Originally published by me at Barking Dog Studio » Inside the Photo (see it there)

on US 395, about 50 miles north of Reno.

Inside the Photo

There are photos that yell at you from the roadside, we just do not hear them, tuned in to the radio or just too much to our own piddly lives.

This one yelled out to me from US 395 in Eastern California; I was in the middle (almost literally by mileage) of the return trip form British Columbia, where I had spent 5 months on a fellowship, to home in Arizona. This was a long day for driving, starting on the Redwood coast near Trinidad, California, with grand (and thankfully unrealized) plans to reach Tonapah, Nevada (thankfully because if I had gone that far, I’d miss the scene at Walker Lake the next day, but that’s another photo).

Oh, yes, the shoes.

The time was deep into the early evening golden hour, the sun sliding down behind the Sierra Nevada to my right. I was listening to radio, internet radio, ds106 radio, where the Great Grant Potter was playing road songs, trucker songs, just for me, all the way from his home in Nova Scotia (there I go again, another tangent).

The tree.

I saw on me left, in that sunset glow a large tree, and my mind first thought was that it sure was bearing some big fruit. What kind of tree was this? Strange weird California, roadside avocado? (there are such things scene with Zack Dowell near his foothills above Sacramento home just over the Sierra Nevada).

The tree was yelling at me. If you even hesitate to stoop and turn around when a photo yells, well, it’s too late.

My, it was no fruit, this tree was blossoming in shoes. I used my phone to do the typical shot, where you try to fit everything in the frame.

It’s fine, but not all that interesting. There is rich detail to get zoomed in on. Not the kind of zoom with a twisting a lens, the kind where you move your feet and get you and your camera close (I am shooting as usual with the fixed nifty fifty lens).

It was aglow on the true, but the sharp low angle light literally lasted just a few minutes.

This show was less to get the color and detail, but to play with framing. Looking more into the light, the shoes are backlit, and silhouetted, and pushing them off to the right, leaving a lot of empty space, aims for that kind of informational balance that I use to try and explain the rule of thirds. There is a line of vertical shoe laces almost right on that one third line.

I deliberately framed it to include just a bit of the jagged tops of the mountains, the Sierra Nevada ridge, on the bottom of the photo. Without it, the shoes might be more the total subject, but to me, it gives the photo a much better sense of depth and scale. It’s not a rule of thirds placement, and that’s why breaking the rules is as important as following them. I cannot fully explain why this works, and it may not to someone else, but it was a deliberate choice at the time of the shutter click.

There’s not much photo technical story-wise to talk about behind this photo. I might have pushed the ISO farther to use a much higher numbered aperture, and get more depth of field. But I’m okay with not having nicked that detail.

I chose to write this more out of getting a confirmation of that feeling that is was more than just right to stop, to be later then expected, for the possibility of an interesting photo. Many times you might not get anything super interesting. But if you do not stop when a shoe tree yells at you from the road side, then you have no chance at all of even maybe getting an interesting or curious or memorable photo memory.

Make, take those moments.

Barking Dog Studio » Inside the Photo is the part of my photo gallery site where, on selected photos I write about what went into creating the image, sort of like a DVD extra.


  • Ken Bauer

    Thanks for sharing Alan. I really want to go take some more pictures now, you and others (Raj, D’Arcy and more) taking photos have me wanting to explore.

    btw. that link for ds106 radio is broken. Should be http://ds106rad.io/listen correct?

  • Chris Lott

    incidentally, there’s a shoe tree on the Univ of Minnesota campus, below the bridge over the Mississippi. The origin is unknown, but I read in an article that John Berryman, one of my favorite poets, removed his shoes at that spot before leaping to his death…I like to think that was the origin, but who knows…

Leave a Comment

All fields are required. Your email address will not be published.