You can't Have your Cake and Eat it Too
Other essays in this series

"I Hope we get Sunny Weather for the Workshop" God Rays

As a writer, student of culture and landscape photographer, I love both visual and verbal metaphors. Metaphors are culturally related hence different metaphors are used in different countries to express the same ideas. The one I used for the title of this essay is present in French as "You can't make an omelette without cracking eggs."

In English, it's about cakes. In France it's about eggs. In both instances we are dealing with food-related metaphors sharing a common idea. That idea, which incidentally is the focus of this essay, is that you can't have it all. You must decide between having your cake or eating it, between having your eggs or making an omelette. Something has to go. Our world is simply not a perfect world. Being more inclined to listen to Voltaire than to Kant, I am OK with this approach. To clarify, Voltaire, through Candide, said that the goal was to live in the best possible world. Kant, on the other hand, and approaching the matter from a mathematical perspective, said that the goal was to live in the best world. The difference between these two philosophers, in so far as this matter is concerned, is the word possible. A single word can make a world of difference.

If this preamble sounds airy and rhetorical that's because it is. In fact, it has one further flaw, which is absolutely unforgiveable: it is philosophical. So let's go right back to technique. If you would please open your books to page 73 we will now focus on todays lesson: how to calculate depth of field. Please have your cameras on the table while you read as we will use them shortly.

Just kidding. I wish photography was exclusively about technique, f-stops, cameras, depth of field and the like. But it isn't. Photography is also about attitude, expectations and yes, I must confess, philosophy at times.

Ah yes, attitude. Attitude is the only thing that separates professional from amateurs. Do you want to be a pro? Then change your attitude. Everything else you can buy, learn or somehow acquire from an outside source. Attitude, on the other hand, must come from within and can only be controlled by you.

It is attitude that determines altitude they say (another metaphor). Indeed. The better your attitude, the further you will go, in photography as in any other endeavor.

So how does all this relate to photography? This way: during workshops we sometimes encounter participants who would like to have their cake and eat it too and desire to make omelettes without breaking eggs. Kantians, they seek to live in the best world, without much concern for what is possible or not. If they did read Candide they only remember the teachings of Pangross and not the tribulations of Candide. When it comes to weather they want it sunny and clear and then complain that there are no clouds in the sky and that rainbows are absent. Well, what do you expect? No rain, no rainbows and most likely, no clouds.

What I am saying is that there is a price to pay, a cost to things and that learning often comes the hard way. As David Muench put it "bad weather makes for good photographs." If anyone knows, he does. I did not invent anything.

Don't get me wrong. I am the first one to like nice weather. So much so that I currently live in the Sonoran Desert where sunny and clear weather is on the menu nearly 90% of the time. However, when it comes to landscape photography, I also know that I can only take so many photographs on sunny and clear days until I become utterly bored with empty skies and harsh shadows. Soon, I want to change my diet, so to speak, and claim to whoever will listen that variety is the spice of life. I want change, surprises, and yes, I am willing to get wet if this is what it takes. After all, this is landscape photography, not a Caribbean vacation. My goal is not to come back with a tan but to return home with stunning photographs that others cannot easily duplicate. The way to achieve this is to hope for active weather because photographs created during active weather are not only good, they are also unique. Clouds never form twice in the same fashion, storms have a way of being unpredictable and storm light is just as much as a surprise as the storm itself.

If you want something unique, head out when everyone is seeking shelter then photograph when the weather starts to clear. Or maybe stay home out of the rain, the storm and the beautiful light to stare at your cake and your eggs... After all, it is a free country and my way isn't the only way.

Yours seeking new metaphors,


All images are copyright © Alain Briot 2005
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