Coolest portraits ever!

Lesson learned during Impromptu photo session

If you've followed me for any length of time, you know I'm primarily a landscape and nature photographer. And, yes, I love to be out shooting beautiful photos of God's creation and adding in some architectural work.

But one of the most important lessons I've ever learned as a photographer came not from shooting a waterfall or sunrise: It came when I met a couple of guys in San Antonio — young men I probably would never have approached otherwise.

Meet Highpower Nicky and the Wizard. Yes, that's the names they gave me, and the story of the portraits in this blog is so cool.

It began in 2016 while planning a trip to San Antonio with photog buddies Tim Stanley, David Morefield and Jeremy Mancuso. Months before we met up, I researched locations from which to shoot the San Antonio skyline, and I finally found a likely vantage point at the Hayes Street bridge, a pedestrian bridge on the edge of the downtown district.

The four of us dubbed our little group the Four Horsemen of the Photopocalypse, and we try to get together at least once each year to bang around and shoot together.

We spent most of the day doing other things - shooting the San Antonio missions and whatnot - and then headed to the bridge to start capturing skyline photos.

When we arrived, there were already a group of young folks milling about. They didn't look or sound like us, that's for sure. In fact, they looked pretty rough. Tattoos, bandanas, earrings and gauges, baggy pants, scruffy hair and beards, hispanic accents, colorful language skills.

So our little gang began at the far end of the bridge, quietly working to get the shots we wanted.

All the while I was watching and thinking what cool portraits could be taken of some of the people in that group. However, I was nervous about approaching them.

Fortunately for me, Dave isn't shy. At all. When we moved closer to the group to get different vantage points, he struck up a conversation.

I listened for a few minutes, and then I eased my camera up and took a test shot just to see how they would react.

Magic happens

The next thing I knew these two guys were hamming it up for me. They literally couldn't have been more happy that I was interested in their portraits.

At first, however, they were fairly stiff. They just stood there — so I asked them to give me some other poses.

That's when Highpower Nicky and The Wizard threw out what I assume were gang signs. No clue what they meant, but it was simply magical.

As it happens, they were leaning over a light shining up from the bridge walkway, and that perfectly lighted their faces.

They went on to give me a few more poses that speak volumes about them.

I knew instantly how I would process the photos.

But the fun didn't stop there. I asked Nicky to look over "his" San Antonio so I could get a shot of that, and he once again surprised me with a pose I never would have dreamed up.

I titled the image "Prayers over San Antonio." I don't honestly know what Nicky was thinking or what the sign meant to him, but I just think it's such a powerful photo of a young man and the city he calls home.

The final photo of Nicky shows off his tats, ear pieces and his apparel as he seems to mull over life on the bridge.

I then asked for another photo of The Wizard, and he actually came up with this photo that illustrates his membership in the group at large.

The lesson

So what was the lesson I learned? Well, simply put that people are people.

Yes, these guys live in a different world than I do. Yes, they look nothing like me. No, they don't talk like me. Sure, they probably have much different pastimes than I enjoy.

But the camera allowed me to bridge those gaps and meet two young men who have been burned into my memory, who simply wanted to be acknowledged.

Photography is about sharing real life, whether it be the beauty of nature or the personalities of people. It's my job to cut through the clutter and boil things down to that reality.

It was one of those life-altering moments, when I learned that the outside doesn't always reflect the inside, when I realized that I could interact with others not like me and enjoy it, when I learned all is often not what it seems.