For 50 years, I have dreamed about photographing God.
In the past, I even kidded that when I died, I wanted my family to place a Nikon F camera loaded with 100 ASA film in the casket with me.
I figure I won’t need a fast film with a high ISO because there will be plenty of light, and I’d sure like to be the first to photograph heaven.
Indirectly, from the first days I picked up a camera, I have tried to photograph God by photographing His creation—be it the natural wonders of the world or the wonders of human creations.
Just as we photograph stunning rock formations in Utah, Arizona, Colorado or South Dakota—whose majestic cliffs have been shaped by countless years of breathing winds—we photograph an invisible God by photographing the influence of His Spirit on His creation.
Each of us carries the genetics—the DNA of our father.
I realize I must walk softly and carefully with this subject, and do so with sensitivity, recognizing there are many who do not share my beliefs. Please accept that this column is not meant to be a sermon, but a personal observation and ambition.
I do not mind admitting that when I witness humbling acts of altruism and love, my throat tightens and my eyes fill. In these quiet acts of compassion, I see my God every bit as much as when I behold a beautiful sunrise or sunset.
I have always been drawn to these genuine, not performed, moments. In them I see the goodness of mankind and the loving influence of God. In these mini stories, I feel the greatest joy and hope for humanity.
While some are drawn to photographing action sports, portraits or nature, I am drawn to quiet relationship scenes of love and compassion—things I often lack in my own life, but continually aspire to own.
My wife and I try to make pictures that reinforce the beauty and love of God on His creation, and try to avoid promoting the opposite.
For me, life looks very different at 65 than it did at 25. I’m confident it is a natural thing as we age to grow more introspective and more deliberate with what time we have left. In my youth, life was a smorgasbord and, like most, I wanted to sample everything.
I have loved many types of photography—from sports to nature, breaking news, celebrities and even some fashion—but lately, more than ever, my heart seeks to capture and share positive pictures that reinforce love and goodness and encourage hope, while glorifying our Creator.
It isn’t that I have not always tried to do this from the time I picked up a camera, but now with the acute recognition of the limited time I have left on this earth, there is an urgency not present 25 years ago.
I am forever reminded and keep this passage from Psalm 90 on the sleeve of my heart: “Teach us to number our days, that we might apply our hearts to wisdom.”
I photograph God when I record the golden morning light raking across the red earth or prairie grass of Oklahoma, or when evening clouds turn from white to yellow to crimson. I photograph God when I see birds drink the dew of the leaves or eat the crumbs left by man.
Mostly, I photograph God when I see His Spirit working in the lives of His children.
I don’t always love as I should, but often what I see through my lens challenges me to love more purely.
I wish every photograph I make to be a visual love letter to my God.
David LaBelle is an internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer. He has worked for newspapers and magazines across the United States and taught at three universities. He applies many of the lessons he learned during his magical boyhood years in rural California to photography. For more information, visit www.greatpicturehunt.com.