I’m often asked if it’s hard to find a subject to shoot for my weekly MaineFrame photo essay. Finding the subject is actually the easy part. There’s no shortage of visually interesting subjects to focus on in southern Maine. Probably the hardest part is finding the enough time to do the subject justice. A family, a day job, household chores… many factors can limit your time in the field. But for me, the second-hardest part of doing the photo essay is choosing which photos make the cut — and I don’t always make it easy on myself.
Photographers like to “work” a subject — shooting the same thing from different angles or in changing light. My problem is I tend to work a subject to death.
For a photo essay on Old Orchard Beach over the summer, I probably made more than a hundred pictures of the Pier alone. I shot it from beach level, reflecting on the wet sand at dusk, from the Ferris wheel at night, and again the next morning silhouetted against the dawn sky. The Pier was only part of the essay.
In September, I went to the 12 Hours of Bradbury Mountain bike race telling myself I’d shoot conservatively. But once the race started I found myself constantly switching between wide-angle and telephoto lenses. I used slow shutter speeds to convey motion and then set up an off-camera flash to freeze the action in the dark woods. I got down low to shoot from a mushroom’s view and later climbed a tree to see what the racers looked like from up there. By the time the race ended I had more than 500 photos to sort through.
Photography is very subjective. Ask three people to judge a photo contest and you’ll probably get three different winners. When I edit my photos I often get bogged down hemming and hawing over tiny details. Sometimes I’ll favor a photo because I know I put more effort into it even though the easy-to-make picture probably tells the story better. So once I’ve narrowed my selections down I look for a second, unbiased opinion.
Most experienced photo editors started out as photographers and probably have a journalism degree. The first editor I show my photos to just entered preschool. My daughter Bela may only be 3 years old, but she isn’t wishy-washy when I ask her to pick between two photos.
“Dat one, Daddy. I like dat one,” she’ll say, quickly pointing to one of the two pictures displayed on my laptop.
More often than not I’ll go with her pick as I narrow the final set of photos. Once I get them down to about a dozen I’ll email them to the paper and let the editors make the final selection.
What happens to the rejects? Well, this week some of them they get a second chance.