Aimlessly Pontificating on Photography

Posts tagged “people

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.

 


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.


OT: Road Users.

When crossing the road, look later.

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

I hesitate to suggest that Guyanese road users are a unique bunch, better to say in my experience they are a unique bunch. Just a few weeks ago there was a grizzly accident. A minibus conductor had the misfortune to have his head and shoulders out of the bus window when the bus was in an accident and rolled over.

Hard road, hard bus, not so hard head (except metaphorically), I think you can see where this is going.

This sticking the head out the window thing, is a regular practice of minibus conductors. Prior to the accident they all did it. No doubt, because I used the word “prior” you now think I am going to say they have stopped doing that. Nope, they have not. This is where the uniqueness comes in; they really do have hard heads. It does not appear that they can be taught a lesson.

They are not the only ones. I’ve had some degree of experience with road users in other countries and none of them share the apparent sense of entitlement and indiscipline with which Guyanese road users are afflicted. People will walk across the road in the path of oncoming trucks carrying huge containers without a look right or left. I see this everyday. Thank goodness for strong brakes.

I wonder if any of these people have ever seen a truck in the emergency section of the hospital? Or in a mortuary?

I hate to sound like an old fart, I am only 29 after all (maybe if I say it often enough the universe will make it so), but in my day road use was nothing like it is now.

Undoubtedly, a significant part of the cause is that there are more and more uneducated road users; both vehicular and pedestrian. But that cannot be all there is to it. Education first; I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t being told by a parent, or a relative or a teacher that I must look both ways before crossing a road. Apparently, the implication that you must not cross if there is a vehicle coming is no longer part of the lesson. But while educational standards have dropped, this is a matter of commonsense and no matter how uncommon it may be, I cannot believe that so little exists.

I saw an accident a few days ago; a lady was crossing the street between cars caught in a queue. She walked straight out into the path of a car that was attempting to “jump” the queue. She didn’t look, plus she was crossing in clearly dangerous circumstances and the driver was in such a hurry that he couldn’t stop. She was hit by his wing mirror and didn’t appear to be injured, but it could have been significantly worse had the timing of their meeting been just slightly different.

It may be cultural or a sign of hard times financially, but people genuinely don’t seem to care what may happen to them if they don’t use the roads properly.

I think the biggest problem is a sense of entitlement; that they are entitled to use the road and act in any manner that they please, and goodness help those who get in the way of their entitlement. This sense of entitlement either exacerbates the problem or causes the problem. I happen to think it is the cause of the problem.

Drivers don’t seem to understand that 2 tons of steel traveling even at relatively slow speeds will kill, and pedestrians don’t seem to grasp this basic concept of physics either. Speeding drivers invariably get the blame for collisions with pedestrians, but I have personally experienced pedestrians walking straight out into the road in front of me; and have seen it happen to other drivers.

When crossing at a busy intersection, look straight ahead.

I witnessed the death of a cyclist when he was decapitated after being struck by a truck. He (and his passenger) rode across first one lane then into the other lane of a busy highway from a small village street. He nearly caused an accident in the southbound lane which he crossed first (and in which I was traveling) and he crossed the northbound lane right into the path of a truck. I saw the truck swerve to try and avoid him and I also saw that the truck was traveling fairly slowly.

What could have prompted the cyclist to do something so obviously foolish and dangerous? And this wasn’t some youth who you might expect to act foolishly. This was a grown man with children. Fatalism? He didn’t really care what would happen? Or a sense of entitlement? Did he think he was entitled to use the roads in any manner he chose?

When stopping at an intersection, ensure you place yourself in maximum danger.

Drivers rarely extend courtesies anymore, minibuses certainly don’t save for exceptions that merely prove the rule.

I was being driven by my wife somewhere the other day (a fairly rare occurrence) when another driver jumped a stop sigh and crossed right in front of her. No accident, thank goodness. But when she had the temerity to toot her horn at him, he stuck his head out his window and launched a tirade at her. We couldn’t hear what he said, but he was clearly very angry. Why?

A lady traveling in the opposite direction to me, crossed into my lane to pass an obstruction in her lane. I had to reverse to allow her to pass. In passing, she told me I should have seen her flashing her lights and stopped earlier so she wouldn’t have had to wait on me to reverse. I didn’t know how to respond to that, I was so bemused.

I strongly suspect that many of the fatal accidents in Guyana can probably be laid at door of that sense of entitlement that Guyanese road users have. I once thought that this might be curable, but a quick look at our society as a whole reflects that this sense of entitlement and disbelief at the temerity of other to question this entitlement begins at the very top and works its way all the way down to the bottom.

Breaking the law and being road hogs, minibuses and private car alike.


Off Topic.

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

I drove past the Conversation Tree a few days ago and noticed someone putting a fence around a newly planted tree.

The Conversation Tree (for all the [one] people who visit my blog who aren’t Guyanese) is a historic landmark on the east coast of Demerara. The tree is to be found at the intersection of the Rupert Craig Highway and the road to which it has given its name (Conversation Tree Road). It was reputedly first planted by Napleton William King in 1876 to celebrate the birth of his son Napleton Walter.

My father named his blog after it.

I took a photo of it years ago, just before the photographed tree finally gave up the ghost. It is a nice picture, counted as one of my best for a long time and it is one of the images that made me think I could be a good photographer (ironically, I did a fair bit of editing on it to produce the final image, but at least I had the raw materials).

I owe that picture (or at least the subject) to Boyo Ramsaroop, who passed away recently. The tree in this picture was probably planted many years ago by Mr. Ramsaroop, and is the tree I’ve known my entire life as “the” Conversation Tree. My recollection is that Mr. Ramsaroop told me he had planted this tree to replace the previous tree (possibly the first) that my father knew during his youth. My recollection may be mistaken, but in any event I do know that he planted the tree that replaced the one in this picture, which was destroyed in an accident shortly before his death.

Boyo Ramsaroop was a well known political and social activist. He was a noted horticulturalist. Among his many other accomplishments he bore the betterment of his country firmly in his heart. Of all the things I could have chosen, I chose his planting of a flambouyant tree on which to comment.

It may well have been the least of his accomplishments, but it is significant to me because he did it from the purest of motives. Not for profit, not for fame (I doubt very many people even knew he had anything to do with it) but perhaps simply because it brought a bit of beauty to an otherwise dreary corner.

I believe that there are still people who do these things in Guyana, though in the past there were probably more. People who uplift their surroundings simply out of a desire to live in a nicer environment, or out of a bit of civic pride. It is not something that is seen much anymore.

A new tree has been planted and fenced. Done, no doubt in his father’s honour and memory, but very likely also in the same spirit as his father, by Gerhard Ramsaroop. These days in Guyana, if you do anything ostensibly in service of your country or community it may well necessitate press conferences, billboards and newspaper reports.

Either I missed the press conference, or Boyo taught his son better. I am inclined to the latter view.

When all the people like Boyo Ramsaroop leave or die, this country won’t be worth living in anymore. By then there will probably be too many self-congratulatory billboards “beautifying” the country for any of us to fit anyway.

 

The Conversation Tree Today