Guided Exposure

A Q&A With Charles F. Stanley

Edisto Beach, South Carolina


Q. How did you get started with photography?

I always wanted to take photographs as a kid, but I didn’t have the money to buy a camera. When I finally did buy one, it was small and inexpensive and I knew nothing about it. I got busy with college and seminary and forgot

Antelope Canyon, Arizona
about photography. But a little later on, after I had become a minister, I had an opportunity to go to Haiti with 17 other pastors. I didn’t have a camera at the time, but my wife had a Kodak Retina IIA, which was the best back in the 1960s. So I said to her, “How do I set this?” She said, “Set your shutter speed at 125 and your aperture at f/16, and just leave it there.”

So I was sitting on a plane on my way to Haiti. This guy beside me had a camera too, and he asked me, “Where’s your light meter?”

“Light meter?” I said. “What’s a light meter?”

“That’s how you tell how fast to set your shutter speed.”

I said, “My wife told me to set this at 125 and f/16, so that’s what I did.”

Well, it just so happened in Haiti every day was beautiful. It’s what photographers call “sunny 16,” because the light is always just right at that setting.

I didn’t know anything about photography, but I came back with great shots. And that got me hooked. Then I went to Russia. I went to Europe. I went to Alaska. And it just got more and more exciting.

clockwise from top: Zanzibar, Africa; Patagonia ice fields; Maui, Hawaii


Q. How would you describe your creative process? What’s going through your mind when you’re out shooting?

I have a little sign in my light room that says, “Don’t photograph things. Photograph moments.”

One thing that’s important is to keep your eye and mind working all the time. Sometimes I have an idea of what I want to shoot, but oftentimes the best shots are things I wasn’t looking for, and all of a sudden there they are.

There are a lot of questions I ask about any given shot. First of all, when I see something that interests me, I try to visualize it: How is it going to look on a piece of paper? How is it going to look on a screen, if I want to show it to the church? You have to remember you’re not just shooting this for yourself, but for other people. To me, photography is ministry.

Q. Lately you’ve been shooting more in black and white. What is it about black and white photography that intrigues you?

I started out doing black and white many years ago. I think I fell in love with it because it challenged me. When I look at a color photo, the color grabs me at first. But when I look at a black and white, it’s like I’m seeing dead reality.

White Mountains, California


Q. You often look to fine art photographers like Ansel Adams for inspiration. Do you see yourself as an artist?

I don’t think I ever have [laughs]. I see myself as a preacher who loves photography, but who wants to master it to some degree. In other words, I’m getting there.

Q. So the title “artist” is something you have to earn?

Yeah, that’s right. I wouldn’t consider myself an artist. But the people who walk through the halls of In Touch and see all the photographs think I am. I’m going to keep working at it.

Q. How has photography affected your relationship with the Lord?

Well, I think it makes me look at things differently and more deeply. It helps me see the handiwork of God in everything. On these photography trips, we always pray, “Open our eyes, Lord, and help us see everything you want us to see.” We don’t go alone. We have each other. Then we have the master Photographer looking down, pointing, and helping us to see. Sometimes, after we come home and look at what we shot, we say, “Wow! We didn’t even know we saw that.”

Santorini, Greece

That must be a wonderful feeling.

It is a wonderful feeling. It’s a very gratifying, satisfying feeling. I get a lot of pleasure out of getting ready to go. Before I’m going to see it all, I know I’m going to see a lot of things that I want to photograph. But getting ready, and thinking about it, and praying, and trusting God, and asking Him to guide us and direct us—He knows what He wants us to see, and He knows what He wants us to learn about Him and nature and so forth. It’s just one awesome, exciting journey for me.

Q. What would you like people to know about you as a photographer?

I think my primary purpose is I want them to see what I’ve seen. And I want them to feel something in that photograph that I felt. Whenever possible, I want them to see an expression of the awesome handiwork of God. Somehow, I want to draw them to Him if at all possible. For example, I recently took a photograph in South Carolina, of a tree standing alone out in the ocean. All the other trees were dead and had washed up on the shore, but this one remained standing strong. I want people to see that photograph and realize that, when so much around you is destroyed, you can trust God. Like that tree, you can withstand the storms, the floods, the winds, the rains, the snow—whatever it might be. If you’re rooted in Jesus, you can handle it.

Olympic National Park, Port Angeles, Washington



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