Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry
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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Spring Springing


PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY - A book I read a few years ago advised, "When you see a good shot, grab it. It won't be there when you come back."

Most of the time I shoot places, not people. It might seem I should have much leisure to catch the images I like. Those who shoot people must be quick to catch the telling gesture, but the landscape, in most people's eyes, just sits there. However, there may be a thousand tiny factors that lead to distinguishing a "composition," from the infinity of random "snapshots," that lie about wherever one points the camera. Most of the time the "compositions," only emerge in the course of my scouting and scoping walks. I was reminded this past week of just how transient some of those compositions may be. Even when the shot lies beneath a totally clear sky, and one can return at the same time of day, the shot of yesterday may be gone tomorrow.

It's not that the bicycle is likely to move any time soon. It's probably been sitting and rusting there for a dozen years. I shot this image early yesterday morning, but my reason for rising at 5:15 to catch the morning sun was to re-shoot two other images I had taken a few days earlier at the same time in the morning. Both were striking compositions, well worth the effort of re-tracking them. I'd even spent time the afternoon before trying to locate and mark the exact spots from which they had been taken. I didn't expect to be able to shoot in the afternoon what had been successful at sunrise, but I wanted to be able to find the location quickly the next morning as morning light is always fleeting. I re-scouted the locations with some difficulty, but I was reasonably certain I had found them.

These were long shots through my telephoto lens that compressed elements separated by as much as 800 or 900 feet. The shots would have been beautiful had they not been technically flawed. Whether wind or carelessness caused the blurriness, I couldn't use them that way, and they struck me as sufficiently unusual sightings that they were worth stalking a second time. What I had not expected was that in the few intervening days the thin spring leafing would change everything.

The chief culprits were two background trees. They shouldn't really have mattered; they blocked little. One had just leafed. The other that had frail green leaves before, now was covered with white flowers. However, suddenly the two trees claimed undo focus and a few details they blocked turned out to be small but necessary points of interest. Had I not seen them previously there would have been nothing to grab my eye; the compositions, so stunning a few days earlier, were completely gone. I snapped as best I could being certain there was no shake, but back at my computer the new shots were failures. This is why it is so essential to blank the mind of expectations and always shoot at the edge of the moment.

Lesson relearned: When you see a good shot, grab it. It won't be there when you come back. That's why I spent 30 minutes of my precious sunrise shoot refining this shot of the great silos atop True Mountain.