Wait For It

A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-700, flight 4820 en route from Washington, D.C., to Chicago Midway Airport, flies in front of the full moon over East Chicago, Ind., Tuesday, August 20, 2013. (The full burst of images shot in the camera are presented here as a sequence.)

I have a mounting debt of gratitude towards digital image capture. While I learned and shot primarily on the more romantic 35mm film format throughout my teenage years, digital photography took the steep learning curve of the photography art form and squashed it. Immediate feedback on the camera’s LCD screen with what I was doing right – and wrong – made me a much better photographer, and more quickly than waiting on film at the lab.

For all she’s given me, however, I must also fault digital photography for making me impatient and – to a point – lazy. The immediacy of the digital process has brought a certain, underlying expectation that great things should happen promptly when the camera is lifted and the subject is composed. Present-day culture doesn’t help matters much, with our Instagram-fueled, “Now, now, now!,” climate rushing (and crushing) the craft even further.

Part of the reason I began shooting film again this summer was to escape this “digital crush” that everyone is so entrenched in. I wanted to return to photography as a relaxing art that required concentration, keen observation, and patience, and I’ve had great success employing all three with the 4×5 format. One thing I didn’t necessarily expect right-off from my return to film, however, were for these three traits to come full circle into improving my digital photography.

On the surface, the digitally-captured images featured in this entry (all shot within the past two months) might appear technically extravagant. The reality is, no special access or planning was necessary to execute any of them. The only thing required to capture these moments: I had to be patient and wait for them to happen.

My image of the 737 flying in front of the full moon took me six hours to capture, spanning three nights and many cans of Pepsi. While shooting a high school football game the previous weekend, I noticed that airplanes came close to the rising moon quite often. I realized that if I set my camera up and just waited for it to happen, it would have to happen eventually.

My first attempt at capturing a plane flying across the full moon brought only this close call and nothing else for over four hours.

The first night I tried the moon shot was discouraging. After a close call early on, nada. Night two brought with it absolutely nothing. I could have given up, but I knew patience would eventually bring me the image I’d envisioned. Sure enough, on the third night, I captured not one but two planes flying in front of the moon. Other than the telephoto lens used for the photo, patience was the only special ingredient required for success.

The first plane I captured in front of the moon on night three. I was fooling around exposing for the eerie clouds against the twilight sky, not expecting that I’d capture a plane within minutes of setting up!

The second plane flew in front of the moon shortly thereafter.

Fast-forward to two weeks ago, when a late summer thunderstorm rolled through the Chicago Loop. The storm threatened to cancel an outdoor photo exhibit which I was on my way to check out. While sitting in gridlock traffic on I-94, I watched the antennae atop the Sears (Willis) Tower get struck by lightning not once, not twice, but three times! As I made it through the traffic jam, I realized, “Man, that must happen all the time!”

A lull in the rain allowed me to view the photo exhibit once I arrived, but the skies quickly opened up once more with a second, ferocious downpour. I took cover under a small pop-up tent as event coordinators scrambled to break things down early. Not wanting to get soaked with a run back to the parking garage blocks away, I decided that hanging tight under the pop-up tent was the best plan.

Lightning strikes a radio transmitter mast atop the Willis Tower in Chicago, Ill., Wednesday, September 18, 2013.

Looking up, I realized the Sears Tower was right above me, and remembering the lightning hits I’d witnessed just two hours earlier, I decided to try and capture one on the DSLR that I’d brought along. I hand-held the camera to my face at the tent’s edge, in the rain, for almost an hour before I captured lightning hitting the building. On the walk back to the parking garage, while waiting at a crosswalk, I braced my camera against a light pole and caught it happening again. The resulting images were definitely worth the discomfort (and, at times, terror) I experienced to capture them. The special ingredient at the end of it all? Once again, patience.

When is the last time you’ve waited more than five seconds – five minutes – five hours – to capture a single image? If you haven’t waited on something in a while, I highly recommend seeking out a subject you’re interested in and doing just that. I can tell you first hand that the feeling of pulling off a shot you’ve patiently waited for is immensely rewarding. It’s the very feeling that brought me to photography in the first place, and one that I never want to stop experiencing.

The second “direct hit”, captured with my camera braced against a light pole while waiting at a crosswalk.

Posted in Photography by Guy Rhodes on September 30th, 2013.

2 Responses to “Wait For It”

  1. […] reading and see more photos on Guy’s blog. The first plane I captured in front of the moon on night three. I was fooling around exposing for […]

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