What I Was Thinking

So as I’ve mentioned before, I get a lot of questions about process, about how I work in the field, at home after I’ve made some pictures, etc. I thought it might be interesting for me to explain to you what I was thinking when I made a series of pictures. Now this image is not the be all, end all image of images, but I think it will relay to you what was going through my mind while out on a somewhat typical picture hunt.


The end of another long, hot day, somewhat successful, a few pictures and there. My primary reason for being in Panama was not making photos, oddly enough, and if I had to rank it I would say making pictures was second on my list of goals.

I saw this couple at a distance as I was walking what I would call a Malecon type place, an area in the old section of the city where people go to watch the sunset, hang out near a breeze off the water, etc.

My thoughts:

“I gotta make something.”
“I’ve got to find something in this light, something, anything, right now.”
“If you can’t find something in this light you are a total loser.”
“You better start looking chump.”

Looking over I see the couple of the seawall.

“Oh man, I’ve seen that shot a thousand times.”
“Couple on seawall.”
“There has to be something else.”

I look right, left, up, down…nothing.

“I don’t care if I’ve seen it a hundred times…I want it.”
“I’m too far away, and there aren’t many people around, as soon as I move they are going to see me.”
“As soon as they see me it will be over and this entire idea will turn to crap.”
“Shut up you idiot and start shooting.”
“I know they are going to see me as soon as I move.”
“Will it help I’m wearing green?”

I move closer.
Taking a look at the light I move to f/2 at about a 15th of a second.

“Okay, I know I can handhold that, but anything slower will be a crap shoot.”
“And anyway, as soon as I take ten steps they are going to see me and it will ruin the moment.”
“Nothing to see here people, I’m a tree, I’m just a tree, a fleshy tree on a sea of concrete.”
“Holy crap, they haven’t seen me yet.”

I move closer.

Heart beating faster, thumb flicking nervously on wind lever.

I shoot another frame.

“Okay that was out of focus, I know it.”
“I was too surprised they didn’t see me or look at me yet and I blew it.”
“Calm down stupid, it’s just a picture of people on the seawall.”

“Nothing to see here people, I’m just a guy weaving around.”
“Thank God for cellphones, they are mesmerized.”

I move even closer.

“I’m right on top of them.”
“I like the city in the background,I want them slightly off center, and I need a gap between his head the buildings.”
“Holy crap, I’m right on top of them and they STILL haven’t looked at me.”
“What if they get pissed?”
“Why would they get pissed.”
“Can I out run that guy?”
“Probably not.”
‘”That’s okay, he won’t get pissed.”
“Why would he get pissed?”
“I think my shoe is coming untied.”


I shoot two more frames, quickly, the second at an 8th of a second. I know I’m on the edge of sharpness but who cares.

“They see me.”
“I blew it.”
“Wait, the light is really nice and I can see catch lights in his eye.”
“I think it might work even if he was looking at me.”
“He doesn’t look pissed.”
“Should I bust out my Spanish on them?”
“I should probably just leave them alone.”
“I wonder if I’m going to have fish again for dinner?”
“My shoe is coming untied.”
“Why is it always my left shoe that comes untied?”
“Is it the way I tied it or is there something wrong with my foot.”
“I wonder how many rolls I shot today.”
“They look happy.”
“Should I shoot another frame?”
“No, I don’t want to intrude anymore, and now from this distance.”
“The moment is gone.”
“I think I got something here.”
“I feel good about this.”
“I think I feel good about this.”
“Fish sounds good for dinner.”
“Man it’s hot.”
“I think that was good.”
“I can’t believe I got that close and they didn’t see until the very end.”
“I should keep shooting, even in this light.”
“You idiot, you should have shot this with the 50mm.”

16 responses to “What I Was Thinking”

  1. G Alan Myers says:

    How was the fish? Did you get a side of plantains with sugar & cinnamon?

    I go through the same thought process when I shoot on the street, but I run faster in my Red Ball Jets!

    • Smogranch says:

      Fish was great, beer was great, ate my body weight in plantains as well, never had to run from anyone, at least that I can remember.

    • G Alan Myers says:

      All jesting aside, I like photos 2 & 4. They’re intimate moments: one between the subjects and the other with the photographer. And that wall is great: it produces a vanishing point and acts as a counter to the shadows.

    • Smogranch says:

      I like 2 & 4 as well, three would have been good if a little sharper. Normally, sharpness is not that critical to me, but because I really wanted this to be sharp and it isn’t, I knew I blew it.

  2. Aaron says:

    Lovin’ it.
    Thank-you for bringing all your charm and humour to the question of process that has such gravitas for many. Love seeing the development from one frame to the next, the effectiveness of the Leica M cloak of invisibility on the unsuspecting couple-35mm lens….you were close! At best I would have called it a day at the second to last frame. Like in my dreams-awesome post.

  3. This is why I always sport the double knot. I take a lot of crap from the wife, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.

  4. I damn near choked on my drink when you mentioned your shoe. It’s always my left one too.

    How do you typically respond when people you’re photographing in public notice you? How often do they respond negatively? Rightly or wrongly, that’s my biggest fear with street photography and usually stops me from doing much interesting in that space.

    • Smogranch says:

      Hey David,

      It normally depends on how you carry yourself. When someone notices what I’m doing, and most of the time they do, there is always a time when you typically can feel someone’s interest, suspicion, etc, and that is the time you can establish a tone. I talk to a lot of people, especially if they ask what I’m doing. And, I think the way I work they can establish the fact that I’m working and not just playing around.
      The average response today is different than it was ten years ago, for sure, and I’d say there are more negative reactions today, but in most cases it just takes a little more time talking to explain your situation.

  5. Larry says:

    My $.02 worth. I like No.3 for a variety of reasons. 1) They are engaged in a modern activity in an intimate way, 2) it sets the scene a bit in a place that is similar to places I know here in the US and 3) compositionally I like how everything is in it’s separate space, the water, the wall on the left, their heads not splitting the horizon.

    No.4 is good and strong, closer obviously and a bit cleaner but No.3 is the clear winner as it’s laid out here.

    • Smogranch says:

      Ya, three is a mix feeling for me. I feel I missed it, but again that is my internal baggage of knowing what I wanted and knowing I didn’t get it. I actually like the first one a little bit too. But, for me, if I had to pick one, I’d go 4, even though he is looking at me because I get a sense of appreciation almost in his eyes, or perhaps it’s amusement.

    • Larry says:

      I do like No4 and the way he’s looking at you, the expression on her face… I’m probably projecting my thought process into this as well and I won’t even go into what thoughts would have raced through my mind on this. Scary conversation!

    • Smogranch says:

      I would love to know honesty what the photographer was thinking when I see many historical photos. I think we would all be surprised.

  6. Ibarionex says:

    Wow. I didn’t realize that the voice I’ve been hearing in my head all these years was Dan Milnor. Who would of thunk. Great post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *