October 24

Leaving room for the Mystery

This past week has been an educational one. Yet again my approach to a particular aspect of photography has been challenged and needs to change. I love it when this happens although this is tempered with a slight shame that I’ve been ‘getting it wrong’ for so long. Well, maybe not wrong but certainly not as mindful.

Some of the most arresting images are woven from darkness, mystery is threaded through their lines and unanswered questions linger around corners. These images are stories with unwritten endings, tales that keep us guessing, wondering and dipping into their magic.

Mystery has a pull that is impossible to quantify or even fully understand and in some ways not having the answer is more tantalising that having the answers spelled out. Many times as I’m driving through our landscapes I’ll peer at a nearby ridge and wonder what’s on the other side. Every bit of me wants to park the car and hike to the summit just to have a look into the unknown. Usually this is not possible and the mystery remains alive to revisit my imagination again.

Not knowing is powerful stuff. And not being able to know is even more spellbinding.

So, what has this got to do with my photography? Those of you who know me may be aware of my penchant for taking occasional sets of photographs in the dark. I mean the total darkness that only occurs 3 hours after sunset when there’s no full moon in the sky. I expose the sensor for an incredibly long time until a daytime-like preview blazes across my lcd screen. I then dutifully process this to convey this ‘dark light’ and have begun to understand why this works so well.

But here’s the catch, I then share these images and show the night-land with every conceivable corner illuminated as if it were noon! No mystery. No magic. No unanswered questions. As with the above shot of Castlerigg Stone Circle, a full hour long exposure.

It took a journey into Wabi-Sabi to understand what I was doing wrong, or more specifically Yugen. Alan Watts spoke very eloquently on this somewhat esoteric, certainly philosophical approach to nature and connection and I find his YouTube videos most enlightening.

My approach to night photography has been all about me! Look at me! See what I can do! I can turn night into day in a mere 8 minutes!

Yugen has taught me to draw the curtains closer, to let the darkness do its work of mystery-making and to share that feeling with my audience. It’s time for me to stop shining a light on that which doesn’t need it, and maybe doesn’t want it and to explore how to let the magical, sometimes unnerving mysteries of night creep through my images.

The appeal of night, for me, is not knowing what’s out there and while it can be rewarding to find out, just like the view over the horizon, the mystery is even more compelling.

So, from now on I’m going to be shooting the dark of night and leaving inky black pools to lie untouched where they choose to gather in the gloaming. This will warrant a change of approach and I’ll probably no longer need to shoot for 40 minutes to gather sufficient photons onto my sensor to fully light up the night lands.

No, from now on I will aim to collect just enough light to illuminate the visual path into the picture and that path will sparkle with just enough light to wander into the frame by. Mystery will then prevail and maybe the shadowlands will begin to speak more freely with me.

About the author 


Jason has been a photographer all of his life and successfully carved out a career as a professional editorial photographer and writer working with a wide range of publishers in the UK and beyond.
He spends much of his creative time working on personal projects and helping other creative photographers get more from their calling.

You may also like

On Knowing your Kit

On Knowing your Kit

Finding your Style

Finding your Style

Finding Fulfilment in Photography

Finding Fulfilment in Photography

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. I came back to look at the link but sadly it is no longer there. Enjoyed seeing the images again and saw more in them this time than the first time interestingly.

    1. It appears the Alan Watts video has been removed from YouTube Anne. I’ll do my best to refind it post it again. I’m glad you enjoyed the images.

  2. Incredibly beautiful, mystical images Jason….I have so much enjoyed reading all the wise and inspiring messages and replies here.Thank you all. I too wanted to shout no, no ,no when I saw the title ofyour post. Nothing is ever wrong…..you were then at a different place,a different stage in your photography and as Anne says that is, was, a beautiful thing……indeed,the future may hold even more “different places” and that is so exciting. Like Linda I too have lately discovered the “less is more” to my images….one such example the other day whilst visiting a desperately overcrowded stately home in Kent! There was no way to capture the whole with so many people everywhere……the fragment I chose to focus on is now one of my favourite captures from that day. ❤

    1. Thank you Michelle. Ah yes, the unknown mysteries of the future! We’ve much to look forward to as we continue treading our creative paths. This knowledge can help see us through the occasional deserts of apparent emptiness. However in truth, it’s when we reach that place of the ’empty bowl’ that room is created for that unknown something to enter our lives. I’m going to write a piece on storytelling soon, and for now will mention how one of my mentors, mythologist Dr Martin Shaw, after telling a story, asks ‘where are you in the story, which place has claimed you?’ Somewhere, in the middle of a huge vista of a tale, two days in the telling, a piece will have hit home. Identifying this point of contact, of deep realisations is key to treading into the truth. Finding that small place which speaks to us from within the cosmos of the whole is what it’s about for me.

  3. I don’t think you have got anything wrong, you were just on the path to the here and now. Working through ideas and concepts is what gets you to this moment as you work towards a more mindful approach to how you view things. Your story has always been a fascinating one Jason and I have appreciated it in opening my own vision of the world. How we get to points of clarity in our life is the fascinating bit, what we let go on on the way, how we allow things to soften and reform into new ideas and thoughts. Its a beautiful thing as are these images.

    1. ‘It’s a beautiful thing.’ These words are often uttered by one of my mentors, myth teller Martin Shaw and they speak of something beyond the obvious. Thank you for bringing them to life here again. And for your lovely comments. May our journeys continue to weave us into places as yet unknown. 🙂

  4. These are beautiful Jason. I love the light paths, which seem to beckon you on a journey, leading you to a magical place. The contrast between the dark and light is thought provoking and wonderfully calming and reassuring in a way.

    1. Thank you Margaret. I’m going to be following more of these paths from now on, and leaving the mystery for others to feel as they immerse in the images. So glad you find them thought provoking.

  5. Hi Jason, these images do feel full of mystery, and as a result they are very powerful.
    The first and third images are the ones that I feel drawn to most. The first because of the colour on the horizon, but then I as I continued to look at the image, other things came into view and as they were’t fully illuminated, it made me think more about what was hidden and only hinted at.
    The third image really drew me in.

    I get what you are saying about trying to create enough mystery to draw the observer in to the image but allowing the imagination to fill in areas.

    Having listened to the You Tube clip, I think that is very true about mystery in life generally, although I do want to see and experience as much as I can (which is only human nature, I think).

    I have learned that the more you learn, the more there is to learn about many things – in particular my photography journey, which seems to be at a very early stage. It is fantastic having your guidance, and encourages more experimenting.

    I used to want to take landscape shots and have everything visible and fully in focus. I became very frustrated because they never portrayed what I saw, but I now see that by shooting or focusing on part of the whole landscape or waterfall, it can be more powerful and encourages the imagination.

    1. Thank you Linda. Isn’t it an interesting journey for us, it feels to me as though there’s a lifetime of exploring to be done and yet still most will be mystery, left for others to continue. As you observe, we can often capture the ‘spirit’ of an experience by showing just a piece of the landscape, the part which helps convey our story of the place.

  6. These are absolutely stunning Jason. To me they capture a depth of feeeling, a silent peace eminates from them, an unseen energy bought to life from your new found experience and it certainly shoes. Love them. P.S. There’s not such thing as getting it wrong, every step is a step of our personal journeys, we never know just where it will take us.

    1. Thank you Jane, the silent peace and depth of feeling are some of the things I’m trying to portray. I’m glad you saw that. Thank you for your kind comments.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Want to learn with me?

My Creativity Beyond the Camera Club is currently closed for new members.