Well… so finally I’m getting around to saying a little something about this photo, which seems to have taken on a life of its own on Flickr.com, having somehow attained, and held, the rank of #1 most “interesting” photo on Flickr Explore for July 17, 2010. (See the end of this post for a note on Flickr Explore, if you’re interested.)
A lot of photography is not about gear or technique. It’s about timing and vision. That is, it’s about putting yourself in a good spot to see something from an interesting vantage point when the light and other conditions are good, and being prepared to literally capture that moment when it is given to you and not worrying about whether or not your gear might get damaged in the process.
This happened to me last Friday night.
After having spent a full day in Matt Kloskowski’s Adobe Lightroom 3 seminar in Boston and shlepping my camera bag around all day, I headed over to Cambridge for a light meal and a couple of malted beverages at the Cambridge Brewing Company, timing it so that I would head over to the Charles River near the MIT campus about 40 minutes before dusk.
The weather looked a little iffy, though, as what had been a horrendously hot and muggy day was rapidly turning into a stormy evening with a huge bank of thunderstorms flowing in quickly from the west.
Luckily, I had my iPhone with me, and I fired up the Weather Bug app to have a look at where the storm front was on the radar, and I could literally see it in real time as it was moving in toward Cambridge and Boston.
I didn’t hesitate or even think of turning around and heading home. In fact, I saw the storm as an opportunity to get some interesting photos. So I hurried down to the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge, which connects Cambridge and Boston, set up my tripod and camera, and starting shooting the bridge, the river, the Boston skyline, the storm front, the Citgo sign by Fenway Park, and anything else I could see.
Thunder and lightning seemed to be moving in disturbingly close, but I was focused and barely noticed. I also reassured myself (probably falsely) that my tripod was carbon fiber rather than metal so perhaps I was marginally safer standing out in the open during a thunderstorm and snapping pictures.
In any event, I’m glad I stuck it out, as this is one of the shots I got — with that storm front sitting heavily on the top of the frame, the gray skyline in the distance, and all of the energy of the traffic moving over the bridge. I loved all of the different lines that were converging in the frame and especially how the bottom of the storm cloud matched up with the top of the street sign.
And of course capturing light trails is something I’m always trying to perfect, and in this instance I got lucky that a bus just happened to be crossing the bridge, so I ended up with multiple levels of trails, which I think adds a lot more energy to the shot.
In any case, I didn’t get too wet, I didn’t get struck by lightning, and my camera gear only got a bit of water on it and seems to have survived the storm.
In the end, it’s only gear — not even close to being as important as the image. I can always replace the gear, but I can never replace the moment.
(Side note on Flickr Explore: the “interestingness” ranking on Flickr is something of a mystery to me. Briefly, it is an automated algorithm that rates and ranks Flickr photos based on factors such as how many people are viewing it and how often, how many people are sharing it and how often, how many people are marking it as a favorite, how many people are commenting on it, whether it is being linked to from outside of Flickr, plus a bunch of other mysterious factors of which I am certain that utter randomness is one. It’s not a popularity contest, and it is not trying to rate the photo’s overall quality — i.e., it’s not trying to say that these photos are the “best” — but rather it is just trying to give people a sense of photos that are “interesting.” It’s all a bit murky to me, and sometimes seems quite random, but there it is. Given that around 5000 photos are uploaded to Flickr every minute and there are over 4 billion photos already there, I guess that anything that brings attention to one of my photos is a good thing, opaque as the whole process might be.)