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Maybe Don't Take this Photograph?
How I Photographed The Pilots
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Speaking in broad terms, I think it’s good advice to avoid photographing active military personnel in a foreign country. But what if (and this is a big, potentially-being-detained-in-an-African-prison if) you saw a rare window to do it safely and tastefully?
That’s what I felt in Morocco over a year ago, and that’s what I’d like to share with you this week.
The Pilots was captured in the Moroccan coastal city of Essaouira on Portra 400 film with my Leica M6 and Summarit 35mm F2.4 lens. And since I never made a habit keeping notes of my precise film settings, I’ll guess that this was shot at an aperture and shutter speed north of f8.0 and 1/500 respectively. If you fancy yourself a film expert, feel free to leave a comment on what you think the settings might’ve been.
I think I’m at my most patient with a camera in my hands, which is something I’m sure my partner would find surprising and annoying, haha. But seriously! If I get a whiff that the composition is there, I can just wait and wait for image to present itself. It’s something I’ve adopted from the greats of photography and sh*t, it just feels sooo good when it actually pays off.
Patience is what led to this photograph. There was an air show that was scheduled to happen at the beach that day and the pilots had come down to observe the sky from where the crowd would be gathered. I’ve never seen pilot outfits like this before: bright red jumpsuits with classic, gold-trimmed aviators. I knew that I had to find a way to capture something a little more unique.
As these pilots arranged themselves, I saw the frame! I needed the shot with the whole group looking dead-straight through my lens, as if they were in sync on the ground as they were in the air. But how?
Should I wait? Should I ask politely? Should I be more direct? Well, it ended up being a mix of all three. I waited for an opportunity and approached the gentlemen on the far right of the frame. I struck up a conversation, asking about the uniforms and the show, and made sure to to respond with the upmost gratitude for each nugget of information. I then asked him directly, can I capture a photo?
He said no.
F*ck, am I gonna just accept that answer? I threw my hands up and told him no problem, and just took a few steps back and waited. And waited. And waited. A few minutes would pass and suddenly, this gentleman would turn back and say, okay one photo.
“Let’s f*cking gooo!” The voice in my head exclaims.
I go up, take a few portraits and then step back to start framing the entire group. I just keep going, winding the film and hitting the shutter. The combined sound making this whirrr-CLACK sound over and over and over again. I was in earshot of all the pilots and I knew that if I was patient, this continuous shooting would get their attention.
And it worked.
I caught this one frame where they all turned their heads and before I could hit the shutter again, the centre pilot waved me off. All good, my work here was done.
Sometimes you never know, but sometimes you just know. If that makes sense? The look, the uniforms, the posturing, and even the odd-one-out that’s smiling through his mask, it all comes together to make this a special image for me. Should you always take the photo? I think the only answer I can give is, it depends.
Now, I’ll admit that knowing the story of a photograph may detract from how people perceive it, I’d still love to hear what you think. Drop a comment and let’s continue the conversation there.
See ya next time!