There is not always something interesting going on in the Santa Clarita Valley to photograph.
As a photojournalist, this can present a problem. How do we find photos to put in the paper when there’s nothing visually interesting going on?
We call it free art. Sometimes it goes by wild art, standalone art, or feature art. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of it in the Signal: it’s just a photo with a caption, that isn’t attached to any story, but is generally a nice photo of…something.
Finding free art is the challenge. It’s a little like hunting Pokemon in Pokemon Go. Everybody wants the elusive ones, the rare catch, the real winners. But what you usually get are the Pidgeys, the Caterpies, and the Rattatas. That’s often what I come up with when I’m tasked with finding free art.
Every now and then I get a real winner. But usually, it’s a struggle to come up with a photo that I think is good enough to put in the paper, with my name under it. So, one morning when as I headed out to find some free art, Sheryl Crow’s “Everyday Is A Winding Road” came into my head.
I was walking around Central Park, singing the lyrics to myself, and realized: they are the perfect inspiration for a free art hunt.
“Every day is a winding road/I get a little bit closer.”
Ah, winding roads! Those can make good art. And the road doesn’t have to be winding — the leading lines of perfectly straight roads work too. I hummed the tune to myself as I hiked myself up to the top of the hill in Central Park, on the hunt for the Mewtwo of free art.
Getting closer is also good advice for finding free art. There’s an old saying that photographers should learn to “zoom with their feet” before using a zoom lens. My job sometimes is more about getting a shot instead of a great shot. When the news breaks, something is better than nothing. Getting closer to your subject, to a point, will almost always net you a better photo.
I turn to the side and look down. Ah ha! A winding road. But I’m not close at all, and, despite my background in track and field, there’s no way I can run 400 meters back down the hill in jeans and boots, with both a coffee and my camera in my hands in time to photograph the woman walking her dog. Closer, I realize, isn’t always an option. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a photo to be had. I frame up my shot.
“Every day is a faded sign.”
Hmm, faded signs can also make good art. Very rustic. They’ve got character, history. Or, a faded sign could be a clue to some good free art. This one is more of a stretch, I think.
But as I stand there and wait for the next intrepid dog walker to walk through my frame, I think that a “faded sign” could be a just a faint inkling that there’s something here to be photographed; I just have to look a little harder to find it.
I scan my surroundings for interesting backdrops, slivers of light, pops of color, and any other photographic device. It’s like a game of I Spy, but the stakes are higher.
And though it’s not in the chorus, the line “everybody get high, everybody get low,” is also useful. Getting high, on top of, above something, below, behind, or under can make a boring photo…well, less boring. Either way, it does give me more ideas, and gets me thinking outside the box.
And where am I right now? On top of a hill, looking down. Suddenly, I’m a little less bummed about having walked all the way up the hill. You could say…it put things in perspective.
But the line that works the best for free art?
“These are the days that anything goes.”
Yup. Because when your editor asks for free art, just about anything goes — as long as you get a photo.