Empty Spaces


Ray said, “I want you to work on a short project, something you can complete in a day or two. This will help develop your story telling abilities and will get you shooting new subjects.”


This post is about my experience working on that project, and the first thing I’ll confess is I’m not sure where the whole “day or two” thing first went off the rails but clearly that’s something I need to work on.


I think there are 5 stages to a project of this sort: Concept, Photographs, Text, Music, and Presentation. Each part has its own challenges and rewards; the surprise is when combined, the results can be greater than the sum of its parts.


Concept. This was potentially the biggest barrier for me. I searched for a subject for some time before concluding I was really over-thinking things. I decided to take a more organic approach and let the idea come to me on its own. What this really meant was I stopped searching and started paying attention.


I was on vacation in Orlando with Sandi. Each day we’d drive along State Road 192 headed either out for the day or returning home to the resort. By the third day I began to notice how many businesses had closed, were up for sale or were being renovated by new owners. Although Disney’s impact save some businesses, the recession had clearly taken a toll on this tourist area. This became my concept, the empty spaces along the highway.


Photographs. I made some choices before actually taking the pictures. Ray and I had talked about how most of us choose not to shoot mid-day because of harsh lighting. As an experiment, I agreed to explore how use that harsh light to enhance a mood. So that became my timeframe for shooting, late morning to early afternoon. I knew I’d have limited access to some places and decided to shoot only from the roadside, as if passing though the area, and I’d only shoot with a wide-angle lens. I choose to use a polarizing filter and thought the final pictures would be in Black and White.


I went out on my own the first day and covered 8 miles. Folks, I don’t recommend driving on a highway while looking for photography subjects. Fortunately traffic was light and I was able to pull over at different spots to take the pictures I needed. I saw security at one place and a short conversation established acceptable boundaries. Sandi drove on the second day which gave me the freedom to concentrate more on the places I wanted to shoot. It was very hot on both days; my Tilley hat protected my head and gave me a needed shade to view the histogram on the LCD screen. All the same, viewing that screen was almost impossible meaning I had to trust I had the right hyper-focal point. Also, I should have brought water.


I chose not to review the pictures until we were back home in Ottawa. I think allowing time between taking the pictures and reviewing them eliminates some of the emotion attached to “remembered images”. If the picture is strong, it will still appeal to you a week or more later. As a safety precaution, all the pictures were saved to a separate SD card to prevent accidental loss or damage. On the computer, the initial edit left me with about 100 pictures, less than half of what I shot. A second edit resulted in 20 potential candidates and these were printed in B&W then posted on a cork-board. I reduced the number down further and shared the result with Ray. He suggested what I had been thinking; B&W wasn’t as effective as I thought. Switching to colour, I choose to drop the vibrance and saturation to where the images conveyed the brightness of those two days. Having developed the images in LR, making sure to be consistent on the treatment of each, I had thirteen images that collectively told the story I wanted.


Text. This part was harder than I’d anticipated. Everyone has their own approach to writing so what I say here won’t necessarily work for you. The key decisions though concerned how much to write and what style was I looking for. I didn’t want this to be informative, such as you’d find in a magazine. This wasn’t about relating economic facts. Although the temptation was there, I knew better than to have a Disney inspired happy ending. I found as the text evolved, I found I had to re-order the images to maintain a logical and effective flow. Ray’s advice was to describe what I felt about the images. I took it back further to the emotions I felt when the concept was initially forming. The end result was four paragraphs, setting the scene and background, then the observation and feeling.


Music. I’m not a musician but I work best when I have tunes playing. For this project I wanted something sombre but also something with movement and anticipation. Searching my library of music, I found a song my son Gary had co-written and recorded when he was much younger. It fit nicely and became the working soundtrack for the piece. In Keynote, I experimented with various time delays until I found a combination that worked with the music and allowed the viewer to take more time to read the text and a little less to explore the images. Overall the piece runs almost 4 mins.


Presentation. Applying the music added a new dimension to the images and influenced the order of presentation. This is where I made my final choice on the ending slide and where I decided on grouping the images to better match the text and sound. The completed slideshow will be posted on this site in a new projects area.


I’m still in this final phase. The text needs to be tightened. My son wants to write some new music which I think will give a more current feel to the piece. The show has been shared with some close friends who gave some positive feedback. Ray and Sandi like it. Most importantly, I’m happy with it.


Check back soon for the unveiling when I hope you’ll let me know how the images speak to you. If you’re trying your own project, as with anything else, preparation is key but don’t forget to start with observation.