Look Silly (And Create Great Photos)

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“Rail Tunnel” by D. Travis North

 I have a confession to make.  I sometimes worry about what other people – people I don’t even know – think about my actions.  If I had to pinpoint the biggest stumbling block I had to overcome as a photographer, it would be learning to not care about what others thought.

In recent years, I am finally able to say that most of the time, I can put these thoughts aside and focus on composing a great shot.  I still hesitate sometimes – but I inevitably overcome my fears.  For all the shots I missed, I had to get over them.  Every great shot resulting from an embarrassing moment has made this much easier.  At this point, I can truthfully say that I have essentially kicked this thing.  And it’s a good thing too – for the type of photography that I love to shoot, I’m in the public a lot.  I am around people all the time.  With the type of photography that I do, I would have had to overcome that fear in order to become a good photographer.

I will share with you two true stories…

A Story of Failure

Several years ago, I was witness to a potentially incredible photo – a small family of cats trying to cross Market Street in Philadelphia during rush hour.  For those of you not familiar with Philadelphia, Market Street is one of the main streets – it leads right up to City Hall – and it’s incredibly busy.  I of course snapped some shots, but the angle was all wrong, and the shots turned out poorly.  What I should have done was lay on the ground and shoot through the traffic – get down to the cats’ eye level and really capture the emotion, the danger and the panic in the cats’ eyes.  I seriously considered it at the time.  But all that went through my head was that we’re in the middle of the city, a very busy part of town, I’m going to look like a goofball.  I’m going to look nuts.  I didn’t lay down.  I didn’t capture the cats the right way.  And I didn’t get the shot that I wanted.  That would have been a portfolio shot – I might have even been able to sell a few prints.  But I missed the opportunity because I was so concerned about what other people would think.  All of the shots I did get went to the trash – they weren’t worth anything.  And for the record, the cats made it across the street safely.

A Story of Victory

Fast forward to more current times.  I have (for the most part) gotten over that fear.  I have disciplined myself to care less about those around me.  And as such, I’ve been able to make some great photo discoveries.  Take the shot shown here, “Rail Tunnel”, for example.  Though it may not look as such, this is a fairly busy train station.  This tunnel extends underground below the train tracks.  It is incredibly narrow and uncomfortable.  Train riders are constantly moving through this tunnel and it can get crowded.  I had to wait for several minutes for the tunnel to clear out before taking some preliminary shots (not this one).  I would set up for a shot, and then I’d have to get out of the way of travelers.  I tried several angles, but none were as pleasing.  Then I had the idea to capture the tunnel from this angle, very close to the arch of the ceiling.  I’m not that tall, I had to stand on a crate to do it.  I had to borrow the crate from the cafe upstairs and then I had to set it up in the tunnel, and you wouldn’t believe the looks I was getting.  First of all, I had to build up the courage to borrow the crate.  Imagine asking someone to borrow a box to stand on so that you can take a photograph.  The nice young man let me borrow it…but he hesitated.  I wonder about what thoughts went through his head.  I felt as though he were trying to figure out what my real goal was.  Was I telling the truth?  Or did I have an ulterior motive?  Maybe I had something up my sleeve, or maybe it was a conspiracy to hurt him in some way.  Perhaps I was I setting up to rob the store?  But he gave it to me, in the end.  Then I set up the crate, and a traveler asked me if I was selling anything.  Another traveler asked me about my camera and tried to strike up a conversation.  Believe it or not, he wanted to discuss Canon vs. Nikon (I use Nikon), which as you know is not something I care to feed into.  Then I stand on the crate just as another traveler entered the tunnel and tried to rush through to get out of the shot – all while I’m standing there looking like a nut.  A man following behind her made a few jokes about the “weather up there” and then made comments about the train tracks making for a more interesting photo.  These are all things that made me uncomfortable.  Several years ago, it might have been enough for me to rush a shot – or maybe not even attempt it at all.  But I bear the pressures now.

Be Prepared to Look Silly

So the bottom line is this:  You may look goofy at times.  You may get some funny looks.  But the one thing I’ve learned in my own experience is that those goofy looks rarely amount to anything.  Sure, I’ve had someone point me out to a police officer before, and I was asked some questions.  But that didn’t amount to anything either.  So go out, look silly…and make some great pictures.  A few great pictures later, and you’ll be able to overcome…just like I did.

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About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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