Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Streamgaging and photography

Ok, it's a "Huh?" Well, not really, and you can insert any profession or endeavor for streamgaging and relate it to photography. Just for me though, it's streamgaging. I spent 13-plus years streamgaging in Oregon, Arizona and Washington. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and although many days weren't so enjoyable then that's the reality of it and my history.

I wouldn't change or trade it, which, if you can say that, is one of the few great things in one's life. To get to the end and realize it was worthwhile and fun. When I started I had the great fortune to learn from two senior technicians whom each handed me their different generation of knowledge and experience. I have always been grateful to them for my first years of learning the basics and finding the enjoyment of streamgaging.

One of the technicians was from the 1950's generation. He started in the Bureau of roads surveying in several of the highways in western Oregon before transferring to the USGS. He was hired when techicians did the basic job of maintaining river and lake gages and do the field work servicing them. They later taught them to produce and review streamflow data. I can't begin to recount the field work we shared.

The other one was from the 1960's generation and the one who really taught me streamgaging. He started in the northern California office when the Redwoods Park controversy was raging. He taught me about consistency of your field work, and meticulousness of your field notes. Both of these you don't realize the value for several years when you've found they're embedded into your work psyche. And you see the value, not just to streamgaging, but many other things in work and life.

Which is? Streamgages, or even lake gages, are small houses with one or more stage sensors attached to one to four recorders, which in later years are attached to various telemetry equipment. There is a proceedure you go through the minute you drive up to the gage, from the initial outside work, the work inside the gage house, any discharge measurement, any necessary repairs, and the last review before leaving.

This is where being consistent, methodical, and precise is necessary. You have to service the gage(s) in the same way you do every gage, from the time you unlock the gagehouse door to the time you lock it. It's that mundane routineness that frees you to focus on the other things and think through problems you encounter while still working on the gages. On one plane you're working instinctively and the other thoughtfully.

It's the simple idea of what I always termed being awake and aware when you're standing in the gage house. And when you were done and all the paperwork completed, you had the complete satisfaction and trust you did your best and didn't leave anything undone. Your whole world for that short time was that gage house and that discharge measurement. Nothing less and nothing more.

When I was reading about large format photography, I was overwhelmed with the equipment, the process, the field work, the films and on and on. But when I got the camera in the field, I realized my training as a streamgager and focusing on the basics of the camera and lenses, the exposure and metering, the thought process of the images, and the whole thing together, it turned out far easier than I had imagined.

First, I knew the basics of photography from over 30 years as a hobby, such as light, metering, etc. so it's was a matter of sorting it out for that the image and exposure. Second, the camera and lens, even being totally different, was something to learn and work with consistently, methodically and precise. Something I did for 13-plus years. And third, the thought process is simply focusing on the work and being in the moment at that time and place.

When I got done with my first few days with the system and then when I got the film back, I discovered I wasn't as bad as I feared, but then, I could have done better, which is the reason to do it some more. And more after that. The joy of being there and photographing what I see. Thanks to Duane and Mike.

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