I thought I would talk about a difficult shot today. This fish fountain is behind St. Peter’s Catholic church and alongside an urban pocket park called “The Green” in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina. There are some tall structures nearby to cast shadows, but it’s near the western edge of the downtown area so the sunsets are not obscured by a lot of high rise buildings. All in all, not the easiest subject to photograph. Usually the light is too harsh or the shadows too deep. I’ve shot this feature several times in the past and the lighting was a concern every time. Even so, I always felt an interesting shot was there, but my results were never up to expectation. Sometimes all that can be done is to keep going back until the right combination presents itself. There are a lot of factors to consider, the right time of year, the right sun angle, even the right cloud cover. After several missed attempts to get the shot, you have to consider another idea. The reason you’re not getting the shot you want might have nothing at all to do with external factors. What about the idea that your own creative vision or skill is not up to the challenge?
Sometimes I go back to earlier attempts and wonder “what was I thinking?” Instead of beating myself up I think of it as a positive factor. I may not be the world’s best photographer, but at least I see some of the previous issues for what they are, dumb mistakes. That’s progress. It means I’m learning something.
On this trip to the fish fountain I saw some things differently. I had set up the camera in a spot where the fish were in a symmetrical composition. The center fish lined up with the background building. Then I moved the center of the composition slightly right in order to keep everything a bit off balance. Then I realized that just by moving back a few feet I could get the fish’s lips to touch the side of the building, in the graphic sense. Normally a tangent with two major graphic elements of the composition is to be avoided at all costs. In this case I decided to embrace it. Breaking the rules can be fun, go for it. It’s only electrons on a memory card after all.
The water doesn’t run continuously, there’s a whole pattern of different jets. But the light stayed good long enough to go through a complete cycle, so it was just a matter of clicking the shutter at the right time. The two women in the background looking up and pointing, that was just dumb luck. Makes the picture a little more interesting, and makes picking the exposure to print a no-brainer.
Processing took some fine tuning. Have to expect that with such a dramatic exposure range. Pulling some luminosity out of the sky, and bringing up the shadows just a bit was mostly done in ACR. A few adjustment layers were also used, mostly for fine tuning the contrast levels and curves. The out of camera white balance was a bit blue, to be expected given the natural light, so I warmed it with a filter. That last touch gave the image a much nicer tonal quality. Little things count.
It’s a good feeling to get a better shot after some unsuccessful attempts. At least I’m not making the same mistakes. What mistakes were made are entirely new ones. That’s progress.