Monday, June 27, 2011

Another Thing I've Learned

There is No Off Season, 2011

My father liked golf—he played for more than sixty years—because he thought it was a sport you could play for decades and still learn something about the more you played. The seemingly endless variations on approach, stance, swing and so forth kept him coming back.

Photography’s the same way. You can get certain mechanical basics down and still learn something about style and composition because no two moments in the great game of life are exactly alike. The landscape changes. The light and shadows change. People move. I was talking with a friend the other day about shooting at sunrise and we were noting how everything changes every ten or fifteen seconds as the son starts to approach and cross the horizon.

I don’t want to ascribe too much wisdom to this observation or to myself. One of the things that brings me back to photography and the same physical places repeatedly is the infinite ways of seeing them and portraying them in a photograph.

So what is that thing I’ve learned?

It’s this. As those of you who follow my Flickr, Facebook or Twitter streams will know, I’ve been taking pictures the last month or so of people on the Boardwalk that runs along the oceanfront at Virginia Beach. It didn’t occur to me until this past Saturday that the key to the shots I’ve liked most so far is that they were all taken when the Boardwalk was mobbed with people.

Since May there has been a Latin Festival, a national sand soccer competition, the Boardwalk Art Show and assorted walks, runs and smaller events. Each one attracts thousands—sometimes tens of thousands—of people to a roughly mile-long stretch of the Boardwalk.

Take thousands of people, cram them into a 15’-wide strand of Boardwalk left over after the tents and booths are erected and you have the makings of very high density. What I’ve learned is that the kind of street photography I’ve been doing lately requires this density. There is No Off Season, for example, was shot during the Boardwalk Art Show.

When I went down to walk on the Boardwalk this past Saturday afternoon, there was no big event going on. Thousands of people were on the beach and the Boardwalk. But they were spread out with a lot of space between them. My attempts to get up close—what I’m calling close-enough-to-read-the-tattoo-close—were thwarted because I couldn’t do it stealthily. I needed the crush and noise of people around me—close and tight around me—to be able move up close enough to people to get the shots I wanted. Without that crush, I was too conspicuous. Without that noise, my camera was distracting. Fairies Watching Her Back, below, shows how open the landscape was.

Fairies Watching Her Back, 2011

I could, and did ask people if I could photograph their tattoos. But to be honest I didn’t like the results. They were too predictable, too lacking in spontaneity.

I’m going to have to work on this. Like golf, you can haul your camera around for decades and still be amazed by all there is still to learn.


  1. My dad always said the only day you don't learn something is the day you weren't paying attention. I've only been at it a couple of years and still haven't learned all there is to know about my equipment let alone photography. At least it's making retirement entertaining.

  2. I have a feeling one could spend forever learning all the nuances of what makes a fascinating photograph. I love these beach images.