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“The best way out is always through.”

Monday, July 27, 2009

Turn Around and See What's Behind You

One of the flaws that I am most guilty of in photography (I have flaws?) is getting obsessed with one subject or one area of a location to the exclusion of other interesting possibilities around me. I'll often get so intent on getting a good shot of a particular object or detail, for example, that I forget to lift my head and look around and see what's to the left or right or, more often, behind me--and it's an oversight that has caused me to miss some great shots.

The day I took this photo, for example, I was photographing some old steam locomotives and trying to find an angle that would show the ruggedness of the hulking old engine (and considering that nearly the entire engine was painted jet black, it was a bit of a challenge, too). Typically, I was working at the end of the day and the sun light, which had just pierced through an overcast sky, was shifting and fading quickly, so I kept shooting and refining the shots until the light was no longer sculpting the edges of the engine. I worked one particular shot for about 10 or 15 minutes and barely lifted my head from the viewfinder other than to step forward or back a few feet or to check camera settings. Also, because I was standing on oil-slicked railroad ties and rails while I was shooting, I was also concentrating on keeping my body vertical.

Finally the light was a bit too far gone and I'd run out of ideas and angles and I turned to start walking back to my car. Wham! There right behind me was this extraordinary old water tower up on a hill and silhouetted against an incredibly tumultuous sky. It was the clouds in the sky, in fact, that had been playing havoc with the lighting on the locomotive, but it never occurred to me that the sky itself might hold a great shot. And to be honest, I never even noticed the water tower until I turned around to leave and looked up--and almost simultaneously heard my girlfriend say, "That's a pretty shot." (This thing where she notices great shots that I don't see happens a lot, trust me.)

I had just enough time to pop off exactly three shots before that nice edge of light slipped off the left side of the water tower and the sky returned to the on-again, off-again dismal gray mass that it had been. The moral of this tip, I guess, is to remember to take the time to lift your head and look around even if you have to force yourself to look away from your main subject. Don't get so focused that you fail to look around--especially when the light is changing fast, as it does at the beginning or end of the day. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have a friend along to look out for things that you might be missing. I'm lucky, I travel most of the time with someone has an artistic eye and who is always spotting things that I don't see--and that's not a bad quality to have in a travel companion.

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