Here’s another image from the archives. It goes back to 1977 when I, and another Huntsville Times staff photographer, traveled to Bayou la Batre, Alabama for the annual Blessing of the Shrimp Boat Festival. Shrimpers would show up to have their boats and crews blessed by a Catholic bishop in the hopes that it would ensure a successful season and bountiful harvest. Boats would line up as the bishop took his place on the lead vessel. As the fleet sailed through the harbor, the bishop would bestow his blessings on all by the sprinkling of holy water. The local communities came out to witness the event and families came to make a day of it. Some came prepared with picnic baskets and coolers. Others relied on vendors to supply their refreshments. The day started out overcast, and only got worse as the day wore on. By the time of the blessing, the rain was beginning to come down at a pretty steady rate. Those who had the foresight to bring along an umbrella made good use of them.
This young boy, who was eager to witness the ceremony, wasted no time in putting up his umbrella. He could have found some shelter relatively close by, but it seemed as though he did not want to have to relinquish his excellent vantage point. His umbrella seemed too large for him. It could have easily accommodated a couple more people. What struck me, as I watched him, was the beautiful light that fell across his face as soon as he unfurled that umbrella and put it above his head. It provided just the perfect amount of shade from above, while allowing the right amount of soft sidelight to strike his face. I was reminded of this event years later, when I had the opportunity to study outdoor portrait photography with Leon Kennamer, a PPA Master Photographer from Guntersville, Alabama. His big thing at the time, was something called “subtractive lighting”. It’s a technique whereby the photographer uses black umbrellas or “flats” to cut off the light from some directions while allowing it to strike the face from other directions. Normally, the first black flat was positioned over the subject’s head to cut off the unflattering straight-down light which produces dark eye sockets and shadows. Other flats would be positioned in such a way as to mold the light to where it needed to go, in order to provide a soft “modeling” light. If done right, it creates a 3-dimensional light with nice shadows and good highlights. I realized then, that this young boy was doing essentially the same thing without even knowing it. So, basically, this was a happy accident. And you know what? I’ll take them every time.