Friday, July 31, 2009

Of Experience and Quick Hands

We were in San Francisco a while back. Robin and I had just parked our car in an underground parking lot. The elevator left us out on the outskirts of China town, what follows is the story of this photo.

It was our last day of a mini-shooting vacation. We decided to spend the evening in China Town. The sun was beginning to set though it was hard for us to tell. We were on the east side of town hidden in shadows. The financial district loomed like a giant above us.

Looking up and to the right I caught notice of this really old building — it was hard not to. The reflected light from the skyscrapers bathed it in an eerie pinkish/red light.

At first my mind raced to capturing that poor old building caught between the monoliths. I started fumbling for my wide-angle lens then I stopped. Out from the balcony door on the top floor came a gentleman with a shirt and an old-school iron. He laid the shirt on the ironing board and started pressing it. It was one of those fast presses guys do when they're late, you know what I'm talking about. I knew I had only a few moments.

I switched from the extreme wide-angle idea of capturing buildings vs. building to a more compact vision which only included the gentleman and his home. I chose a lens that would give me just that. I slid my old-school 24mm lens onto the camera. It locked in place like an angel. I've had this lens since I was a kid and we know each other very well.

My mind was racing of course, looking at the reflected colors and trying to figure out the best way to use them — organizing and tabulating every human bias I knew. There had to be one I could us.

My fingers though were doing something completely different. By instinct they were sliding over the aperture ring picking the perfect f-stop to allow for hyper focal distance .. and then they darted to the focus ring and slide it to where it needed to be. To be honest, this has become quite a natural thing ... kind of like typing after years of practice. It just happens. I pick my depth, then just deal with the rest by instinct. And man, was I going to rely on that. I looked down at the aperture my fingers choose and knew I had a problemit was quite small.

F-14 and 'something' it said.
The 'something' refers to the fact that my fingers rarely keep the aperture on a single number. I was taught a long time ago that slight adjustments to the aperture could wrangle-in precise depth — not just ball park depth mind you, but total control. On an old-school lens such as my 24mm the aperture ring is on the outside of the lens. You can move it without having to use the camera - between stops mind you, anwhere you like.
And if you haven't guessed it by now, this provides a HUGE advantage over using the miniscule offerings the camera gives.

Anyway ... at f14 and something I knew my shutter was going to give me a problem. In this light it would be too slow, I would miss him. He'd be moving too fast and all I would get is a blur.

I didn't want to bump my I.S.O. and while my flash would reach him and his building — that would have been a bit rude, so I went with my favorite option: I was going to shoot in black and white.

NOTE: If you didn't know,
shooting in Black and White gives an artist the ability to change colors to tones ... and I could use that to my advantage here. I choose a red filter in-camera and a bumped white balance. Thanks to the red and pink light these internal camera choices allowed for an even faster shutter speed — without ever touching the I.S.O. Whoo Hoo! I was going to get my shot.

Super Secret Photo Stuff:
Black and White isn't about the absence of color ... it's about using color to your advantage in a black and white world. Take the black and white course, you won't be disappointed.

I dialed in my shutter speed, looked up and saw he was finishing his shirt ... ... I fired.

This was it, that's all I got. As soon as the shutter clicked, he grabbed his shirt and went in.
I looked down at the monitor nervously ... BAM BABY! Perfect everything. Man I love this stuff!!!

Of course all of this happened in just a few seconds. I shot the other images then, the buildings vs. buildings one. The close ups of the building and such. But none proved as meaningful as this one.

Something to keep in mind: Each and every bad photo you shoot gives you experience. Don't discount or wish you were better and didn't make these mistakes today. I still fumble, I still miss my shot — but I know that each of these experiences are good for me. Each time I'm blessed with an image such as this one I think back on all the bad photos I've taken and am quite thankful. Without those lessons, without that frustration and my unwavering need to learn how to fix them — I would never be able to react, change and adjust as quickly as I do today.

Bottom Line: Don't get too frustrated and give up just because your pictures don't measure up right now ... learn from those mistakes. Without the experience they provide, you'll never grow as an artist.

Here are a few other black and white photos from China Town:

1 comment:

  1. Great story, Rod, and great photos! Your excitement and enthusiasm in recounting the story are definitely contagious -- makes me want to go out and shoot something... in B&W, of course!


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