The Risk of Single Minded Focus

As many photographers and artists know, when something catches your eye, it’s easy to become singularly minded.  As you stalk your subject, your left brain takes measurements and analyzes environmental data to optimize lighting, patterns, viewing angle and camera adjustments.  Concurrently, your right brain considers shapes, textures, mood, meaning and abstract interpretations of the composition.  And, there’s the constant exchanges and co-processing between both sides.

Tank Farm Composition 1
Tank Farm Composition 1

So it’s understandable to “enter the zone” when a large gasoline tank farm off the highway “caught my eye”.   In this case, the dramatic lighting from the late fall sun and the geometric shapes of these structures compelled me to pull over and work the scene.  From the perimeter fence at the highway exit adjacent to the north side of the tank farm, I carefully watched for traffic as I explored several vantage points.  Just after my last frame, I collapsed my tripod as I started walking back to the car.  Looking up I saw a black unmarked police car with its lights on quickly approaching.

Tank Farm Composition 2
Tank Farm Composition 2

I knew immediately what I had missed while “in the zone”.  The tank farm is considered by locals to be a terrorist target.  It didn’t occur to me at the time, I may look suspicious.  The officer politely asked me what I was doing. “Just taking some pictures” I said. I went on to clarify, “Uh, fine art pictures, of shapes, patterns, that kind of thing”.  Quickly I pulled out my license and passed it to the officer.  “I see you’re from around here.  It’s ok to take pictures, I had to check you out because of a call placed from a concerned passerby ”.  We went on a few minutes talking about how things were different nowadays.

Interestingly, someone also called the police on me while photographing the railyard seen in my previous post (see Winston-Salem Southbound Railyard).  That incident went pretty much the same as the tank farm.  I suspect this is already becoming a common occurrence as photographers cover public facilities and infrastructure.  Though a discouraging reminder of our tenuous state of affairs, I did tell the officer I probably would have been suspicious of someone photographing the tank farm as well. The lesson for me is, even while hyper-focused on a shoot, I must also be aware of my surroundings.

14 thoughts on “The Risk of Single Minded Focus

  1. Great shots! Sadly, the world has changed. Even in my little island community, a “concerned citizen” pulled up beside me in a car and proceeded to watch me as I took photos in a marina. She didn’t think I was a terrorist, but there had been a rash of thefts from the boats there, as I found out later.


    1. Thank you. I’ve been thinking, perhaps photographers should deliberately smile and wave at the passerby. Perhaps that would make onlookers feel less suspicious. I’ve always heard a sincere smile can be quite disarming. (o;

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I remember living in an open and trusting community as a kid. Is our environment really so different now? Or is it just that the state wants us to be scared so we accept surveillance and controls everywhere?


  3. Truth!

    I had a very similar encounter almost a year ago when I was photographing power lines (I’m realizing that it can be difficult to explain why you’re photographing things like this, which wouldn’t always strike the average person as beautiful or even visually interesting).

    Keep on keeping on — and stay aware … And awake! 🙂


    1. Yes, the first time I replied to “what are you doing here”, I fumbled along in my explanation of fine art photography. For the second instance, I just pulled out my tablet and showed the officer. (o;

      Liked by 1 person

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