Light is right … and there is nothing lighter than a point-n-shoot slipped into a pocket, ready to snap. I haven’t embarked on a single outdoor excursion in the past 12 years without one. And during winter, it’s often the only tool I have for making photographs. There are many reasons I refuse to give up on this technology that’s been abandoned by most, starting with practicality. Phone cameras are not designed to be operated with one hand, as many cracked screens can attest. But even hanging from the middle of an ice climb, a point-n-shoot can be pulled from a pocket, gripped firmly in the palm of a hand, powered on with an index finger, menu settings adjusted with a thumb-dial, photo taken, powered off, put away, rappel continued. Thus far I have not dropped my point-n-shoot over an icy cliff, but if that day ever comes, its loss will be a fraction of the cost of most phones and all mirrorless / DSLR cameras.
I believe that any tool, however basic, can be used for creativity, but getting the most out of point-n-shoot cameras has taken a lot of trial and error. In essence, point-n-shoots can’t be forced if lighting conditions don’t allow. At least with the model of camera I use, manual shutter speed is not possible. And because the camera is designed to reduce motion blur, not accentuate it, shutter speeds during daylight hours are automatically very high. Except on the darkest of overcast days, extracting motion-blur images requires timing one’s shoot to twilight. As the sun sets, the shutter speed begins to drop in 1/3 stop increments. Depending on latitude and season, only 30-60 minutes elapse from the time that motion-blur photographs become possible (roughly 1/40 shutter speed) to the time that the camera’s longest shutter speed is reached (1 second.) And as the shutter speed lengthens, handheld motion techniques become more dramatic. To any passing hiker, I imagine it looks like the conducting of a symphony of trees.
Obviously a lot of post-production work goes into these image blends, but they are comprised only of the photos that were made in camera. Photoshop is used to remove opacity at various percentages, not for other forms of digital manipulation. All visual effects come from the camera movement I use when making individual photographs. Beyond art, my point-n-shoot has become an indispensable tool with which to document the everyday journey of life, a record-keeper of winter’s fleeting forms.
Many of my most memorable days at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore have been spent meandering beneath cliffs on lake ice, but the trend is troubling. While the Great Lakes will continue to have erratic years of banner ice, annual average lake ice coverage is steadily declining. When I climb alone I refrain from climbing over open water, and many of the park’s most incredible lines may therefore be off limits during most years.
As a matter of principal, I take a single photograph of the Straights of Mackinac at middle span of the Mackinac Bridge every time I pass over. Fluctuations in lake ice from year to year and month to month have been fascinating to watch. Without a doubt, the Straights were ice free in 2023 to a degree that I haven’t seen in my 15 years of observation.