Photo Exploration: The Quick and the Image

There is mak­ing pho­tog­ra­phy in a con­trolled stu­dio, then there is open air street pho­tog­ra­phy, and there is stand­ing in line wait­ing to get food with a num­ber of oth­er hangry* peo­ple and try­ing to get a pho­to with­out (a) hold­ing up the line and (b) being awful­ly con­spic­u­ous. The piece in this post was tak­en in Cen­tral Gro­cery, on Decatur in New Orleans. I know there are less touristy places, with pos­si­bly tasti­er muf­fulet­ta’s, than Cen­tral Gro­cery — but when you are in the Quar­ter any­way and hun­gry, there is noth­ing better.

Counter, Central Grocery

Counter, Cen­tral Gro­cery HP5+ at 800, f/4 at 1/125

I want­ed to make a pho­to of the scene at the counter. The stacks and stacks of oils, meats, labels, and sig­nage was incred­i­bly attrac­tive for a com­po­si­tion. So how to do it? Points in my favor — it was day­light, so I could shoot with a decent depth of field with­out hav­ing to shoot total­ly wide open. The line moved hor­i­zon­tal­ly with the sub­ject mat­ter, so I was stay­ing at rough­ly the same dis­tance away from the scene (instead of a line that went straight up to the counter), and the counter was con­stant­ly abuzz with peo­ple and con­ver­sa­tion. Points against — the line moved quick­ly, so not much time for fid­dling with set­tings. It was crowd­ed, so I had to make the pho­to while pos­si­bly being jos­tled and bumped.

First, decid­ing what lens to use. I was using my Canon A‑1, car­ry­ing my 50mm f/1.8 and 28mm f/2.8 lens­es. I tried the 28, but it was too wide for the area — it felt dis­tort­ed and pos­si­bly would have lost the feel­ing of a tight, inte­grat­ed space. So with the 50mm, I was able to nar­row the scene a lit­tle more selec­tive­ly. Next step: meter­ing! I tried Av mode and made a guess of f/5.6, which metered at 1/60 of a sec­ond. Good, but not quite good enough — when peo­ple are involved in a live scene, I gen­er­al­ly want 1/100 or high­er. So f/4 and 1/125sec was set man­u­al­ly. The last step was focus­ing. As men­tioned, I was able to go on and focus before hand since the line was mov­ing par­al­lel to the counter. I focused on the big MUFFULETTA sign, and as I moved through the line, wait­ed to be right in front of the cashier. Once there, I framed the image, wait­ed a moment for the com­po­si­tion to come through and trig­gered the frame.

If the scene had­n’t appeared for me, I prob­a­bly would have tried again when the next cus­tomers went up. If that still did­n’t work, I would have gone for as bare a scene as pos­si­ble. Maybe with just the cashier wait­ing on the next cus­tomer. I don’t know — hard to say what I would have done. But I knew from when I entered the Gro­cery (and was imme­di­ate­ly in line) that I want­ed to make a pho­to, and spend­ing thir­ty sec­onds set­ting up the cam­era gave me the space to con­sid­er the composition.

The moral, if there is one here, is that IF you think a pho­to might be pos­si­ble, you MUST be set­up. For some cam­eras, that sim­ply means tak­ing off the lens cap. For oth­ers, it is a bit more work. Regard­less, be pre­pared and be alert. It’s a beau­ti­ful world out there ready to be pho­tographed, but only if you are ready.

* Hungry + Angry. I learned this vocabulary when Theo turned 18 months and people would say “Oh, he’s just hangry” at the meltdowns.