Head right to a slideshow of beautiful pictures from West Arsi taken by Noah Wardrip:
Noah’s photography is all over this website. Two years ago, we asked him to join us in Ethiopia and to take pictures of the people and places we’ve come to love. He took hundreds (literally!) of images which we’ve used to tell the story of transformation taking place in West Arsi. We couldn’t wait to get him back to Ethiopia and give him more time in the field (less in ‘dimly lit rooms’) meeting families and capturing scenes from their daily life. Noah was gracious enough to share what its like to serve as a photographer and experience Ethiopia behind the lens.
How did you feel about going back in terms of taking photos? Did you have a ‘game plan’ of how you wanted to capture scenes?
Leading up to the trip, I was very excited to go back in order to refresh the Discovering Light photo portfolio. After learning the itinerary and the similarities with my trip in 2013, I started to have some lingering doubts, wondering if I could get reasonably original and interesting shots. I took that to the Lord in prayer, trusting His will would be done and that he would guide me on what to capture in order to show others the people that Discovering Light is working to transform. I recalled the hardest part of photography during the last trip was being quick enough, both in terms of shooting out the side of a van moving at 30-60 MPH and also having people look and smile for a second or two while I finalized settings to make the shot. I also remembered the types of shots that have been used in the Discovering Light materials and wanted to make sure I got enough shots of various scenes to give ample choices in terms of composition. Beyond these things and mulling over which 3 lenses that I limited myself to bring (due to weight), I prepared to be flexible.
How did photography allow you to connect emotionally and spiritually with your subject, in particular, the people and places in Ethiopia?
Since I am there to capture what I see, I am watching and observing every second we are out each day, including the driving to and from our ministry sites. While there, I am in the “mission trip” sort of mindset and it is hard not to want to help many of the people I see throughout the day. However, I know that directly helping them (e.g. providing some resource to them) may continue to propagate the dependent mindset Discovering Light is working so hard to overcome. Instead, I say breath prayers for those we meet and for those that I actually interact with, I think of simple ways to encourage them. In most cases, not being able to speak in English makes it a bit challenging, but a smile and hand gestures go a long way to lighten the interaction.
Were you nervous taking photos this time? If so, why?
I think that the hardest part of photography is being ready to capture the fleeting moments. It does get a little nerve-wracking when things are moving quickly and when it would completely ruin the moment to tell people to freeze. I just needed to remind myself a few times that God is always in control and allowed me to capture what I did.
Did you feel like you were imposing at all or ‘using’ the people by taking photos of them?
To some extent yes. I felt that for the people we interviewed and photographed in their homes, we probably should have gifted with something. I do wonder what the lasting impression is of a convoy of several Americans and Ethiopians invading their home for 20 or 30 minutes out of the blue. This is where, to the extent possible, I showed them that I was thankful and, via a translator, let them know they were doing great during our impromptu photo shoot.
What role do you believe photography can play in accomplishing our mission?
I believe pictures speak volumes about the people Discovering Light is reaching and the impact Discovering Light is having. Without pictures, in this day and age, it is harder to capture the attention of a potential supporter of the ministry. Having high quality photos increases the possibilities for their use, including larger posters or banners. Investing in high quality photos also helps drive home the fact that Discovering Light is an authentic organization that is serious about their mission.
How did this trip stretch or challenge you in terms of your photography skills?
As I’ve alluded to in previous answers, being in the right place with the right camera settings and pushing the shutter release at the right time is always a challenge in dynamic situations. In order to maximize the take-home from the trip, I shot out the side of the van as we drove. Invariably, it seems, right as I am pressing the shutter, something came in between me and the subject. I continuously tried to adjust my position in the van to maximize my ability to anticipate and adapt and also continuously refined the settings on the camera to maximize chance of success. In the end, my keeper rate was still rather low, so I need to continue to improve my fast action photography skills. In addition, I limited myself to only 3 lenses due to weight. There were several occasions when a different lens I own would have been better suited for the job, but I made the best of what I had. Finally, inside homes and the churches we visited, there are no lights, only light coming in from the outside, usually through a single door. I also did not want to continuously fire a flash, which made it challenging to get good shots of people in their homes due to the extreme contrast (one side in the dark, the other side in the light). After making sure the exposure was the best it could be in the situation, I was able to take advantage of the latitude in the raw image files my camera can save and make it work most of the time (mostly during post-processing). I never fired a flash.
Take some time to view these photos from Noah’s time in Ethiopia last month: NOAH’S SLIDESHOW.