Friday, September 10, 2010

What a Difference a Few Steps Make

Veterans Day 248, 2003

The other day I was walking out of a parking deck in downtown Norfolk. It’s a facility I use several times a month when I’m downtown for meetings.

My usual rule with parking decks is that I ride elevators up, but walk down. Don’t ask me about the wisdom of this rule. It’s probably exactly the opposite of what is good for me, cardiovascularly speaking. But it works for me. So, there.

This parking deck is seven or eight stories high. Some of the staircases are on the outside edges and have glass walls that run from the very top of the building down to the street. Others are in interior locations and are completely windowless.

On this particular morning, I took a staircase down that I’d never used before. That’s hardly worth writing about except that I had this minor epiphany about perspectives while I was there. Here I was using a parking deck I’ve probably used hundreds of times over the last twenty years, a place that for all its utilitarian plainness I thought I knew. And here I was, finding a whole new perspective about this place and its relationship to the streets and buildings around just by taking a different staircase.

Yes, that’s how dull, or easily amused, I can be at times.

The Southwest Staircase, 2010

But seriously, a simple change of perspective can make all the difference in the world. These pictures from a 2003 Veterans Day Parade at Virginia Beach are a good example. This was a parade that had more heart than content. There weren’t a lot of units on display. Sometimes the gaps between units were long enough to make you wonder whether the parade had ended. It was heavy on fire trucks, Boy Scout troops and, understandably, American Flags. The actual veterans taking part in this parade were a pretty forlorn looking bunch. The spectators were few, but they greeted the vets with respect and as much applause as they could muster.

I believe I’ve written here before about the challenge of photographing parades on Virginia Beach’s Atlantic Avenue. Parade participants process on a northwesterly axis, which puts the morning sun at their backs. The long shadows in Veterans Day 310, below, for example, give you an idea of how low the sun can be at the outset of most local parades. Getting good “front” shots requires careful positioning.

For this parade, I decided to get above street level for a higher perspective. The first parking deck I tried was only two stories high and didn’t offer an adequate view. The next deck down the street offered me a third floor perch. That’s not very high, as heights go. But I had jumped over a couple of security gates to get into the garage in the first place and worried that the whole parade might pass by completely if I tried to work my way up to the next level. So I made do with the perspective I had. It wasn’t spectacular. But it did make it possible to shoot a few overhead shots that captured scenes I wouldn’t have noticed from the street level perspective.

Veterans Day 310, 2003

Veterans Day 003, 2003


  1. Those are all great shots! I like your rule, incidentally. (Actually, after a day of lugging a heavy bag all over creation up and down stairs when no elevators were available, I think I like your rule a lot.)

  2. Unreal! I got a lesson in perspective this morning while trying to capture a flock of geese taking off from a nearby pond!

    BTW, I had a scare in that very same parking structure in Norfolk back in June. I drove in and back out at a crawl, praying the entire time that I wouldn't hear the roof rack on my Ford Expedition scraping concrete off the ceiling.

  3. The shadows make the images so much more meaningful I think. Metaphorical, even....