Yesterday's Light

Images in Space and Time

Surfer Girl

Surfer Girl (2926, G12)

My wife is not what you’d call technically sophisticated when it comes to making photographs.  “Technically challenged” would probably be more appropriate (a description that I know she wouldn’t argue with).  She uses a simple Canon G12 Powershot; I set the aperture near wide open and she just points and shoots.  She couldn’t tell you the difference between aperture and shutter speed (or an ISO setting) if her life depended on it.  And she doesn’t want to know the difference.  Most of the time it doesn’t matter.  She likes to shoot in bright sun – her “problem shots” usually occur when she tries to combine bright skies with deep shadows in the same frame.  Sometimes I can correct that in Lightroom and sometimes I can’t.

But every now and then her lack of technical knowledge creates something very good and very interesting (at least for me, but I’m clearly biased).  This image, for example.  She had decided to take a walk on the beach (near Charleston, SC) at sunrise, mostly because it looked like there might be some spectacular color when the sun approached the eastern horizon.  While she waited, she walked around the beach taking pictures of whatever she thought was interesting.  Most of those images weren’t very good.  The light level was very low, creating shutter speeds of 1/10 of a second or more.  Not knowing (or caring) about this little problem, she just kept shooting.

When I first saw this picture on the computer I instantly realized what had happened.  This “surfer girl” had run past her on the beach and my wife pointed her camera and pressed the shutter.  She never thought about light or shutter speed or motion for even a nanosecond.  And then she moved on.  Perhaps there’s an advantage to that kind of picture-making.  If it had been me, I would have been set up at a high ISO and wide open aperture to insure a shutter speed of about 1/100 of a second (fast enough to “freeze” the water).  Making an image like this would never have occurred to me.  At least not in the instant that the girl ran by.

I really like this image.  I like the light, I like the subdued color, and I like the blur.  You know what the picture contains (it’s not that much of an abstraction), but the lack of sharpness is an asset, not a fault.  To me, it’s a picture of unbridled joy and passion.  The girl is doing what she loves, even though it’s very early, the waves are small, and the water is still very cold.  But it doesn’t matter.  All of those things are irrelevant.  It’s who she is.

And my technically challenged wife caught it.  Maybe I can get her to teach me how to do it………..


11 Responses to “Surfer Girl”

  1. Earl Moore

    Paul, do you think Barbara would do a group class so I could learn as well. 🙂 I do believe knowledge can sometimes get in the way of creativity. It’s a wonderful photo for all the reasons you gave and more.

    • Paul Maxim

      A “group class” indeed! I told Barb what you said and she laughed. She said she hasn’t a clue why some of her pictures seem to “work” – if you ask her why she took any particular image she always says the same thing: “because I liked it”. That’s simple enough, I guess. As you say, knowledge can sometimes hinder creativity. Having said that, it’s also true that she’s missed some wonderful opportunities because she didn’t know the technical stuff.

      More importantly, she’s glad you liked the picture. Thanks, Earl.

  2. John Linn

    Paul, you are right… this is really nice. I really get a feeling of the time and location. I also like the patterns of diagonals that work really well.

    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, John. Yes, the slightly diagonal horizontal lines from the sky and ocean contrast nicely with the vertical form of the girl. I think that’s what my wife actually “saw”.

  3. Markus Spring

    A wonderful capture of a fine moody early morning scenery, Paul – and certainly reason to think if our predisposedness with all things technical sometimes hinders us to photograph, to write/draw/paint with light. I am sure we need both aspects, and us being (old) boys, the technical side all too often takes to much room and puts blinders on our seeing.

    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, Markus. As usual, you’re exactly right. We all need to find a reasonable balance between technical methodology and creative spark. When we place more and more emphasis on things like absolute sharpness (as I often do), something else is lost. How we see becomes more important than what we see. All that we’re left with is a kind of image sterility.

  4. Cedric Canard

    Despite your bias Paul you haven’t oversold this photograph. It’s wonderful; for all the reasons you state, especially the softness created by the blur. I would have had a grin from ear to ear had I made this shot. And what about the reflection on the board. It almost makes the board look transparent. Very cool. You don’t mention what your wife thought of it; did she like it?

    On a side note, that wetsuit looks like one of those new ones made to deter sharks. Do you get a lot of sharks on the East coast?

    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, Cedric. Barbara thinks it’s really cool that people from as far away as Europe and Australia like her picture. It made her day!

      Yes, she definitely likes the image, although she took another one of the same girl that she might like better. The shutter speed was even slower (1/4 sec.) and all you can really make out is one of the girl’s legs running along the beach. It’s kind of weird. The rest of her body is sort of invisible.

      I know absolutely nothing about wetsuits. I think most of the surfers were wearing them to keep warm – the water temperature was about 65 F. As for sharks, attacks on the east coast are rare. They’re out there, but the only place where people worry about them, I think, is southern Florida.

      • Cedric Canard

        Well, I would very much like to see the second photo if that’s possible. I have a feeling I would like that equally 🙂

  5. TomDills

    I have a good friend who lives at Folly Beach and surfs. He probably knows her. I’m partial to this one over the second one because I prefer the more representational version and find that the pier overpowers the figure.

    I’m enjoying seeing these photos that are a bit “closer to home” for me.

    • Paul Maxim

      You said it better than I did, Tom. I said that the second image was too busy. But I like your description better – the pier does seem to “overpower” both the girl and the board. At least in my mind.

      I wouldn’t mind living in Folly Beach. That is, if I could afford it. It’s a nice little area and very close to the historical Charleston area.


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