The Shot

In photojournalism there is a beloved idea: it’s called the decisive moment. It’s the one magical capture where every piece of the story comes together in one frame that tells the complete story. The absolute master of this is photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. He said, “The Moment! Once you miss it, it’s gone forever!”

I have seldom seen a truly decisive moment. But in every photo shoot, either for newspapers or weddings or families or portraits, I am looking for something magical. I want one shot that really stands out. One shot where I can feel it down to my toes. And the calm and certainty that comes from knowing, “I got it!”

Last weekend I went to photograph a wedding in St. Louis. I had never visited that city before, so I didn’t have a list of favorite known places I wanted to go to for photos. But I knew I wanted to use the Gateway Arch in at least one photograph. I wanted the iconic. After the wedding ceremony and all the family group photos we realized we had just under two hours until the reception. Lucky for me, I had an adventurous bride and groom, so when I suggested that we take off and just go see if we (and Siri) could find the Arch, they were up for it.

Stepping outside the church, it was immediately obvious we wouldn’t have much time. The storm clouds were gathering in fast. As we drove the skies continued to darken and as we neared the structure we realized the entire area was under construction. Nothing ruins scenic photographs like chain link fences. But I knew if we could just get those elements out of the frame the shot would work.

This is my first image of the Gateway Arch. I photographed this as we parked illegally shooting almost straight up at the sky out of the back seat window of their SUV.

Gateway Arch St Louis

The Gateway Arch, St. Louis. 25 June 2016

This gets rid of all the junk at the bottom, but how to do this with the bride and groom? I’ve decided to share a few SOC (Straight Out [of] Camera) images that show my process for getting the shot at this wedding. There are some beautiful images from this day, but for me, this is the ONE.

So, here is the finished version. This is how I envisioned it in my mind as I was shooting it. I knew I needed to balance the light between the couple and the clouds. I knew I could darken the sky down to get the drama I wanted. And this first test shot above, that let me know that the Arch would have this slightly golden tone against the dark grey sky. The images that follow this one are SOC until we get to the start of my editing process.

Gateway Arch St. Louis Wedding

The Shot.

Got to have flash. I need light on the couple and I hate that tree, it's messing up my clean lines.

Got to have flash. I need light on the couple and I hate that tree, it’s messing up my clean lines.

Got to have flash. I need light on the couple and I hate that tree, it’s messing up my clean lines. So many people seem to think if you don’t like something in the photograph you just “photoshop” it out. The best photoshop in the world is the photographer behind the camera. Move. So many times a person can change their location, their angle… Use your feet to help you eliminate detracting elements rather than trying to “fix it” in photoshop.

I made them stand on a bench for these. The goal was to get above the messy construction on the ground and focus on them and the sky. This shot is closer, but I hate the lamp post.

I made them stand on a bench for these. The goal was to get above the messy construction on the ground and focus on them and the sky. This shot is closer, but I hate the lamp posts.

Not quite… I failed to give the top of the Arch enough space around it.

This is it. The SOC version of the Shot.

This is it. The SOC version of the Shot. Notice all the crap at the bottom? That’s what I needed to get rid of most.

First adjustment. I edit for the sky I want. And then use the history tool in photoshop to taken information from this and paint it in.

First adjustment. I edit for the sky I want. And then use the history tool in photoshop to taken information from this and paint it in.

The couple with the darkened sky using the history tool.

The couple with the darkened sky using the history tool. I also used the paint brush tool and jet black to delete cars and other noise at the bottom of the frame.

fRoccio_Wedding_0713_3

Use curves and then history tool to lighten the couple.

Gateway Arch St. Louis Wedding

The Shot. The last adjustment was minor. Their skin seemed a bit yellow to me, so I used hue/saturation in photoshop to make the reds, more red and less yellow.

I have so many more photos from this day that I am working on. Beautiful moments. Great dancing at the reception! (I love to photograph dancers!) An amazing ceremony at a Maronite Catholic Church with a crowning ceremony the likes of which I have never seen before. But when I think back on this wedding, this is the image that will come to mind for me. The soldier and his bride beneath the Gateway Arch. I’ll think back on this, and smile…

This was a very good day.

Congratulations to Robert and Ashley. May God bless your lives.

If you are interested in more of my work you can find my portfolio at: www.brendaahearn.com

Advertisements

Photos that Linger

Back to school has arrived and with it, the calls for senior portraits.

I love these. When someone opens up, gives you their trust, shows you something authentic…then you can have a lot of fun and make some photos that matter, photos that linger in the memory.

I recently did a senior portrait session that I have no doubt will be one I remember for the rest of my life. I laughed and laughed and had so much fun. And I took a photo that makes me smile every time I think of it.

Here it is: Zach and Ross running away wearing nothing but their boots and cowboy hats.
fbzach_and_ross5476One of the reasons I love this photo is the story I see in it. For me, it’s the dog that makes this photo. They look so guilty. Like they’ve been up to no good and the farmer has set his dog after them. In reality, that is Zach’s dog, and would never hurt them.

If you have studied photography at all you have doubtless come across the expression the “decisive moment.” It is a phrase coined by famed photographer HCB (Henri Cartier-Bresson who died in 2004). The decisive moment is the goal of every photographer. The one single image that captures the complete story. It needs no cutline, no caption, no quotes. It is whole unto itself and even if you know nothing about the situation, you see the image and simply understand.

My photography mentor (and one of my best friends to this day), Tim Webb, was the first person to introduce me to the decisive moment. Tim’s view was informed, not just through photographs from HCB and others, but through art and even comics.
rockwellThere are two examples that spring to mind from Tim’s office. On one wall of his office he had a poster of the painting of a newsroom by Norman Rockwell. There is so much going on in the picture. I always liked the smile on the face of the girl doing the typing. This says community newspaper. Or rather, it is the idealized version of it. And to this day, when I think of a newsroom, this image comes to mind (in spite of the many technological advances). The things is, even if you have never been in a newsroom, you can still catch the gist of what is going on here. It stands alone and needs no words to define it. Tim also liked The Far Side comics and I remember a coffee mug that had a favored spot on his desk. It never failed to make me smile. This is perfect. No words, no thought boxes, no special effects. The only word is Missile and even that doesn’t really need to be there. These images capture a complete story. farside_missileThat is how I feel about this photo of Zach and Ross. It’s complete. It doesn’t need a title or caption.
fbSanders_Van_Luven4638bWhen I look back at this session it still amazes me how much difference there is between photographing one teenager and two. One person can get very stiff, very rapidly. They are the sole subject, the only “target” and the pressure that results can make a person uneasy. As soon as you add a second person, the whole environment changes.

fbSanders_Van_Luven4396This is even more true than I would have expected with teen guys. It turns out that what you can talk one of them into is highly limited, what you can talk two of them into is completely unpredictable. These guys have been friends since they were small and Zach’s mom had a memory of a photo of the boys when they were babies, boots and hats and not a whole lot else. She really wanted to “update” that image. I remember thinking, never gonna happen.

The Moms share a laugh during the senior session.

The Moms share a laugh during the senior session.

These are teen boys. They are not going to go streaking across an open field with a professional female photographer no matter how much you offer to bribe them. Turns out, I was wrong. For $75 a piece the boys agreed and the image was made. I was almost laughing too hard to make the photo. I am so glad this one turned out. I am happy with the photos from the day and have heard that they are too. But for me, I will always come back to this one story telling image and smile. I’ve been a professional photographer now for 14 years.  I have done a lot of work that I am proud of, but among the stacks and stacks and endless stacks of images I’ve made only a few really stay with me. Those precious few, the ones that linger, they are part of what makes being photographer worthwhile. I still smile when I think of image, and hope you will as well.

I’m going to end this a few of the other shots from this session. I will always be grateful for the people photography brings into my life. People, and smiles.
fbSanders_Van_Luven4428

fbSanders_Van_Luven4549

fbSanders_Van_Luven4624b

fbSanders_Van_Luven4677

fbSanders_Van_Luven4689b

fbSanders_Van_Luven4898

fbSanders_Van_Luven4919

fbSanders_Van_Luven5011

fbSanders_Van_Luven5068b

fbSanders_Van_Luven5125

fbSanders_Van_Luven5373b