Cre­ative paths

Keep­ing your eyes open for ways to turn the un­o­rig­i­nal into the unique is a tough skill that needs con­stant work

NPhoto - - CONTENTS -

Michael ex­plains how a lit­tle bit of re­search will pay div­i­dends and re­veal a new world of pho­to­graphic op­por­tu­ni­ties

keep­ing com­pany with last month’s Stranger Things is the kind of in­ves­ti­ga­tion that might not at first seem to have much to do with cre­ativ­ity, but it can make or break a shot. Many people treat cre­ativ­ity as mainly be­ing about flashes of in­spi­ra­tion, even strokes of ge­nius, and yes, it re­ally does hap­pen like that. Just not al­ways. In ev­ery cre­ative field, from paint­ing to film-mak­ing, the back­ground work not only pre­pares the method, it of­ten ac­tively cre­ates it.

Re­ally fa­mous places can be painful to pho­to­graph, be­cause you start by know­ing that, more or less, anything you try has been shot be­fore. Ev­ery an­gle cov­ered, in ev­ery light, so what’s the point of re­pro­duc­ing what count­less other people have done be­fore?

It’s a pe­cu­liar and frus­trat­ing prob­lem, be­cause fa­mous places are usu­ally fa­mous for good rea­son. On the other hand, there’s the sneak­ing thought that there just might be some new way out of the prob­lem. If it’s your first time in front of them, there’s likely to be a lot to ad­mire and to want to cap­ture with the cam­era. More­over, as in this case, it may be part of your job to shoot it. The Lin­coln Me­mo­rial has fea­tured end­lessly in more im­ages and films than are worth count­ing. Yet I still had to make a pho­to­graph for a book I’d been com­mis­sioned to shoot on Wash­ing­ton DC. It didn’t have to be an ar­chi­tec­tural shot; it could be anything rec­og­niz­able that would go with a writ­ten de­scrip­tion of the story be­hind the build­ing and the over-fa­mous statue of Abra­ham Lin­coln.

This was a com­mis­sion, so there was no ques­tion of just avoid­ing the shoot and go­ing on to some­thing else. This is where due dili­gence comes in: the an­swer in cases like this usu­ally lies in re­search. Be­cause iconic sites like the Eif­fel Tower, the Statue of Lib­erty and this have been cov­ered from ev­ery con­ceiv­able view­point, any new im­age is likely to owe its freshness to a par­tic­u­lar mo­ment in time. So, what hap­pens in or around the Lin­coln Me­mo­rial? Any spe­cial events com­ing up? The prob­lem with those is that they’re date-stamped, which is not so good if you want the pic­ture to be, more or less, time­less. Anything typ­i­cal or reg­u­lar? This means find­ing the right people to ask in the

right depart­ment, which just takes some work. There’s a lit­tle trick when it comes to re­search­ing struc­tures and mon­u­ments, and that’s main­te­nance. Ev­ery one is main­tained by some depart­ment, and that can some­times mean the pos­si­bil­ity of get­ting spe­cial ac­cess, but in any case means that these people, ev­ery so of­ten, do some­thing to it.

That sug­gests a photo op. It turned out that at that time, once a week, the statue was cleaned. Very for­tu­nately, this hap­pened early in the morn­ing, which in summer meant at­trac­tive light­ing (the statue faces east) and hardly any tourists get­ting in the way. At a stroke, my prob­lem was solved. All I needed to do was to turn up and be guar­an­teed some sort of pic­ture that would be dif­fer­ent from most. I didn’t even need to ap­ply for any kind of per­mis­sion or en­try.

That’s not quite the end of the story, be­cause it’s one thing to know that a lit­tle event will take place at such-and­such a time, it’s an­other to trans­late that

into a pic­ture that cap­tures a mo­ment. There’s some an­tic­i­pa­tion re­quired, and some nim­ble re­ac­tion to get the best out of it. I mean, clean­ing’s not high on the list of fas­ci­nat­ing hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties. But in this case it would cer­tainly in­volve some­one clam­ber­ing up the statue, and the simple scale dif­fer­ence be­tween a man and the stone Lin­coln ought to of­fer a pos­si­bil­ity, which it in­deed did.

In the end, it nar­rowed down to a very few work­able mo­ments. In fact, to be rig­or­ous, it nar­rowed down to just one best shot which, no sur­prise, has the brush on Lin­coln’s nose. This hap­pened at the mo­ment I was fram­ing it as a hor­i­zon­tal.

Clean­ing the Lin­coln Me­mo­rial, Wash­ing­ton DC

In the shoot­ing se­quence, I had to ex­plore the best view­point and fram­ing for mak­ing the strong­est com­bi­na­tion of the two el­e­ments: statue and cleaner

Our glo­be­trot­ting Con­trib­u­tor at Large, renowned pho­tog­ra­pher and pro­lific au­thor Michael Free­man, presents a month-by-month mas­ter­class that’s exclusive toN-photo, in which he ex­plores his tried-and-tested paths to more cre­ative pho­tog­ra­phy. Michael has pub­lished dozens of books on pho­tog­ra­phy, in­clud­ing the best­selling Per­fect Ex­po­sure.

If you en­joy this ar­ti­cle and want to learn more, there are 50 more paths to be dis­cov­ered in Michael’s new book Fifty Paths to Cre­ative Pho­tog­ra­phy (NB: all 50 are dif­fer­ent from those that will be fea­tured here in the mag­a­zine)

Find­ing a fresh way of shoot­ing the Lin­coln statue is a chal­lenge to the imag­i­na­tion. Two ear­lier at­tempts were the statue alone, and then when the fig­ure of a child ap­peared in frame

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