Making the commitment to become good at astrophotography has become more life giving than I could have imagined. At the beginning, I thought I could just specialize in star photography and that would be that. However, I began to realize that in order to take good pictures of the Milky Way, I must first understand the difference between a good and bad picture. A constant theme I encounter when reading professional photographers is the necessity to take pictures that tell stories.
At first, the necessity to tell stories through images felt a little awkward, thinking that all I wanted to do is take “pretty pictures.” However, the more I thought about it the more I realized the difference between taking a picture and capturing a moment. Any picture can tell you a story as long as you know how to “read” the image. The key to good story telling through photography is that there needs to be a universally understood realism for an image to pop.
For example, the football team for the high school I was once the chaplain for advanced to “level 4 playoffs.” What that meant is that if they won the game, they would play for the Wisconsin state championship in football for Division 6 (smaller schools). I took my camera with me to try and capture the story of the game. Regis won the game 36-6 playing a style of football that is easily summarized as “ground and pound.” In other words, they ran the football all night and played amazing defense. Below is the “story” of the game in images.
Another opportunity to try and capture a story was when the contemporary Christian singer/songwriter Aly Aliegha gave a concert at Regis and my parish of St. Olaf. Again, I pulled out my camera to try to capture the story of her concert. Her music spoke to me of authenticity, humility, honesty in our brokenness, and openness to God’s grace to heal that brokenness. Again, here is the story of her two concerts that day through images.
Just as we can find stories in our everyday lives with the people and events of our week, so, too, can we find stories in the created world around us. As I have been trying to develop a “style” of astrophotography, I’ve started by looking for “stories in the sky.” The “easiest” way to do this is to put something in the foreground of the image and use the stars as a backdrop. At the same time, I didn’t want to reduce our galactic home to artsy wallpaper. I wanted to have the foreground image tell a story of how humanity, regardless of culture and era, has sought to connect our daily lives with the stars above.
One of the ways I attempted to connect our lives on earth with the stars above was to take images of a windmill with the stars in the background. There are multiple stories to be told when capturing these images – The rotation of the stars and the rotation of the blades of the windmill, the stillness of the windmill in contrast to the motion of the heavens, and so forth. This exercise reaffirms that we live in a creation of stories that are constantly around us and want to be told. The key in our story telling creation is to ask if we are attentive to the stories around us and are we open to the possibility that if there is a story to be told then there must be a “Story Teller.”
Not only do photojournalists and hobby photographer priests look to tell the stories of creation. Scientists are storytellers too. They tell the story of a perspective of creation that is one part historical (where did this stuff come from, how did it get here, and what happens to it in different circumstances), medicinal (certain things in creation lead us to live while other things lead us to death), and prophetic (this is where things are going and certain choices made in our environment will have future consequences).
In many ways, I see a parallel between the type of information that scientific stories tell and the ministry of Jesus. Christ came to proclaim the Good News (this is where your life is now and this is where it is going), medicinal (the healing ministry of Jesus, both physical and spiritual), and prophetic (this is where our future is headed). Again, all of these stories presume there is a story to be told. And where there is a story to be told, there is a Story Teller not only in the interpretation of the data before us, but in the fact that there is data to interpret in the first place.
Spiritual Exercise: Go and find a story in the created world today. Whether that be your child’s soccer match or gazing into the heavens, ask yourself, “What is the story being told?” And when you find your story, ask the Master Story Teller to illumine your heart with the deeper meaning of the story before you. A story that includes you. A story that includes me. A story that has been told since the beginning of time. The story of our universe. The story of God’s creation.