Jan 23 2008

[Good Guys…0 | Bad Guys…1]

by andrew

Suspicious Sunset

This was the picture I was taking after bailing off my bike ride home from the metro today when a lady not-quite shouted across the road “Who are you and why are you taking pictures?” About a year ago, when I decided I was going to get serious about pursuing this photography thing that I was enjoying so much, I knew I had a LOT to learn, but I never would have imagined the persecution that would come with it. Ok, I’m being dramatic, because if I had my druthers I’d hardly interact with people… ever… well, there are a couple exceptions, but you get the idea.

I tried to inject a little excitement into my reaction this time – “The sunset! I’m a photographer and I’m just taking a picture of the sunset. Do you want to see?” I approached her and could tell she was starting to let her guard down a little. We chatted for a bit, I showed her the shot, and she explained why she was suspicious even though I had already guessed as much. Apparently that “private” neighborhood (which had the misfortune of being directly under that sunset at that moment) had seen its share of suspicious characters driving through taking pictures of people’s property. I told her I had no problem with her asking what I was doing and said I was sorry to cause her any concern. I hope I left her with the impression that people taking pictures aren’t necessarily up to no good.

It’s not just the terrorists. Other evil morons are picking away at that fabric of a reasonable society through their stupidity, selfishness, and greed. I never blame the people who challenge me when I’m taking photos in public. It’s not their fault. I might hold a grudge for two minutes if they’re rude about it, but I’m always aware that the blame really falls at the feet of those who abuse our freedoms; providing the impetus for authorities to take away (and the populous to surrender) our normal expectancy of independence and openness in our own society. How much sense does it make to give away something so that it can be protected!!!??? Hello? It’s all fine and dandy that our freedom is protected, but when it doesn’t even belong to us any more what good does it do?

I photograph in DC a lot, so these kind of challenges are something I experience often (I’m a little too interested in things other than the monuments to blend in with the tourists). I find it incredibly ironic that some people get completely bent out of shape because I like to take pictures of interesting things in public places when their picture was taken a million times that day by the bastions of security cameras peppering the city buildings and streets. Just look around some time when you’re in a big city: overhangs, street corners, building walls, every dark half-ball shaped thing the size of a grapefruit is a camera, and of course there’s the older, more obvious long brick-shaped ones. Shouldn’t we be objecting to having our picture constantly taken all the time like that? Oh, right, but it’s for our protection. And not for commercial use anyway.

Do I hate security cameras? No. I’m making a point. We are just as quick to throw the rights of others away as we are to throw our own rights away. Sometimes I’m surprised by how quickly that is, that’s all I’m saying. Then again, what if I was a bad guy and Joe Citizen never reported me? There are always so many sides to everything. I guess I just never would have thought that the steepest learning curve in photography would be the people skills (especially when people are the last thing I’m interested in photographing). I want to learn how help people see in ways they’ve never seen before. I’m getting a lot of practice anyway… one day maybe I’ll be able to turn a confrontation into another person’s excitement at opening their eyes wider to the world around them just as easily as I pointed my camera at the sky and pressed the shutter release tonight.

Jan 22 2008

Freezing with Geese

by andrew

With temperatures in the 20s (and a bit colder at night) over the weekend, I knew yesterday would dawn with some potentially interesting ice to shoot. There’s a marsh just down the road, and while it is not a remarkable landscape, it always feels like it could yield some interesting photos at any given moment. I reluctantly dragged myself out of bed at 6:30 am on a day off and noted with some annoyance that I was already 30 minutes too late to get any pre-sunrise colors already unfolding.

It was 18 degrees and colder with windchill. I pulled on some crazy arctic boots that I had all but forgotten about until the night before. Scrounging for some cold weather gear I found them burried in a bin in our “storage room.” They had been issued to me in Minot, North Dakota during my Air Force days, and they kick some serious butt… water tight with thick wool liners, they feel like they weigh 10 lbs each.

Sure enough, the marsh was frozen over quite nicely. I was originally intending to explore the ice with my camera during the shifting colors of early light, but the Canada Geese quickly became my primary pursuit when I saw the scene they presented. I spent the next hour and a half inching closer bit by bit, sliding my tripod across the shallow ice, trying to squeeze evey last bit of distance out of my longest lens that maxes out at 300mm. I would have never even tried this without the boots, because I knew I was bound to break through in spots, and sure enough I did, but they kept me warm and dry.

As it was, the best photo I have to show for it doesn’t even look like I got that close. The geese were on to me. No matter how slow I went or how often I paused, they had a way of inching further away and settling back down again. I was almost in pain for want of a 2x extender or a decent 600mm (or better yet, both) to adequately capture the amazing sight. But as it was, I was able to keep from spooking them completely by taking it easy, watching and listening for their “warning” mode calls, and stopping when they noticed me until they were comfortable with my new position.

What amazed me was the sight of these geese, sleeping on the ice in well below freezing temperatures. And as if that wasn’t enough – and this is what I really wanted to capture but couldn’t with my short range – their feathers were covered with a significant layer of frost. They didn’t seem to mind much though. No wonder we make blankets out of their down.

Ice Geese