Aimlessly Pontificating on Photography

Best Of

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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Five Best, Part 2 – People.

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

Today is the 183rd day of the year, there are now 182 days left to go. I am officially past the halfway mark of my 365 project. As the project has continued I have been finding it harder and harder to continue. While everything was new, there was an excitement to getting a good photo in a category I had never explored before. Now, although I am producing consistently better photographs than I was before I am feeling a sameness to my photographs which is not motivating.

Anyway, one of the areas I have been exploring significantly more since this year started, is photography of people. Not only posed portraits and semi-casual portraits, but street candid photos or candid photos generally. By “candid” I don’t necessarily mean photos taken surreptitiously (although that is a part of it) but photos where people continue what they are doing even though they know they are being photographed.

Birth

The first of what I would consider my five favourites is this image (to the left) of my daughter, minutes after her birth under the warming lamp, being examined by the doctors.

There are a lot of things I like about this one; firstly I did a decent composition considering the circumstances, it was fairly well planned. Everything from the suction machine in the lower right corner to the silhouetted doctors on the right were intentionally in the scene.

Secondly the intensity of the light on her pushed everyone else (except the doctor who delivered her) into deep shadow. It is fitting that she should be completely the focus of everyone, including the camera.

Midday in the Arcade

This (image to the right) is one of my absolute favourite photographs of people. My friend Michael and I went to the new vendor’s arcade on Water Street (opposite Republic Bank). I had been refused permission to take a photograph by one pavement vendor, but others had seen us. One vendor from the arcade asked us to come take some photos and this lady added her consent to take photos of her also.

This scene is so typically Guyanese that the second I snapped it I knew I had a winner. The place was very dark the exposure was fairly long, so I crossed my fingers all day hoping that when I saw it on the bigger screen I wouldn’t see the dreaded blur of hand shake.

I was so happy that I printed her picture and a couple other people who I had photographed distributed the photos to them. They were so pleased that I have a standing invitation to return and take more photographs of them. I fully intend to, but haven’t gotten around to it as yet.

Kite Vendor & Child

Another favourite is my photo of a kite vendor set against her wares. I actually intended to take photos of the kites only and asked permission to do so. But after taking the kites, she was rather taken aback when I made no move to photograph her also. I was all too pleased to mollify her by taking her picture. She is very photogenic and what I had initially assumed was shyness was just her trying to be unobtrusive.

The photo is surprisingly contrasty considering the very bright midday sun directly overhead. Usually in these circumstances, everything is washed out and flat. I did help thing along is post-processing, of course. I am no great believer in either “natural” results or in true from the camera results.

Just the conversion to a monotone completely subverts any argument about natural results. I’ve never met anyone who sees in black & white. But you can see surprisingly passionate arguments on the internet on how “right” the rendering of a particular black & white film is.

Longing for Home

The next of my favourite people shots is not quite candid, but not quite posed. The gentleman was among a group of friends/acquaintances on the pavement on Water Street, just in front of Guyana Stores.

They were waiting to make delivery of rice loaded on their trucks. I think the wharf was not ready to take the rice so several heavily laden trucks were parked on the street waiting.

I asked if I could take a picture and initially several of the men, who were all sitting next to this one, or congregated in the same spot, initially said yes and as soon as I raised the camera they scooted out of the area. Mike and I are often taken for newspaper reporters/photographers. After all who else in their right minds would be walking around in the hot midday sun taking pictures?

So he didn’t pose, but he knew his picture was being taken.

Finally, everyone knows that Guyana is a country rich in colourful characters. This is one of the main reasons it is so enjoyable to photograph people here. In fact, I think you would be hard pressed to avoid meeting someone on the street who isn’t worth of a great photograph. If I were restricted from every taking anything other than photographs of people, I can make a decent go of it here.

Stepping Orange in the Afternoon

I took this photo from the top of the new Chief Office of the New Building Society, currently under construction. I was on the rooftop, about 6 or 7 stories above the street and one glance spotted this goodly gentleman. He was impossible to miss in the afternoon sun.

I promise I have not altered the saturation or colour of this image in any way. In fact, I used a colour calibrator (X-Rite Colour Checker Passport) to make sure that the colours are absolutely accurate for the light conditions.

It is fairly heavily cropped because I was so far away, but no other work done on the image. Another technical flaw is that the bright sunlight on the back of . . . suit, cause the orange to overexpose. I rather like it though, technical perfection does not necessarily a great photo make.

Like I said, I could happily photograph Guyanese for the foreseeable future.


Five Best, Part 1 – Landscapes.

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

It has been almost 6 months since I started my 365 project (about a week to go before I pass the halfway mark) so I thought for the next few Fridays I would post my five favourite photographs in a few categories for the preceding six months; along with a brief paragraph on each image.

Bel Air Beach

This week I’ve decided to start with landscapes. Landscape images tend to be the most generally appealing images for most people. Who doesn’t like a good landscape?

Unfortunately, in my case, landscapes are not a type of photography I find that I typically do well with. I haven’t yet been able to figure out why, but I find my compositions somewhat lacking in drama and interest.

The first photo (on the left) is actually the first landscape I took for the year in Guyana. It is here mostly for that reason, but also because I am pleased with the textures and earth tones that I got.

This was a snapshot more or less. I had returned to Guyana the previous day I think and was still getting things on track. I hadn’t take a photograph all day and was in a rush later in the afternoon to look for an appropriate photograph.

After having been house bound in Canada in winter for a while I was anxious to find something to photograph out of the house or yard so I went for a drive to the seawall and ended up having to be satisfied with this one as I’d taken only a few and didn’t have anything else.

There is very evident barrel distortion from the wide angle lens in the horizon. I can correct that, maybe at some later stage.

Birds in the Sunset

The next image is actually my favourite of my landscape shots for the year so far (on the right). It is an image of a flock of birds flying towards the setting sun. It is a very generic image though; generic in that it has been done many times before by many people, and there is nothing here to distinguish this scene from a similar scene in any other country.

I was driving on the west coast heading south to the Harbour Bridge when I saw the sun reflecting in the drainage canal. It was still relatively early in the evening, not anywhere near as dark as the photo makes it appear. But what caught my eye was the very yellow/orange sun and the green fields.

I crossed the road and probably annoyed the hell out of a number of people chatting by the corner, but standing up there taking pictures, walking around the place and generally getting in everyone’s way.

It was immediately evident that I had to make a choice between beautiful green fields and a blown out sky (all white) or a deep orange sun and no green fields. The dynamic range of the light, from brightest to darkest was too much for the camera to capture without a tripod and multiple exposures overlaid on each other (HDR).

The thing that made me decide was, of course, the birds in the sky. Without them, this image would never had made if off my computer. In order to get the birds and the nice orange glow I had to underexpose the scene severely. It is much darker here than it was naturally.

Secluded Grove

The third image in my list is on the left. It is a small area located at the Bounty Farms location at Timehri. It is a beautiful and restful spot. Verdant and cool and rich in Guyaneseness (believe it or not, I just made that up). When you stand there you realise why it is that migrants want to return home to Guyana and why some of us stay despite the hardships we may face.

It is by no means a unique spot in Guyana, they can be found in many places and guises, but it is quintessentially Guyanese.

At my friend Michael’s kind invitation the family and I went one Sunday. It was to have been an opportunity to take some photographs in a scenic location. But with spots like these to sit and relax, it would have been just as fun to drink a couple beers and talk nonsense.

The photo did present some challenges, it was quite dark under the trees and on an overcast day there wasn’t much chance of a steady shot without a tripod, particularly as I had to stop down to get a decent depth of field. Fortunately, luck played an important part and one or two of the photos I took here were reasonably sharp. It was a lesson I took to heart though. I have my tripod with me always now. I’d prefer not to need it, than not to have it.

It is a bad idea to rely on luck though, I highly recommend preparation instead.

Stormy Benches

My fourth favourite so far is of a scene that is very familiar to most Georgetown inhabitants. Coincidentally, it also happens to be to only one of my favourite landscape photos for the year so far that is also in landscape orientation (wide rather than tall).

People who regularly look at my pictures will notice that I have taken quite a few of these (and other) benches. Benches are a subject of fascination for some photographers, myself included. I could explain why they fascinate me, but this post is already too long 🙂

This particular photo was taken just after a heavy rainstorm. As soon as I saw this scene I knew I needed to take a nice photograph, but I had no idea how to do it. Because the benches are in a line along the horizon it was difficult for me to visualize a composition which would show the reflections, the benches and the sky without overexposing the sky or turning the benches into silhouettes.

There is also a lot of background clutter in the vicinity that I didn’t want in this shot. As it is I think it turned out pretty well. I got another shot, very similar, that is actually one of my favourite shots of the year so far. But that is another post.

Burnham Memorial at the Botanical Gardens

The last of my favourite five landscapes for the past six months was taken at the Botanical Gardens about a week ago. It was very carefully composed to take advantage of the line of rocks leading the eye to the monument, while the monument is framed to some extent by the palm trees on either side.

There is also the white structure set below the warm blue sky (warmed and deepened by a polarizing filter). As far as these things go with me (which is not that far) I put a fair amount of effort into ensuring all the elements are where I want them to be. I am not always so planned in my compositions. It may not be the greatest photo, or even the greatest photo I have done in the last six months, but what it represents for me is important.

This is an image that results from a significant degree of practise and effort. I am sure others could do better, but I am proud of this one.

Hope you enjoyed the set.