I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I really like working on a college campus. While most days are fairly ho-hum, there’s always the chance that you will run across an interesting photographic opportunity if you have your eyes open and your camera handy. When I took this photo I just happened to be walking across campus on an errand and had my camera handy, and I came across this trio of students enjoying the nice mid-February weather in a way that I don’t think I would ever see in corporate America. Something about this scene struck me as uniquely post-secondary: books, backpacks, bubbles, and a fierce refusal to care what anyone else might think. I walked past these students initially and then thought to myself “Why don’t I go take their picture?”
The answer to that question was the same as it usually is, and involved silly excuses like “What if they don’t want me to?” “What if they think I’m some kind of creepy weirdo?” “What if I don’t know how to frame the shot and I get a bad picture?” Fortunately my curiosity got the best of me and I turned around, walked back to where they were sitting, and asked if I could take their picture. They seemed to be flattered and I told them that blowing bubbles on a sunny day is something my kids like but I don’t usually see older people doing and that seemed to help erase any tension they might have had. Honestly my first priority was to just put these students at ease and let them know that I had no ill intentions (not that they had any cause to believe so in the first place, but still…) and then snap a few pictures. A lot was racing through my head as I crouched down and fired off a few shots such as:
• What should I focus on?
• What f/stop should I use to get the right depth of field?
• How should I frame these students to get a good shot?
• Where should I shoot from to make the best use of available light?
I didn’t have time to really ponder and explore these issues, but I think over the years I’ve built up enough instincts to get a few things correct right off the bat. The girl in the middle seemed to be really getting into the moment so I knew I wanted her sharp and in focus, and I shot with an aperture of f/2.4 which in hindsight was probably a bit overkill. It did give me a nice depth of field so the subjects are clearly pulled out from the background, making it easier to draw the viewer’s attention to them. But honestly my main goal wasn’t technical in nature but more compositional. I wanted a way to really capture the joy and delight of these students, and seeing the gleeful smile on the girl’s face as she watches bubbles float away from her wand does precisely that.
I’m very happy with the micro-composition elements of this picture too. The bubbles stream across the frame but do not overlap with the male student or the passer-by in the background. The girl on the left is framed nicely within the tree. And even though the horizon line cuts right through the head of my main subject (something I try to avoid whenever possible) the tradeoff was, in my mind, well worth it.
I took about eight or nine pictures, thanked the students, and went on my way not sure if I got anything useful at all. Even though I did get what I think is a good picture, at the time I didn’t even care since I just enjoyed seeing a very tangible reminder that there is always warmth following winter and light after dark, and no one should ever keep us from celebrating it.