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.”

Accidental Homage to Larry Towell

Okay folks I’m really glad this happened.

This image is from my recent trip to Panama, dusk near the outskirts of Panama City. I’m calling this the “Accidental homage to Larry Towell,” so if you don’t know what I’m talking about then this post is SPECIFICALLY for you and comes with REQUIRED homework.

Larry Towell. Look him up. LARRY TOWELL

Mr. Towell is what I would classify as a classic documentary photographer. He does things that would be considered more modern, recording sound, making movies, etc, but the CORE of Mr. Towell is a really, really good study of the human condition.

I’ve noticed a fair number of wedding photographers following me here on the blog, and I feel it my MISSION in life to broaden the perspective of the modern wedding photographer. Remember, we are first and foremost photographers, and ONLY secondarily are we wedding photographers.

Towell is a master of shooting documentary work, work that can and should teach you LOADS about how to make pictures at a wedding. If this seems puzzling to you, that’s okay, send me a note or post a question in the community and I’ll learn you best I can.

And for those of you in Southern California, you might be too late, but Towell is speaking at the Annenberg in LA in the coming weeks. Send them a note, beg them, do whatever you have to do to check out the lecture. And if you are asking, “What is the Annenberg?” Well, I’m not sure how to answer that. Don’t make me come over there.

So my homage is a reference to a SPECIFIC picture Towell made. Can you describe it? Can ya? Here is the homework I’m talking about. Find it, learn it, live it and report back to me.

And on a parting note, in my humble opinion, Towell’s Mennonites work is perhaps one of the best essays I’ve ever seen. I feel this work really sets the bar for what all documentary photographers are striving to do. Today, this very day, I had a conversation with a photographer consultant in LA, someone who works with fine-art photographers, commercial photographers and advertising photographers and we each gushed like prom dates about how great the Mennonite work really is. We also spoke about how few people are really doing this work anymore because of the time required and the difficulty involved.
And finally, Towell released a book last year, “The World From My Front Porch,” which is a MUST have if you are collecting books. Yes I have it. Oh, speaking of that, I’ve got to give my copy to a friend to have it signed at the Annenberg. I want take a second to thank myself for reminding myself. Man I’m cool.