I’m a talker, yup, I’m one of those people that dares to talk to you on an elevator or while you’re washing your hands in the men’s room. I will strike up a conversation with complete strangers just about anywhere. My wife Ann will tell you that sometimes she wishes I came with an off button. That I have a bad case of diarrhea mouth. Her favorite saying is “Silence is golden.” It is odd though, she only seems to share that tidbit of information with me…over and over, humm.
One thing I have discovered through the years is that people are interesting and with a little prodding, are more than willing to tell you their story. Now, with me being a freelance photographer you can imagine how this “talent” comes in handy. Well, I think of it as a talent but Ann clearly puts it in the annoying habit column. In any case, it really helps me get the story behind the pictures. Sometimes interesting, sometimes sad, sometimes downright weird, but in every case it helps me add bricks to my tower of knowledge.
Trust Me, Trucks Don’t Float
There are many times when a photo op drops right in your lap, and this was indeed one of those magical days.
I was just getting ready to leave the house to run some errands, when I noticed a group of emergency vehicles parked along the main road. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but in this case, it just might bring home the bacon. Therefore, I grabbed my camera and headed over to find out what was causing all the excitement.
Having learned from many a past oops, my “ya don’t gotta hit me with a brick” instinct kicked in and I yelled over to the group of police officers “Is it okay if I come over there?” In this case, it was a resounding “SURE”. Believe it or not, sometimes the answer is a very abrupt “NO” either because they do not want their picture taken or it is a sealed crime scene.
I took a quick look around and having noticed nothing out of the ordinary asked, “What’s going on?” I immediately knew I had missed something when everyone got a “are you STUPID” look on their faces. Pointing toward the canal, the officer in charge said “That!” Oops, how in the world could I have missed a large red truck roof in the middle of the canal?
Trying to recover my dignity, I asked “Okay if I snap some pictures?” “Sure, just don’t make us look bad”. Ugh…is it just my imagination or are things really not going well? Smiling, I indicated that unlike the local news media photographers, I always make my subjects look good…that is unless they give me a hard time. That caused everyone to laugh and from that point on things went smoothly.
We chatted while the officers waited for a tow truck to arrive. I learned that a member of the police dive team had already verified the vehicle was empty. The diver also stated that he saw evidence in the truck that led him to believe it had been intentionally driven into the canal to cover up a crime.
When the tow truck finally arrived, we stood back and watched as they maneuvered into position to remove the submerged vehicle from the canal. I was about to ask how they were going to hook the cable to the truck when a towing company employee appeared in a full set of scuba gear. Boy, am I glad I did not ask that question.
Since I had never seen an operation like this before, I will have to admit that it was fascinating to watch and each time they progressed to the next stage, it would generate a whole host of questions in my mind. Needless to say, I was very careful about which ones I asked since I certainly did not want to revert to my earlier “are you STUPID” status.
Once they had successfully hoisted the truck back on dry land, the officers took over and started searching the vehicle.
A well-placed chunk of concrete block lying on the gas pedal made it obvious that the truck was indeed scuttled. Further inspection of the vehicle revealed that it had been stripped of all personal items. This fact led the officers to surmise the owner had turned the truck into a submarine in an apparent attempt to get out from under his monthly payments. However, at this point, it was all speculation and someone else would have to make that determination.
Grabbing the Brass Ring
Whenever I am out in a vehicle, my camera equipment is usually sitting right by my side. Such is the life of a “freelancer”, I never know when a golden opportunity will present itself and I sure do not want to be saying, “Man I wish I had my camera with me.”
During those golden opportunities, when Ann is along, she is patient with me and puts up with my antics…well, most of the time. She will be by my side if I need help, but usually waits in our vehicle to “Stay out of the way” as she puts it. In reality, I do not think she likes having her picture taken and does not want to take a chance of that happening. What makes her think I would do something like that is beyond me.
Now, as I said, Ann tolerates my antics. She puts up with me being away from our vehicle for long periods while I fill my memory card with images. However, if she sees me “chewing the fat” with someone, the clock starts ticking. Precisely eight minutes and one second into my conversation, she will yank my “electronic leash” and my cell phone will ring with “YOUR BOSS” displayed in the caller ID window. Like Pavlov’s dog, I react to the stimulus. I know if I do not end the conversation, I will indeed wind up in the doghouse.
I truly enjoy being a freelance photographer, but unlike most jobs, it can be an emotional rollercoaster. At any given time, you never know what will show up in your viewfinder.
There are times when I feel totally helpless, unable to do anything to alter the end result of a tragic event that is unfolding in front of my camera lens. During those times, you have to ignore your human side to do something, anything, to help the people, even though you know there is absolutely nothing you can do to change the outcome.
However, one would have to be stone cold not to be emotionally overcome while photographing a family as they watch their home go up in smoke. Seeing the sadness and worry behind their blank stare. Yes, they were lucky that everyone made it to safety unharmed and even the family pet was saved. Nevertheless, they had gone from eating dinner to homeless in a blink of an eye. The place they called home was now a mass of smoke, fire, and charred timbers.
The emotional rollercoaster continued as I was photographing a woman who lost control of her car while negotiating a curve and the compassion shown by the firefighters as they treated her cuts and bruises then stayed with her, providing water to drink and a shoulder to lean on while she waited for the police to arrive.
Witnessing and photographing firefighters valiantly trying to extinguish a trailer fire. Determined to keep the fire from spreading to adjacent units in the tightly packed trailer park.
Seeing the frustration in the eyes of fire crews as they are forced to stand by and watch the “fire beast” turn nature’s beauty into a charred wasteland because there were no access roads and both the fireboat and helicopter were in use at other emergencies.
Sadly, this is real life. Ann and I have witnessed many tragic events through the years, and captured an archive full of dramatic images.
Then there are the “pressure” shots where you only have one chance to get the picture…no retakes.
Although I enjoyed being referred to as the “Official Team Photographer” for a local high school wrestling program, the title came with a lot of responsibility. I was constantly worrying about letting the team down. Was I able to capture images of every wrestler in every match? What about the referee acknowledging the winner. How about crowd shots and what about the award ceremony…the pressure built and built.
By now, you are probably asking, “Well, why did you do it?” I did it for the smile that appeared on a wrestlers face when he talked about his pictures from the previous meet, the proud way they said, “this is our team photographer” to the other teams at a meet, and the way they made me feel like I am a part of the team. That is why I did it. I may not have been paid money, but they allowed me to share in their happiness, their sadness, and their anger. They made me a member of their exclusive family and that made me a very wealthy man.
I am happy to say that not every golden opportunity is “doom and gloom” or a “pressure” situation. In fact an overwhelming amount can be placed in the “Wow, that was neat” column. Well, to be totally honest, not every picture is a “WOW” either, some are quite “blah” and thus wind up in the “Ho-Hum” column.
Then are the “aaah” shots like when my nephew and his family came for a visit. My nephew’s son was at that “cutesy” curious about everything stage and he was easy to photograph since he liked having his picture taken. This was also a bad thing since his uncle, the photographer, filled many memory cards with his images. Oh, and of course those very same “cutesy” pictures will haunt him forever, which will probably eliminate me from ever being considered his favorite uncle.
Then there are the best golden opportunities of all, the “improvised” pictures. Those are the times when I get to wing it, shoot anything that moves or looks like it might move, heck I will even shoot it if it does not move. Anything that will make a great picture winds up in my memory card. No doom and gloom, no pressure, just a lot of fun and pure enjoyment.
I never know what kind of images I will come away when I set out on a “photo safari”. That is what makes them so much fun.
Most challenging are the night shots. That’s because of, well, the darkness...duh. Trying to set your camera when you left your flashlight at home can be a real nightmare. In the end though, night shots tend to be the most dramatic and produce lots of oohs and aahs.
The “I wish” shots take the most patience. Things like animals, reptiles, birds, you know, the neat things that not everyone gets to see on a regular basis. I call them “I wish” shots, because that is what I am constantly saying to myself…“I wish you would at least look at me”, “I wish you would stop scratching”, and the most common one “Dagummit, I wish you would hold still.” When I get to that stage, it starts downhill and the next words that come out are usually ones that would have gotten my mouth washed out when I was a kid.
Needless to say, when I snapped this picture of an American Crocodile the only sound you could hear was the pounding of my heart…loudly…from fear. She was eleven feet long and looking straight at me. Oh, and trust me, that was not a smile on her face. In all my travels, this is the only one of that endangered species I have ever come across.
Unlike most raccoons, the ones that live on Sanibel Island, Florida, are not nocturnal. It is quite common to see them out during daylight hours when the tide is low.
This particular raccoon was a good twenty feet up in a strangler fig tree snacking on the ripe fruit. Well, at least he was until I pointed my camera at him. My guess is he wanted to make sure I got his good side. They can also be seen out on the mud flats during low tide where they feed on crustaceans.
Then there are the inevitable bird pictures. You knew they would show up eventually.
I always come home from one of our “photo safaris” with some bird images. There are plenty to choose from in our neck of the woods and it does not hurt to have an excellent spotter along with you. Ann is great at spotting the ones I miss…which means she is usually pretty busy.
Unfortunately, some bird species are in real trouble and their numbers are dwindling. That list of species keeps getting longer and longer. The fortunate thing is federal, state, and local governments have enacted laws to protect those very species. However, it still comes down to everyone working to insure all species survive. Humans and “critters” can coexist through reasonable land management that does not over burden landowners but still protects the “critters”.
Here are some shots of birds that are not often seen by the general public. A Florida burrowing owl (species of special concern), a Florida scrub jay (threatened species), a roseate spoonbill, and for good measure, the majestic American bald eagle (threatened species).
Birds are definitely an “I wish” subject, sometimes it can be a real challenge getting the shot you want.
Since I am hearing some yawns, maybe it is time to try to wind up my ramblings.
People having fun in the sun are always good for some interesting shots. The fast-paced crowd seems to have a need for speed and their way of enjoying a day on the open water is riding on a powerful little jet ski. They have become a common sight, but it is still fun to watch them zipping around.
If you are not up to zipping along on a jet ski, you can try your hand at sailing. You cannot beat it for quiet slow-paced water travel. Oh, and did I mention that you actually can sit back and enjoy the scenery…my kind of boating. Arrr matey, the wind in yer sails and a star…er, a…GPS ta guide ya.
And then there’s the beach, lay back, relax, and let the cares of the day wash away with the waves…aaah, the carefree life of a beach bum.
I always like to throw in some odd pictures just to make people say “What the…huh?” Just some odds and ends that at the time, I thought would make a neat picture. Like the little kid with an ice cream cone and drips running down their hand and a messy face, they just screamed out…“TAKE MY PICTURE!”
You just cannot beat living in paradise, especially if you are a photographer. Sunshine everyday means many opportunities to capture awesome images and then at the end of the day, there is always a golden prize. Well, maybe not during the “rainy season”, but most days.
Now, I know some of you are scratching your heads and thinking “Wait a minute, the title says ‘A Picture and a Thousand Words’ there’s way more than one picture and a whole lot more than a thousand words in this story.” Well, I really didn’t think you would be happy with just one picture and as for the words, hey, I am a talker, so did you really think I could tell a story in a thousand words? Consider it a picture and a thousand words plus a bonus for being so nice and taking the time to read my story.
Another great adventure comes to an end. It doesn’t get any better than this…well, unless you’re talking about mom’s apple pie on a summer afternoon. That might just be a step up from this story.
I guess as we travel the road of life, we can never be really sure which way the road will turn…one thing’s for certain though, if you’re holding your camera backwards every picture you take will be a self-portrait.
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