Aimlessly Pontificating on Photography

Posts tagged “opportunity

The making of . . .

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

Toddler Angst

My original intention when doing these “making of” posts was to present a tutorial, whether that tutorial gave the technical details of a particular photo, or how to achieve and effect, or even how to duplicate my results; it didn’t really matter. The point was to give a reader the “formula” of the creation of the photo.

What it has turned into instead is the recitation of an anecdote of how the photo came to be. I will eventually start producing proper tutorials, but the anecdotes are a lot easier to write and a lot more fun for me.

The headline photo has become one of my favourites since I took it. I suppose it doesn’t hurt that it is of my son.

We were about to head off to the wedding, Kiran was well dressed and becoming quite restive, he didn’t really like being dressed up but not going someplace. I couldn’t resist taking a few pictures of him, so I asked him to pose. This is often a hit or miss exercise. Sometimes he enjoys posing for the camera, sometimes he seems to feel an unwanted obligation. And sometimes he simply won’t do it.

This I think was one of those occasions where he felt obligated, but didn’t really want to oblige. I think you can tell from the expression on his face, he was quite annoyed at daddy’s request. I am pretty sure he was quite full of himself at being so dressed up too 🙂 I certainly didn’t ask or encourage the specific pose, I just asked him to stand in the slightly ajar door.

I had done a previous shot in this spot and I liked the defining line created by the dark interior of the house and the largely negative space provided by the white door. I hadn’t gone quite this far with the previous shot though.

As far as post processing (I use Adobe Lightroom) goes essentially, what I did was to ramp up the exposure 1 3/4 stops, increase the brightness to 68 (out of 100) and desaturate the photo. I usually prefer to use Lightroom’s black & white process as it tends to produce a nicer tonal mix than simply desaturating the photo, but in this case I wanted just very high contrast black against white.

I also increased the blacks to 40 (out of 100) which is very high for an accurately exposed photo. I also used a lot of fill light to lighten the shadows. The final step was to crop the image slightly to get rid of the security grill. The high contrast processing hadn’t blown the grill out (like it did the white door) and I felt it unbalanced the image to have another evenly weighted element opposing Kiran.

The bottom line is, as you can see from the completely unprocessed photo below, I had something good to start with and made real drama therefrom.

Angst Begins.

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Shooting a wedding.

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

I came across an interesting acronym the other day, FDLFSW (Friends Don’t Let Friends Shoot Weddings :)). Unfortunately, if any of us used to listen to good sense there would be no need for priests or lawyers (good riddance to both?). Well thank goodness for me good sense has to be the least used product on sale since the birth of humanity or I’d never have been able to afford my hobby.

Well I am, if nothing else, a man of my species, so when my good friends asked me to shoot Joan & Gerard’s wedding as a backup to her brothers, Mike and Andre it took me a very short while to say yes. They are no longer my friends.

Mr. & Mrs. DeFreitas

Nah, I’m just joking. It did teach me a valuable lesson though. Although I had accepted intellectually that weddings are challenging to photograph, it is different to actually do one and realise it for yourself. I did something right at least, I realised right at the beginning that it would be difficult and that I really didn’t know what I was doing.

Key to doing an acceptable job in these situations is to understand your limitations. Without a keen understanding of what you can and cannot do you, are quite likely to make a mess of things. Getting a shot of an important moment, even if not technically skilled (poor choice of exposure, not properly sharp/focused) is better than missing the shot altogether. And while a technically inferior shot is permissible when you are a backup, it is completely unacceptable when you are the primary photographer.

If you take on a wedding and you don’t know what you are doing you are not merely risking losing a client or friend, you are spoiling the memories of what is likely to be one of the most important events in the lives of a number of people.

My favourite photo to date with the 31mm

Knowing all of the foregoing I still decided to confine myself to two lenses (no zoom; gasp!). The first is the Pentax 31mm Ltd which has been described by some as one of the best 35mm lenses ever. What I like best about this one is the absolute pin sharpness and resolution. It is a very fast lens too (f/1.8), and works well in a dimly lit cathedral. This lens is a favourite because it gives a “normal” field of view on a camera with an APS-C sized sensor (smaller than 35mm full frame). This means that it approximates the angle of view of normal vision.

One of my preferred images with the Vivitar.

The other lens I used is the Vivitar Series I 105mm Macro lens. A mouthful of a name for a lens that is far bigger than its name implies. There is very little formal information available online for this lens because it was last manufactured sometime in the 80s! You can find some specifications, if you are interested, here (Kiron made the lens for Vivitar). I got mine as part of the close out sale of a camera shop that had a set of them new in box and paid less than half of what they are going for now, used. It is also a relatively fast lens (f/2.4) but manual focus. And not just any manual focus either; the precise 6 turns infinity to close focus that you need for macro focusing.

Another “difficulty” is that Guyanese are generally very conservative, and change or the unusual is not welcome. Anyone who has looked at my photos realises that I tend not to like the normal viewpoints for most subjects. I had visions of some low to the ground shots of the bride entering the church and something from a high vantage point obscuring by distance everyone but the bride who would stand out in her gown (since the wedding was at Brickdam Cathedral, I am not sure where I would find this vantage point).

I also wanted to get some photos of the bride getting ready and confusion in the house, the groom stepping out of the car that brought him (car door open, interior obscured by shadow, groom’s foot about to touch pavement :), etc. In other words I had a lot of ideas. Unfortunately, reality conspired to knuckle me in the head and things moved quite a bit faster than I had anticipated. I was quite shocked that they wouldn’t stop the proceedings to allow me to get THE shot 🙂 And no matter how accommodating my wife and the bride, I doubt that either of them would have allowed me to start taking photos from the time the bride started brushing her teeth for the morning.

 

Wedding Music

I digressed a bit, but the point I was trying to make is that had I the opportunity and time to do what I wanted to do there is a good chance that the bride and groom would not have liked the result. So perhaps a good thing since the photos were not for me, but for the bride and groom.

The challenge of using the two prime lenses was mitigated by the location. The church allowed me to make quick changes in perspective, so if I needed to quickly get a closer view and had the 31mm lens on the camera, I could quickly move closer. And likewise, if I had the 105mm lens on and needed a wider view, I could quickly move back. This works only within limited parameters as the switch was between a wide angle lens and a telephoto lens, but was sufficient if I didn’t have time to switch between them.

At the doorway

The wedding reception after the ceremony was a different situation. No wide aisles and seating arranged in a grid. No space to easily move further away. Plus I got tired and lazy. Too much work to get a good composition with prime lenses, too much work to keep changing lenses. So I switched to a wide angle zoom; the Pentax DA*16-50mm. This is Pentax’s pro level wide zoom and as fast as a zoom gets (f/2.8, but very soft wide open).

 

Panning shot.

One of my favourite photos of the entire day was taken with this lens. A panning shot of the bride and groom making their entrance across the room. Someone asked me why I used a blurred shot. This one isn’t blurred, at least the bride and groom are sharp, but the background is blurred as I was panning the camera. I like these types of shots because they give a strong feeling of movement. This one came out better than I expected.

I did use an actually blurred shot also. Once again because it imparted a feeling of movement and action to the scene. But the very fact that I was questioned for these choices make it clear how conservative Guyanese viewers are. Aesthetics are bright colours and sharp focus; things like creative composition and unusual angles are frowned upon.

I did assert my own sense of aesthetics to some extent with the processing of the images. Although they appear to be monochrome, they are actually significantly, but not completely de-saturated. The contrast is very soft (although the images are sharp, the sharpness isn’t emphasized) and the tones soft also.

I came away from this experience with one abiding vow. I won’t do anymore weddings. Plus I gained a whole new respect for people who do this for a living (at least the conscientious ones). If the bride or groom flubs a line during the ceremony, they get to do it over. If the photographer fails to take the right shot at the right time, no do overs + very annoyed client. Not an easy job. But looking back at the photos that I consider good, I can see how it can be very fulfilling.

Michael’s photos are here; and Andre’s are here. My full set is here.

P.S. If you want a complete set of applicable acronyms, have a look here. Quite an amusing article.

 


Composition.

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

NOTE: This is republished from a note I posted on Facebook on May 20 (with minor edits here), before I started this blog.

Afternoon Repose

The picture on the right is a good one. No point in false modesty. It is good not only because the composition is good, but because the exposure is exactly right and the focus and sharpness are perfect. Seen full size it looks far better than the little thumbnail on the right.

How did I spot the shot? Most people (non-photographers) would just have walked past it. I spotted it because I have been working hard at improving my photography for the year so far. Not only actually taking photographs, but looking at photographs from good photographers and reading voraciously.

Do what I have been doing and the odds are, you will never walk past a shot like this; or an equivalently good scene for the various different types of photography.

There is an unending supply of talented photographers around and the ubiquity of cheap digital cameras has allowed a vast number of people to explore their talent. It is hard these days to make your voice heard in the huge volume of good photographers now trying to be heard at the same time.

There are a few things that are key; lots and lots of practice, lots and lots of superior photographs in your portfolio and knowing the rules (and when to break them).

This one photograph, good as it is, is not going to get me anything. A few people will see it, a smaller number will like it, and nothing much will come of it. This is the reality of competition.

What will get me recognition (and you too if you are interested) is relentlessly producing good quality work, recognising that any kind of success can take a while and lots of self promotion.

Have a look at my photographs here.

And while I consider my picture above to be good. Have a look here to see what I consider to be a great photograph (photographs that can change the world). The depressing nature of that scene and others he had to witness were thought to have contributed to Carter’s despondency and later suicide.


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.


The making of . . .

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

Colour

This is more of an anecdote than anything else, and just goes to demonstrate how much of a part luck or happenstance plays in getting a good photo, for me.

I made an unusual move on a Sunday, going with my parents to a memorial service for a former president. This is not the type of event that I would normally even think of attending.

On the other hand, it was being held in Berbice which is significantly off the beaten path for me. So this was more about a photographic opportunity, than the self-congratulatory and self-praising event that these memorials tend to be.

About 2/3 of the way there, in Corentyne, we stopped to have some lunch and relax for a while, as we were quite early. We found this open bar/restaurant called Future Line Restaurant and went in.

In these less populated areas of Guyana, far out of a town or heavily populated area, you can have either of two things happening; either there will be a significant number of very small “bottom house” rum shops, or what we had here, a big entertainment facility catering to be all things to all people.

This was a restaurant, nightclub, bar, pool hall and cafe. All things to all people.

So I walked around the place for a while taking pictures. Got some decent shots, but nothing special. I was quite disappointed as this was likely to be the last particularly interesting place I was going to be that day (“they” are so right about assumptions). After sitting down for a bit my son ran around and escaped the clutches of his handlers and ran into a closed off and partially hidden section of the bar. This as it turned out was the “bar” section of what I have been calling the bar.

Absolute beauty; green painted stools with multi-coloured leatherette covered seats, set against a partially red and partially green painted walls. But so dark, and there I was without a tripod. The entire bar, a very large space at least 1,500 square feet, was filled with photogenic nooks. But so dark.

As it turned out, none of my photos came out right except this one. Either I screwed up the exposure or I didn’t hold the camera steady. It was very distressing when I was reviewing images to see well composed images ruined by hand shake.

This photo (above) was taken in a shaded area exposed to the outside. Even so, it was also fairly dark.

The photo is cropped square. This is deliberate, and while I didn’t take the photo with this precise square framing in mind, I did intend from the beginning to have a square image and photographed the scene accordingly. I tried my best to cut precise diagonal across the tiles on the floor, while keeping the circular vent blocks visible in the image.

I believe in being honest about my photographs. I think if it is a good photograph, then it is so whether you arrange it or not. This doesn’t hold true for all types of photography, but I in cases where this is not true, then you shouldn’t arrange anyway. Anyway, I moved the yellow stool from the front of the scene to the back. It was between the blue and green stools in the foreground. I didn’t like the gap at the back. This was the only arranging I did.

In the end it worked out quite well, the square format was a good call as it maintains a fair bit of geometric tension with the tall rectangular stools and the circular vent blocks, while echoing the square tiles on the floor. And in addition to the angular tension, the image has a very strong colour contrast.

It looks good in a monotone too, but the colours were simply too dramatic to go that route.


Opportunity.

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

Den Amstel Quarrel

 

This is partially a follow up, or maybe follow on, to my post “the camera that took the photo“.

There are a lot of photographers taking pictures these days. And there are a lot of good pictures to be seen. If you are just taking photographs to please yourself, then read no further. If you want to do something more, well why don’t you let an expert like me provide some guidance. After all, one person actually bought a photo from me once 🙂 And if that doesn’t qualify me as an expert, I don’t know what will.

Joking aside, you need certain things to take a good photograph. A good camera helps, a good eye (or two) is useful, practice is essential and a critical, but sometimes overlooked component, opportunity.

Venetian Shadow

A significant component of opportunity is the ability not just to look, but actually to see. I am not trying to be obscure or obtuse. I will elaborate. One of the questions I’ve been asked, by literally . . . one person is; “how did you spot that?” This was asked with regard to my take on a fairly routine scene (not the image above).

The answer is, I make a strong effort to see what I am looking at. My friend Michael in a recent post on his blog suggested that to gain inspiration you should change your environment a bit and see things with fresh eyes. I agree entirely, but that is not the only way I find something to photograph.

A significant part of my process is to simply look around me to see things that others may notice in passing but never glance twice at, simply because the world moves at such a speedy pace. I try to keep my eyes fresh even if I am in an environment that I see every day.

My approach then, is a contemplative one. To go somewhere different is to see a scene with fresh eyes, but I believe that the biggest gasp you will ever get from a viewer is to show them in a new light something that they have been looking at every day, but not really seeing.

The image posted at the top of this post is a classic example of the approach Micheal suggested. Going somewhere different, even if it is familiar, and looking around with fresh eyes. It is also an example of being in the right place at the right time, luck in other words (look closely at the window of the abandoned building). But Venetian Shadow (above) is the real example of what I am talking about.

Initially, it is a lot of work, this whole looking and seeing at the same time. At the beginning of the year when I started my picture a day project I was faced with an apparent dearth of subjects (suburban Scarborough in winter). It forced me to look and see in order not to break my project so early on. When I returned home two months into the year that practice stood me in good stead as it seemed I was spoiled for subjects. I was seeing interesting scenes everywhere I looked.

Within a couple of months that stopped and I had to start making an effort again to see what I was looking at. No bad thing really, but certainly challenging. The point of all of this is that with practice you can become skilled, with talent you can occasionally produce good images, but unless you see what you look at, you will never consistently produce good images. Each aspect of good photography is integral to the subject as a whole. Do one less well than the others and the whole will suffer.

Afternoon Light