Aimlessly Pontificating on Photography

Five Best, Part 3 – My Top 5.

My blog has moved, see the new site at http://blog.badlightgoodlight.com

This will be the last of my five best of series to mark my passing the 6 month point of my project to take a picture every day for a year. This one was actually the hardest of the the set to choose. To pick a five best in a specific category was not difficult because the potential choices were fairly limited.

Choosing a five best overall though was difficult; in part because there are so many I really like and there are also quite a few that even if they aren’t very good, have an interesting story to go with them.

Anticipating

Only one part of judging a photo is assessment of outright technical merit. Often the photo taken with consummate technical perfection is the least likely to please viewers and obversely a photo which is technically flawed will win compliments.

Far more important to judging whether a photo is good or not is the viewer’s own preferences and prejudices. The photo of my wife (on the right) was taken just 2 days before she delivered our daughter, Mira. Any expectant mother will know that look on her face and will probably like this shot.

I deliberately boosted the contrast in this photo to give a harsh feel to the photo and accentuate Sharon’s distressed and uncomfortable look. The blown highlights are mostly deliberate, but degrade the technical aspect of the photo.

She was very annoyed at having to pose for me when she was so uncomfortable, but I expected that and used it to my advantage. I didn’t really want a photo of her where she looked comfortable and relaxed.

Shelter on a rainy day

Next up is the best shot in this post. On the left is an image that won a challenge on DPReview (one of the premiere camera review websites). Nothing major, but gratifying nonetheless.

I reached to work a little after 7 a.m. on a rainy day. There were several large puddles of water and I went out to try and get some nice reflecting shots. On the way back to the office I spotted him out the corner of my eye and stopped and asked to take a picture.

He was reluctant at first, but eventually obliged. I was in two minds about stopping and asking, not really an easy thing to do, but I am so pleased I did.

Because of the soft, even lighting resulting from the heavily overcast sky, the colours were very saturated, almost cartoonish. I did like how it looked initially because I like bright colours. But the bright colours didn’t really suit the mood of the image. One of the largest changes I made was to reduce the saturation of the image.

Brothers

If you have had a look at my photographs you might notice that I really like to take photographs of people. It doesn’t really matter much to me what situation they are in; posed, candid, street photography or any other situation you might find people.

I think there are cases where people can be intrusive; landscapes and architectural for example. And there are specific types of photography which cannot include people. But I think almost any scene can be livened up by having some people in it. One of my favourite albums to post to is my people album. I am always happy when I have an image to post to that album.

The point is, of my top five images for the past six months three of them are of people. It is no coincidence.

In this case I tracked the brothers for a while, as they were walking down the sidewalk. When I saw them about to cross the street I was almost hopping up and down in anxiety hoping for them to cross where I wanted them to. The next issue was for their steps to synchronize. I must have take a dozen photos of them in the 10 seconds or so it took them to cross the street.

Knotted

I had to include this image (to the left). Quite apart from the fact that I do think it is one of my best for the year so far a lot of thought went into constructing this one. I am certain that I would not have been able to take this photo had I not started this photo a day project.

I did a comprehensive “making of” post on this image a short while ago and don’t propose to repeat that.

I didn’t find the scene having looked specifically for it. I just saw the juxtaposition of the knotted rope set against the diamond pattern lattice wall and recognised the potential.

It is an enhanced ability to recognise this potential that taking a photo per day for a year has brought me. I started taking photos seriously early 2007 when I got a new camera. I had that camera for nearly 3 years and took about 8,600 pictures in that time. Since I sold that camera and got the new one (and thanks partly to my photo a day project) I have taken over 11,000 in nine months.

This quantity comes not only because I have to take at least one photo each day, but because I am recognising more interesting scenes and actually stopping to take a picture, when in the past I might have moved on.

Taking on passengers

With respect to this final image of my top 5 I think I may be biased because it happens to be one of the more recent of my favourites. There is a good chance that it may not survive in my top photos list, but at the moment I really like it.

At least part of that liking comes from the fact that it is an accidental photo. I had intended to take a photo looking up the street. I set my tripod and carefully waited until the traffic lights at the corner (out of frame) said go, so that I would get some light trails as the vehicles drove past (see here for an example).

Unfortunately (or fortunately) this minibus pulled up right there to offload his passengers. At the time I thought it was a disaster. Had he moved off quickly enough the bus would have faded to a ghostly shadow as he would not have been in the scene long enough to firmly expose on the camera sensor. I was so annoyed when he refused to move.

It was not until I got home late that evening that I decided that this totally accidental shot was the one I liked best. It just goes to show that in photography, as in anything else, luck can often play a big part.

Given the difficulty I’ve had picking my top five for the last six months I am not sure I am looking forward to repeating the exercise at the end of the year to chose my top ten.

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3 responses

  1. Quite a collection Nik, and I love every one of them. My two favourite of the set are the last two, one because of the vivid colours in the minibus scene and the other for its simplicity 🙂
    Keep going Nik!!

    July 9, 2010 at 8:36 am

  2. Your rant is brilliant. Can I use it in my next blog post please? And if so, what would you like me to call you?

    I got into trouble earlier this year for being ‘outspoken’ to a government minister, (I also had the privilege of being misquoted in the papers!) so very little political stuff gets into the public blog. But I feel very strongly about this issue- about “aid” being white people driving from air-conditioned house to air-conditioned office in their Humvee and telling everyone what’s wrong with them. So I’d like to write something along those lines over the next few days.

    Frankly, I think Georgetowners’ attitudes to foreigners are justifiable as well as understandable. James and I chose to work in the interior so that we would not have any kind of expat world around us. There, we are just us, two absurdly tall pasty-faced people living in a traditional house with a pit latrine and sharing someone else’s well, and trying to do a job like anyone else. I think Guyana is right to be suspicious of outside intervention- after all, it has a terrible track record here. Colonialism is alive and well. Have you come across a film-making organization called “Worldwrite“? http://www.worldwrite.org.uk/films-projects.html They do wonderful films about the damage caused by this kind of attitude. (I wrote my MA thesis on something very like this, come to think of it!)

    What’s the answer? I have NO idea! Certainly a lot of the big players should just get out. They’re wasting millions (although at the risk of being cynical, that’s their job!). I think VSO are doing good work (correct me if I’m wrong) because it’s centred around people, not around funding or projects. What is probably needed is strong local (developing-country) organizations that match funders with real, viable, well-run local programmes. But how can funders know who to trust? Embezzlement is sadly not the sole prerogative of developed nations.

    I am probably moving out of development after this Aishalton stint finishes. So little development work actually does what it purports to do i.e. builds local capacity to work itself out of a job as quickly as possible. But it is lovely to have a real dialogue about it. (My blog is generally read by uncritical family who think I’m Flash Gordon Saviour of the Universe!) Thanks for taking the time to comment so thoughtfully.

    July 9, 2010 at 5:27 pm

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