The Power and Limitation of a Photo

I’ve been enjoying taking photos lately. And enjoying sharing them with others. It inspired me to add a Photo Gallery to this site. I’ve also been thinking about the difference between seeing a photo and experiencing a place.

Bright red and orange clouds float on the horizon and fade into a blue sky above. Silhouettes of trees can be seen on the shoreline. The sky and trees are all reflected in the water below.
Sunrise on Lake Willastein

Even the most striking photo cannot contain what our eyes and hearts can capture. The two-dimensional-ness of it cannot hold the full joy of the experience. It can’t capture the gratefulness that wells up inside at being there, at that very moment, witnessing the sun scatter colors too bright and varied to name.

It doesn’t capture the magic of not being able to tell exactly where the surface of the water is and the disorientation that follows. It cannot appreciate the moment when the eye lands on a plant that marks where the surface of the water actually is and how my mind has to recalibrate everything I see because it imagined the water’s surface to be higher. It can’t capture that moment of surprise and the enjoyment that comes from being a bit disoriented because the water and sky were conspiring to trick me and I feel pleased because I get the joke.

It can’t capture the amazement at the clarity of the reflection and the reminder that that the stillness of the water is the equanimity I should seek in my mind. Nor the moment of sadness and regret knowing that just recently I made a decision while the waters of my mind were rough and choppy. “Wait, Melanie. Wait for the waters to still,” the lake seems to say to me.

The photo cannot do it all justice. But each opportunity to experience the beauty around me leaves an imprint on my mind and heart that does capture it all.

Breathing in, I see myself as still water. Breathing out, I reflect things as they are. Thich Nhat Hanh


  1. Jodi Morris says:

    But the lake is so seldom really still. Many decisions can’t wait for that rare moment. I think we forget that within every lake, every pond, a river runs. It swirls beneath as temperatures very causing the water to turnover. It ripples on the surface with every breath of wind. And it overflows when a downpour floods ibeyond the boundaries of the lake’s ever changing shore. Deep or shallow, still waters do run.

    • melaniethornton says:

      Thank you, Jodi. That’s a beautiful description of water and also of our minds. It resonates with me that decisions cannot always await the stillness of our minds. And yet, sometimes I can see that had a waited, I might have more clearly seen the situation and made a better decision. Perhaps both can be true and guide us at the same time. 🙂

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