Behind the Camera: Getting the Shot

· Reading Time: 13 minutes

Welcome back to another installment of my Behind the Camera feature where I take a topic and discuss how it pertains to my photography.  Last month we talked about Expectation vs Reality, which is a very real experience with photographers everywhere.  A thought that kind of stemmed from that entry was the inspiration for this month’s entry.  I wanted to talk about getting the shot, or as it relates to our last topic, what to do when the reality fails to live up to the expectation?  I’m not too sure where this entry is really going to go, as I just have a loose idea of how I want to proceed with it.  What I do hope to show you is twofold.  On one hand, I want to show you why it pays to go back to a location several different times for different conditions, but also want to show you that each time you go back you have a different set of tools that can impact the image.  Let’s take a look at one of the best examples in my collection to illustrate this concept.

Still Waiting” Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, B+W Polarizer

First of all, I know that this is not my best work, but that is kind of the point of this blog.  I found this great Pontiac on one of my trips to the mountains and decided to stop and shoot it on the way home back in 2013.  The time of day wasn’t that great, but sometimes you have to shoot when you are able to.  I made the best out of a bad lighting situation which was pretty bright sun during mid day.  This was the best shot of the day because it worked with the light direction which was very important.  I liked a lot of aspects of this shot, but I really felt that I could do better with it.  I thought about it off and on throughout the coming months and years even.

Out to Pasture“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, B+W Polarizer

There were some very difficult things about the location of the car which caused me some issues with shooting it.  The nose of the car was facing South and there was a thick tree just to the rear of the car on the passenger side. There was a house on the passenger side as well which would cast a huge shadow in the mornings.  Directly on the passenger side was a clothesline with two posts.  On the driver’s side was a farmer’s field, and beyond that a small barn.  As you can see in this shot from 2013 the back door was left open which added another compositional hurdle to get over.  At the time that I shot this original picture, the sun was directly overhead for the most part, but just slightly to the West.  The nose of the car was in complete shadow causing some very deep blue tones to come out.  I had to clone out the clothesline on the passenger side as it was a distraction right in the blue sky when shot from behind.

My plan was to come back on a day with better clouds and a little more diffused light.  I was going to need definition in the sky as the available compositions all involved the sky.  I finally had the day that I had in mind in October of 2016.  I had been shooting a waterfall and found that the sun was starting to come through the clouds which prompted me to abandon that subject.  Since I was in the area, I thought I would come back and try the Pontiac once again.  I mean, I had gotten much better at dealing with the problems that I had faced on the first attempt.  I should be able to achieve something grand with this light.

Oh the Memories“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L, B+W Polarizer, Singh-Ray 3-Stop soft edge ND Grad

I knew that the best composition here was going to be from the back from knowledge that I achieved on the last attempt.  I knew that I had a real hard time cloning out the clothesline against the sky so I tried another trick to camouflage that element that I had thought about.  By placing the posts line with the tree, I would effectively remove that distraction without having to do any post processing.  The car was in the shadows from the house which I was afraid of which caused it to lose a lot of visual pop.  I also had to use an ND Grad to pull the exposure down from the sky to match it to the car.  I really liked the composition here, and the sky was great.  It was far and away better than the first attempt, but I just couldn’t get past the shadowed light on the car.  For me, that ruined the image.  My only other option was to wait until the sun went to the other side of the car, but then I would have a less than satisfactory background for the image.  While I was here, I did try some other compositions and actually found some useful light on the front of the car.

Quietly Resting“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, B+W Polarizer, Singh-Ray 2-Stop soft edge ND Grad

I much prefer shooting cars from the front as I think that captures the soul much better.  I was able to not only eliminate the visual distractions by shooting from the passenger front quarter, I was able to get the barn in the background.  Unfortunately, the barn was deeply obscured by the growth of the field.  I found that the shadows worked better here, and with the clouds going overhead, the field and distant barn were in similar light.  There was still a lot of blue in the image though from the sky above and I could only warm the scene so much to remove that cast.  The tall weed was a visual barrier that cut the image in two and alienated the barn even more.  The other tall weeds in the field didn’t really fit the image either.  I loved the concept of this composition, but the final product left a lot to be desired.  I was getting closer to what my expectation was, and that was a good thing.  The reality was, I wasn’t there yet.

So it was back to the mental drawing board again for this subject.  I needed to figure out a way to balance the light and keep drama in the sky.  In 2016, I had a bit of a resurgence in my photography and started to learn a lot of new tricks when it came to lighting of a scene.  I learned how to harness a completely overcast sky as long as there was a little bit of texture in it.  I found that I really had a lot of great luck with my Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer which had been a limited use filter for me until now.  By this time, it was becoming my main filter for just about anything I shot.  I was also coming into my own as a decay photographer and was really learning how to compose these images to best highlight the main subject.  It was another year before I would return to this Pontiac, but I was thinking that the trick would be a completely cloudy day as long as the clouds had texture.  That would keep the lighting very even, keep the scene a bit warmer, and still allow for texture in the sky.

A Rusty Streak“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 2-stop soft edge ND Grad

This made the third time I have really attempted a shoot with this car.  I have been by several times with the intentions of shooting it, but the lighting wasn’t right.  On this October day in 2017, I arrived to find that the sky had a nice texture to it and the clouds had some density.  The car was mostly in warm light, even though it was in the afternoon.  I immediately saw the benefit from shooting under these clouds.  The passenger side was in the shadows as the sun was fully to the driver’s side, but the clouds were making this a huge softbox and the shadows were greatly minimized.  I was also very fortunate in the actual landscape this time.  Despite me being here almost a year to the week later, the scenery had changed greatly.  I no longer had the rough weed texture in the field.  That had been replaced with a sea of yellow flowers which added a nice punch of color.  The big weed at the bumper had fallen over and was no longer a visual blockade.  The barn in the distance was also in clear view framed by two trees.

From history, I knew that the most effective composition was from the passenger side front quarter and that was where I set up.  Remember that clothesline?  Still there; I was shooting with the lens right against one of the poles.  In fact, I found myself tangled up in a spider’s web that I hadn’t seen when getting set up.  Instant Karate Master the minute that I noticed I was tangled up in it, but I digress.  I used that wonderful Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer to capture the vivid colors in the scene and to take advantage of the lighting.  In order to really pull in the details with the clouds, I added a 2-Stop ND Grad, also from Singh-Ray.  This was the combination that I was after for this car.  For the first time, I was able to capture the scene that I had been hoping for.  My reality finally met my expectation as a matter of fact.

It took three different photo sessions and countless trips out here before capturing the image that I had in mind from the start.  It also took all those times to learn the different compositions that would work.  This obviously was a huge investment in time for me considering the car is about 40 minutes from my house.  I could have just been satisfied with the original set from this car and left it at that, but I was never really satisfied with the outcome.  I wanted to get the shot that I had in mind, and I just had to figure out how to make that happen.  I will say that the learning process on this car has really helped me out in my photography so much.  I have learned about controlling light on these old cars, as well as how to shoot isolations of emblems.  This was one of the first successful attempts at capturing a shot of a hood ornament.  It also marked the first time I really incorporated the landscape with the car as well.  All of this time getting this shot has allowed me the ability to get other shots much quicker because of what I have learned from this one.

It also makes me very happy to know that others are appreciating this particular piece of mine.  It went on to win a first place ribbon at the Dixie Classic Fair just under a year later.  It would seem that going back really paid off in the long run.  That is what I want to convey here more than anything.  For subjects that are reasonably close, you have the opportunity to become experts at how to shoot them.  When you have a little bit of time to spare, and can’t go far, this is the time to go to those subjects once again and try different things with them.  You won’t always make better images, but you will learn something different each time you release the shutter.  I can also guarantee that you will improve on the shot over a period of time, so stick with it!

Going to Heaven“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L, B+W Polarizer, Singh-Ray 3-Stop soft edge ND Grad

Funny thing about this entry.  I have spent a lot of time talking about the many times I’ve been back out to this old Pontiac and how the lighting affected so much of the shot.  While I was reviewing this entry, and paying a bit of attention to Oh the Memories above, I really liked the composition on this shot, and for some reason it really hit me as an important image.  It is probably due to the passing of my Mom back in October, and the fact that I just heard that my Grandfather’s nextdoor neighbor for nearly 60 years just passed away this afternoon.  When looking at this image, I see a release from this world into a beautiful sky.  I see hope from hopelessness.  I see something beyond, and it just seemed to say something to me.  I wasn’t happy with the edit on that photograph though, and I knew that I had come a long way with my editing skills since 2016.  This was the year that I discovered Lightroom, and had been working with it for a few months by this point.  Now, I have over 2 years experience with this powerful program and thought that it might be a good time to revisit this image.

The reasons behind my choice to revisit this image is not nearly as important as the reason I chose to release this image in this entry.  You see, getting the shot is all about creating your best work with a particular subject.  Conditions change every time you shoot something, and as we have seen your experience plays a large part in being able to capture that perfect image.  However, you might hit that perfect formula for a composition with a certain set of elements that can never be repeated.  Part of the tools available to you for getting the shot include knowing what to do at the time of capture.  The other part of the equation is knowing what to do with that data after the capture.  This last example is designed to showcase just that idea.

I always keep all of my digital negatives that I deem good enough to be keepers.  This is an example of pulling out that digital negative and using my current editing process on.  You can see a huge difference in how this image looks even though it was the same starting point, and processed with the same software.  I could tell you the differences in the processing, but that would fill up a whole different blog entry.  However, I will say that I timed the evolution of this image and it came out to 9 minutes worth of editing.  I did everything in Lightroom, and worked on the exposure balance more than anything else.  The biggest difference in the images are thanks to local adjustments which I really enjoy with Lightroom.  There was a good deal of dodging and burning involved, and the use of some grad filters within the software.  I was very thankful that I started out with a high quality digital negative and that I kept it unmolested.  I was able to apply all of my current techniques on it and come out with an image that is just as high a quality as what I am shooting currently.

Keep that in mind if you are a photographer trying to get that shot.  Keep chasing the right conditions, but also be aware of what your editing techniques are at the time of the capture.  You never know what you might be capable of creating down the road with your well composed shot that fails to meet your expectations.  I have gone back and revisited several images over the years, and invariably I have come out with better examples of the final image.  This is probably one of my most improved images though, so it was a perfect addition in this entry.

I hope that this entry has given the photographers among us a little incentive to keep chasing their goals, and I hope that those that appreciate the end result of photography know a little more about what goes into creating that image you are looking at.  For me, this is a labor of love and something that I truly enjoy doing.  I love seeing the improvement over the years, and hope to continue to see improvements like we are seeing in this entry as the years continue to pass by.  I learn something new every time I press the button, and every time I process an image.

Thank you for joining me on this journey through getting that shot!  See you next month with another installment of Behind the Camera.