I am very new to ‘proper’ photography with a DSLR rather than a mobile phone, and learning to use the camera has been a challenge to my impulsive, somewhat acquisitive nature. Like a toddler with a new toy, when my Canon camera arrived I ripped off the packaging and went straight out to the woods, pointing and shooting in Auto mode. I felt dismayed and affronted when the results were no better than my trusty Samsung Galaxy S20: I wanted off-the-shelf, saturated, silky, seductive images like the ones you see on Instagram! Impatience aside, underlying my frustration was the fear that I wouldn’t be able to master manual mode: I had looked at the dial settings and the manual menu and it made no sense to me. As if confronted with algebra or the Arabic alphabet, my brain slunk off to a corner and sulked.

Because my reflex is to buy my way out of a problem, I then purchased an expensive, niche lens called a Lensbaby Velvet, which produces a beautiful blur effect. It’s a difficult lens for even a professional to master, and you simply cannot use it on Auto mode; it is manual only.  I convinced myself that acquiring it would compel me to knuckle down and get to grips with manual mode – and, to my own surprise, the flawed thinking paid off: one beginner’s course and a bit of practise later, I now understand what the f number is, and how ISO and shutter speed combine with it to create the exposure triangle. Most importantly, I have learned to be patient, to go back to nursery school as it were and start by stacking bricks.

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon with my Lensbaby lens, strolling in field and woodland (with a bit of crawling and some wading through brambles). While I was crouching by the trunk of an oak tree, photographing a stump with cavities in it that looked rather like a howling ghost’s face, a young boy running along the path came to a sudden halt before edging towards me, crab-like in his halting approach. His curiosity got the better of him, and he came closer with the inevitable “What are you doing?”

I explained why I was taking photos of a tree stump, and he frowned over my shoulder, shaking his head as I showed the camera screen to him. “No, I can’t see a ghost!” He then asked me what my name was, misheard it, and introduced me to his rather hesitant-looking dad:

“This is Lucy, she’s taking photos of a ghost.”

After solemnly explaining to me that they were out Having An Adventure and would probably see me again if I was going the same way, he half-ran, half-skipped off down the path. “I hope we see Lucy again on our adventure, don’t you?” I heard him say, as they disappeared into the dip.

Our paths did indeed cross again, as I was kneeling on a mat of last year’s dead bracken, photographing a pile of branches lying by a young silver birch tree. “Hello again!” he beamed, asking what I was photographing this time and not waiting for the answer. “Do you want to know what my name is?” “Why yes I do!” I replied. “I’m Marcus!” he declared, before updating me on his revised itinerary and the dark and scary abandoned bunker in the corner of the field. Then off he went, criss-crossing and doubling back in the seemingly random yet utterly resolute way that only a child can, his dad trotting gamely along in his wake clutching Marcus’ stripy ball.

It occurs to me that I might not have had the pleasure of a glimpse into Marcus’ world, had I not been behaving in a ‘childlike’ way when he first saw me – down at his level, exploring, looking at the world through the eye of a camera, hunting for the small and the half-seen things, the unaccustomed angles. Trying to see familiar things in different ways.

That is, perhaps, the main reason why my newfound photography hobby gives me so much joy: it is the most childlike and purposefully aimless I have felt since I turned into a grown-up.

Here’s to Marcus – although I think he was wrong about the tree stump: the photo didn’t come out very well in the end, but it does look a BIT like a ghost, doesn’t it?!