The Outdoor Classroom

I spent all of Mother’s Day studying exposure & camera lenses. I remembered my friend explaining to me that I took great pictures, but I needed a better lens on my camera. I was sure this would be a show-stopper and not a single star would appear through the aperture, but I was dedicated to trying anyway.  I visited my mom’s farm and watched my stepdad build a deck, my sister & stepsister sunbathed in the 96-degree weather. Every page I read taught me something new about improving my pictures, and each thing I learned I tested out immediately, aimed at bushes, fences, flowers, or clouds. The wind blew and for once it did not smell like chickens. This is my kind of classroom. I made dinner for my family and waited for them to go to bed. It was a thankfully clear night so the lessons could continue. I set out my quilt in the backyard and went back to class.

Without a tripod, star pictures become nearly impossible. When you leave the shutter open for 20 seconds, all movement of light gets captured. The first few shots I took with the camera in my hands, knowing full well it wouldn’t work. I was still only honing in on my perfect settings. I had the shutter speed down pat but my f-stop was set too high, and only one star would show up. I tested setting it as low as possible, which on my camera is F/4, and bang: there were more stars on the screen than I could see with my naked eyes. But they had trails behind them from where my arm had slipped. This time I set the camera on the uneven ground, and it improved, but not enough. I grabbed a stack of books and aimed at the droopy tree in mom’s backyard. The glow of our distant neighbors backlit the foliage. I looked away while the shutter was open, and knew nothing of the shooting star that passed behind the tree until the next day when I flipped through. It may have been an airplane, but I like to think it wasn’t.

I dropped out of college well over a year ago, and today I’m watching all of my friends in my year graduate. I was positive that I’d be sad or embarrassed when this time finally rolled around, but I’m not. Any space can be a classroom, any person you meet can be a teacher, and any hour can be a time to learn. Without the school system in my way, I’m free to study the things I’m interested in learning, rather than the useless liberal arts requirements. I’m spending my money on camera gear, art supplies, and music promotion instead of $20k a year on an unwanted education in a disinteresting field. I’ve found ways to promote my work, get paid to do what I love, and travel as much as I can. I have talented friends who share their knowledge and experiences for free, and I do the same for them. The world is an amazing place to learn, and more amazing when you trailblaze it yourself.

Author: andie.vega.v

Traveling Artist, Musician, and Photographer from Greensboro, NC

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