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Behind The Lens #1: Painting the water tower

I'm going to start a periodic series sharing the story behind how a particular photo was made, the circumstances that led to its creation, or whatever it is about the image that makes it special to me. First this inaugural installment, I'll talk about this photo of painting crews working on the water tower in Ocala, Florida in October of 2013:

The following was shot when I noticed the water tower in Ocala being painted by a crew from out of state. I immediately stopped at the base and talked to the supervisor while taking some photos of the men aloft.

I casually asked if there was any chance I could take some photos of the crew from the little window at the top of the stem and the reply was, "Sure. We can put you in a harness and you can go up there. No problem."

I was stunned. In my hometown of Miami, there is no way this idea would fly. Unwilling to look a gift horse in the mouth, I said I would come back in two days when the painting was right outside the window.

When I returned two days later, the foreman for the painting company was on-site. I figured he would put the kibosh on the entire plan, but he quickly approached and asked if I was the photographer he had heard about. He gave me a business card and implored me to send him copies when I was done. Imagine that!

You can see the painters have moved around to the underside of the tank near the window:

Inside the hollow base is a room filled with electronics associated with the mobile phone antennae at the top of the tower. The vertical ladder at the back has a cable alongside that runs from the floor to the tank. I wore a harness with an "ascender" that attached to that cable and would catch my fall if I slipped. Let me tell you, climbing a ladder straight up for 150 feet is no easy task. The ceiling of this room is only about a third of the way to the top.

Once I had climbed to the top of the ladder, there was another room with valving and pipes and cables. And one tiny porthole through which I could see the painters at work. Here you can also see another ladder that goes through the center of the water tank to the roof where all the antennae are located.

I used my widest lens to capture not only the crew, but also as much as possible of the tank and the homes below. I would have asked for fewer clouds, but I can't control the weather and I couldn't ask these guys to wait for another day.

This was an early edit of the photo. I initially wanted to make the sky as dramatic as I could, but after a couple of years of looking at it, I realized the subject of the photo—the workers—suffered for the sake of the clouds. So I re-processed to brighten the blue sky and ended up with the image at the beginning of this post. Obviously, that version is a lot easier to look at, with fewer distractions.

I hope you've enjoyed this peek behind the scenes. Leave a comment or question so I'll know it wasn't a waste of time.


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