Welcome to (The Occasional) Photo Tip of the Day! Please also visit my main site jeffwignall.com. Text and photographs Copyright 2016 Jeff Wignall.

“The best way out is always through.”

Friday, December 4, 2009

Shoot What Interests You

When it comes to deciding if a subject is worth photographing or not, I think a lot of people (including most professionals) run the idea through a mental filter: Is this subject interesting or good enough to spend time photographing? Don't filter yourself. The one criteria you should use in deciding whether or not to photograph something is if it interests you. If something calls you and makes you want to photograph it, don't listen to the critics in your head, just listen to your imagination. These are, after all, your pictures and you get to decide what makes a good photograph. If you critique your ideas too much before you shoot them, you'll only stifle your imagination and give yourself another reason not to haul out the cameras and tripod and make the effort.

I grew up in a suburban part of Connecticut that wasn't far from a much more rural area. Because I didn't spend much time in the rural areas as a kid, I was always fascinated by them. I'm sure if I had grown up on a farm I might not find cows and tractors and old bars quite so fascinating--or maybe I still would, who knows. But farms and farm machinery have loomed large in my imagination since I was a kid and when I got to Iowa the first time a few years ago and saw huge grain elevators with their own private railroad sidings, I was totally intrigued. I spent several days just wandering down dirt roads (look at yesterday's posting for one of those shots) and photographing things like corn cribs, forgotten barns, ratty old farm fences and just about ever silo that I saw.

I shot the photo here in the picture-perfect town of Prairie City, Iowa. In fact, this tractor is sitting in front of a few huge grain silos just a short walk from the town center. By the time I got there the light was beginning to fade (you can see the last splash of daylight on one of the big silos) and a deep shadow had fallen across the tractor. I shot several photos anyway knowing that I could probably save the shot in Photoshop--which is exactly what I did. In fact, getting a decent image from the original file was kind of a challenge (I could write a entire article on the 30 or 40 steps I used to get a good finished file), but because I loved the subject so much, spending time with the image was fun. I just put on some Greg Brown music (he's an Iowa folk singer) and tweaked to my heart's content.

The most important audience you'll ever have for your photography is you. If your photos don't excite you, if the subjects don't stir your imagination, you'll have a hard time inspiring someone else with them. I think the love you have for your subjects and your fascination with them ultimately becomes part of their power. I can't imagine anyone putting "industrial tractor" at the list of their favorite photos subjects, but I think there is a quietness and an intimacy to this shot that others can appreciate. And any time I can document a piece of fading America, I feel that's a worthwhile ambition to serve.

These are the Greg Brown lyrics I was listening to as I edited this image. I'm sure I heard them in my head as I was shooting, too:

Now the railroad came generations ago
And the town grew up as the crops did grow
The crops grew well and the town did too
They say it's dyin now and there ain't a thing we can do
I don't have to read the news
Or hear it on the radio
I see it in the faces of everyone I know
The cost goes up
What we made comes down
What's gonna happen to our little town

"Our Little Town"
Lyric copyright Greg Brown

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