A picture is worth a thousand words, sure. But have you ever wondered what was reeling in the minds of the photographer as soon as they released the shutter? We asked several photographers to share their personal favorite shots and the stories behind them. From pulling all-nighters to capture the best lighting to traveling the corners of the globe to touching life tales of their subjects, here’s proof that there’s much more to a photo than simply pointing and shooting. Here, three seasoned photographers recount what it took to get that perfect shot.
Dubai by Peter Stanley
“Anyone who has flown through Dubai knows that the layovers can be pretty bad. On this trip, I was presented with a seven hour, evening layover. Not enough time to get out of the airport and see the city and not enough time to get any real sleep at the terminal. Since I wasn’t confined to a schedule (I’m a teacher and this was summer break), I asked my travel agent for the worst layover possible. As it turned out, I managed to get a 30-hour layover, which would be just enough time for a visit to a few sites.
I live in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and wanted to experience something different so I booked myself into the tallest hotel within my budget and asked for a room as high as possible. It was all quite random, but I find that my senses are ignited when I see things for the first time. These are the moments that I enjoy experimenting with my camera as I try to put all of those sensory experiences into one image. This picture was from the roof of my hotel. The roof was closed and very dark, which made for a wonderful place to set up a few long exposures as the hot desert air moved through the narrow line of skyscrapers.
This picture inspired me to set up a gallery on my website called ‘travel icons,’ which has created a fun personal challenge for me to try to make unique pictures when visiting those very well known places. I can’t wait for my next terrible layover so I can try to add another image to this gallery.”
Emerging Glory by Dan Ballard
“Banff National Park is one of the most incredible places on earth. I was hiking in the backcountry looking for locations. When I came over this pass midday I knew it was the area I wanted to shoot. I still had a couple more hours to the nearest possible camping area, however, and as it was all downhill I started groaning right then. Of course I couldn’t have picked an area to shoot that was a little closer to my tent! Now, if I had known at the time that I would have had this kind of incredible light the next morning, light that only happens a couple times a year at best, I wouldn’t have cared. Getting up at 2:30 a.m. and hiking for hours with this knowledge would have been great. However, at the time I thought it was almost certain that the light would not be great, and there was a very high chance that the clouds would block the sun altogether and I wouldn’t get a sunrise at all. That’s the hard thing about outdoor photography. You never know if you will have great light or nothing, and when you have to hike for hours to find out, it can be tough. With those thoughts in my mind, I woke up the next morning to rain hitting the tent. So I had to make a decision. Make myself crawl out of my warm, comfortable tent in the rain, to walk miles uphill in the dark, in the rain to almost definitely not even take my camera out… or roll over and go back to bed. That is not an easy decision to make on a cold, rainy morning at 2:30 a.m. let me tell you. Luckily, I somehow made it happen and made the hike. What I found when the sun came up was absolutely breathtaking. This is why I am a photographer. This is why I love it. This is why I always go. Even in the rain that I love so much, because I know that it can be followed be the most amazing light on earth, and often is.”
Stuck in Ice by Andrew Peacock
“This image was published on the front page of The Guardian Newspaper in the UK and the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia after I filed it from Antarctica just before New Years Eve 2013. I was aboard the Akademik Shokalskiy, a Russian vessel carrying scientists and tourists that became stuck in ice off East Antarctica and was at the center of a media frenzy.
It was not preconceived in any way, yet upon reflection later it’s apparent to me that its genesis lay in what I had seen of photos from expeditions to Antarctica many years ago. Photographer Herbert Ponting was among the pioneers of classic Antarctic photography, and he captured the enduring black and white photo you see here of the ship Terra Nova, on glass plates, during Scott’s expedition of 1910–12.
I had photographed just about every subject and angle I could think of in the week or so that we were stranded among thick pack ice, and as a member of the expedition team it was with little enthusiasm that I headed onto the ice again tasked with the job of keeping the two Guardian journalists who were also on board safe as they filmed a piece. For some strange reason I took only a fisheye lens with me, which didn’t really make sense if you consider we were surrounded by a huge open expanse of sky and ice as far as the eye could see.
As fate would have it there was just one large ice feature—the passengers had named it The Blob—near the ship. While the guys recorded endless takes I wandered over to it and noticed at its base that there was a small gap where beautiful little icicles had formed in a blue cavern. I thought it might just be possible with the fisheye to create a composition where I could capture them with the ship in the distance. I was able to place the camera into a small icy gap but not physically position myself to see through the viewfinder or even see the LCD screen. So I began to experiment and fired off some shots and reviewed them on the screen to see what I had come up with. In fact, the composition came together quite easily, and all I needed to do was be patient in the cold waiting for the others to finish up so I could then direct them into position to complete the image that I now had in my mind. I was excited to see the final frames on my computer back in the cozy warmth of my cabin, but at the time I had no idea it would be a photo seen by so many newspaper readers around the world.
It felt a bit like I’d made something out of nothing, but clearly it’s possible to make interesting images with almost any configuration of subject, environment and one lens of any focal length.