A large part of inspiration is patience.

A few years back we were doing an annual report for a California company that built and managed water and wastewater treatment plants across the southern United States.  It was a wacky trip that started in Houston and rolled over to Gulfport and Biloxi, Miss. and then off to California It was our first annual report done entirely with digital cameras.  I used two of the Fuji S2 cameras but I snuck along a little Leica M6 with a sampling of lenses.  Just enough to get the job done....Just in case.

Right before I headed to the airport my favorite camera pusher, Ian, called me.  The Nikon 12-24mm lens for DX cameras had just come in, he had one on hold for me.  Did I want it?  You bet.  Those were the days when there were very few wide choices for cropped frame cameras and most wide angles designed for film looked like crap on the full frame cameras.  Good thing I stopped by because 80% of the images in that year's annual report probably came from that one optic.

But this particular blog post doesn't have much to do with lenses at all.  It's more about patience.  We got into Biloxi around noon and headed to our location.  The sun was direct, the plant looked boring and the sun showed off every inch of rust or wear. I shot the stuff on the list but none of it was more than technically good snapshots.  We were going to call it a day and head back to the hotel, have a few drinks and a good dinner but something kept us there. 

I finally said, to the art director and the direct client, "You guys go on ahead and I'll catch up with you after the sun sets."  But they were troopers and stuck with me.  As the sun started to go down the clouds and the sky got more and more interesting.  We kept going back to stuff we'd shot before and re-shooting and re-shooting.  The plant was quiet and there were few people around.  I used my clients as models to show scale and add a human component.

We knew we were getting better stuff as the light lunged for the horizon.  The intensity of the light dropped and the color temperature dropped as well, giving the landscape a golden glow for a short time.  We went back and started shooting the same stuff again.  We knew by now what angles would look good.

When the sun dropped down over the horizon the light became omni-directional, soft as premium toilet paper and the color of the light started it's gentle shift through the register.  Now things were fun. The year before we'd looked at black and white Polaroids as they came sliding out of their wrappings.  This year we hovered around the little screen on the back "oohing and awing" over the colors and the increasingly gentle tones. 

Fifteen or twenty minutes later the light changed again. We were enjoying the wonderful reflections in the waste water tanks.  And we shot another round.  We didn't think it could get much better but for some reason I still can't fathom we all silently agreed to stay a little longer and see what happened. It was so un-corporate and so cool creative.  I couldn't imagine how it would have looked on a spreadsheet schedule.  Something like this probably: "Shoot WW treatment plant, wait 15 minutes, repeat.  Wait fifteen minutes, repeat." And somewhere a bean counting lawyer would intone heartlessly, "Are we paying for all these repeats?"

But then the sun and the afterglow disappeared altogether and we discovered....long exposures.  We spent another hour or so shooting all the images we'd shot before glowing in blue against the warm yellows of the plants lights.  It was a rare act on all sides of patience.  We could have tossed on a polarizing filter and pounded out shots of the plant, right on schedule and have been back to our hotel by 5:15 pm to watch CNN, have a few glasses of wine and tell tall tales over an expense account dinner.  But it seemed like the goddess of patience came down and dusted us with a magic wand until we achieved what it was we really wanted.  

I shot maybe fifteen different scenes after the sun went down.  And I can't really say that it was "my" creative prowess that served us that evening.  We worked together as a creative team.  Each of us spotting some great angle or some coincidence of color and tone that worked just right. I just translated the collaborative energy into digital files.

What's the reward for patience? How about being inspired again and again by what could, by most counts, be considered a boring subject?  How about savoring the calmness of the moment? How about seeing what your camera will do with changing light colors and intensities. 

When the job wrapped up I got a phone call.  The client wanted to know how well the images would print large.  I said I'd do a test.  Now I know that no professional photographer seems confident enough to do any sort of enlargement these days with anything but a 24 or 36 megapixel shot but we were working with Fuji's insane (but remarkable) interpolated 12 megapixel files that in reality were coming off a six megapixel sensor.  I sent the images off to the professional lab and they printed them at 24 by 36 inches on a LightJet printer.  The enlargments were amazing.  Just amazing.  No appreciable noise at our usual ISO 100 or 200 settings and endless color and tone.

They say that patience is a virtue.  But I think it is its own reward.  And I would say that the first step on the road to patience is a beautiful tripod and a low ISO.  Taking time to let the camera soak in all the photons it wants in a leisurely and civilized way.  

I think we need to be on guard against impatience.  You can't hurry the creative process of children and photographers any more than you can hurry nature.



Rev. Heng Sure said...

Fabulous essay containing genuine insights for children, photographers and Buddhist meditators. Story-telling at its best.

Wes said...

Excellent column.

Col said...

Now I know why I keep returning to your blog! Top quality stuff!!

atmtx said...

Wonderful story. The kind of "urban architecture" shots that I like to take, although a beautiful model certainly has a different kind of attraction.

ohnostudio said...

Alas my 14-24 landed in a lake (long story).

Beautiful images. I'm one of this people who can see beauty in a water treatment plant ;-)

Condor said...

One message here: shoot at base ISO and use a tripod. Even if it is only to slow the process down, get the tripod out. Why do we think we want to shoot landscapes like it was street shooting, at ISO1600? Galen Rowell used to say that: if you want your 35mm shots to look like 8x10, treat the process like it was 8x10.

Craig Yuill said...

A number of years ago I shot almost exclusively in 4x5 format, shooting mostly ISO 100 film. I had no choice but to slow down and be deliberate in how I composed, set exposure, etc. I think it helped me tremendously. Once again, Kirk, you've created a post full of great insight and advice. Once again, thanks.

Sigfrid Lundberg said...

These shots are just wonderful!

Don Parsons said...

Right on brother!

Gerry Morgan said...

I entirely agree that patience is its own reward. And I also have a wastewater client and seek to make their industrial equipment look beautiful. I've not had the opportunity to shoot at sunset yet but I hope that opportunity comes. Thank you for this post, Kirk -- it is inspiring!

Low Budget Dave said...

Thank you for writing this. One of the reasons I keep coming back to this blog is for insights into the thought process of taking good pictures. All my pictures are for friends and family, but the lessons of good photography translate from water treatment plants to family vacations.

This is like a photography workshop, only I didn't have to sit in an uncomfortable hotel chair.

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