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Harnessing the Wind

Windmill and TurbinesWhen creating stories for magazines, it’s not enough to simply shoot a pretty photo. The image has to grab the readers attention and tell a story, even without the aid of words. Sometimes an image is one of several that create a narrative, but many times a single photo has the power to stand on its own.

I shot this image as I drove across the country to my new home in Los Angeles. Stopping along I40 in western Oklahoma to snap images of this wind farm, I’d shoot a few frames, drive a mile or so, then stop and shoot some more. I did this for about an hour; one of the precious few I spared for shooting in the middle of days full of driving.

Packing it in and heading back for the median to my waiting car on the other side of the highway, I saw this impossibly convenient juxtaposition of old and new. The scene, with it’s old windmill and new wind turbines set against the Oklahoma landscape, spoke to me of humanity’s quest to harness the wind. It had the potential to stand on it’s own.

My hazards stayed on for another 30 minutes as I thought my way through this one image. I worked several different focal lengths, both glass and human (the position of my feet) before feeling satisfied with this general arrangement of shapes and space. If I’d had a longer focal length lens, I would have used that, as well. It would have compressed the impression of space between foreground and background more, creating a tighter composition.

By this point my fingers were numb. All I had were fingerless driving gloves in the mid February chill. Even though I knew I liked the composition, I felt it needed more, the cold be damned. My perfectionist tick kicked in. The missing element was the position of the turbine blades.They seemed to endlessly rotate lazily out of sync. Over the course of about 5 minutes I fired off a few more frames. I waited until the turbines lined up with each other and relative to the windmill.

Was this absolutely necessary for a successful image? Maybe not. But it’s a degree of detail that excites me. Sometimes to the annoyance of people I’m traveling with.

After playing Frogger with traffic, I slid my numb body back into my car, started the heat and reviewed my catch as my fingers thawed. I had an hour and a half of driving to make up, but it was worth it.