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One Chance Project: Exploring Black & White on the Pilgrim

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The One Chance Project is a new ongoing photography project. It’s a challenge to myself and others to nail the exposure, composition, and creative choices during capture because no post-processing is allowed.

I was recently visiting family in Dana Point, California, under somber circumstances. Traveling with nothing but a backpack for a few days, I only brought my Fujifilm X100F.

I commonly refer to the X100F as my “sketchbook”; it has a fixed 23mm (equivalent to 35mm) f/2 prime lens in a rangefinder-style body. I call it my sketchbook because it’s so small, I can take it anywhere without being noticed and make some photos that I normally wouldn’t make with my larger kit. But that’s not to say it’s not an extremely capable camera. I enjoy the challenge of the fixed prime lens and I’ve really learned to see the world in 35mm using it.

Personal connections

Anyways, Dana Point is a special place. About 30 years ago I was introduced to sailing here. At that time I told myself, self, when you’re older you’re going to own a sailboat of your own and explore the world. I had romantic visions of life at sea and faraway lands. As most of you know I eventually did get the boat and spent a few years exploring the Caribbean after leaving the Air Force.

The Universe had different plans for me as it often does for everyone, and today that boat is sitting in a hole in the ground in St. Kitts, neglected and broken, and I don’t know when or if I’ll return. I don’t want to use the term depressing lightly, but that describes the situation well.

So, Dana Point has a tall ship in the harbor, the Pilgrim, a beautiful square-rigged brig. For years it was used as an educational ship, taking kids out on the ocean and teaching them about marine sciences. A mother and daughter were visiting the ship when I was; I overheard the mother tell her young daughter how fun it was to spend the night in the bunks down below back when she was a child.

About the Pilgrim

The Pilgrim is a replica of a similar 19th-century trading ship. The Pilgrim itself was nothing special, but it was made famous in the sailing adventure book Two Years Before the Mast. The book is an account by a young sailor named Richard Henry Dana Jr., who sailed from Boston, around Cape Horn, and up to California. This book was one of the few descriptive accounts of California as prospectors tried to learn about the area on their way to the gold rush, and Dana Point would later be named for him. I digress.

The ship can’t leave the harbor now until the hull is completely replaced. Its future is just as uncertain as my own boat’s future.

Anyways, I was just in a black & white mood. I don’t do a lot of black & white. I’m intrigued by black & white photos for the textures, contrast, and shapes, but for some reason I don’t do it myself. I don’t know why. I tell students to photograph what intrigues them. But my world is in color, and that’s where I normally am, despite my attraction to black & white photos.

The technical decisions

Gear choice

Custom setting

I used my ACROS custom setting with some modifications.

Sailors are only capable of seeing boats as living things, and it was quite sad to see such a beautiful lady resigned to this small, crowded corner of the harbor. I wanted to do her justice, showing both her current state and her potential.

Photographing with a 35mm lens was a challenge; I’d want to choose something wider when photographing on a boat, but as the saying goes…the best camera is the one you have with you.

I enjoyed the shoot, it gave me more of an appreciation for black & white. It also made editing photos down to just a handful a real challenge. But here are my picks.

The photos

life preserver
This was really the only framing option I saw for this sun-cracked life preserver, but I felt it was important to include.
rigging
The Pilgrim is rigged as if it were ready to go.
forecastle
“Before the mast,” slang for the sleeping quarters in the forecastle of ships like this.
ropes
Line coiled belowdecks. This was shot at an ISO of 6400, and I love the way the X100F handles the noise and grain in the ACROS simulation.
pigeons
The Pilgrim’s current crew compliment.
pilgrim
It was particularly difficult to get a photo of the entire ship with this focal length and accessibility. Regardless, I thought the confined, claustrophobic feeling worked to show its place.