Last Light
photography by Thomas Wheeler
Last Light                                                                                       35mm photograph

Mark Reep: You’ve said that much of your early work was about nature and landscapes until a spur-of-the-moment session produced this image and altered your perspective on photography in a profound way.  When was this photo taken, and what was its impact? 

Tom Wheeler: I took this photo in the summer of 1989.  This session, my first with Niki, came about out of chance and boredom, and I still recall vividly how much fun it was.  Up to that point I had shot mostly nature and landscape photos, and I really had no idea of the give and take that happens when working with a person. That day was a turning point for me- I found I preferred portrait work to any other type of photography, and I still do. 

MR: If memory serves, Second Cutting, another image on your website, was taken the same afternoon?  What was that shoot like?

TW: Second Cutting was among the first photos I took that day.  It was my first extended shoot with one person and I wasn’t sure what to suggest, so I was mainly reacting at this point, shooting what looked interesting.  Fortunately, Niki demonstrated an innate ability to strike interesting poses.  My dog Cinnamon was along for the walk; if you look closely, you can see her in the far left of the photo sitting patiently, waiting for us. 

MR: And Last Light was the day’s last?

TW: This shot almost didn’t happen. The light was waning, we were heading back when I thought of this remnant of stone wall in a small plot of woods, wondered how the setting sun might be lighting it.  The light goes quickly- By the time we reached the wall I had time to take only two frames; this was the first of the two.   The credit’s all Niki’s- What an amazing pose.  I was just trying to beat the light and didn’t even have time to use my tripod. A wonderful end to a great day. 

MR: You’ve mentioned that at this time you’re not charging for portraits, that the opportunity to work with new people and grow your portfolio is payment enough.  What do you enjoy most about photographing people, and how do you approach a session with someone you’re working with for the first time? 

TW: For me there’s a real person to person connection that happens when I’m shooting someone. Everyone has a unique story to tell and I try to find it in their eyes.  It’s great when someone brings specific ideas about a look they’d like to capture. Nothing is more important than creating an atmosphere where the person I’m working with is relaxed and wants to contribute ideas.  I usually go into a session with 4 or 5 general ideas, and I make a point of taking a few minutes before we begin to get a feeling for what they are expecting, to go over what I’d like to do and if there’s anything in particular they would like to do. Of course, anytime during the session I’m always open to new ideas, new directions- They often produce the best images.  If I can capture at least 2 or 3 images that we’re both happy with, I consider the session a success.

Thomas Wheeler has been taking photographs for over thirty years.  He lives and works near Albany NY.  Visit his website.  

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