Behind the image: trusting your instincts

By Nick Rains 7 November 2013
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AG photographer Nick Rains tells us why it’s good to trust your instincts when your shooting a tricky scene.

I DID A STORY a few years back on ‘Gemfest’ in the sapphire belt of Queensland, around Rubyvale and Anakie. One of the hand miners we met, Peter Brown, turned out to be really good company and extremely helpful. He also had a warren of mines under his house, perfect for making some images.

There were lots of passages and corners to explore so I was able to be quite selective about my photo – I wanted to be able to see what Peter was doing but also to capture a sense of burrowing and manual effort. Luckily Peter was patient as I – like most photographers – fussed about looking at different angles.

I picked a spot and then we had to find some lights to maintain the ambience, since a flash would spoil the feel I was after. Peter works with inspection lights like you see in car mechanics’ garages so we threaded a few of those to get one right in front of him, one behind him and one to light up the distant tunnel.

Peter then took up a position with his heavy drill and struck some poses as I photographed. All good…or so I thought.

This story was shot  back in the days before digital cameras were being used by Australian Geographic photographers to shoot assignments, so I had no idea at the time – apart from being quite experienced in these matters- whether these underground images were going to be OK until the film was processed. No LCD previews in those days!

Normally I would not have given this shot a second thought; I’d have simply trusted my skills and pressed on, but for some reason I developed a nagging doubt about whether I had successfully pulled off this important, potentially ‘hero shot’ image. I had no reason to think anything had gone wrong, but like a sore tooth I could not get it off my mind for the rest of the day. I soon realised what I had to do.

So I rang up Peter Brown and asked him if I could shoot the whole thing over again. Decent chap that he is, he agreed and I re-shot the sequence. Having got that out of my system I got on with the job and produced plenty of other good images.

And what do you know? The first sequence turned out just fine – this image is one of the first frames. No matter how experienced you are, the heebie-jeebies can strike at any time!

Nick Rains has been an Australian Geographic photographer for 10 years and was ‘Australian Geographic Photographer of the Year’ in 2002. He is also the editor of Better Digital Camera magazine. You can see more of Nick’s photography and read his blog here: