The Lessons behind an Image: Part One

 For the past 14 years, I have had a love affair with photography. Like with anything we love doing, we run into problems as we learn more and progress. And the more problems we face, work through and learn from, the better our work will be. I’m a huge fan of “Try, Fail, Learn, Repeat” Cycle. I try to apply that cycle to all my Passions. I have learned some difficult lessons in photography and I want to share some of them with you. Normally this series is about the story of an image. But today I’m going to switch it up and call this one “The Lessons behind an Image.” Sharing something valuable I learn from one of my images.

Part Five: Lessons learned

 2004 was the start of my love affair with photography. Earlier in that year I got my first DSLR camera, Canons Digital Rebel. With a whopping 6.3 megapixels, 7 Auto focus points and that cheap silver plastic body, it was one of the first DSLR you could buy for under $1000. I loved mine and took it everywhere. And that June, it came with me to the Grosse Ile Air Extravaganza for my second airshow with a DSLR camera. Of the couple of hundred images I shot that day, here’s a series of eight I want to share with you. It’s of this P-51 Mustang, 44-74446 N1451D “Checkertail Clan“. Unfortunately, some 10 years later it crashed. Killing both the new owner/pilot and the instructor on the Fourth of July 2014 shortly after take-off.

film roll of mustang

Of the eight images, only one stands out for me. As soon as I saw the Mustang, I knew there was an image there I want to capture. At the time, I was very new to photography. I really didn’t know what I was doing.(As if I do now) HaHa! But I knew there was an image somewhere of this beautifully polished P-51 with a bunch of crap around it. I remember feeling the struggle and lack of confidence of trying to capture the image I saw with the camera. I had two problems. First, what do I see that is so interesting? Where does it start and stop? And second, how do I hide all the stuff around the aircraft? You can see in the second image in the roll above, there is at least 7 cars, a C-130, a row of porta johns in between the canopy and the vertical stabilizer, some tents over the right wing and what the heck are those folks looking at over the left wing!

 To overcome my first problem of what do I see that is so interesting? Where does it start and stop? Here is where the beauty of digital photography comes into play. With a large enough media card, you have the opportunity to shoot far more than if you were to shooting film. Since I began making images, I have always believed to have more than enough memory cards. I never wanted to get into a situation where I run out room on memory card(s) while out shooting. Two things I remember a lot of photographers telling me when I first start my photographic journey. One, invest in glass and two, get the largest card you can afford. Cards are cheaper than glass. I have always invested in large as well as fast cards. It gives me the freedom to shoot all day and never have to worry about how many shots I have left.

So, I shot like a machine gun so to speak. I shot with confidence knowing that even at the end of the day, I was not going to run of space and I could explore my subject and capture what I saw that interest me. This runs into my second issue; how do I hide all the stuff around the aircraft? How I did was the easy part. I just positioned myself in a way that the aircraft itself cover up the unwanted clutter. But what I feel is more important is the why. And it is a lesson I have come to learn over the years, but I can still trace it back to this image.

 Knowing where the edges of your image lay. To Isolate your subject along with hiding unwanted and unnecessary clutter. Looking back on the image, I know when I took the shot, I didn’t know where the edges of that image was. But you can see me searching for them in the series of images. Close, getting closer, spot on, going away and then revisiting it. I truly didn’t know until after the show, while I was home looking through my images on my PC and saw the photo of the image in my head.

I feel knowing where your image lays is an important part of knowing what it is you are trying to show. One thing through the years that has help me define the edges of images has nothing to do with aviation. It was when I lived downtown in Detroit and I would frequent the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory on Belle isle. I came up with a system that taught me to start down and to see what it is I was looking at. Once in the conservatory, I would walk through all the rooms, gear still in camera bag, looking for things to shoot and keeping mental notes of things of interest. Making my way back to the the entrance where I began, with a few ideas for images, I select what lenses I feel I needed and retraced my steps. When I come to something I wanted to shoot, I stopped, focused in on what is catching my eye. Once I have an idea of what it is, I set up my tripod, compose my shot, shoot and review. If it is not to my liking, I’ll recomposes and shoot again until I’m happy with my shot. I would repeat this for all my points of interest in the conservatory. Over the years, this has help me define the edges of I was looking at as well as help me understand how the camera sees things.

 I ‘m not saying you must always get closer to your subject. There are times when you want to show a sense of space. And even then, you still should know where the edges of your images are. Too much, you can lose your subject all together and not enough, your subject seems crammed in the frame. It comes down to knowing what it is you are trying to show your viewers. Looking back, I wanted a tight shot showing the highly polished surface, its colorful markings and not losing the iconic shape of the P-51. 

FAR_90

 From this one images, I learned two things. One, to keep shooting your subject until you feel you have captured the image that you see in your minds eye. And Two, know where the edges of your image are and why it is important. It took me many years and thousands of images, before I truly grasp how important these two lessons were to me and My Photography.  

EXIF data

Date: June 18, 2004 8:14 am

Model: Canon Digital Rebel

Focal length: 65mm

ISO speed: 100

Exposure time: 1/320th

F stop: F/9

Shot handheld

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Until next post,

Steven

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