In the dark night.

I saw it. I photographed it. I added to it.

That’s the story of this picture. But, what’s the story behind it? Taking chances.

I could say that a lot of my career was based on taking chances. I could say that I photographed on the edge.

The edge of what?

The edge of technical limitations. The edge of the city. Or, is it really the edge of madness?

I’m not mad. Or, crazy. Or, lacking in certain cautions. But, I do take chances. I didn’t always. I  was photojournalist. Pure and simple. My pictures were clean, sharp and well made. They had to be. That served those years of my career well.

After I moved on I found other mentors. Other photographic friends. They talked. I listened. With any luck at all, I grew.

One night, while walking in New York City, a friend and mentor, showed me how to expose for the night light and subjects. I made a picture that was just dripping with motion and energy. His exposure became my base exposure. Two Seconds at F5.6. Over the years, I modified that according to the scene and what I hoped to achieve.

That got easier in the digital age because F stops turned weird. Traditional numbers meant nothing. Gone were the days of, F2, F2.8, F4, F5.6, F8, F11, F16 and F22. Instead using the camera’s light meter and histogram, often you saw numbers like F9, F7.2 and so on. Precise light measurements. Checking the histogram told you if the exposure was correct from a light to dark balance.

That made pushing the edge easier. It also made it more time consuming. Photographers, still unused to digital capture, started checking the LCD on the back of their cameras. Not only did they check the exposure, but they check the subject for sharpness, contrast, and composition.

Experienced photographers who trusted their instincts didn’t look at the LCD, instead they created a term for it. Chimping. You can figure out why.

A curious thing happened with many of these chimping photographers. You’d think that the volume of their shoots would drop. Instead it rose. These guys still had no confidence in their work. They would shoot a non-moving subject that they could control, holding down the shutter release button, while making 500 pictures of the same thing.

That’s a big mistake.

There are a few ways to learn not to make that mistake.

Photograph a lot comes to mind. No. That doesn’t mean holding down the button. It means look for many subjects. If you want to play this game, limit yourself to only five images per scene. I know a photographer who limited himself to one image.

Create a way of working. One way is to make a picture per day. Do that for a year. I did that for a while. You learn a lot about yourself. You learn a lot about light. You learn a lot about subject matter. I liked it so much that my one year turned into two, then three. I stopped after my fifth year.

Find a mentor. I did that in my early newspaper years. I found a guy who was brutal. His first critiques could make a grown man cry. Little by little as I learned and grew, his critiques turned positive. When it was time move to a bigger newspaper, he recommended me for a job at a newspaper that was the sister paper to his paper.

There are other things you can do as well. Ask your mentor. That’s what I did.

Still, at 45 years on I still ask for advice.

Try it.