The “Shampoo” Approach to Photography

“I’ll be back.” I’m no big Schwarzenegger fan, but I have to admit that I’m hooked on this catchline of his from The Terminator. In fact, nearly every time that I shoot at a great location, I mutter that line as I pack up and walk away. I actually say it out loud. Even try to sound like Schwarzenegger.

Twilight tugboat on the Cape Fear River

Twilight view of abandoned tugboat on the Cape Fear River in Wilmington, NC.

When you find a good location, you shoot it as best you can at the time, but if you really want to make the best photos, you should keep returning at different times of the year and in different lighting and weather conditions. In other words, you prepare yourself to be lucky.

Tugboat on Cape Fear River

Tugboat on Cape Fear River

I once had a favorite spot on the Cape Fear River at Wilmington, North Carolina, where an old tugboat lay in picturesque decay. I liked to think I was the only one who scouted the route and waded through the weedy growth and wet marsh to reach it, but I was just one of many photographers who were thinking that same thing.

Tugboat at Wilmington, North Carolina

Tugboat on the Cape Fear River

One photographer who has been shooting this old tugboat for years is my friend Skip Pudney, who has some of the best photos of the tug that I’ve seen. You can see some of the photos here.

Tugboat portholes

View through portholes on abandoned tugboat.

Tugboat porthole

View through porthole on abandoned tugboat.

I’ve never captured what I would consider a really good photo of the tugboat—certainly nothing as good as some of Skip’s. I returned not long ago with an idea for a good shot. I had planned to photograph it at night, using my flashlight and colored gels (mounted in a GelGrip™) to light paint it. This, hopefully, was going to be my first good shot of the boat.

But it was not to be. I had waited too long. My old friend was nearly gone, largely just a pile of rotten wood. As I do all too often, I didn’t remain faithful to my “I’ll be back” refrain.

I should have been using the shampoo approach. You know, “lather, rinse, REPEAT.”

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