Essays / s /

Shooting What’s Out There

I don’t go too far afield for my photos: there are people everywhere, and they are my primary subject — washed, unwashed, tattooed, or plain. Even for the lazy observer they’ve got a story to tell, though they may not always want to tell it. Sometimes people with strong folk traditions don’t want you to steal their souls with your camera. Sometimes tough guys don’t want their tattoos photographed because the cops know them too well. Sometimes parents don’t want a hairy old guy taking pictures of their kids. Or sometimes, seeing a big camera and an intense focus, people (always young) will beg to have their picture taken. In any case, you gotta shoot.

I want to document the life in my city. I want to show humans (and dogs) in all their spontaneity. Here is our seaside park in the summer — the kids careening; the teenagers on their urgent missions; the old folks savoring the moment; the care- or work- or passion-driven wage earners taking a break. I want to freeze their souls for an instant and store that one slice here.

Other venues I shoot include the venerable me&thee coffeehouse, where you can hear live music every Friday night from the fall to the spring; the Museum of Printing in Haverhill, Mass.; the City of Angels (aka the magnificent Pine Hill Cemetery); a RAW Arts exhibition; and, indeed, the entire city and environs, from above. Not to mention the most colorful place of all — my old neighborhood.

These pictures were taken over the last five years with a Canon Rebel XSi or Canon EOS 7D, and a Canon 50mm 1.4 lens or a Sigma 17–50mm 2.8 zoom. I learn as I go.

Cliff Garber

Notes on the High Rock Tower Shoot

On September 2, as the light was fading, I found myself at the top of a tower on the highest spot in the city of Lynn. Most of the visitors were there to view the moon through the city’s nifty telescope. That was fun, but for me the learning experience was finding the right exposure for the cityscape below. It took me a while to realize that the only way I could keep the camera steady for a long enough time to get a more-or-less-in-focus shot was to wedge it between the bars atop the wall surrounding the viewing deck and try to keep it straight. (The real way to get a sharp shot at night, of course, is to use a tripod, a low ISO, and a very long exposure, but my tripod couldn't clear the high stone wall.)

Many of the shots are almost the same, but note the difference a slight shift of focus and tonality make. I was mostly shooting at f/2 or f/2.5 @ 1/5 sec. at ISO 1600 with a fast Canon 50mm 1.4 lens, which becomes a short telephoto on my Canon 7D. This is why the distance between buildings seems compressed.

Take a look.

Thanks to the City of Lynn for opening the observatory. For more info, visit