The Windshield as Viewfinder

Through-the-WindshieldWoodbury, Connecticut © Steven Willard

I try to keep an open mind, and I try to keep my eyes open, but even so I’m sometimes surprised.

We recently had some snow and it had turned to an icy rain when I pulled the car over to the side of the road on my way home. I had seen some ice coated brambles at the edge of a field that I thought I might be able to turn into interesting black and white abstracts. Since the camera was in the car and I had a few minutes it seemed as good a time as any to give it a go. I got out of the car camera in hand and promptly stepped in a slushy snow bank deep enough to put snow in my ankle high boots. That wasn’t enough to stop me though; my feet were already wet, so  I pressed on towards the brambles. Of course by now the freezing rain was running down my neck, but at this point there was no turning back. I sloshed over to the edge of the field and made a number of exposures, but it wasn’t feeling good. The light just wasn’t co-operating and the brambles just looked like weeds and not as interesting as I’d hoped. After five minutes getting wetter and colder I gave up and went back to the car, fingers numb with cold. My glasses immediately steamed up and it took a minute to clean them. When I looked up this is what I saw through the windshield.

I was taken with the graphic image I saw; bare tree, phone pole and wires, snow and yellow line against the wet asphalt, all distorted by the rain on the windshield. I had left the heat on in the car so the camera lens had fogged up just like my glasses so I had to wipe it dry, but as soon as I could I made some exposures. This time I felt like I had something worthwhile.

Some photographs are successful because the subject is just so beautiful, some because they show us things we’ve never seen beefore. Some work because they reveal something we couldn’t have seen without the aid of a camera. And some work because they show us things familiar; they focus our attention on the ordinary we might not have noticed.

It’s all too easy to get caught up in our preconceived ideas; to try to force things, and this applies to more in life than photography. I don’t mean to imply that we should give up on a photograph that is weak when we first  put the camera to our eye. It almost always needs work; better viewpoint or better composition for instance. But sometimes the good photograph isn’t where we thought. Sometimes we find a better image if we turn around, and sometimes we find the better image is right in front of us. This isn’t the image I sought to make when I stopped the car. I think it’s better.

Pentax K10D with kit zoom lens, lightly tweaked in Photoshop CS4.


5 comments on “The Windshield as Viewfinder

  1. Allen Rowand says:

    Great shot- reminds me of some of Saul Leiter’s images. Great company to be in!


  2. Marc Isolda says:

    Nailed it again Steve, great job!!!!!


  3. David R says:

    Now you KNOW I’d like this image! Who needs fancy filters when you’ve got good instincts and imagination.


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