By Sister Victoria Incrivaglia

I have learned that what is planned as your intention is not always what you will receive. This is specifically true when applied to photography.

I am currently on sabbatical studying photography, which teaches many lessons, including being open to the present moment. In addition to learning the mechanics, I am also focusing on contemplative photography, which is more than a mechanical process; it is being open to seeing the natural inspiration of your surroundings. The technical and mechanical parts require learning the skills and language: bokeh, ISO, aperture, etc. The contemplative aspect is coming to understand and practice the reality that looking is not the same as seeing.

Recently, my community members and I went to the Mercy vacation home in Gulf Shores, Alabama. A motivating force for me was to go on a dolphin cruise for the purpose of taking a picture of a dolphin jumping out of the water. I prepared for the moment by reading articles on photographing dolphins, practicing with the camera on fast-moving objects, and learning the correct shutter speed, ISO and F stop for what I was sure would be a wonderful picture. Then I waited for the trip to happen, and as I waited, it brought back memories of Christmas when I was a child. You knew that Christmas was coming when all the decorations came out; you knew that you would receive gifts; and you understood that you had to wait patiently for this special occasion to finally be here.

The day of the dolphin cruise arrived, and I felt prepared. Then … the reality hit me that all of your preparation and planning does not necessarily bring about the outcome you think you want. As we sailed, the ship captain used a microphone to talk about the various birds and the aquatic ecosystems we were seeing. My eyes scanned the surface, waiting for the dolphins. The captain explained how to study the water for any movement below the surface indicating that dolphins were swimming. Then, suddenly, there they were!

They swam together in a pod, but it was not what I expected. A baby dolphin was surrounded by all the others, who would barely come up for air and then retreat under the water again. No dolphins jumped out of the water; rather, they swam protectively around the newest member of their group. I looked over the boat railing at the dynamics of this experience and understood that what I had planned to photograph would not happen. I found myself reflecting on the realities of life and how we are faced with living the unplanned events in so many ways on a much deeper level.

The cruise continued near some marshland. The captain pointed out a blue heron standing on the edge of the shoreline and slowed the boat to almost an idle. As we approached the shore, the bird began to move around, and I realized that it would soon take off. With camera in hand, waiting for a dolphin to jump out of the water, I received the gift of a picture of a blue heron in flight with outstretched wings. This most unexpected gift was one worth waiting for.

For more great reflections like this, be sure to subscribe to our blog.