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Life Before Photoshop: BJ Services

One of my favorite posts to write  is for my “Life Before Photoshop” category. So many of my students with the PPSOP, an online school I teach with, and in my “Stretching Your Frame of Mind” workshops I conduct around the planet fell in love with Photography after the digital age had eliminated virtually all film cameras.

These same photographers think that Photoshop and Lightroom are just another  part of taking pictures with their new digital cameras. Sitting in front of the computer is merely an extension of the process. I’ll admit that CS5 has come to my rescue on more than one occasion, but it was part of my thought process before I “pulled the trigger” (that’s Texas talk for clicking the shutter”) not in front of the computer. For example, if I couldn’t take a step one way or another to keep something from growing out of my subject’s head.

In my classes I try to get across an important point, that is to become good photographers, not good computer artists and digital technicians.  For me, the challenge is to get it right “in the camera” and not have to rely on any post processing to make good photos. I also crop in the camera, because when you use the computer to do your cropping , you’ll never know where the edges of your frame are. Next time, try using the edges as a compositional tool…it will make you a more rounded photographer.

In this photo, I was sent to Grand Junction Colorado to shot for BJ Services Annual Report. BJ Services supplies various materials to oil companies that are drilling for either Natural Gas or oil. We shot the day-to-day photos at a drilling site, but they also wanted a photo to use on the cover that portrayed the ideas that they delivered 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Look Ma no Photoshop.

I had an idea in my mind that would not only make them happy, but myself as well. I scouted various locations with my Sunpath readings and my Morin 2000 hand bearing compass. As a result, I knew exactly where the sun would come up and choose this small part of the two-lane road that led to an oil rig.

I positioned one of my assistants with a walki-talki in a car going in one direction (with his foot on the brake), and the Designer with a walki-talki in another car heading in the opposite direction. I took a reading on the sky to judge how long I had to make the two cars travel to get the blurred lights across the frame. Based on a thirty second exposure, that’s how long the cars had to complete the distance.

Btw, as the light got brighter, the cars has to cover the distance traveling faster until it became too dangerous. That’s when I knew the shoot was over!!!

Visit my website at: www.joebaraban.com and check out my new 2013 workshop schedule. Come shoot with me sometime!!

Don’t forget to send me a photo and question to: AskJoeB@gmail.com


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    { 6 comments… add one }
    • Gary thursby December 17, 2012, 8:27 pm

      Nice article Joe! The streaking light really adds to the shot. I was wondering why you went with a vertical format?  The road gets cut off to the right and there seems to be a lot of sky above the moon. Would not a horizontal format been better to get all road in and then only a little sky above the moon.  Anyways I do like the mood this photograph creates. Traveling a country road early in the morning, cool air outside on an exciting adventure. That’s what I think of looking at this photo!

      • Joe December 18, 2012, 8:02 am


        A horizontal would have given me too much unnecessary space on either side. I did look at it, but decided on the vertical since I wouldn’t have had time to do it both ways like I ALWAYS do. As I say to my students verticals have more energy than horizontals which was also a deciding factor. As westerners we were brought up to read from left to right, and that’s the way we look at photos. We also start at the bottom of the frame and start up since that keeps us in our comfort zone.

        When looking at a vertical it takes the viewer longer to get from the bottom of the frame to the top, and that takes work which uses more energy…and Energy equals Tension. I wanted a spacious wide open feel and i also wanted a greater change in the color of the sky…which helps to balance the photo…which it is.

        The road may visually be cut off, but the rest of the road is implied, making the viewer wonder where it leads to…which makes him work, which creates more energy. All this relates to the psychology of Gestalt I write about.

        The process that leads up to the final photo is a lot of fun. Scouting the location with a compass the day ahead, to setting the cars up to watching this great sunrise knowing that you’re the only one witnessing it….is priceless.


        • Gary Thursby December 18, 2012, 1:06 pm

          That is pretty insightful, Joe, the process people use to look at a photo. I honestly do look at pictures that way and never gave it much thought. Implied lines do work very well. People’s eyes or gestures work really well at it. You ever feel photoshop has taken a lot of the fun out photography or corrected a lot of the fuss that is inherit in setting up a shop.      

          • Joe December 18, 2012, 3:10 pm


            I do very little in Photoshop. I don’t even use lightroom. I like the challenge of the pre-production and getting it in the camera. I want to be the best photographer i can, not the best computer artist I can. In my online classes, they are not allowed to use any kind of post production, and they have to crop in the camera, not in front of a computer.

            In the forty-five years I’ve been shooting, only twenty percent have been in the digital age.


    • Lemena Halim December 21, 2012, 3:26 am

      I love the glow on the hill/mountain and  the little moon. This beautiful photo got me thinking. One of them is regarding the size of the sky. In this photo, why isn’t the mountain/hill be closer to the top frame to reduce the size of the sky?

      Thanks Joe.

      Lemena Halim 

      • Joe December 21, 2012, 8:48 am


        The whole idea was to show a large area of wilderness. The car lights show scale in an area that the company is doing business in. I wanted a big sky. To minimize the sky would minimize the area that the company I was shooting for was in. I also wanted a large area where the colors of the early morning sky were gradating. To cut off the sky would mean that the sunrise light would be too dominant. This way, it’s more of a “night into day” feeling.


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