Wednesday, March 25, 2009

J Is For Judgement

Never Let The Weather Deter You

Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON



Weather is an all-important factor for any photographer. I'm okay with the notion of getting soaked outdoors for the sake of a good shot, but when you have to use your camera in extremely murky light, you really have to think outside the square.

In those conditions, there's no point using your camera just as you would in bright light and then shaking your head and scrapping every shot when the results are sub-standard. So you just take a different approach and try and shoot your subject with a different emphasis.

If this first shot (and the others that follow it) make you look twice, then I guess I achieved my goal. Simply by looking at the first frame, were you able to correctly identify what I've shot?

Just for the record, it's a US Air Force F-16 Falcon. But this is the story of why you should never despair in unfriendly weather.


Sometimes you have to make a snap decision. You make the judgement call and then you wonder whether you should have taken a different option instead. A couple of weeks ago, an extraneous factor got in the way of my plans to get to the 2009 Australian International Air Show.

I literally had a five-minute window of opportunity to decide whether I would go (chronically late) that evening, or whether I would hold off and go the next morning, giving myself plenty of leisure time at the show, shooting in perfect light.

Friday evening? Or Saturday morning? Friday? Saturday? The weather had changed rapidly on Friday evening and I knew it was going to be very cloudy and hazy by the time I made the long journey to Avalon airport. If I waited until the next day, I would have many hours to explore the show.

If I persisted on Friday, I ran the risk of arriving there at dusk, in unfriendly light. If I chose to postpone my plans and go on Saturday, I would be able to shoot several hundred images in daylight.


Let me put this into context for you. The show is only held every two years, so if for some reason I missed it, I would have to wait until 2011 for the next opportunity.

Accordingly, I made my decision and pressed on. Friday evening it had to be. I caught a V/Line train from Southern Cross station and during the train journey to Avalon, I watched with growing dismay as the quality of light started to deteriorate.

I reached into my camera bag to remove the 18-125mm all-purpose lens that I normally use. Off it came, to be swiftly replaced by my 70-300mm lens. As the last vestiges of blue sky vanished, to be replaced by 360-degree haze, I knew that I would have to rely on fairly tight compositions instead of wide, generous frames of expensive flying machines from every era.


So there I was at the show, in a light drizzle in the swiftly-gathering dusk, trying to shoot an sleek grey supersonic fighter under a glowering grey sky with very little variance in colour. No sunlight. No contrasts. No shadows. No easy answers. So I ducked around the back of the huge open-air enclosure and opted to embrace the fact that this fighter was basically the same colour as the sky.

I decided to shoot the tightest frames possible. And I opted to shoot each composition as a monochrome. As you know, I do not use filters, nor do I edit my photographs in any way. But because I embraced the challenge, I ended up with a set of half-a-dozen or so images that I'll always be proud of.

Oh, by the way, I'm glad I stuck out my neck and went on Friday. The long-awaited rain bucketed down on the weekend.


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42 comments:

spacedlaw said...

It helps if you have a reasonable water tight camera (which you do).

GrampsJim said...

My "J" or judgement is you were totally right. The monochromatic tightly cropped shots are cool looking. Now if the builder of the jets would contract a few 4x5 foot or meters size prints from you. Cool huh?

Hestias Gem said...

Thanks for the meal.

imac said...

I guess you could say "J is for Jumping for Joy" David.

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Perseverance wins the race...and you, my friend, are the winner! J-ust perfect photos, I think!

Janet said...

Gramps has the right idea. Those are great shots.

Lanny said...

Lovely color. See that color a lot here.

Indrani said...

F-16! Too cool!

Daryl said...

Excellent J .. and it makes me hum Peter, Paul & Mary's Leavin' on a Jetplane .. wonderful photos .. it pays to be quick on the trigger

Nessa said...

Very futuristic looking.

Moannie said...

It is all just lumps of metal, until you get on the case...loved your descriptions of the day and you shall I shant I state of mind.

lakeviewer said...

Another lesson in judgement and 'light'

I wonder, what determines a shot that shows parts only? Was that the scope of the picture, to catch the details one never sees?

RuneE said...

I have learned one more lesson - and it was much needed. Thank you!

PS Especially since rain is a common visitor around here...

introspection said...

I would have never dreamt of trying any other emphasis. I have no J for judgement I guess. I am definitely learning. The next time I take picture I am sure it will be a much better one. Thanks for all the lessons, though this one is far too PRO for a novice like me.
Great pictures, and with the narratives, they look very special..!

Maggie May said...

Bet you would have liked to go up in one if the opportunity had arisen!

Kelly H-Y said...

Those are great shots ... and great advice to us amateur photographers trying to learn more about the craft!

Tyra in Vaxholm said...

I wish I were there...great photos!

Sylvia K said...

Way cool shot as always! So Jump for Joy! Thanks, David, great post!

kadermo said...

A very interesting story and pictures. Thank you.

Mojo said...

You were probably better served going Friday evening in any case. Even if the weather had been perfect on Saturday, bright sunlight often creates as many problems as it solves -- or more. I had the exact opposite problem last Saturday at a classic car show. Plenty of glaring, harsh sunshine even though I held off going until late afternoon (so late, in fact that I missed out on opportunities for several of the cars that had already departed by the time I arrived).

Exact opposite problem, exactly the same solution. In fact, I'll read your mind and post a few that exemplify what I'm talking about. It'll make a good counterpoint.

cheshire wife said...

Brilliant shots! It just goes to show that even grey clouds can have a silver lining.

Digital Flower Pictures said...

You did well with these shots.

My D700 is weather and dust sealed which so far has worked well. The low light/no noise performance of the camera is fantastic. I have to admit I am hooked on fast lenses (the 1.8 and 2.8 ones) for shooting in crummy light.

Expat mum said...

Great shots and more great tips to pass on to the Queenager. Thanks.

Mojo said...

Done!
Photographically Challenged: Opposite Problem, Same Solution

Leslie: said...

Thoroughly enjoyed these shots and glad you used your judgement well. The photos are phenom!

Sandi McBride said...

So glad that you made the right decision, David..perhaps someone gave you a nudge in the right direction? Your shots are always so precise and clear...
Sandi

anthonynorth said...

Great shots and explanation. As for me, I recognised the F-16 straight away. I'm ex-RAF so good at aircraft recognition. And I certainly recognise that kite as one of the best ever made.

Eddie Bluelights said...

You backed the right horse, David, but what a dilemma.

Babooshka said...

The British weather and light is not condusive for photogrpahy, on the otherhand you learn to be creative. J for that old photography chesnut too Juxtaposition.

Eddie Bluelights said...

Thank you for calling in tonight David and for your very kind comments. I am greatly encouraged and will attempt to raise the bar a bit higher. Now Eddie Greenlights!

Sarah Laurence said...

I loved following your photographic journey and enjoyed these unusual shots!

I go through those calculations every week, deciding when to go out and shoot for my blog. I've occasionally taken a day off writing for a photography hike when the light/tide/weather was perfect. I've never regretted it.

I'm intrigued that you don't edit or filter. Why not? Do you like the purist challenge or are you short on time?

I use a polarizing filter at the beach and a UV filter for every day to protect my lens. I edit images in lightroom but just to get it to look like it truly was (ie correct my mistakes!) or to change the image shape to something like a square or long rectangle for fun. I was a darkroom photographer before digital photography so manipulation comes naturally, but I'd prefer to spend time getting the shot just right instead of on darkroom/lightroom manipulations. Some shots, like the lead one on tomorrow's post, were "perfect" as shot and needed no manipulations.

Sorry, I'm babbling on but so few care about photography in its gory detail. It was interesting learning about your methods.

Rinkly Rimes said...

My judgement would never be good enough I'm afraid! Your final shot looks like a robot!

spiCes said...

you made me look twice alright:)
and oh oh oh! i am drooling over a 7-300mm lens for days! now i am more convinced!:)

Catherine said...

some good photographic tips here...thanks..

Brit' Gal Sarah said...

Thank you for the really great lesson and tips. I love all these shots and think they are far more challenging to the mind and interesting shot close-up.

BTW can you guess why we will be spending this weekend on Aussie time and not our own? ;-)

Tumblewords: said...

Excellent work!!

Paula Scott said...

Smart call on your part in spite of the two year wait!
Myself? In addition to what you did? I'd pull out the macro and take even tighter shots with no reference as to what my subject matter is.
Great shots, though! They are abstractions in themselves. The monochrome worked well too.

Grace and Bradley said...

Always a good read, hold my attention from beginning to the end. And, very nice photos too.

Jay said...

A valuable lesson for us all - thank you!

I kind of like overcast days because the colours come out more intense, but raining? Now, that's more difficult.

Janie said...

Your judgement was joyfully justified with these perfect shots. Thanks for sharing your thought process and methods.

Horus Jay said...

Nicely done F-16 shots.I have done simular photos in the past at airshows with 16s and others.

Dragonstar said...

I love odd angles and shapes, particularly in monochrome. Great "J".