If you are a photographer, you’ve been there before. You’re walking down the street (or through a field or up a cliff or through your living room following your cat to get picture #1,493 of it this week) and you see the perfect shot developing. You have the right lens on the camera, the settings are perfect, all you have to do is get in the best position and click the shutter. The mirror (if you have an SLR) will go up, the sensor will capture all those billions of photons of light on the million pixels it encases and you will have the shot. And not just a shot. THE shot. It may not be your single greatest shot ever, but the stars have aligned for you to capture it. You can’t possibly believe your good fortune. All of a sudden…
If you’re in a field, a flock of birds suddenly take flight, scaring both you and the two deer grazing peacefully. If you’re walking up that cliff, your foot slips just as you press the shutter and you have a picture of a blurry sky. If you’re chasing your cat…I don’t know, what happens when you are chasing your cat?…oh you probably trip over one of the other twenty-five cats you have. Next thing you know, you don’t have the shot, the world that just seemed so perfect now seems so cruel, and you are cursing everything from the birds to the rocks to the other cats to that guy this morning who cut you off and made you three seconds getting here or else you would have had the shot. And you spend the next couple hours trying to get that shot again. But, you are worried it may have been a once in a lifetime thing.
Well, for me, this was the case on our New York trip. Early on Friday morning with the wife still sleeping from our flight in the night before, I braved the cold to head out and get some New York morning rush hour traffic, both vehicle and pedestrian. I thought, I’m going to start out and shoot some candids, something that I don’t do a whole lot of. The 70-200mm f2.8 goes on, 16-35mm f4 goes in the bag, and off I go. I get a few shots of people waiting for the bus and taxi, a business man running across the street, and a lady in a red hat making a phone call. Interesting, but kind of “Eh”. I turn back towards Times Square and I see them. Four guys. Walking down the sidewalk. Almost equidistance from one another. The first, second and fourth guy are all in stride, with the third being on an opposite step. I see a crosswalk coming up. A legendary rock band’s album pops into my head with the exact same set up, even with the third person being on an opposite stride. ( I feel compelled to mention this is the Beatles and the Abbey Road album for those not picking up the reference). Oh, I got this. I am ready. I have about half a block until they reach the cross walk to get in the best shooting position, which is, yep, right where I was already standing. Perfect.
Check the settings. Ok, ISO? 200. Aperture? 2.8. Shutter speed? 1/150? Too dark. 1/100? Not quite. 1/80? There it is. Focal length at about 100mm. Spot focusing on the third guy. They’ve spaced out from each other a bit from their original positions, but that’s ok, I can live with that. First guy in the crosswalk…second…third…fourth…just a few more steps…and…
“Oops, sorry man, didn’t see you were taking a picture.”
Just as I’m about to press the shutter, I get bumped, ever so slightly, by someone who didn’t see me standing with a D700 and monster of a 70-200mm 2.8 elsn up to my face. The Active VRII lens worked great and doesn’t allow the whole image to blur, and the bump was ever so slight, that the focal point ended up just to the right of the third guy, on someone way in the back of the scene. The four crosswalk guys? Totally out of focus. I think, “I’ll catch them at the next crosswalk”. Great idea. Oh, except for one of them turns left at the street corner, walking down the street. I couldn’t believe it. I even had the third guy on his right step, just like Paul McCartney in the album cover, with the other three being on their left step. I mill around for a few minutes or so to see if I can recreate the moment, but no such luck.
I know, I know, there are things I could have done better. A higher aperture to keep more of the scene in focus and not give such a shallow depth of field. Switched to manual focus so I wouldn’t have autofocused to the point behind them. Looked around to make sure there was no one coming. I thought I had all my bases covered. Not this time. But, I thought , I still really like the shot so I decided, against my better judgment, post a picture that is technically not that great. For the processing, I tried to give it a cinematic feel. Lowered overall saturation, added a vibrance layer, added an S curve to give it a bit more pop, gave it just a bit of grain and put it in a pillbox.
I know it’s weird for a photographer to post a picture that he obviously, for lack of a better term, messed up on, but at least for today, that’s ok by me.