You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning;
my God turns my darkness into light.
A renowned landscape photographer once told me, “I am just an average photographer with a very great God.” I am an average photographer, but I know the truth of his observation through an experience of my own.
It began on an early spring climb to the summit of Mt. Whitney in the High Sierras. This climb was not the usual hike up to the summit, but a four-day adventure that required heavy backpacking up to snow-filled Boy Scout Lake, a flat bowl surrounded on three sides by sharp, jutting peaks. This natural platform was our base camp; from there, we ascended Whitney by heading up a long, steep, icy shoot to the right of the imposing headwall. About five hundred feet below the summit, we clamped onto fixed ropes for the final push.
After descending, we spent that night once again at Boy Scout Lake. The next morning, we awoke before sunrise to begin the job of packing up to head down to the Portal and the road out to Lone Pine. At higher elevations, the world before sunrise can be cold and miserable, but when the rising sun appeared and its ascending light hit the dormant gray rocks, the rocks seemed to awaken and catch fire and dance with the new dawn.
Just south of our tent site stand the Needles, four sculpted spires that rise up out of the mountain massif. They appear to the eye to be four steeples of a natural cathedral standing guard against the brutal wind that is constantly besieging this massive wall.
For the most part, I was busy packing up for our departure, but when I chanced to look up, I could see that the light had transformed the stone spires of the Needles into a luminous, serrated gold bulwark set against the deep blue of a desert morning sky. Luckily, my camera was resting on my sleeping bag; I picked it up and without hesitation, shot four or five frames with black and white film. I wanted to catch the gold rocks, but I had run out of color film, so I had no choice but to go with what was in the camera.
When I later developed the film, I could see that the gold that had caught my eye became, in the picture, vibrantly beautiful rock formations. I had caught the light as it reflected off the Needles in just the right way at just the right moment. If I had hesitated, the light would have changed, and my exceptional black and white picture would have lost all its life. Instead, I became a very average photographer recording the work of a very great God.