Still Room for Improvement!
It was a cold, gray morning a few days after New Year, 2010. I had a contract to create content so this was no pleasure cruise though with the family in tow, you wouldn’t have guessed it. As a matter of fact, acting very much the kid, you would have no clue that there was a bunch of money on the line, a reputation and client to please at the end of the day. Then I again, I always say photography should be fun because otherwise, well, it’s just a glorified desk job. We were having fun!
This was a first for us, as in, I said yes and took a job to photograph something I had never, ever photographed before! It’s not the first time I’d done this in my career and have done it many times since. It’s the nature of the work and it sure is one way to make your photography grow. Fear is such a great motivator! The panic only began when we looked at the overcast skies and the project was about to be called off because of weather. The window to get the work done was itty pitty as we were working in a window between Sierra winter storms. I pulled out the iPhone and looked at the Radar picture. Over Lake Tahoe there was a window in the clouds, what appeared to be about 20-30 minutes of clearing. It was my checkbook, it was my call. Take the risk and spend the money and chase that light or not? I do was what I always do, a bull in a china shop (and some wonder why my dad named me Moose) so we went for it!
Jake got in the T-6 and I in the other T-6. PIC of the T-6 I was in would turn out to become a dear friend, flying with him a whole bunch since, nearly every opportunity we have. At that moment, I didn’t know that would be the outcome, he was just someone close and came recommended to me by my bud Richard. Off we launched, up into the gray skies and looking even grayer then just minutes before. It was such a rush, not just being up in a T-6 Texan, an old warbird but doing our first ever air to air shoot! And, I was getting paid to do this, have this much fun! I was just counting my blessing with these thoughts running through my mind when it was interrupted. My headset rang out, “I see nothing but gray skies, what do you want to do?” We’re traveling south and I knew that 40 miles straight ahead was blue sky, I had just come from there. But that air time would take my payday and blow it all away. It’s still a business, can’t lose sight of that, ever!
I’m scanning the skies as if I were a WWII fighter pilot looking for the enemy to jump us but I’m looking for light. What’s new? I’m scanning and off to our right, looking west over the Kingsbury Grade I see a little light and perhaps even blue. I asked Dennis, “Does that look like an opening to you at 3 O’clock, it’s where the radar said there was a hole.” “Yeah, kind of, not really, not sure I trust it,” came back in my headset. “What do you want to do?” “Let’s head for it.” With Jake in the other T-6 on our wing, we turned and headed for that light. Well, the rest of the flight as they would say is history.
We went over the Grade to find Lake Tahoe completely open, gorgeous light and fresh snow on the peaks for a backdrop. For the next 25min we flew orbits around the lake as I created the contracted content. We even made time to do barrel rolls, loops and some other really fun stuff. Jake even flew part of the way back to the airfield. We landed and there was enough time for Sharon & Brent to get in the T-6s and head up to the lake. But by the time they got there, the window had closed in, the winds came up so they made a big orbit around the basin and returned. We totally lucked out!
A week later I submitted all the images and video and invoice and 30days later the payday arrived in the mail. And for most, that would be the end and they would pat themselves on the back and say Job Well Done! Not me, not the way I was raised, money is not the end. I wanted to see my photographs, video and story put out there which is what I was contracted to create. Nothing, it was put on a hard drive and abandoned! I asked and asked about it but I never heard a word. As in literally, it was buried, no word yea or na, it was like it had never been created. And why was it buried, I never knew and it has always really bothered me. Yeah, I had been paid for the work. But that wasn’t enough, it never is with me. Then……
I still work with the client, they have run a half dozen pieces since that shoot. They paid for the job and still use me yet that piece which I had such an emotional attachment to languished on some hard drive in a corner of some building doing nothing. The phone rang this week and it was the client (who I’m not going to name) looking to do another project. After going over the particulars I had to ask about what we had labeled, “The Lost Flight.” Still no answer but I figured I had nothing too loose so I pushed it, usual Bull in a China Shop and I’m glad I did!
The outcome, that piece is still forever buried on a hard drive but I now know why. The photographs, the video, what all that good luck and fun had made possible, the images were just not dramatic! Sharon & I have looked at those photos a lot, one is a very large medal print in our office. It has a ton of great memories attached but when compared to the air to air shoots I’ve done since, it definitely is not as dramatic. It’s what I’ve described so many times referring to landscape photography (photography is photography no matter the subject matter). You have to say in your photograph, “You Need To Be Here” and not just say, “I Was Here.” These photos say no more then, I was here but I couldn’t see it because I knew and felt all the back end stuff.
I have shot and rode in #33 a whole bunch, it being a subject and photo ship many times in the last 18months. #43 won the Reno Air Races in 2010. I’ve never flown in her but I do love photographing her and that’s because Dennis smiles the most when flying this speedster. So in an air to air we did last week, the story was just that, the speed this old warbird has and it being the 2010 champ. And with that story line, that reason for shooting makes all the difference in the world in the final image. The drama of flight is told and how do I know that? That client that shelved the first piece with my persistence is now running a new piece, same topic but new images. When I sent the new set of images they said on the phone and in an email that the new ones have so much more, drama!
We all have an emotional attachment to our images, that’s how it is supposed to work. We protect them and try to find them the perfect home. When that falls through, like any lost love, it hurts and leaves us wondering. Money aside, it’s that acceptance for our photographs that is the greatest payday. No matter if you’re just starting out or have been doing this click thing for 30yrs, we all share this one very basic and important aspect of photography. An no matter where you are in that pursuit, it’s hard to recognize and remember this very basic, very human fact. It was again another reminder that while my photography is still improving, there is still room for improvement!