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.


  1. Simon — Up early this morning and checked your site. Very nice! You can feel the joy that the students are having blowing bubbles on a beautiful day as evidenced by the big smile on the girl in the center. Thank you for your comments on “micro-composition” which identify elements that add up to a pleasing picture. How far were you from them when you took the shots? Some of your previous photos shot at f/2.4 had quite a bit of bokeh. There is some with the building a guy in the background. However, apparently there was not too much difference in each of the distances of the three students from you. It seems that the girl on the left is tack sharp; girl in the middle and boy on the right slightly less so. In situations like this with bubbles blowing, could you use the rapid fire capability of our cameras to take a burst of say, three to six shots with one press of the shutter button? Is there a downside to doing that? Thank you for your efforts to bring this site to us weekly. I am making a 100 mile (one way) trip this morning and I am going to bring my D7100!

    • David, if the timestamp on your comment is correct you certainly were up early! At least you should have beautiful weather for your drive today, and I’m glad you are bringing your camera with. Hopefully you’ll get some good shots along the way!

      I forget how far away I was when I shot the photo, but I’m guessing about 15 feet so even if I shot wide open at f/1.8 there would not be too much bokeh. And I think you’re right about the sharpness too. It was such a fast situation that I probably focused on the girl on the left and, given the large aperture, the other two ended up being just slightly out of focus. Ah, the perils of shooting wide instead of stopping down :)

      And regarding your question about motor drive, I absolutely use this especially when doing family and kid photo sessions. The only downside is it fills up the memory card a bit sooner and I end up with way more photos to sort through on my computer, but other than that it’s a great way to make sure you get the shot you want.

      Have a fantastic day, David!

      • Simon —
        Made a drive this morning from Wichita Falls to Haskell. At about 7:15 am, the moon set in the Western sky was fantastic! A bright, full moon still a ways above the horizon. Clear skies, so the craters on the moon were visible. Had to stop, get out, and click away!
        Nikon D7100; Nikkor 85mm fixed; aperture 4.0; shutter speed 1/80; ISO 100

        • That sounds fantastic David! Do you have any of those pics that you could post online? I’d love to see them! That D7100 + 85mm lens combination is awesome. I like to call that my “Supermodel lens” because it’s difficult to *not* get a fantastic photo of someone using it :)

  2. What a great idea for a fun picture. The one lone male seems not included in the photo . I think we sometimes , in the excitement of the moment , don’t take in the full picture ( pun intended ).
    I usually hand out my business card after a shoot like this , and say if you email me I will send you a copy free no strings attached. I find that’s a better approach then asking them for THEIR email address.

    • You’re right about that guy on the side, John. He almost seems like his mind is elsewhere, and it would have maybe made for a better photo if it was just the two ladies. Maybe he was sad because he was about to run out of bubble solution? :)

      That’s a great idea about the business card, and I don’t know why I didn’t think about that. Maybe I could get some cards printed up that say Weekly Fifty on them and a link to this blog or my Flickr account, and then I wouldn’t be so nervous when taking photos of people. Hmm.

  3. You got the “third rule” too. Great foreground and background. The delight in the girl’s eyes in palpable. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I like how the guy is clearly more serious than the girls and has his sunglasses on. I can relate. He just agreed to blow bubbles to spend time with this girl and now he is worried about being seen by his bros blowing bubbles on the front of the newspaper.

    • HAHAHA! Oh man that cracked me up, William. That guy’s thinking “I really hope this girl likes me, because I so do not want to be here right now.”

  5. Lovely photograph! And I really like how you share a story with your photos, it gives a nice personal touch to them :)

  6. I would have put those three students at ease by starting out with singing Tiny Bubbles . . . and then told them the story of the night I was 9 and me and my old gang took 10 boxes of Mister Bubble down to the fountain next to the Kimball Recital Hall on Wesleyan campus. We had that entire fountain filled with bubbles, and then we started jumping our bikes into the bubbly brew . . . until the campus cop came running up . . . and we had to ditch him . . .

    NIce shot, but better observation about three students who did not care what others thought about them. What a sensitive photographer you are, Simon!

    • Hahaha! Oh man, the mental image of you turning that fountain into the world’s largest bubble bath is hilarious, Tom :) Come to think of it, I could just as easily see you doing that same thing now!

  7. So fun to see young adults enjoying such a simple activity! And thank you for stopping to capture them! There was one time I gave someone my business card when I captured a photo of their daughter on the beach. They did e-mail me and I was so happy to share the photo with them. Might need to consider getting a set to keep on hand ;)

    • Ok Yvonne, you and John have convinced me I need to get some business cards! :) Where did you get yours printed? I don’t know the first thing about this, and wouldn’t have a clue as to where to start looking other than some random Google searching.

  8. "The girl in the middle" says

    Someone told us today that this photo was on the OSU Instagram page. It made us very happy to get to see it! You are an amazing photographer. Keep doing what you do :)

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