There’s a great line in the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty when Mitty (played by Ben Stiller) has caught up with Sean O’Connell, acting the part of a highly regarded Life Magazine photographer who finally has a clean shot of the elusive leopard he’s been chasing. Although the “ghost cat” is in full view and O’Connell is “camera ready,” he fails to take its picture. Mitty sees the leopard and O’Connell’s inaction and finally turns to him and asks impatiently, “When are you going to take it?” O’Connell answers calmly, “Sometimes I don’t. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera.”
So Nashville is on the arc of the eclipse and it seems everyone under the sun (no pun intended) is flocking here to view the eclipse on Monday. Along with that has come inflated prices on airfare and hotel rooms, a healthy supply of eclipse T-shirts, a shrinking supply of the special ISO marked viewing glasses, and hundreds of tutorials on how to safely view and photograph the eclipse.
But just as O’Connell’s character chose not to photograph his prized “ghost cat,” I’m not planning to photograph the eclipse. I mean – it’s only going to happen once in my lifetime. Do I want “the distraction of the camera” (and in this case also the tripod, cable release and flashlight) or should I instead “sit back and experience the moment?” I think the latter.
I learned the “experience the moment” lesson the hard way several years ago when my daughter was taking dance. When she joined her studio’s competitive dance team, I photographed her performances regularly. Then one day, her dance teacher met me in the back dressing room after a competition had ended and with tremendous excitement exuding from every part of her being she asked, “did you see her jump, did you see that split jump?” I looked blankly back at her and couldn’t honestly answer. Apparently I hadn’t, at least not as she had, because I was too busy shooting. So I looked back through my images to see if I had captured it. I had, but I also then realized that in getting the photograph, I had missed the much more meaningful proud parent moment – you know, the kind that takes your breath away as you watch it unfold. And while I could always look back at my photograph, I could never get that moment back again.
I continued to take dance photographs after that competition, but more and more I came to rely on a friend to take the pictures. Hers were great, there was no need for us both to be shooting the exact same thing at the same time, and it allowed me to enjoy the thrill of my daughter dancing and then share that excitement with her right after the performance, much as her teacher had done with me that day.
This eclipse on Monday … is it more important to you to photograph it and own a version of one of the many duplicative photographs we’ll see posted all over social media in the days following or are you willing to pause and let the moment take your breath away?
You know, you can make a decent facsimile of the eclipse in Photoshop like I did above in only a couple of minutes … and if the actual eclipse doesn’t look exactly like it does above, I bet I can tweak my facsimile pretty quickly to make it mirror the photographs.
This past week was a little stormy so the thought of a calm day with a wondrous view in the sky will be a refreshing and welcome change. Here’s hoping for clear skies on Monday, for those of us viewing the eclipse and for everyone in the world really.