Jay Maisel is, in my opinion, perhaps the greatest living photographer. I am honored to know him. Jay is a fantastic teacher, a wonderful person, has a great sense of humor and shares major tips on becoming a good photographer in his workshops http://www.jaymaisel.com/workshop/. The photographs I have posted are to a large degree due to his teachings. One of the main things (I think this is rule #2) Jay speaks to is “going out empty”. This means going out with your camera with no preconceived ideas or concepts. Just being free to allow what is in your field of vision (in front, behind, above and below) to ignite something inside of you, to investigate and follow the story.
I set out one morning just letting whim guide me. I drove from central Florida (Ocala) to the west coast of Southern Florida just before the Everglades. A small zoo popped up on the radar that was about the endangered Florida panther. I stopped and took some photographs through the cages. The crusty old owner comes out of the office/house and asks for a donation. No problem a donation for a good cause. We strike up a conversation and he starts telling me about this woman who keeps a full grown panther in her house. He gives me her phone number. I call her and she, for a price and a few prints, is wiling to pose with the “cat”.
We met at her house the following day. I walk in the front door and there is this “cat” the size of a large dog on the couch looking directly in my eyes. I can feel him questioning my interaction with the woman -am I perceived as a threat-? . CHECK PLEASE! While the girl was very good looking and I knew I wanted her in the shot with the cat, I forced my mind to be neutral about all guy / girl things… if you get my drift. Everything is fine, I’m a punk, couldn’t hurt a fly, I have 4 kids, don’t rip my throat out… PLEASE! please!
I know this cat could take me out in thirty seconds or less. Dead, toast, end of story. The girl and I talk about the “cat” and about the ideas I have for the photograph. I end up with her in a red bathing suit with the cat on a leash (yea like that matters) sitting on a local dock. Using a 180mm tele to keep my distance, I managed to photograph the panther and the girl including the vertical for a magazine. Even with the cat on a leash I was worried the entire time. We worked around sunset and you can see the color balance change or I used a polarizer… This was exciting, unexpected (going out empty) and I was glad to get the @#!* away from the cat. Meow.