All too often, as photographers, we run around looking for the perfect shot. It’s easy to snap a picture, move on, snap a picture, move on. Always on the go, looking for the next shot. It could be why they call it a “photowalk”, or it could just be the search of that instant gratification. If it isn’t happening right here, right now, then hell… it must be happening somewhere else.
I once read that if you slow down, take your time, pick a spot then you’re more likely to find better pictures and more of them. The idea here is to find yourself a vantage point and make full use of it. Sit on a park bench, claim a street corner (unless already occupied by another professional), just find a spot and stick to it.
I’m guilty of all the above. All too often, when I find the time to dedicate an afternoon to photography, I feel rushed. I feel the need to take as many pictures of as many things possible, then sort it all out later. After all, free time is a precious commodity and I have to make the best of it. This is where I have to stop and ask myself if I’m actually spending my time wisely. It can be hard to slow down, but if I give it a little thought I find I can not only slow down, but take better pictures in the process.
I find it helpful to find the story of a place, seek out what it is I want to document, what I want the viewer to see.
Last year when visiting New Orleans for the first time, it only took me a few minutes to figure out what it was I was after. I wanted to show the filth of it. Now, now… before you blast me, I think New Orleans is a wonderful city with lots of charm, and an excellent place to visit. What I did see, however, was a city rebuilding from Katrina, and the grit and grime that go along with it. That’s where my focus was all weekend, I was shooting low to the ground, or hitting high awkward angles. This helped me focus my attention and grab a good series of shots.
This past weekend, I spent an afternoon in Galveston, TX. Another area recently hit hard by a hurricane (this time, Ike), another city in the process of rebuilding. There were a lot of similarities between New Orleans and Galveston, not only in the destruction, but also in the atmosphere, the architecture, and the will of the people.
In Galveston, I quickly hit on my “story”, albeit a totally different one. After parking the car I stood on the sidewalk, observing my surroundings, watching the people move about. What I noticed right away were the bicycles, everywhere. They were chained to posts, propped up on buildings, and if you can believe it, there were people actually riding them in the streets. A lot of the bikes were more of the vintage breed, build for comfort rather than speed. I knew then, after mere minutes, that there would be a lot of bike shots, and that this is where my story was.
Now, I took pictures of anything I found interesting, but my goal was to photograph bikes and people riding bikes. It gave me some direction, a focal point if you will. When I approached a bike sitting alone, I spent my time looking at it from different angles, finding my shot. When it came to people riding bikes I picked a good looking spot and stuck with it.
In just ten minutes, all within a distance of ten feet of where I was standing I was able to capture some great pictures. The benefit of staying in one spot is that it also allowed me to stay with the same basic camera settings, giving me solid results across the board. If I would have been walking, I may not have seen the riders coming and not had the time to line the shot up, set the focus, and wait for it to happen. As they rode into my viewfinder… snap!
So, you could say I didn’t really have a solid story per-say, but I had a subject. Next time I take the trip to Galveston I plan on taking the same approach, narrowing my focus to bikes. I plan to find ten separate locations, spend at least ten minutes at each spot, and fill the frames with bikes. I’m confident that with this approach I could possibly get enough quality images to fill a book.
What’s my story? I guess you could say, The Bicycles of Galveston. Do you ever slow down enough to really see the things around you? How do you tell your story?