It’s 4:30 am on Leap Day and I am wide awake and sitting in the library on board Celebrity’s Reflection staring at an enormous tree hanging from the walls and watching eight glass elevators go up and down. Those of you who have sailed on S-class Celebrity ships know right where I am. (It’s a really cool tree.)
Since I can’t sleep I decided why not write about another, smaller part of our New Orleans story—so here we go. When last we chronicled our NOLA adventures, it was the evening of Lundi Gras, the day before Mardi Gras. The next morning was the big day itself so as usual (for me) I was up before dawn to get out and take photos. Now to be honest, photographically, this was one of the best and most productive photo walks I have ever had. As much as I loved the photos I had taken the previous morning, these were better. At least one of them was.
I am going to do something I have never done before. I am going to write a post about a single photograph. In the last few days since we left New Orleans, I keep coming back to this photo again and again. Over my years of taking photographs I have taken what I consider to be some pretty good pictures but this one, I think, is my best…so far. Of course now that I am building it up so much, you will see it and say, “What’s so special about this pic.😀” I hope that doesn’t happen. So here’s the photo (please look at it as large as possible and let it come all the way to full clarity—this is not a photo to be seen on a phone).
This was one of the first photos I took that morning. It had recently rained but even better, workers from the city were out pressure washing the streets and had just moved on from this one. For those of you who know New Orleans, when I took the shot, I was standing at the corner of St. Peter and Decatur streets next to Jackson Square. I had stopped to shoot the reflections of the lights on the pavement when a taxi pulled up on Decatur and the cab driver got out and went to knock on the door of his early morning pick up. Looking through my viewfinder, I saw what I knew was going to be my favorite photo of this trip or maybe that I had ever taken. And I was right.
There is an artist I love named Edward Hopper. My favorites of his paintings are haunting, noir pieces that show something that just reaches out to me. I have always loved them. I love his colors, his use of light and dark, and how people in his paintings are often alone and isolated.
One of my biggest disappointments when traveling was visiting Chicago a few years ago and finding that his seminal painting, Nighthawks had been loaned out to a museum out of town and was not hanging in its home, the Art Institute of Chicago. I really wanted to see it. It’s one of my favorite works of art. I humbly submit that this photo is my tribute to Hopper. I loved the photo when I took it but when I got back to my laptop and opened it full screen, I realized how well it came together and how much it reminded me of his work.
Another thing I love about this photo is that it says something I truly believe about photography. It seems that everyone these days is a photographer and their number one camera is a phone. And even those who still shoot single lens reflex cameras like my Nikon, often shoot using nothing but the automatic settings on their cameras. When I go out to shoot early in the morning, when I am looking for that perfect light, when I look for this kind of photo, there is only one way to shoot—manual.
If I had put my camera in Program mode (Nikon D850s don’t even have an auto mode), then this photo would have been as bright as daylight. That’s what automatic modes strive for. Giving you light to make it look like it’s noon. Phones do that sometimes as well. When I teach photography at workshops, I try to convey this to students who struggle to understand light and using their cameras to capture what they are seeing, not what the camera thinks they want to see. This shot, taken in manual mode, was exactly what I was seeing and what I wanted to capture.
Don’t get me wrong, so much of this photo is not about my skill as a photographer but the total luck of everything coming together at one time. This is my photographic equivalent of a hole-in-one. You have to have some skill but you also have to have some luck. I will say that this is the shot I envisioned when we first decided to take this trip. In my mind I saw this shot of the lights reflecting off the pavement in the French Quarter. I just never new I would get lucky and find the focal point (the cab driver) to take this from a good photo to one I truly love.
There is so much more I want to say about this photo and why I love it but just let me sum up by saying that this photo is the reason I love taking pictures, the reason I get up out of bed at 5:00 am to roam the streets of the places we visit, the reason I will continue to take more…in hopes of getting another one like this.
Maybe I am not very human – what I wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house. —Edward Hopper