Drive-by Shootings …

Yes, I carry. Nearly everywhere I go. Right close to my hip. Having it so close severely reduces my anxiety. I’m seemingly intent of seeking an opportunity to secure my rights and my sense of freedom. At home or on the road. Especially on the road. With it I can whip off several shots per second. Come nightfall I can peer into the darkness like the sharpest sniper to get off a shot depending on the target and lunar light. Through the years I’ve made hundreds of drive-by shootings!

Ah, so there’s your clue, for I speak not of a gun but rather of my trusty Nikon, a brand of camera I’ve had along my side since I entered the photojournalism sequence at the University of Missouri School of Journalism back in 1965. Over the years there have been a few upgrades, though not as many as one might expect. These were, and remain, sturdy tools. Dependable. As an example, while I was working for the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald in 1968, fellow photographer Chuck Anderson inadvertently left one of his three Nikons on the ground as he rushed for a different angle with one of his other cameras … when a bulldozer scrunched his abandoned Nikon deep into the sand.

Realizing his mistake and at least temporarily traumatized, Chuck rushed to retrieve it. He brushed away the sand, peered through the viewfinder and pushed the shutter. “Wow!” he shouted. “It still works!” 

I was thankful to have my camera with me on the way home from a dinner party while passing through the Watson Sag in a twilight moment.

I’ve never given my trusty tool such a test, although peach juice once made a lens inoperable after covering a story on the Palisade peach harvest a few years later while working at the Denver Post. Both a handful of juicy ripe peaches and my cameras were sharing the passenger seat of my car.

Back in those days it was normal for working photojournalists to carry two to three camera bodies slung over shoulders and neck, each outfitted with lenses of varying focal lengths. Watch the end zones during a football game and you might still see this. One was fitted with a wide angle lens ranging from a 28mm to a 35mm, another with a medium length105mm to 135mm, and finally one with a longer telephoto, say of a 200 or 300mm focal length. Nowadays with much sharper and refined optics, I carry a 28-300mm zoom along with a 150-600mm zoom. Oh, and I have a 10mm in the bag for the rare chance of capturing a Northern Lights display. Three lenses and a single body, a Nikon D500.

These two larger lenses are typically laying in the front seat of my car within easy reach (minus the ripe peaches!), with the camera attached to the smaller zoom. Old habits die hard. When I head off into the prairie or into the woods, or even just driving into town, typically the camera is by my side. When in the field an over-the-shoulder bag totes my other two lenses. Holsters, if you wish. I carry because it’s fun, and like a 91 year old artist told me a couple of years ago when we shared a site at a Christmas market, “What else would I do?”

A moment caught on a narrow gravel road while art meandering with a friend.

All of these components, however, are simply tools. On of my favorite comments was when a Meander customer said, “You are an artist  ….  with a camera.” I loved that split second emphasis, for he equated a camera with a potter’s wheel, palettes and paints, or whatever other tool one uses to create his or her art. His comment wasn’t taken lightly, and it comes to mind when in the field or here processing images.

Speaking of processing, there is this frequent comment: “These must be Photoshopped.” Well, certainly. My images are captured in something called RAW, which is basically a digital “negative” that must be “processed” before being converted into a JPEG file so it can actually be used. RAW gives us much more data than does shooting in a standard JPEG format. For me, this generally means capturing much more shadow detail along with a broader color range. There is just so much more digital data to access. 

Often it’s the clouds that cause me to pause for a drive-by shooting.

That said, my “processing” of digital images is significantly less than what I formerly did while working with Tri-X back in my newspaper days with an enlarger, light sensitivity photo paper of varying contrasts and those horrible smelling chemicals in a darkroom. Like any professional in those days, working in the dim, yellowish darkroom light meant I had to master “shadow art” ­— the art of dodging the shadows, and the burning in of the highlights between the negative and print. Each image offered different and sometimes unique challenges. All of which was far more intense and manipulative than digital processing, of which there is little on my part.

While I would never in any shape or form compare myself with Ansel Adams, the noted nature and landscape photographer of Yosemite and the Tetons, who was known for manipulating his images extensively through the use of “push-and-pull processing”  when he developed his sheets of film, and then later when he went through his extensive dodging and burning to make his prints. “Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships,” he once quipped.

Much of Adams’ work with his film plates and prints are now more easily accomplished with digital technology both in the field and at the computer. There are no apologies for that. Only blessings.

A friend called with a report of an American Avocet, which I couldn’t find … although this great egret caught me in the dimming twilight.

Yet, it all starts in the field. With an eye for subject matter and natural ambient lighting and colors. For cloud shapes, and for incredible and usually unique natural canvases spreading across the skies. God rarely errs with his offerings. From twilight through dawn and the short “Monet light”period until midmorning. Then hours later with the afternoon “Monet Light” through to sunset and the closing twilight of the evenings. In short, using the natural light and color while framing through composition, among other various visual offerings, all captured with tools called a camera and a lens. And a software program for the eventual processing of those “digital negatives.”

Adams mentions God frequently in his writing, yet for all those elements I’ve listed, perhaps credit is due. For me, an unabashed “carrier”, I’m forever thankful for whatever is presented in those ever changing and interesting skies, and for whatever nature provides me with subject matter. Be it a deer or native flowers, a sunrise or sunset over a wetland, or even stormy skies across a prairie landscape. Such blessings cannot be understated or under appreciated. Camera or not, we are fortunately blessed! Yet I “carry” and will hopefully be ready to pull off yet another drive-by shooting, one that brings someone a moment of thought and pleasure. 

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About John G. White

Somewhat retired after a long award-winning career in newspapers (Wisconsin State Journal, Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, Denver Post and a country weekly, the Clara City Herald). Free lance photographer and writer with credits in more than 70 magazines. Editor with various Webb Publishing magazines in St. Paul, and a five year stint as editorial director at Miller Meester Advertising.

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