Today is my birthday. In case you’re wondering, I’m 57 years young. Even though I’m definitely getting older and feeling the effects of it, I still enjoy birthdays. Birthdays give me a chance to reflect on my life and how richly blessed I have been. On this day I give thanks for the wonderful parents and family God gave me. I give thanks for the teachers who helped educate me and for the churches that have played such an important role in my life. I also offer thanks for my wife and for the many wonderful friends I have been blessed with. Needless to say, I likewise give thanks for all the wonders of God’s Creation I have been blessed to witness, visit and photograph.
On this particular day I also give thanks for my body. Considering the shape I’m in perhaps I should rephrase that and say I am thankful for the human body. In Psalm 139 David says to God “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (vs. 13-14) In this blog I write often about the wonders of God’s Creation and focus primarily on what we normally refer to as “nature.” It would serve us well to remember from time to time that we, too, are part of that Creation and that our bodies–just like the rest of nature–is a marvelous gift of God and speaks volumes about who God is.
Several years ago Philip Yancey and Dr. Paul Brand wrote a book called Fearfully and Wonderfully Made. In this book they talk about the marvels of the human body–cells, bones, skin, motion–and also draw spiritual lessons from the makeup of our bodies. I recommend this book, along with its companion volume, In His Image, to you. Although we may not think about it in such terms very often, the human body is part of God’s “Other Book.” We would all benefit from paying more attention to it. I suspect that doing so would lead us, like the Psalmist, to offer God praise.
(The three pictures shown here were taken yesterday. That’s me on the right at top with my dear friend, Bill Fortney. The middle image was taken in the Daniel Boone National Forest of Kentucky and the bottom image at Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in Tennessee.)
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
It was about twenty years ago this time I made a life-changing decision. That decision was to seriously pursue nature photography as a hobby. I was at a point in my life where I was stressed out and very close to being burned out as a minister. I desperately needed an outlet and after briefly considering pottery as an option I settled on learning how to photograph nature. I realize that choosing a hobby probably doesn’t sound like a life-changing decision to a lot of people but it certainly was for me.
Making nature photography an avocation helped me to manage better the stress that is inherent in pastoral ministry. I really don’t know if I would have been able to continue had I not done so. Eventually photography would become an extension of my ministry, but that is another story. When I get a chance to talk to young ministers today I always make it a point to encourage them to make sure to find a good hobby.
The decision to pursue photography also opened the door to a whole new realm of friends. Many of my dearest friends today are photographers. My life has been tremendously enriched through getting to know Rob Sheppard, Bill Fortney, Ken Jenkins, Pat O’Hara, Stan Burman and many others. I actually have more photography friends than I do friends that are pastors.
Even though I loved nature prior to taking up photography I know that I would not have had the many incredible experiences in God’s Creation that I have had were it not for that choice I made twenty years ago. To pursue nature photography meant I needed to expose myself to more of nature. This led to lots of travel and exploration. A couple of nights ago I had trouble going to sleep so I began reflecting on some of the highlights from my past twenty years of photography. Before I fell asleep I came to the conclusion that I have to be one of the most blessed persons on earth. The variety and awesomeness of the places and things I have seen while photographing is almost unbelievable!
Finally, the decision to pursue nature photography has helped me to see the world in a whole new light. It’s hard to explain but when photography is an important part of your life you just see things differently. You see more and this is perhaps what has been the most life-changing thing of all. It’s also the best thing because in the process I have come to see God more clearly in the world around me and this has drawn me much closer to Him.
Twenty years after the fact I cannot imagine what my life would be like today had I not made the decision I did. At the time I thought I was just choosing a way to help me deal with stress. Upon reflection it is obvious that there was a lot more going on than that. I’m convinced that God was at work in that decision and that He had a plan for my life I knew nothing about. Today I simply want to share with you my gratitude for that plan and for the God who made it possible.
(I’ve included today some samples of my early photography. The top two images were made in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area. The bottom image was taken in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.)
It has been my pleasure to spend the past five days in Olympic National Park. An equal joy has been the opportunity to spend this time with Pat O’Hara and his wife Tina. Pat is a well-known nature photographer who has served as a mentor and source of inspiration for my photography for the past eighteen years. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to him!
Being with Pat this week has given me a chance to reflect on some of the people who have most helped me in the art or discipline of “seeing Creation” photographically. There have been numerous persons that have influenced me but three in particular come to mind.
I have heard more than one professional photographer say that Pat O’Hara has “the best eyes in the business.” He truly does have a gift for seeing the natural world from a unique perspective. My “eyes” will never be as good as Pat’s but his work inspires me to try to look beyond what others see.
Rob Sheppard, my blogging partner, has been yet another important mentor for me. Rob, too, has a unique approach to photography and seeing Creation. I’ve learned to see things differently reading his books and watching him practice his “down and dirty” approach to photography. He has also taught me to try to consider my surroundings more.
Bill Fortney is the third person I would identify as an important mentor. Bill’s photography is wonderful in many ways but I particularly admire the way he is able to isolate portions of a scene and create interesting compositions. He does this whether he is photographing nature, an old train depot or items at an antique store. He has taught me to look closer at the scenes before me.
When it comes to seeing Creation it truly does help to have mentors. They certainly don’t have to be photographers, just folks who are more aware than most of the beauty found in God’s Creation. On this particular day I give thanks for Pat, Rob, Bill and all the others who have helped me see the wonders of God’s handiwork better. I hope I can somehow do the same for others.
(The Olympic marmot, Hoh Rain forest scene, and wildflower display were all taken this past week in Olympic National Park.)
Thursday I had the privilege of spending the day photographing with Bill Fortney. Bill is one of my closest friends. He works for Nikon and for many years owned and operated the Great American Photography Weekend. Bill is a wonderful photographer, friend, and brother in Christ.
We hooked up early Thursday morning and after stopping at a couple of scenic spots in Campbell County, Tennessee, made our way to the Tremont area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was a beautiful fall day and there was much to photograph. Throughout the day Bill and I kept pointing out various subjects to each other. Numerous times we stopped to show one another the LCD on the back of our cameras. More than once we “stole” each other’s composition.
I thoroughly enjoy photographing and spending time alone in nature but I also find great delight in being able to do the same with good friends. Not only do I enjoy the company, I benefit from being able to learn from those I am with. When it comes to seeing Creation four eyes (or even more) can be better than two. I learn new ways of looking at nature when I’m with people like Bill and Rob. By watching and listening to them I come to see Creation in a fresh light. In the process I also often learn more about God.
Jesus once said “where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Mt. 18:20) I’m not sure what all he meant by this but I do believe that by being out with people like Bill and Rob I am enabled to see and experience the Creator in ways I could not alone. For that reason, I highly recommend seeing Creation with others.
(The top image was made Thursday on top of Jellico Mountain looking down on Elk Valley. The bottom image was made in the Smokies.)