A good photo is knowing where to stand. – Ansel Adams
As someone who is often asked for advice on photography, I usually tuck this quote in right after giving an overview of the bucket analogy, three-point lighting and the two-thirds rule. To me, it all comes down to this: knowing where to stand. Today, I thought of that adage often as I attempted to get a good shot of the new front entrance of Skokie Hospital. The morning sun was coming across the face of the building in an OK way; not awesome, but good enough to work with. The sky had just enough clouds to be dramatic when outlined with a polarizer. But the one thing I couldn’t work with were the three flag poles. I sometimes joke that the architects never consult with me before making their plans. The buildings all look architecturally beautiful but are often very challenging to shoot effectively. A downside to corporate photography is that requests are made to see signage, but that signage is often impossible to see. For interiors, signage is often completely absent except on a huge black marquee rug that everyone has tracked mud across. I’ve shot those. Brushed brass signs are placed on brown brick walls creating an impossible lighting and color situation of dark gold on brown. Highland Park Hospital is a great example of photography not being a priority. The hospital is at the top of a steep hill. So unless you have a cherry picker or crane, you can’t get a good angle to include the entire front of the building. You have to use a very wide focal length which has to be tilted up because of the hill which distorts the building reducing its side and emphasizing the sky. So I usually end up just shooting parts of the front like the awning or just the sign alone. There is one slightly raised spot that is closer to the entrance which they just landscaped in. But that spot isn’t workable now because groundskeeper has placed saplings every few feet covering every possible view. It’s blocked now let alone 15 years from now when the trees fill in.
Anyway, as I was shooting Skokie today, these three flag poles were looking right at me the way the eyes of the Mona Lisa are said to follow you no matter where you stand. And when you shoot buildings with flags, you have to contend with the wind. Sometimes you just sit there waiting. But that’s all a part of knowing where to stand. Then, wait…what’s going on with that middle flag? I noticed that the tallest middle flag pole had the American flag twisting around itself from a single lower eyelet. So instead of honoring America by having its flag fluttering from the tallest pole of the three, it looked like the hospital was being run by the Al-Qaeda network of healthcare administrators. Usually when I am asked to photograph any of the 75 or so locations that our corporation has dominion over, the Illinois and American flags are in tatters at the end and the hospital flag is just hanging down not flapping at all because it’s a double-thickness flag that is too heavy to catch a breeze. It was someone’s idea a few years back to make sure that the company flag would never be backwards. So the corporate flag is actually two flags sewn together so both sides face out and neither is reversed. Unfortunately, neither side is ever visible because of the weight of the material unless there’s a level 5 on the Fujita scale rolling through. Fortunately today, the wind was carrying new Illinois and corporate flags while Old Glory twisted itself into a tattered bundle of crushed hopes and dreams.
So like any red-blooded American, and someone who didn’t want to have to retake the photos, I talked to the front desk people about fixing the American flag. But this was apparently not an easy request to fill as no one seemed to know who was responsible for that. Concierge? Facilities Maintenance? Engineering? Outsourced to some Flag Raisers Unlimited company? No, it’s Public Safety (security). As Public Safety has (at other locations) left me high and dry for hours, I decided to just take the shots with the flag looking horrible, and I would just chop the flag out or try to find a good flag to insert. But half way through shooting, they showed up and spent about 20 minutes fixing it. Once Security finished, the grounds crew started tearing up the front lawn that I was shooting, the lawn right in front of my camera. Whatever, shoot anyway and chop the crew out. Then a million patients and family members showed up to drop off and pick up their loved ones. Whatever. Wait until people leave. Then a very nice elderly woman who thought I was a surveyor flagged me down to talk to me about a relative or friend of her’s that was a pioneering female aviator. She was putting together a presentation on early aviation and wanted to talk to me about Powerpoint, inserting videos, legal issues with movie use, etc. It all sounded cool and when she mentioned that she was into flight sims, my ears perked up even more. So I talked to her for a while about her documentary, her PPT presentation, HOTAS joysticks, TrackIR and all sorts of other nerdy things that I never get to talk about with friends.
By the time she left, I had 8 minutes to get to my next appointment. I got some shots, but I didn’t get that special feeling when I know I took the best shot possible. But since I had already spent two hours there, I figured it was time to depend on the RAW workflow to drag out some interesting editing solutions. Maybe stick with the closeups. My boss just tonight told me that she was interested in the “more creatively edited” shots, so in the end, it all worked out.