Larry Cohen’s Baltimore car crash image

In Inspiration, Migrate, The Creative Process by Chris FoleyLeave a Comment


"To me, photography is an art of observation. It's about finding something interesting in an ordinary place. I've found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them."

~ Elliott Erwitt


I came across a photograph on Instagram today that got me thinking about how different people will see (and photograph) a similar scene in very different ways.

The image was taken by Larry Cohen, (follow him on Instagram, he's very good) and is a simple photograph of a remarkable event. But for all its simplicity, check out how well-composed the image is. He’s got rule of thirds working well against the vanishing point. He's got a very simple frame. He's got an overturned car leaning against a pole, fastened to which is a sign which indicates a speed limit of 25mph. A police officer stands to one side observing the scene, taking scene photos for his report.

You’ve got a supporting character over to the right looking on, but he’s a non-essential element.

In short, the photo is simple, yet excellent. He’s got all of the essential elements where they should be, and the story is clearly told. The speed limit sign, placed where it is by dumb luck, adds the element of humor (or if not humor, then at least irony), and the police officer doing his job completes the story.

What if the police officer had stepped out of frame for a moment and you had an image of the overturned car with nobody around to see it? The image would go from “a day in Baltimore” to “surreal overturned car” simply by removing the cop.  That's interesting to me.


So what?

Sometime last year I came across an overturned car and took a few photos of the scene, and for reasons that I’m still working out, I couldn’t find a single workable composition.


Make no mistake, there’s a lot wrong with the photos I took. 
First, the ISO is crazy high, which I later came to realize was because I had been shooting the night before and I hadn’t yet checked my camera settings for the day when I stumbled upon the crash.

Second, I didn’t want to get in the way. There were police and fire personnel crawling the scene and I wanted to get some shots, but didn’t want to own my space. Big mistake. BIG mistake right there.

Third, I was thinking about getting these image to the local newspaper and the editor looks for specific properties, most of which are very different to my own approach to street photography, or my approach to any photography genre for that matter.

Lastly, mindset matters. I was walking with my wife to meet friends for coffee.

What it all comes down to is that I wasn’t “seeing” yet. Some days it takes a while for that to kick in for me. Some days it never kicks in and I come home from a photowalk with images that suck, just like these images suck. Other days I photograph rubbish for an hour and then my Photography Brain warms up and I start to “see” again.

Whatever the reason, my car crash images here are very different than Larry Cohen’s car crash image. While I don’t generally recommend comparing your own work to the work of others it is a very good idea to pay attention to what others are doing with their photography. Their approach, their styles, their execution on a theme.

Sometimes it’s mindset. Sometimes it’s luck. Sometimes it’s preparedness. Skill is always a factor and the more we shoot the more quickly we can fire up our Photographer Brain when we happen upon the unexpected.

Bottom line here: my own car crash images are nothing more than snapshots. 

One more thing...

Oh, speaking of luck, I one day chanced upon a boat crash as it was about to happen. My Photographer Brain was already activated and I was prepared for it. Those images, thankfully, did not suck, and they’ve been used on the local and regional news each summer to illustrate stories about boating safety. They were also used as material evidence in the city’s case against the boat captain. You can read about that incident here, if you’re interested.

Thanks for reading.



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