Look out for a final flourish
Anticipate in the first instance, then follow through – and leave a little room for luck...
Another inducement to keep going is when you anticipate the makings of a shot. Anticipation, however, can take you only so far, for two reasons. First, you may not have got it right, and the situation doesn’t unfold as you thought. Second, whatever you anticipate is not going to be as interesting as the unexpected, so you still need some luck. That’s where the psychology of shooting can be a little curious. Time and again, there’s the temptation to stop short, to be satisfied with an image that ticks just most of the boxes, not all. The culprit, as I see it, is simply being too decisive. Sounds contrary? Decisiveness can indeed be a fault in shooting, because it tends to close you off to chance details and happenings. It may feel good to say to yourself “Okay, I just nailed it”, but that might mean you stop too soon.
The location here was the Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican, and the morning light was lovely: shafts of sunlight pouring down. It’s another tourist destination of course, although there weren’t too many people around at the time of morning this shot was taken. Here’s how the shot, and my thinking, unfolded:
I spot two nuns in conversation, and it soon becomes obvious that they’ve just met and are going to talk for a while. I move left to get closer, then realize that the lighting would be a lot better if they were in sunlight, backlit, because the light would then bounce up from the white marble floor and be a little special. It doesn’t look like they’re going to move, but the shadow line is moving, slowly, and if they talk long enough, they’ll be fully lit. I move a bit to prepare for this, and position the lit doorway behind them.
At this point a tourist wanders right into my line of view and stays there, and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. I just hope she gets tired of waiting and gives up before the two nuns finish talking. It takes a full two minutes for her to move on. The good thing is, by now the shaft of sunlight is striking the two nuns from behind.
I move a little further to the left to shift the distant bright doorway and get a cleaner background, and that’s it for the light and framing. All I need now is some animation, some gesture, and there are several small ones. Are they enough? They’re attractive, but not special. I pin my hopes on the moment of saying goodbye. What will they do, and how will they move? I get a handshake, which is better than nothing.
Then the taller nun crosses left, which I’m not expecting or wanting, so it’s not going to work for me – a pity. But wait: a few seconds later, the smaller nun turns to wave, and that’s it. Actually two kinds of ‘it’: one is that her raised arm is perfectly within the door frame; the other, which is even better, is that her right foot hovers just off the ground. Luck, which is very often the ingredient you hope for at times like this, was only on my side because I kept going to the end. All in all it took eight minutes.
The sequence went like this (left to right): 1. The nuns as first seen 2. New camera position, with the doorway behind the nuns 3. A two-minute hiatus as a tourist hovers slap bang in the middle of my composition 4. The shadow line just clears the couple 5. Saying goodbye 6. They cross each other
As the shadow line moved slowly left to backlight the two nuns, I also moved left, and closer, to frame the shot and wait for the moment that they said goodbye, at which point they crossed each other The final moment of a conversation in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome