They're not really scenic shots. And they're not exactly architectural. They're certainly not nature or wildlife. Still, every now and then, a photographer with a sharp eye is bound to run into them -- those shots that defy classification.
They're too good to pass up, of course, but they're sometimes awkward-looking through the viewfinder.
I ran into such a shot several years ago while on a fishing trip along the Mississippi River. There, high above one of the river's dams near Alma, Wisconsin, was a trestle of sorts. On the trestle was a railroad car -- of sorts. The peculiar thing is that the car looked lived-in and the trestle stopped in mid-air. Just simply stopped.
Someone somewhere knows exactly what that trestle and car were doing there. The fact that I didn't heightened my curiosity. And, I reasoned, there was a good chance that others viewing the shot would also be curious. In other words, it had the makings of a good photographic scene.
The fact that I took the shot (several shots, actually) and processed the film and prints, when I returned home, only to lose the prints over the years and forget about the scene, is inconsequential. The fact that I discovered the negative recently while thumbing through my files and the scene again caught my fancy is important.
Unlike some scenes that strike you as meaningful at the time you record them on film and then quickly fade from your pleasure, this one had endured.
I hustled into the darkroom, pulled the negative from its sleeve and spent the next hour experimenting. The results were satisfying. I can look at the scene and still find myself wondering what it represents. And that, to me, is the scene's true appeal.
Just about every photographer stumbles upon one of those "Yeah, but what is it?" scenes from time to time. And I'm willing to bet that a good many of us often fail to record the scene on film simply because it's hard to classify mentally.
If it doesn't fit into its own neatly labeled compartment, after all, it can't be worth so very much in the long run, now can it?
The truth is that it can be worth a great deal more than the scene that's easily recognizable at first glance. It can stir imagination and wonder that the recognizable image can never hope to stir. And fantasy. And sometimes fear.
Should you photograph that unclassifiable subject? Certainly. But, as with any photograph, it should be given some very careful thought as to how to make it.
Decide, for example, on how the light treats the subject. See which direction the light is falling from and ask yourself if waiting for the light to change would help or hurt your treatment of the scene. Watch for the shadows and the raised areas of highlights.
If shooting color film, notice the different hues and question what a stronger or weaker light -- or a change in the light's direction -- would do to those hues and, thus, the overall feel of the scene.
Then give some very careful thought to composition and camera angle. Should you get down low and shoot up at the subject? Should you get up high and shoot down? To one side or the other? Move around to get the effects and then decide.
Think, too, about how large or small the subject should be in the frame. By changing your distance from the subject (or changing lenses on your camera), you may be able to fill the frame or reduce the size of the subject to a mere portion of the frame. Experimentation is the key.
Photographing a child or a cat or a wildflower would be easier than shooting that unclassifiable subject. But the rewards most likely won't be nearly so great.
Q: I have a Minolta SRT-201 which has three pinhead-size holes in the rubberized shutter curtain. This apparently happened when the mirror locked up and sunlight was magnified through the lens and onto the shutter. Can I have this repaired, short of paying the $4.50 parts and $130 labor estimate I received from a reputable camera shop? Is there something I can dab, paint or paste on to correct the problem?
A: That old devil sun. That's just one of the reasons for using a lens cap, and for keeping a camera out of heat and direct sunlight.
Unfortunately, the repair estimates you receive are pretty much in the ballpark. As for dabbing, painting or pasting, I highly recommend not. While you may succeed in concealing the pinholes, you're likely to gum up the shutter mechanism, at which time you might just as well throw the camera in the can.
Where do you go from here? Probably to the repair shop. Assuming your Minolta is in otherwise good working order, having the shutter curtain replaced is going to be a lot less expensive than going out and buying another of similar quality.
Q: Have a Kodak Hawkeye Model B and would like to know if it has any value and where I may sell it.
A: Depending upon condition Kodak Hawkeyes seem to be bringing from $12 to $20; more, of course, if you happen to find the right buyer. To sell it, try Shutterbug Ads, P.O. Box F, Titusville, Fla., 32780.
Q: I have some old photos I'd like to restore and copy, but I have no camera and no skill in this area. I've searched the yellow pages of the telephone directory but saw no ads from photo shops which restore old photos or make negatives and reproductions.
A: Better go back to those yellow pages. Check under the headings of photo retouching and photo restoration. Or ask a couple of the photo retail dealers near you for recommendations. Often they can put you onto a customer who also happens to run a part-time photo restoration business.
Q: Regarding the reader who wanted to know how some people get those "super life-like" shots, especially of floral scenes and lakes and mountains, my question is, what are the conditions that person is shooting in?
A: I used a Vivitar XC-3 camera and got beautiful color balance on rhododenrons, a lake with swans framed by foliage and a child in a yellow slicker sitting on a tree stump framed by glistening camellia shurbs. One can't expect to get such colors shooting one stop underexposed, and open shade isn't the same as washed out sunshine. All the filters in the world won't help if the conditions aren't right.
I've had scenes shot on both Kodak and Fuji films -- the same scenes at the same instant. I'll take Fuji for the reds any day. I've also had great luck with K-Mart's film, made in Italy (at 11 cents a slide, including developing). I shot some 800-plus slides in the Middle East with it.