Friday, April 9, 2010

Exposure Value

Yesterday I was in a digital photography class to learn how to use my new digital camera. It's my first single reflex lens camera, so I'm discovering how to use ISO, shutter speed, and aperture settings to change the type of shot I get. ISO (known as film speed in film cameras) determines how sensitive the camera's sensors are to light. Shutter speed determines how long the shutter stays open during an exposure. Aperture is how wide the front of your lens opens (like an iris) when you take a picture. Together, these variables determine how much light is captured by the camera during an exposure, and that's called the exposure value.

You need a certain exposure value in order for a picture to be properly lit, but there are lots of ways to get that film exposure. You could use many different combinations of ISO, shutter speed, and aperture settings to get the right amount of light for your pictures. Different combinations can radically change the type of picture you get. Do you want a wide depth of field or a shallow one? Do you want to show motion or freeze motion? Are you shooting with a tripod or by hand? So many choices, so many options. The beautiful thing is that photography is an art, and there is no one "right" choice. It's all a matter of the photographer's vision and what tools (lighting, tripod, flash, etc.) he or she has to work with.

Sometimes I think that faith is a lot like a good exposure value. The photographer is trying to achieve a well-lit picture, and we Christians are trying to achieve a close and loving relationship with God. Like the photographer, we have many different ways to get to that goal, and no one way is "right". These days, most Christian denominations have stopped short of claiming that they alone are doing Christianity the "right" way, and I think that's a positive development. After all, there are many gifts but the same Spirit, many individuals with unique personalities, but the same Christ. We all express our faith in different ways, just as two photographers may take completely different pictures of the same subject based on their artistic visions. None of us is perfect, and we all have limitations to overcome in our faith. Like a photographer caught without a flash or a tripod, sometimes we have to improvise. Some would call that wrong, but I think it's more wrong to not take the figurative picture at all.

The truth is that most of the religious choices we quibble over aren't spelled out in the Bible. I think God left many of the practical details of Christianity open so that all kinds of different people can practice in their own way. The Bible does not dictate how often we should take communion (or precisely with whom), whether we should sing and dance in church, or how long a worship service should last. We weren't explicitly told whether and how to ask other people to pray for us and whether it's OK to ask dead people (the saints) to pray for us too. We weren't told how to structure our hierarchy or the technical procedure for making decisions as a group. Jesus didn't tell us what to wear to church or teach us specific rituals for showing God respect.

Instead, Jesus said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and great commandment and the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself." That's the exposure value we're going for, but how we compose the shot is entirely up to each one of us.

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