The Lessons behind an Image: Part One

For the past 14 years, I have had a passionate love affair with photography. Like with anything we love doing, we run into problems as we learn and grow. And the more problems we face, work through and learn from them, the better our work will be. I’m a huge fan of the “Try, Fail, Learn, Repeat” Cycle. And I have learned some difficult lessons in photography because of this learning cycle. 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 a valuable lesson, I learned from one of my photos.

Part Four: 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, numerous 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 of the season. 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 gorgeous P-51 Mustang.

film roll of mustang

Of the eight images, for me only one stands out. As soon as I saw the Mustang, I knew there was an interesting image there. And at the time, I was very new to photography. I really didn’t have an understanding of what I was doing. I knew there was an image 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 in my minds eye 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 series, 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 these folks looking at over the left wing!

To overcome my first problem of what do I see that is so interesting. Where does it begin and end? Here is where the beauty of digital photography comes in to play. With a large enough media card, you have the opportunity to shoot far more than if you were to shoot on film. Since I began photography, I have always believed to carry with you more than enough memory cards. I never want to get into a situation where I would run out of memory while out shooting. Two things I remember many photographers telling me at the start of my photographic journey. One, invest in glass and two, get the largest memory card you can afford. It will give you the freedom to shoot all day and never have to worry about how many shots you have left.

So, I shot the mirror like finish Mustang like a machine gun. I shot with more confidence knowing that at the end of the day, I could explore my subjects freely and capture what interest me. This runs into my second issue; how do I hide all the stuff around the aircraft? How I did it was the easy part. I just positioned myself in a way that the aircraft itself covered 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 one image.

Knowing where the edges of your images are. To Isolate your subject along with hiding the unwanted and unnecessary clutter. Looking back on the image, 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, getting cold and then revisiting it. I feel knowing where the edges of your images are 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 my images has nothing to do with aviation at all.

It was when I lived in Downtown Detroit and I would frequent the conservatory on Belle isle. There I came up with a system that taught me to slow 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 my bag, searching for things to shoot and keeping mental notes of subjects of interest. Then after making my way back to the entrance where I began, with my ideas for images, I would then gear up and retraced my steps. When I got to something I wanted to shoot, I would stop, focused in on what is catching my eye. Once I have an idea of what it is, I would set up my tripod, compose the shot, shoot and review. If it is not to my liking, I’ll recomposes and shoot again until I’m happy.

 

FAR_90

It was the complete process of evaluating the location, finding subjects of interest and the slow act of setting up my tripod. All the while, curiously studying my subject and mentally composing the shot. That help me start to discover where my images began and ended. From this one image, I learned two things. One, to keep shooting your subject until you feel you have captured the image that is in your mind’s eye. And Two, knowing where the edges of your images are. It took me many years and thousands of images, before I was conscious of how important these two lessons were to my photography.

Be sure to check out

The Story Behind an Image, Part five