In recent years I’ve taken a keener interest in photography. There is something so valuable in having the opportunity to capture moments, people and places that can be cherished and enjoyed for many years to come. Whilst I am still very much a learner, often getting confused as to what some of the many numbers and letters mean (what does f mean again?), I am beginning to grasp the basics and it’s fun to try things out whilst walking aimlessly in the countryside or through a city. I should also mention two good friends of mine, Matt and Sam, who have both offered a few handy hints on more than the odd occasion. Ta, boys.
Anyway, one shot I love to attempt as the sun goes down and darkness descends are night-shots. The challenge with night-shots, as many a photographer will know, is that without a flash or an increased ISO any instant shot will yield an almost blank and blurred result. While the artificial light from a flash or an increased ISO can help alleviate this problem, it rarely catches the picture and lighting exactly as you want, particularly if looking to take a landscape shot. As such, to get the desired shot, the shutter speed – the amount of time the camera’s shutter is open when taking a photograph – needs to be fairly long. The longer the shutter speed, the more light it absorbs and the clearer the photograph is. Now, unless you have hands as steady as a rock, taking a shot with a longer shutter speed will very likely produce a blurred image, hence the need for a tripod – or, if you don’t have one, an appropriately-placed ledge or bench – to stabilise the camera.
To get the desired shot, then, two things are required: a sufficient shutter speed to absorb the light, and a stable base so the camera can be still.
On a recent trip to London I sought to put said process into action. After more than a few attempts, I managed to yield the above result, which as you can see shows displays the light and clarity I was seeking and that which the view warranted.
A few days later I began thinking about how this process can prove useful in the lead-up to Christmas. Like many of you, Christmas is my favourite time of the year – hanging out with family and friends, good food, Home Alone, Match of the Day pretty much every other night, presents, time off work, crackers, turkey dinner/sandwiches/curry/soup.
There is also the Christmas story – a story I come to love more and more each year.
Years and years prior to His birth a man called Isaiah said of Jesus that ‘The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned’. At the appointed time, on one silent and calm night in Bethlehem, this great light shone: the baby Jesus was born to us.
And so, just as the perfect night-shot requires a longer shutter speed to absorb all the light and a stable base to be still, I am reminded that I, too, must take time out and be still so that I can absorb the light that makes the Christmas story a picture so worth cherishing.
I don’t want to go through this season getting lost in the routine and pressures of Christmas, leaving me taking quick and passing photographs that provide a blurred, distorted and darkened reflection of the true and real picture. I want to be still and absorbent – to reflect and meditate on the years, months and weeks leading to Jesus’ birth, the birth itself and what it all means to me and the whole world. I want to absorb every bit of light and clarity this picture offers.
Hope, peace, joy and so much more.
In taking on this process, one thing in particular has struck out for me so far. When Joseph, on the verge of beginning divorce proceedings to prevent bringing shame on Mary, is visited by an angel, he is told to cancel his plans, keep Mary as his wife and name the newborn child Immanuel, which means ‘God with us’. Some nine or so months later, Jesus, the image of the invisible God, arrives in a humble stable in a small town called Bethlehem. It’s dirty and all rather chaotic. Hardly the arrival expected of the long-awaited King his countryfolk had been yearning for, yet in so many ways it was an arrival that provided a glimpse into the journey that laid before Him.
I recall the way Jesus showed gentle grace and direction to the woman accused of committing adultery, was moved to compassion upon encountering a crowd of people in need of food, shed tears as he saw his friends grieve over the death of their brother, showed ceaseless patience to a group of disciples who just seemed to keep messing up. I recall the way Jesus taught forgiveness, to love our enemies, to not worry, to serve each other with humility and love, to pray, be generous. And then I recall the cross. The night before His death He was in such agony that He sweat drops of blood. He longed for all the pain to go, but He knew what needed to be done, and so He took on the crown of thorns, was whipped, was humiliated and abused by the very people He came to save, before breathing His last on an old rugged cross. The shame and disgrace of the world’s sin there taken on the shoulders of this one man.
Here, and with so many stories, Jesus was so faithful to His name. God with us in the dirt, chaos and confusion of life.
I go through life and different situations wondering how God could stick by me, but the truth is He does. I mess-up time and time again, find myself in situations wondering if God cares and able to provide a way out. Yet having taken some time out to be still and absorbent over the past few weeks, I have been reminded that in the dirt, chaos and confusion of life Jesus stands with me, providing understanding, grace, patience, care, wisdom, counsel, love, redemption. God with me.
My prayer this Christmas, and indeed beyond this festive season, is that I would continue to extend the shutter-speed of my life and be still for a few moments to soak in the light of the Christmas story.
And if you’re reading this, I pray that amidst whatever you are going through, be it something really good and enjoyable or something more challenging, difficult or fearful, that you will have opportunity to soak in the light of Jesus, knowing that the gift born that still and silent night in Bethlehem is a gift born to you, too. God with you.
The view is beautiful and if we get the settings right, the photograph will perfectly capture its light and clarity.
Hope, peace, joy and so much more.
Happy Christmas xx