How Aha Moments Affect Your Photography

This is an important time around our school. Our Career Training students have just started their five-month long journey into their photographic immersion with us. They are all bright-eyed and ready to be motivated and challenged. The halls are full of learning and I am so excited to have our instructors filling our classrooms with their wisdom and inspiration. The only thing that could make this experience better would be if we could have all of our previous grads back with us as well. Then all would be right with the RMSP world.

If there is one thing that I and many educators feel strongly about when you are setting out to teach yourself how to see photographically, it is the importance of having your camera with you at all times. So, as I often do with new students, I challenged this group to embrace the challenge of taking their camera with them wherever they go – to school, to the grocery store, on a walk, to restaurants, to bed. Yes, that’s right. I told them to sleep with their camera beside them.

There is special symbolic value to the idea of bringing your camera to bed with you. When Neil Chaput de Saintonge told me years ago that I could photograph myself sleeping that somehow a new window into photographic seeing took place for me. It was in that moment that I began to reconsider what is possible for me with photography.  This moment lead to years of experimenting with low light photography. I can say that by the end of the exploration I had a great understanding and connection to the technique of painting with light.

Boys bathroom at the Children’s Orphanage in Butte. It involved two flashlights and three hours of exposure…on film....yes it was made with film.

I think we all experience aha moments; moments where we read something that shift our perspective.  Sometimes it may come from a teacher, mentor, friend, family member and indeed, often strangers too. I wonder how many of you have experienced a shift in how you photograph based on an aha moment and if this were the case, I would love to hear the story. Just as I cherish that moment with Neil, I bet you all cherish your moments of discovery and/or opening as well.

So, where are you, my web friends? Tell us a story.

And by the way, if you really want to expand the way you are seeing right now, take your camera with you everywhere you go. I’m doing it too and I owe a bit of gratitude to our new students for joining me in this challenge. I’m loving it so far.

And cheers to Hailey King from CT 2009 and the Summer Intensive E/F group from 2007! I read your blog posts reminiscing about your first day with RMSP and your posts brought tears to my eyes. We really miss you.

The E/F group is a private blog, but here’s Hailey’s post accompanied by a beautiful portfolio from her time with us.

4 thoughts on “How Aha Moments Affect Your Photography

James Thompson

Great blog post. I really miss not being in Missoula this summer.

Profile photo of Mel Mann


Surely this year’s group is not as much fun as ours!?! That’s a very cool photograph. I’ve tried light painting with a flashlight and continue to be amazed how much time is required for it to make an impression on the image. We never realize how bright our flashes are, do we, until we use something not quite as strong.

Profile photo of Marcy James

marcy james

Thanks guys! We miss you around here. Indeed, Mel, everyone thinks of light painting as a no brainer, but to do it well and with somewhat repeatable results, it takes quite a bit of training. i made that image with film and it took 3 hours to make. You may notice the window in the back of the image. I started the photograph at sunset and had to readjust my exposure time repeatedly throughout the exposure to account for the changes in ambient light. I have tried light painting with multiple flash exposures and I find that I like the more meditative quality of painting it on with a constant light source.

Kate Cooper

Love the image Marcie, amazing. How we complained about not having enough time to eat or sleep in those first few weeks, but I bet there’s not one of us wouldn’t do it again given half a chance. Enjoy the summer.

Comments are closed.