Upon arrival to the Smithfield Street Bridge in downtown Pittsburgh, the rain had stopped and the sun began to rise…slowly, but quickly enough that time was of the essence. The color was peak and fading fast.
Scouring the bridge for a pleasing composition, I noticed a puddle on the center median of the bridge. Not being one to shy away from a precarious perch, I crossed the inbound lane of the bridge, only slightly illegally, to go play in the water. Laying on the ground in a puddle to catch a unique reflection has kind of been my thing since 2011 and I’ve only been mistaken for a homeless vagrant 7 or 8 times. In fact, as the story goes, that’s how I made my first dollar as a photographer. While walking along the North Shore, some lovely, kind soul had pity upon me, the face-down-on-the-ground-in-a-puddle photographer, and tossed a few bucks on my back so I could grab a bite to eat when I came to.
But I digress. Back to “Maze” and the near tragedy.
Crossing the traffic and dodging speeding buses was a challenge, sure. But squeezing my larger than average frame on to a smaller than average bridge median proved to almost be the end of me. Or at least my leg which was hanging off the side of the median as said incoming bus was whizzing by. ‘JP Diroll – Risking Limbs For Your Art since 2017’ has a nice ring to it, yes? Monty Python and the Holy Grail anyone?
Unfortunately for me, the tale had not yet concluded. Mr. Bus Driver that almost took off my leg must have been pretty ticked at me. Although it can’t be proven, we (myself and the two friends on the bridge with me) are 137% certain the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police received an anonymous tip from him that “5” people were hanging out on the bridge. Illegally. Uh-Oh.
Now, I’m not saying I should have been on the bridge, specifically the middle of it. I shouldn’t have. But come on, ‘5 people.’ I’m a big guy, but as big as 3 adults. Low blow Mr. Bus Driver, why you gotta be so mean?
So there it is. I did not lose a limb. I did not lose any days, hours, or even minutes as a free man. But I DID gain one hell of a photo, a slightly exaggerated story, and a lifelong memory!
In life, they say it’s good to have a plan, a strategy to help achieve the goals or tasks we set for ourselves. I wholeheartedly agree. Without a plan, I all too often find myself orbiting around my own brain wondering what to do next. Having a step by step, actionable list of things to do is helpful to me and essential to keeping me focused and on task.
But that’s really only feasible from the business side of my photography, not the artistic and creative side. Sure, when a sunrise needs to be prepared for, many things can be mapped out and counted upon. I know the sun WILL come up and I know WHERE it will rise. I know the bridge that I want to photograph or make photos from will be there, potholes and all, because hey, this is Pittsburgh. But there are factors that are beyond control. Traffic getting to the city, complete drear and cloud cover (again…Pittsburgh), or my 6 month old baby needing me at 6AM so I’m late for the sunrise are a few that spring to mind. These circumstances render a plan completely useless, causing photography to often take on “take what you’re given” mentality.
Often times, this take what you’re given approach ends up feeling a concession. You can’t get what you planned or hoped for so you settle for something different and presumably not as good. In my experience though, different is better than good.
Other times, luck prevails, the weather cooperates, and the stars align. Or in my case, the planets do.
The weather in Pittsburgh this last week of January reached record breaking lows and can only be described by most as brutally cold. The meteorologists said stay inside but what I heard was the rivers are going to freeze. Time to make a plan. So I did.
And what did we just learn about plans. They change. The river was frozen, yes, but not nearly as much as I’d anticipated…or hoped. I’ve seen it completely frozen over several times when temperatures weren’t nearly as cold. Most of the river was still flowing, but with large chunks of ice slowly floating along. So I went with a long exposure to convey the motion of the floating ice contrasting with the static ice that was building along the bank of the river. Cool. Pun intended.
What I wasn’t accounting for, or expecting, is what I’m calling a happy little accident. And I was lucky enough to catch 3 of them!
If you look at the photo, you’ll see the moon and two bright stars. Normally I’m pretty in tune with where the moon is going to be, but I read my app wrong and was surprised, pleasantly, to have it in such a pleasing spot for my intended composition. Happy accident number 1. But those two bright stars, it turns out, are actually Venus and Jupiter. This was totally unplanned for, I must admit. They are a tiny, yet impactful, morsel of photographic tastiness that you were completely unaware of but privileged enough to not only see, but include in your photo in a meaningful AND intentional way! Happy accident number 2!
…and happy accident number 3? Well, I was lucky that Uranus wasn’t also in the picture!
You can read more about Jupiter and Venus HERE
One of the things I’ve struggled with in keeping up with this blog is what the focus should be. Time after time I’d sit down with an idea, write a couple sentences, maybe even a paragraph or two, and then abandon it because it didn’t match the theme of the blog. There was a major flaw with this: there was no theme. There was no structure or cliffhanger to make you tune in next week to see what happens. It was a random collection of stories and photos supporting the story.
I know what you’re thinking: “Boy, this guy is doing a lousy job at selling his own blog.” To that I say…”True story!” But that was the old blog. That was the old JP. The new JP is firing up his revamped blog that is going to be completely different and more exciting than ever before. The new blog is going to be…wait for it…
….A random collection of musings, stories, maybe some humor, and of course, PHOTOS (I am a photographer, after all) from the far off place of JP Land. (If you’re interested in traveling there, now is the time…nobody goes there anymore and flights are cheeeeeap!)
So why no dramatic change to the original “structure?” Because I know my strengths and at this very moment those DO NOT include the ability to write a blog that can substitute as a novel.
Instead, I want the blog and stories to be for people who have followed my work for years as well as those who are just discovering it. I want it to be for those who like pretty words, those who like pretty pictures, and those who like pretty words about pretty pictures. I want it to be where people can escape the mundane of everyday life…okay that sounds trite, I admit, but I do want to create a 5 minute retreat with each post that at least one person can relate to, even if that person is only myself. I might just even add a bit of humor – work with me on this one, I’ve only been a dad for 3 years but I’m getting the “Dad joke” down pat. I want this to be just what it’s always been, but with more regularity. I want it to evolve as I evolve.
And this time, I’m doing exactly what I want to do which is to make this blog an extension of myself. To do that properly, to share my stories, I have to examine the story of me, learn who I was, who I am now, and who I want to be. But you’ll have to tune in later for all that…oh look, my first cliffhanger!
This is a post I wrote last week. I toiled with internal struggle over whether I should even share the writing or not, not out of fear of sharing something personal, making me feel vulnerable, rather I wasn’t sure if anyone would find it interesting. The more I thought, and continue to think, about it, though, the more I realized that the context of my thoughts are pretty common and if they help only one person, than my sharing will be well worth it. Unfortunately, as the title might suggest you will see, I do not have any photos of butterflies to accompany my thoughts, so instead I’m sharing my photo “The Lonely Leaf” which many people actually think is a butterfly and not a leaf. At any rate, enough rambling – here’s my experience. I hope you enjoy and find value in it.
A little over two weeks was a pretty big step for me…on a few fronts and in a lot of ways. I was honored enough to be asked to give a presentation about my photography to the Photo Section of the Academy of Arts and Sciences of Pittsburgh, or in simpler terms “The Pittsburgh Camera Club,” which as it turns out is the oldest continually operating photography club in America, starting in the late 1800’s. That’s right, the late 1800’s…almost since the dawn of photography.
I was asked back in August and emphatically said yes to such a gracious offer and awesome opportunity. We set the date for mid-April, giving me more than plenty of time to prepare, which I didn’t, and hundreds of days to stew on ideas while letting butterflies build permanent homes in my stomach, which they did.
Fast-forward 8 months to April 1. A few butterflies have not simply set up shop in my belly, the entire herd – what do you call a group of butterflies, anyway? – has colonized my body, and I am the “monarch.” See what I did there?
Luckily for me, I’ve had lots and lots of practice of keeping things stored in the back of my mind or the pit of my stomach – literally and figuratively on the stomach part, I like to eat – so coming up with a theme for the presentation was going to be no sweat. Or so I thought. As ideas popped in to my mind, I’d make sure to get them down on paper else they’d be lost forever and rather quickly at that. I was certain of the photos I wanted to include for the most part, but was still lacking a cohesive flow to the presentation.
The day before I was to speak, I spent 12 hours putting together a Power Point presentation, essentially relearning the program because I’ve not used it in well over a decade. It was a slow, tedious process, which both allowed my brain to otherwise focus on the preparation part while the nervousness about actually speaking to a room full of people in less than a day percolated at full force.
A funny thing happened, though, the morning of presentation day. I was polishing up the presentation – oh who am I kidding, I was finishing the last third of it when I had my “aha” moment. I put together 4 principles in which I look or hope for when I set out to create a shot. It’s rare to find more than one of the elements I hope for in one photograph, but in a moment of intense clarity, a feeling normally foreign to me as my mind tends to jump around quite a bit, I realized an image I had not used yet which drew from every single theme I had just put together.
It was at this point where I actually said out loud, in the middle of a Dunkin Donuts, mind you, “Holy shit. This is a damn good presentation.” Again, this was a rarity for me as I am my own harshest critic. Nothing is ever good enough for myself, and as a sole proprietor of a creative business, that’s how it has to be for if I get complacent, or even comfortable, my work will stagnate and the business will fail. But there was going to be no failure this time. I was proud of what I had put together and confident in the material. It also helped that I know my work and my processes inside and out. It’s funny how a little knowledge and a smidge of confidence can drive off a colony of butterflies squatting in someone’s stomach.
The end of the year brings about many things. Some people think about the year to come while others like to reflect upon their accomplishments and memories from the previous 12 months. I tend to fall in between the two, but this post is more geared towards the latter. Each year I like to review my portfolio and select my finest and most memorable photos, or ones that represent a particular achievement that I am proud of.
Below you will find the 10 images which I believe best represent my photographic journey in 2014. There were many highs and not too many lows. Whittling down the year into 10 images proved to be quite difficult actually. It is dominated by Pittsburgh photos, with 6, and for good reason – it’s accessible to me, it’s beautiful, and I enjoy it! But I do enjoy landscapes and traveling (perhaps even more so!) so you’ll see some of that too. Sadly, this is the second year in a row that I have no wildlife in my top ten so I think I’ll work on that for next year. But alas, enough words…let’s get on with the photos!
So there you have it – my favorite, best, most memorable photos of the year. It was certainly and awesome 12 months and I’m a big fan reflection, but at the same time I’m pretty pumped about the year ahead. I hope you’ll join me on my journey in 2015. Oh, and by the way, just in case you’re looking for more…scroll on just a bit for 10 MORE photos that were close, but didn’t make the cut for this year.
Welcome to the first edition of “Photo of the Day” here on the JP Diroll Photography blog. My plan is to write a little blurb about a photo each day (almost 😉 I’m sure there will be days here and there that I’ll miss) and post it to to my social media sites as well as here. To that end, I want to take a minute to thank all of you for the support for this idea. I had mentioned on my Facebook page about the possibility of doing this and the overwhelming majority of you essentially said…”Go for it” or “I’ll definitely check it out.” So again, thank you! I hope you enjoy this endeavor.
Without further ado, here is my first photo of the day (POTD from here on out!). As it turns out, today is Thursday, but you all know that! What you may or may not no is that Thursday is a widely considered “Throwback Thursday,” or TBT, on many of the social media platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter in my experience. So I decided I’d kill two birds with one stone and make my very first POTD my very first TBT as well. The photo you see above is called Winter’s Light. It was taken on a very cold, snowy Saturday in January. The reflection is surreal. The sky is full interesting clouds. And that light illuminating the Andy Warhol Bridge, well let’s just say I’ve never seen light so beautiful on that bridge since then. And I spend a lot of time on the North Shore, and I do mean a lot! Now I’ve shared this image a few times before across my various social media outlets, and if you’ve ever gotten a business card from me then you’ve certainly seen this photo. It’s kind of my brand, if you will. And for good reason. It holds a very special place in my heart. It is the first photo I received a great deal of attention for and gave me the confidence to continue down the path of becoming a photographer. It made me want to MAKE photographs instead of TAKE photographs. It ultimately helped my vacation become my vocation…or is it the other way around 😛 ? For me it’s a bit of both! Ever since this photo, it’s been pretty much full throttle and I don’t intend on easing up off the pedal any time soon. I want thank each and every one of you reading this for the support and I hope you’ll join me on the ride!
In my short adventure into blogging, I’ve made a substantial observation: blogging is a challenge to keep up with…for me at least. I always have the best of intentions of writing a post about each photo I take. I like to write and I love to take photos so it should seem only natural that accompanying my photos with a story behind them should come easily to me. And generally it does, but that story or blurb usually accompanies my post on my Facebook photo page for my daily photo.
My challenge to myself is to use this new (to me) blogging platform more frequently and effectively. That was and is the purpose of beginning this “Kickstart” series. My hope is that I force myself to get out and shoot each Monday, morning or evening, then come home and process the photos. I want to have a theme that I adhere to, albeit loosely in some cases, and I will summarize the session the following Monday with both my photos and a story. My hope is that by doing this I will expand my creativity by having a week to think up a theme, then one day to execute it, no matter the conditions. If conditions are ideal, then I should have no problem. If they are poor, I’ll think on my feet and hopefully come away with some new perspectives and solutions. I anticipate no problems as I have found that conditions are very often ideal. Except when they aren’t, which is almost ALWAYS! So…thinking on my feet it is!
Unfortunately, I have a feeling dealing with less than ideal conditions while shooting will be the least of my problems. Picking a theme, well that will be challenging at times, but I’ve got a list to work my way through already so no problem yet. Taking the photos? NO WAY…that’s the best and most fun part! Editing the photos? No, no problem there. My real challenge is going to be consistency and sticking to a schedule. I started this idea a month ago. As we all know, there are 4 weeks in a month and as this is only my 2nd Kickstart post, well…you get the idea. But, with some discipline and dedication, I truly believe this weekly project will help my greatly. So, without further ado, please enjoy this week’s Kickstart photos: Mount Washington at First Light.
Photography, at its most basic level, is the art of light. The very essence of a photograph is almost always determined by the type, quality, and direction of light illuminating the subject. Sure, composition is critical and subject matter is obviously important. But a stunning landscape can be rendered much less spectacular with the absence of quality, interesting light. Conversely, the most mundane of subjects can make stunning photographs under the right conditions and light. There are two things that I’ve learned about light on my short photographic journey: it is ever-changing and don’t give up on it. The latter is a tougher pill for me to swallow sometimes so the focus of this post will hone in on the dynamic nature of light.
This past December I decided to take a jaunt up to the West End Bridge for a sunrise session. Sunrises can be hit or miss, especially from the West End, because if there is no cloud coverage the light can be kind of uniform and bland with just a slight band of color near the horizon. Luckily for me, this December sunrise was an absolute stunner.
I arrived on the bridge a shade before 7 AM and I could tell the conditions were shaping up to be great. The clouds were perfect, the reflections in the river were crisp and pristine, and the light…well the light was some of the best and certainly most dynamic light I’ve witnessed in Pittsburgh. The seven proceeding photos were taken over 53 minutes and exhibit just how much the light can change and shape the mood, feel, and look of a scene.
As you can see, the skyline was the only constant. The light changed at least 7 times, 5 of which were significant changes, within my hour of shooting. The light was not only shaped by the position of the sun relative to the horizon, but also by the arrangement of the clouds. Had there been no clouds, I would not have seen the pink, purple, and red light being reflected by the rising sun. So next time you see a beautiful sunrise (or sunset), make sure you see it all the way through. Who knows how much it will change over the course of just one hour!?