Sunday, January 16, 2011

Worth a thousand words

I was looking through the pictures on my desktop — the photos range from sporting events, stock-car racing, dogs at play, panoramic nature scenes, scenes from a local town, people, and ultra closeups of butterflies flitting among the bushes.

It occurred to me that my photos are much like my stories. I get to the point, and I focus on one thing. I rarely take photos of an entire scene. Most of my race-car shots include the whole car, but I often take shots of just the driver, even just the driver's hands.

When I shoot Pilot Mountain (it's the Mount Pilot in the Andy Griffith Show), rarely do I shoot the whole mountain. I've shot Pilot Knob (the peak) alone, and I've shot it filtered through trees. I've shot it over the shoulder of a couple at a lookout point. I'm always looking for an interesting part of it, not the whole thing.

Rarely to I take a photo of a lot of plants. Most of my flower photos are of one flower, maybe even a part of it. I use a long lens, and there will be out-of-focus splotches of color in the background, adding to the "portrait" of the flower. I like to add several other colors to the main feast.

Most of my photos have a frame, whether it's a person, a tree or a side of a mountain. I used trees to frame Pilot Mountain and the historical Gemeinhaus in Winston-Salem, N.C., but I used an arch to frame a scene in the Old Salem area of Winston-Salem.

I do take a lot of football group scenes, but I always wind up cropping out the extraneous stuff and focusing on the most interesting part of the photo.

I used that skill all the years I spent on a sports copy desk. And I remember at least once changing the focus of a photo for different purposes. For first edition, I used a wire photo of a University of Virginia receiver stretching to catch the pass with a Florida State defender reaching over his shoulder. It was very vertical. For second edition, I had to change the page, so I reedited the photo and made it shorter and wider. For final, I had to add another story below that one, so I reedited the photo again and focused on the two players' upper bodies and had them reaching for the ball. It had gone from vertical to wide angle.

I'm always looking for portraits, whether it's a person, a dog or even a flower. There's always a story in a face, even if it's a monkey face (a flower of the genus Diplacus).

Even my failures can be used. I've taken late-night shots at racetracks, and the resulting swirls of lights are almost an impressionist painting in themselves.

I always wanted to be a writer, and I'm a good writer; but I'm a better editor and photographer. I can't complain. All of those talents go together.

Hey, I can write a story in much less than a thousand words, and I can do the same with a photo.

Contact: I can be reached at or Also, my Twitter handle is EDITORatWORK.

(a book of great stories about the Intimidator)
(the book of great NASCAR stories)

More blog entries by Tom Gillispie

Anecdotes by Tom Gillispie

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