I went for an early morning of personal photography in the New Orleans French Quarter last week, up before dawn to make the drive across Lake Pontchartrain to the Crescent City. I felt the usual excitement as I headed across the bridge, not unlike the excitement I felt as a child going on early morning fishing trips with my dad, getting up early to be on the water at first light. It’s a tingling that’s visceral, running down the back of my scalp and spine, an anticipation of what’s to come…in this case, a beautiful morning of shooting in one of the most famous and picturesque neighborhoods in America.
The French Quarter is unique because not only is it a Disneyland for tourists and a business district, but it’s also an actual residential neighborhood. After a stroll through Jackson Square, it was to this part of the Quarter that I found myself drawn on this morning, watching as shadows slowly faded in places and things were saturated with beautiful, early-morning light.
Some days you see things, some days you don’t. It’s the nature of what we do. On this morning, I felt blessed to be seeing plenty of things that interested and excited the photographer in me. Lots to shoot, things to note that would look better in a half hour (and to try to get back to), ideas to check out from other trips, new, unexpected things.
One of the quiet satisfactions that comes from shooting a place you’ve shot before is that while it’s all familiar, that familiarity allows you to see past the obvious to what’s maybe below the surface. Or one particular idea starts to work its way through all your photographs. On this day, it was the dance with light and shadow that I found myself doing.
I’m sometimes struck by how much our process is such a dance with light and shadow—back and forth we work, watching the light, reacting to it, seeing in what it illuminates and what it leaves in shadow. A different lens, a different perspective, trying something else as we work, watching the light, always reacting to the light.
This work we do as photographers makes us always the witness, always watching. The light slowly works its way across a brick surface and we see something new to photograph. Or maybe it illuminates a wavy window pane in a
special way, the reflection of something else becomes the reason for the shot. .Or two colors jar and vibrate against each other, and this vibration becomes the dominant element within the composition. Always though we do this dance, absorbed as we try to capture the magic we sense and sometimes see, always shooting, always working with the light.
Isn’t it a privilege to be a photographer in the 21st century? I feel so fortunate to be working in these days with the wonderful equipment and technology we have now available.
Savor it now, folks. These ARE the glory days!
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