In August, I traveled to New York to take photos of the Statue of Liberty for several book projects. Going in, I knew exactly the kind of image I wanted: Lady Liberty’s green copper face against a rich, blue summer sky.
But would the weather cooperate? And what would I do if it didn’t?
As the shoot’s date neared, the forecasts were not encouraging: rain, thunderstorms and heavy cloud cover were predicted. But when we got to Liberty Island, we seemed to be in luck. The sky was perfectly blue, with occasional puffy clouds providing relief from the intense sunshine.
The conditions were exactly what I had wanted. And yet, as I was shooting, I realized that the statue didn’t look as striking against the blue sky as I had thought it would. The sunshine created unattractive shadows on Lady Liberty’s face.
Here Come the Clouds
Then, clouds started gathering. The weather forecasters were right after all. I lost the blue sky.
As the cloud cover thickened, I found myself losing the desire to shoot. The image in my mind’s eye was no longer a possibility. I nearly stopped altogether.
But having spent money on a rental car, hotel, ferry tickets, and so forth for this shoot, I regained my determination. I kept looking for new angles — low, sideways, from behind. I was even able to shoot some silhouettes against the sun at one point.
Then, with the sky getting darker and darker, Lady Liberty’s face began to take on a strange, luminescent glow. She radiated a more soulful countenance as the light around her faded.
With rain and hail starting to pelt me, I kept shooting until the sky behind her crown was nearly black. These were far more dramatic images than the green-face-against-blue-sky shots I had anticipated going in. I didn’t stop until the skies opened up and I was forced to pull on a poncho and retreat.
The Danger of Preconceptions
There are two lessons here, I think.
First, don’t let bad weather stop your shooting. You can’t control the weather, but you can alter your creative vision to match the weather.
And second, don’t let your expectations prevent you from capturing unexpected moments. Preconceptions in photography can be a dangerous thing creatively. Focus too much on the images in your mind’s eye and you may miss the possibilities that are right in front of you.