Sunday was one of those days. My son and I hit the grocery stores early. First Trader Joes, then onto Costco, then over to the local produce market, and finally to Safeway for some dill that I just couldn't find anywhere else. In between we divided up the food and packed it into the pantry, the fridge, or the freezer.
Somewhere along the way, I began to feel it. I've talked about it before, that feeling I get inside when I just know the light will be great that night. That overwhelming need to grab the camera and go. I looked up wistfully at the passing clouds in the sky, back at my shopping list, and returned to my chores.
Believe it or not, my son had never been on an actual photo shoot. I know that may seem strange, but my images frequently involve being near cliffs, waves, and rushing water, not to mention using expensive gear on tripods that just beg to have little feet knock over. He's been on many hikes (some near cliffs, waves, and rushing water) but I have always had my hands free to help him whenever he needs it. He also tends to want to explore on his own schedule, stopping to check something out for an hour or deciding to head back as soon as we get to our destination. Although that's just fine for an outing in the woods, it doesn't match very well with the concentration I need when shooting.
I can't tell you what changed that day. I was driving along and something made me look at him in the rear view mirror. I suddenly saw him differently. He wasn't a little child who required his hand to be held at every step anymore. Instead I saw a young boy who was looking at and learning about the world passing by outside his window. I saw a young boy who was perfectly capable of handling a shoot at the beach. I knew today was the day for his first real photo shoot. I didn't know how I knew, I just knew he was ready. "How about going down to the beach and watching sunset tonight?" I asked. "I'll bring my camera and you can watch how I take pictures. What do you think about that idea?" He responded with one simple word, "good." Not exactly a ringing endorsement but I took it. We were on our way.
We arrived at Mukilteo Beach about an hour before sunset so he could run around the playground for a short while before heading over to the water. We set up the camera and fine-tuned compositions. He took a turn looking through the viewfinder and approving the shot. He practiced tripping the shutter with the cable release and taking his own photos. The sun dipped toward the horizon and the clouds began to glow. It was going to be great and then, at that very moment, a little voice behind me simply stated urgently. "Daddy, I need to go pee-pee." I looked back at him, sighed, picked up the camera gear, took his hand and began the trek back to the restrooms.
By the time we got back, the sun had set, the glow was gone, but there was some pretty color left in the sky. I set up quickly and took a couple of shots. I glanced back at my son and soaked in an image that will stay with me forever. He stood at the edge of the ocean and at the edge of his journey through life. He stood watching the waves roll in and out, his red curls bathed by the soft light of the sky. He stood smiling. "Are you glad we came tonight?" I asked. He looked at me with slight irritation and stated what seemed to be obvious to him, "I always want to see pretty things Daddy."
How did the images I took that evening turn out? I would have to be honest and say they are pretty mediocre at best. It doesn't matter though. It turns out my intuition was right, I just had the context wrong. It was not about the light but about my son. I have a new assistant.