I’m not quite sure why articles like this make me feel as introspective as they do. The fact is, time, place and personality alone are sufficient to produce radically different photographs. The post covering my recent London wandering with Steve and Pascal, or last year’s DS Parisian meander deliver more than sufficient evidence of our diversity, despite being in exactly the same place, at the same time.
I found myself becoming an African very soon after leaving the UK; going to live and work in Johannesburg, back in the ‘70s. I wake when it gets light and go to sleep when the sun sets. As a result, it’s not unusual to find me champing at the bit not long after 04:00, trying to time my departure such that I get to my chosen sunrise shooting spot in time but not so early as to require half an hour waiting in the pre-dawn chill.
My chosen methodology is to prepare what I might want the evening before, pack it all in my Land Rover and then leave sufficient time in the morning to grab some strong coffee, deal with nature’s wants and be on the road in a leisurely half an hour.
Dawn and sunset in Africa is a fleeting event. Nature cares not that I’ve driven for an hour to photograph its rising, or setting splendour. In the morning, that can mean twenty minutes of good light before the histogram-killing sun appears. Evenings are a little more benign, with the post-setting sun delivering breathtaking skies for anything up to an hour.
Psychologically, I am also keenly aware that whatever muse has taken me under its wing, often oversleeps. Many is the morning I’ve left home and driven 20km/30km only to discover that I’d left my creative brain behind. There’s no time to head home and find it, as the morning light will have already grown into blinding African daylight and whatever opportunity I might have had is irrevocably lost.
An hour or so is still not long in the average photographer’s day, however. Perhaps there’s time for some street shooting?
Unless I’m travelling and wanting to see the city come awake, my early start is usually used for a good breakfast rather than driving to a chosen spot. Later, I like to head into the Winelands – often around Stellenbosch or Paarl, park and wander, usually completely aimlessly to catch whatever light, shadows, texture or human activity is on show.
My choice of dress is invariably dark. I carry an unbranded messenger bag usually with only a single camera, a couple of lenses and a spare battery. I like to find an interesting spot and dark clothing helps me to be much less visible, blend into the background. The unmarked bag doesn’t scream photographer and a choice of 35mm or 50mm lenses is often enough to make my choice of camera much less visible and threatening. Fuji’s X100 range is ideal for this purpose, but doesn’t offer interchangeable lenses.
I hang around, often replenishing my coffee-level. In minutes a not very promising location and a watchful eye, can deliver several previously unseen opportunities.
Another favourite is to reach a point where I feel a change of approach is needed and to turn around to retrace my steps. The places, shops, cafés I’ve just walked past now look completely different when approached from an alternative direction and fewer opportunities missed.
I’ve spent a long time wondering how I’d teach photography, help the aspiring shooter to see and feel the interesting images.
Well, it’s clear I’ll never be a teacher. I’d start with “Fill the viewfinder. Always.” “Unless you can’t, then get as bigger image as possible and live with the crop.”
That’s hardly teaching, save for poor technique.
How about me trying to explain the tiny frisson of excitement that accompanies a really interesting image in the viewfinder?
Nope. It works for me, but might be a million miles away from what you want – which is pretty much back where I started.
All the images here were shot on the SE Cape coast before about 08:30 (depending on the season), many several hours earlier.
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