It was 2:30pm as we emerged from Vancouver International Airport into the warm summer sun, 15 hours after we had checked out of our hotel in Paris and started the long journey home. Somewhere over the Atlantic my enthusiasm and love of travel faded, replaced by fatigue brought on by the long flight, the climate controlled cabin and, of course, the 9 hour time difference.
As we started walking to our car I saw this photo right away; the strong backlighting catching my eye as it created silhouettes of the people moving along the walkway. The scene had everything I love in an image: beautiful, high contrast light and strong lines (vertical, horizontal and diagonal). Wonderful colours with interesting reflections. It was all right there.
I saw it, but in my exhausted state I just kept walking.
Thankfully, for reasons unexplained, my favourite Chuck Close quote popped into my head:
“Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightening to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.”
I hate his misuse of the word amateur in this quote, but I love the sentiment. Great photos come from the effort, they come from rolling up our sleeves and getting the work done. There are days when photography feels effortless and we come home with a memory card full of pure awesome. There are other days though, days like this one, where we just need to power through whatever we are feeling and get the job done. Great photos deserve this.
So, I went back.
My camera was already in Aperture Priority Mode and Auto-ISO when I pulled it out of my bag, and a little negative Exposure Composition was all that was needed to place the exposure where I wanted it (with the highlights somewhat controlled and the dark shadows crushed a little bit further). The composition itself came easily, with the tower in the top right balanced against the backlit walkway that starts in the lower left of the frame.
I was happy with these static elements, and knew that the people walking through the strong backlight, captured as silhouettes, would provide the missing dynamic elements that were needed to complete the image. The first few people I photographed were quite tall, their height causing them to blur into the darkness around them. I prefer silhouettes of people to be clean and fully backlit, however, so I shot for a few more minutes until I had the photo seen above. Once I was satisfied with the image I rejoined my oh-so-patient family and we continued our commute home.
The photo required very little work in post, just sharpening and a slight contrast boost.
Craft and vision are essential parts of photography, but they are of little value without execution. I am sure all of us, at one time or another, have walked past an image without shooting and then regretted it later. I almost did that on this day, but I am glad I didn’t. The next time you encounter a situation like this just make the image, push through your hesitation and take out your camera. The reward is worth it!
I hope that you enjoyed this instalment of the Photographic Insights Series.
Until next time,
About this series:
Ansel Adams once said:
“The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.”
This statement is absolutely true. To quote David Hobby, “we should all strive to become thinking photographers.” I love it when my students ask questions about a photograph because I can see their minds at work. Sometimes these questions focus on how an image was made (the craft), sometimes they focus on why it was made (the vision), but they always show a student’s desire to improve their craft.
When I look at another photographer’s image I am always interested in the photographer’s thought process: What drew their eye in the first place? What did they see in their mind? What was their process for the creation of the image? How did they go about achieving success?
With this in mind, I have spent the last year writing a book featuring my images and the stories behind them. The book will come out later this year, but in the spirit of open source education I have decided to publish 2 dozen of these photos and essays here as well. My hope is that everyone can benefit in a small way from this sharing of ideas, much like I have benefited from other photographers who shared with me.