and something with the balloon, but my idea of exactly what I was looking for wasn't clear. I just decided to let it unfold, which is my default shooting style.

But as I started shooting, I realized that I wasn't just satisfied with letting it unfold as I usually do. I was frustrated by some invisible vision. I knew I had all the elements right in front of me to create images like the ones I'd fallen in love with by other people - adorable clothes, the last 5 minutes of perfect backlighting, the expensive lens.

But I couldn't make them all work for me at the same time, and I only had a few minutes. She wasn't into paying me any attention at all, and while that's usually mostly what I prefer, these were just boring. I'd been thinking how her line of sight is an invisible leading line, and that secondary visual element was just leading right out of the frame with no purpose. It was OK, just just kind of falling flat for me.

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Emily Mitchell20140926EK4A6913

I wasn't sure what to do. I interacted with her and played, but the rapid back and forth in such close range was making it next to impossible to pull focus in the backlighting, especially because I was shooting shallow. With other families, this scene would have been a piece of cake, but without someone else to entertain her (usually, my children play together), it was hard to get her in a place where I could shoot.

I lost interest in crafting my version of someone else's vision and let it go. I kept shooting, this time for me, this time, to see what happened. And at this point, everyone's experience who tries this will be different. For me, the more I shot, the more my images became about her and me. The less her clothes were a feature, the less it mattered if she faced me. The less I worried about the rules. The more it became about choosing the peak moment and shooting just at that moment.

I started focusing on pivotal shooting, clicking right during what you feel is the peak of a moment. Not just any sliver of an experience, but the decisive one. That infinitessimal segment between anticipation and intuition.

In film editing, which is what I do most of the time, you slice out that moment and use just that ripe piece of a clip. There are many cues to know when people perceive something happening vs. space-between moments, such as when they blink or shift at the same time, when a breath is taken, the completion of a limb moving. But in still photography, you are limited by only a fraction of a second to capture it at all. I think that is more challenging.

This was the 5 minutes that I started using my intuition for what the ripe piece of a moment is, anticipating it (that is the key), and clicking at the peak.

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Emily Mitchell20140926EK4A6930
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Emily Mitchell2014092620140926EK4A6914

She lost interest in the balloon and wandered away into the field a bit.

Then it happened.

It started when I was sitting in the grass, checking my histograms, and she came to jump on me. I laid my camera down and kissed her sweet tiny baby face, so small her eyes, nose, and mouth easily fit in the palm of my hand. A surge of love for her washed over me. She giggled and the sun lit up her hair. That was the moment, right there, I saw it. I tickled her, and she giggled again. Snap. I only took one shot, but that was enough. (Also, a really huge brown furry spider was crawling on my leg, so we left that spot...)

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Emily Mitchell20140926EK4A6953

At this time, my son decided he wanted to play in the hay and was rolling around in it. We were just about to lose the sun. We played in the hay together, pretending it was various things and throwing it around. My daughter grabbed a chunk full and said, "Dis is my LADY purse!" then took off walking quite properly with it! It was a cute moment, so I took a cute shot. Then when we threw the hay, it was a golden moment I wanted to remember, so I took a memory-like shot.

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Emily Mitchell20140926EK4A7006
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Emily Mitchell20140926EK4A7014

And these were the moments I realized I could alter my style not only just for me, but if I was quick, I could also alter my technique to complement and communicate my perception of what was going on. This is so much more empowering to me than crafting the perfect arrangement of face, expression, and styling. For some artists, that is their niche, and I will continue to admire their work. I still love it - so, so much. But it's not what I'm meant to create. For me, I will continue to be mindful in the moment, deciding how I feel about it and using that feeling to inform my technique. This is my voice - to say with images not just what, or who, but how.

As to where that fits in in the world, I don't yet know. Will it inspire? Will it sell? Those are now questions I ask after I shoot.

My EverydayEmily Mitchell