Shadows

A wall of light In Eugene, OR, July 5, 2008.

There is no off position on my visual switch.
— Bill Frakes, infinite times

I can’t count the times Bill has uttered those words either to me, during an interview or in a lecture. I am one of the few people who honestly knows how true those words are.

Over the last decade I have been more than an editor, collaborator and business partner, I have been a light test dummy. Anytime we are anywhere and Bill sees pretty light, he asks me to stand in it.

The conversation usually goes something like this:

Bill: The light on that wall/tree/spot/etc is incredible.
Me: Yeah, it’s pretty.
Bill: Go stand over there.
Me: (Silent eye roll)
Bill: Please. It will only take a minute.
Me: (Quietly put down everything I’m carrying, which is usually a lot, and walk toward the desired spot.)
Bill: Don’t act like you don’t love these pictures.

Then I go stand in whatever patch of light he’s referring to. He takes a frame or two or twenty and the conversation continues:

Bill: Move half a foot to your right.
Me: (Steps six inches right.)

He takes another couple frames and looks at the back of his camera.

Bill: Now move three inches to your left.
Me: (Shuffle left.)

Another couple frames and a peak at the images later:

Bill: Now come forward a little bit.

He stares me down, focused, as I move slowly forward. When I get where he wants me, he shouts a quick, “Stop.”

Once he has me in the light, he directs me to move my body position. He tells me to turn sideways or straight on (or both, somehow), look away but at him, move my chin down and eyes up, or something along those lines. This part takes the longest (probably because I am a poor excuse for a model). A long nose shadow - which my long nose produces - can ruin perfectly good light. If I don’t bend my body in seemingly unnatural ways, my shadow can take on unrecognizable forms.

This shuffle can go on for more than a few minutes. But as a result I have hundreds of images of myself all across the world in different patches of beautiful light.

A coffee shop in Palo Alto.

Peet's Coffee in Palo Alto. Our friend Curt Bianchi is hiding somewhere in the shadows.

Peet's Coffee in Palo Alto. Our friend Curt Bianchi is hiding somewhere in the shadows.

A staircase in Zurich.

This was before we gave a presentation in Zurich and is more about the shadow in the floor than on me, but notice how I'm standing. I don't normally stand that way, but in the photo it is far more flattering than just standing straight on and staring at the camera.

This was before we gave a presentation in Zurich and is more about the shadow in the floor than on me, but notice how I'm standing. I don't normally stand that way, but in the photo it is far more flattering than just standing straight on and staring at the camera.

A doorway in New Orleans.

My one trip to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl in 2010.

A breezeway in Las Vegas.

Bill took this while we were working on our NASCAR multimedia, which is why I'm wearing a fanny pack.

An early morning in the Atlanta airport.

I'm sure I was thrilled to pose for this one in my half-sleep state.

A window in Perpignan.

Between galleries at the Festival of the Photograph in Perpignan, France.

A wall in the Middle East.

One of my favorites from this collection. Jerusalem in 2010.

An afternoon in our office in Jacksonville, FL.

You can do a lot with a well placed blind.

You can do a lot with a well placed blind.

And there are many others. Although I don’t always act like it, I do appreciate the pictures. Mostly I appreciate the lessons. He won’t move from a spot until either the light is gone, he has the photo he wants, or both. His tenacity is incredible, and something I am slowly starting to emulate.

I used to think his insistence was unnecessary. Having dozens (or hundreds) of frames of essentially the same photo seemed insane to me. But as long as it may take to edit through the images, Bill always gets his frame.

As I have started shooting more for myself, I've noticed a tendency to do the same. Not to the extent he does, but I've learned that a nano second can make a massive difference. Between frames one and six of a 10 frame burst, a shoulder can slouch, wind can blow, hair can move, eyes can close. An extra frame (or 50) costs very little when the difference between good and great lays in the balance.

Persistence is perfection’s best friend.