Lately, I have been thinking how apt a metaphor photography is for the Christian life.
Weird topic? Yes, it's mostly inspired by the fact that I feel like I need to update a blog and I have pictures I want to post. But, despite this unusual origin, there really is a connection between good photography and the Christian life.
Photography teaches us believers to notice Christ, to search out His light and allow this light to illuminate our day-to-day lives.
The key to good photographs is light. Fundamentally, the right amount of light (exposure) must be let in for the right amount of time (shutter speed). But exposure and shutter speed are just the science of photography. The art goes far beyond measurements of light. The artist is careful not only to choose how much light to use but also to choose the right kind of light. Very few photos taken at high noon, when the light is at its most glaring, come out well (unless the photographer is aiming for a glaring effect), but many, many photos taken in the late afternoon, when the light is a warm glow, come out well.
(By the way, I'm not the only one noticing this. Even Pioneer Woman has posts about photography and light. In fact, her articles are sort of an inspiration for this one.)
Even once the photographer has found the correct kind of light, she must actually use the light well. It does not do to simply point a camera at a well-lit leaf or person facing into the sun. The popular technique of facing people towards the sun, so the camera is pointing away from the sun, is backwards: The full sun on people's faces is a harsh, too-bright effect. Much better to wait until the light has dimmed in the last few hours of daylight. Or to use what is called backlighting, where the light is positioned behind the subject and so creates a sort of halo around the head:
My professional secret as a photographer is yours now. Lucky thing that it's not much of a secret. But unless you're planning on heading to Target and purchasing a DSLR camera, this information is not much use to you. What is most important of all, then, is the connection between photography and the life of the believer.
Just as only good light illuminates a photo well, so only good light illuminates life well. Many, many "lights" of truth exist in our world, ranging from hard science to complicated philosophy. Although the lesser light of philosophy need not be dismissed entirely, it is imperative that we look in life as in photography for the best source of light: in life, the Light of Life Himself, Jesus Christ. He says, "I am the Light of the world," true illumination for us beyond every other lesser light we use. In Him alone will the world make sense.
A man in a dark room may know that there is a light and still refuse to flip the switch. Likewise, we may know that Christ is Light and still refuse to let Him illumine our own lives. Or we may misuse His illumination, twisting what we know about Christ or manipulating his Body the Church for our own ends. We must not do this. We must instead know Christ as He is, the perfect Word of God, the clear sharp Light of Life. Just as the key to a photograph is light used correctly, so the key to life is Christ the Light used correctly. I am not saying that life will work out perfectly if we look to Christ for illumination. I am only saying this: Whatever hardships (spiritual or physical) we encounter, Christ the Light illuminating our lives will make the day-to-day beautiful.
Eliot writes in "Little Gidding" of a flash of sunlight that suddenly illuminated the winter of his life, a "brief" flash that gave way to "midwinter" a moment later but nonetheless left behind it a "pentecostal fire" - the fire of Christ. Eliot was not, as far as I know, a photographer, but this is a true photographer's approach to the spiritual life: the desire for the Light of God to illumine our own life and make it beautiful.