Most of my photographs are pretty carefully chosen, set up, and executed. I believe that one of the things that marks a photographer as an artist rather than simply a snapshooter is the ability to see potentially good images in an otherwise cluttered and chaotic world, and to take deliberate, considered steps in a controlled and repeatable process to realize them, rather than simply snapping the shutter a lot and relying on large numbers of captures to get a few that turn out well.
Still, whenever you’re working in real time in the real world, there will be things you can’t control. Chance will play a part, sometimes serendipitously so.
I was working on a slightly different composition of the Cross of the Martyrs in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The cross was to be largely as you see it here, but the sky would have been a clean background, and the bottom of the frame would have had the hills that rise to the west of Santa Fe to ground the composition.
I spent a fair amount of time setting up the composition how I wanted it, metering the scene, choosing a graduated ND filter to bring down the brightness in the sky, adjusting the polarizer to whiten the cross and darken the sky’s blues (this was to increase the contrast in the final black and white version), setting the focus at the hyperfocal distance, etc.
Just when I was ready to trip the shutter, I noticed the airplane. The airplane’s path and the contrail behind it were such that they would make a perfect compositional placement in relation to the cross.
But it would mean recomposing the scene. There were literally only a few seconds available before the airplane would pass through the scene and be out of position, so there was time only to unlock the ball-head of the tripod, roughly position the camera to include the cross and the expected position of the airplane in the composition, and quickly trip the shutter. No checking if the camera was level, no checking if the metering needed to be revised, no checking if the new angle of the polarizer would create unevenness in the sky, etc. The last thing I noticed before tripping the shutter was the glare produced by the sun, now very close to the edge of the frame, and I figured it was long odds that I would get something useful.
Well, I think I got something useful. That glare turned out to be, to me, magical. It still took a fair amount of editing after the fact. I’ve included the jpg straight out of the camera below so you can see the capture and the final result. But, at least the basics were there in terms of exposure and focus. I was a bit sorry to lose the hills in the background, which I feel would have given the image more of a sense of place. But I was glad to make this trade-off, since I think the composition and impact of the final image is much stronger, if a bit more abstract.