When in Doubt, Just Take the Picture

How many times have you seen an interesting scene and hesitated because you were sure something wouldn’t come out right?  Or maybe the person might not want their picture taken.  Or because the perfect lens for that shot is in your bag, or (heaven forbid) at home.  Or maybe because it felt like pulling out the camera was too much effort.

The other morning, on the way to work, I was watching for opportunities for street portraits.  The sun was low and bright, and I was thinking about backlit compositions.  My camera was hanging at my right hip (aside: I highly recommend BlackRapid straps – I’ve used an RS-4 exclusively for about a year, and will probably never go back to neck straps). I was really looking more than shooting that day.

Then, while crossing Washington St. under the El, I saw the sun peeking through the buildings and thought to myself that the tracks would make a neat silhouette against the sunny sky.  I even had a decent lens on the camera for the shot, as long as I could get enough of the world in the frame.  The Nikon 50mm f/1.8 makes lovely 14-pointed starbursts out of point light sources (which is actually one reason I particularly love it for night photography) – which would probably do interesting things with the sun in the frame.  But on a crop body (Nikon D90), it can be a little too long for cityscapes.

There was no time for careful composition, or even to stop in the middle of the street – the light was about to change, and I had to get to a meeting.  I almost skipped it entirely. But instead, something made me reach down and, moving the camera only enough to turn it from “upside-down” landscape orientation (this is how the BlackRapid straps work – they hang the camera at your hip by the tripod socket) to a vertical composition, and pressed the shutter.  I knew autofocus was set to a single-point (but I didn’t know which one), so with my luck, I figured it would try (unsuccessfully) to focus on the sky between the buildings.  I had no earthly idea what aperture I had used last, but knew the camera was in aperture-priority mode.


The fact that the shutter fired told me that the camera had at least focused successfully on something.  I shrugged, promptly forgot that I’d even taken the picture, and kept walking.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the picture again when I next swept that memory card onto my computer. Mostly, it’s just straight out of camera.

Wells St in The Morning

I did straighten it in Lightroom, but only by fraction of a degree, and only because I’m kind of picky about these kinds of pictures (i.e. with buildings and stuff in them) being straight.  I added a tiny bit of black clipping to get rid of some of the detail in the silhouetted parts of the image (which I found distracting).  And I converted it to black and white – while it was mostly monochrome anyway because of the level of contrast, I found the lens flare in the lower left a little bothersome.

The aperture had been set to f/6.3 because I had been hunting for fairly close-range street portraits that morning (rather unsuccessfully, I might add).  Because nothing was particularly close to the camera, enough of the photo was acceptably in focus to keep from grabbing the viewer’s attention.

The lesson here is to go ahead and take the photo.  Unless it’s really nasty weather, my camera is out of the bag most days anyway as I walk across downtown Chicago.  Now that we’re out of the dark of winter, I can even shoot on the way back to the train in the afternoons, too.  So there’s really no excuse.

Get out there and shoot.  Shoot when you’re out there anyway. Which is what I should probably be doing instead of sitting in front of a computer, isn’t it?

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