Making Lemonade

I assume you’ve heard the saying, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Last weekend I taught a workshop where a big part of what we were going to shoot involved hot air balloons. So what happens when the weather turns bad and the balloons are canceled? You make lemonade.

We were in Santa Fe for Popular Photography’s Mentor Series. It was the same time as the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, one of the largest gatherings of hot air balloons in the world. Saturday we got up very early and left at 4am to spend the morning flying in and taking pictures of balloons. By 9:30am we were back at our hotel, without any pictures. Turns out wind and hot air balloons don’t mix. And I was again thankful for my background in newspaper photography. In newspapers most assignments involve a small

This cross with the small cross looped onto it caught my eye. To help my viewers see it, I shot at a wide aperture to throw the background out of focus. Nikon D600, ISO 100, 1/4000, f/2.5, -0.3 EV, 28mm. Photo copyright Reed Hoffmann.

window of time, and your job is to make the best possible picture you can, regardless of what happens. As we know, life rarely goes according to plan.

So with our plans for the rest of the day canceled, what did we do? We came up with new plans. At 10:30am the other instructor and I took our two groups for photo walks near the hotel. As we worked our people through how to look for and make pictures (light, shadow, pattern, color, etc.), the trip leaders sat down with their laptops and started doing some research. By the time we’d finished our shoot and had lunch, they had a plan.

Taos, New Mexico, was close and is a beautiful little town. Just outside it is Taos Pueblo, a Native American community. It’s also the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the U.S. The main pueblo structures are estimated to be over 1000 years old, and still lived in, without electricity or running water. And, they’re open for

The doors and windows in the pueblo had blue frames, and I wanted to contrast that against the mud and sky. Nikon D600, ISO 100, 1/640, f/8, -0.7 EV, 28mm. Photo copyright Reed Hoffmann.

visitors. We hopped on our bus and headed for Taos.

The Pueblo was everything we could have hoped for. Bright sunshine, beautiful old buildings under a deep blue sky with white clouds. Entering, we passed the cemetery, which has the remains of the original church, built in 1619 and destroyed by U.S troops in 1847 after a revolt. The “new” church dates to 1850 and is a lovely small building. The area was one of those rare places where you’d be hard pressed to make a bad picture. The combination of light, pattern, color and shape meant there were pictures anywhere you looked. It had it all – overalls, details, signs of daily life and some people going about their lives. The time there passed very quickly.

As much we hated leaving, we had more shoots planned. Just outside Taos proper is the San Francisco De Asis church, made famous through the photography of Georgia O’Keefe. We stopped to see the church as much as shoot it, but that turned into a great opportunity as well. Our visit coincided with the 5pm Mass, and we were able to observe the townspeople and priest arriving for services.

Leaving there we started driving back to Santa Fe on scenic highway 68, the same road we’d taken earlier. On the drive up we noticed a canyon of Aspen in full fall color, and thought that might be a good photo stop on the return. It was.

Our final stop was at a junkyard. When we passed it before I noticed a sofa on top of an old car, as well as some other interesting stuff. So as the sun was setting, we pulled in there for about fifteen minutes. Nice pictures. Exhausted and happy, we drove back to

I loved the composition of this scene, and the girl’s head against the shadow behind her. So I asked if I could take her picture, and she was happy to oblige. Nikon D600, ISO 100, 1/640, f/6.3, -0.3 EV, 31mm. Photo copyright Reed Hoffmann.

Santa Fe as the sun settled below the horizon.

Were we disappointed we didn’t get to photograph the balloons that day? Absolutely. That almost always makes good pictures, and are fun to be around. But I think we made even better pictures, and certainly shot a better variety of subjects, with the plan we improvised. Change isn’t always bad. When out shooting, be prepared to change your plans. Because what you think you’re going to shoot and what you actually end up shooting are often two different things. And if you’re lucky, those change will result in better pictures. It sure did for us.

I love being lucky. When I saw the priest headed for the church, I ran to the front and knelt down, to place him against the dark wall behind. Nikon D600, ISO 100, 1/200, f/8, -0.7 EV, 22mm. Photo copyright Reed Hoffmann.

This photo needed a combination of underexposure and a graduated neutral density filter to expose both the trees and the sky properly. Nikon D600, ISO 100, 1/160, f/5, -1.7 EV, 31mm. Photo copyright Reed Hoffmann.

One of my favorite shots from the day came from the unique juxtaposition of elements in this junkyard scene. Nikon D600, ISO 100, 1/30, f/5.6, -0.7 EV, 85mm. Photo copyright Reed Hoffmann.