About Sam Rodgers
The next guest photographer to share with us the story behind their acclaimed picture is Sam Rodges. Sam is London based and that’s where he captured the photograph he describes as: “A bittersweet tale of a fox trying to feed her cubs down the end of platform 15, London Bridge station; and a middle-aged photographer almost falling down the escalator .” His decisive moment image was nominated as finalist on the London Street Photography Festival Single Image Contest in 2018.
Making of Interview
Where and when did you make the photo, was it a familiar or new location to you?
This shot caught me by surprise and was a near disaster – this was my first trip out with my camera in a couple of months. I was changing trains at London Bridge station en route to the Heathfield Country Show. I know the station really well, but more as a transit hub than somewhere to take pictures; having said that, the architecture is striking and the light can be pretty good, at the right times of the day.
What was happening in the situation and what inspired you to start photographing it?
I had just bought a coffee to take on the train and a fox dashed past me, running across the station concourse as I was leaving the coffee shop. This was inside the station so a fox was out of place and was definitely something I wanted to photograph. I jettisoned my coffee and walked on to the escalator as she trotted upward. By this point I was frantically dragging the X-Pro2 out of my bag – tip #1: always be prepared, camera around neck! She took a glance around as she reached the top and realised she was on the wrong platform, so she turned around and came back towards me …
Did you prepare or was it spontaneous? What were your thoughts and actions?
It was spontaneous. London foxes get in all kinds of unusual places, but this was the first time I had seen one inside such a large and fox-unfriendly building. I was excited at the possibility of getting a photo of it, but this was tempered with awareness that she was probably hungry or ill; otherwise, she wouldn’t be exploring the station.
Speaking, later, to some of the station staff, they told me that there were a couple of foxes that lived at the end of one of the platforms. They had cubs to feed, so they were occasionally seen in the station foraging for food.
Do you recall anything about the sequence of events that led to taking this picture?
I guess she had realised that she had gone up the wrong escalator (something I also often do). I had the camera to my eye at this point and was struggling to get the exposure right. I think the last time I had used it I was zone focusing and had fixed the shutter speed, ISO and aperture. This was a few weeks prior and it took a few panicked seconds to sort out. At this point she was walking tentatively down the escalator toward me, so I knew I would only get a couple of shots – tip #2: know what your camera is set to in advance; tip #3: develop awesome muscle memory so you can fix it when you don’t!
I forgot the laws of physics for a moment and tried to stabilize myself by leaning against the escalator wall, forgetting that the wall is static and the escalator is moving. This meant I lurched backward, the fox paused, the people at bottom of the escalator let out an anticipatory ‘Ooooooh’ and I somehow managed to take the picture. She gave me a pitying look and calmly walked past me.
Did you take other frames, and could you describe how you interpreted the scene?
I managed to take three shots – they were taken on a moving escalator with the fox walking toward me. I last used the camera a couple of months before and had left it on aperture priority with a low ISO, so I wasted some time first realizing why the exposure time was so long, then making some changes to shorten it.
I was aware of the leading lines in the escalator walls, and of the man at the top of the escalator, but most of my attention was on the fox, hoping it would be brave enough to walk past me.
Were you happy with the image, did it come out as you imagined?
In my rush to get the exposure right, I had cranked the aperture wide open. This plus my lurch backward meant that the focus is slightly off – the focal point is somewhere near her tail, and the face is slightly out of focus.
What post-processing did you do, if any?
Some tweaks to exposure (not enough, I now realize) and correcting some tilt, but not much else.
What camera, lens, and settings did you choose?
It was my [Fuji] X-Pro2 with an XF 18mm lens attached. The settings were potluck: ISO 640, F2.0 and 1/250. If I had more time, I would have pushed the ISO up and narrowed the aperture to improve the depth of field.
How technically challenging was it to make this shot?
More challenging than was strictly necessary – I wish I had started to check my settings before bringing the camera to my eye. The Fuji cameras have some auto ISO settings that are useful, but I had left mine set to one that I use for daylight street photography; so it was keeping the ISO low, the shutter speed high and compensating by automatically setting the aperture wide open. I could see that the depth of field was too shallow, and this, combined with me nearly falling backward down the escalator meant that I managed to focus on the tail rather than the head.
What did you take away from making this picture?
The main thing I learned from taking this shot is that opportunity presents itself when you don’t expect it, so you should always be watching the world around you and ready to capture what it throws at you.
Could you have done anything different given the second chance?
Remain calm, remember the laws of physics (don’t lean against escalator walls) and choose an appropriate aperture!
Nice to hear your story, Sam, get the insight into this foxes lifestyle. Thanks for joining us.
Links to Sam Rodgers
The interview was published in cooperation with the Street & Repeat Cafe Group on Flickr