I’ve begun to try small attempts to incorporate people into my photographs, putting life into my landscapes and cityscapes. While not yet ready (nor inclined) towards portraiture, I am trying to be more aware of the people and moments that tell a story, convey an irony, or capture a feeling.
This is a favorite of mine. The two were sitting across from us on the subway and he was such am iconic Dad: carrying her stuff, intent on her interests. She was sharing only with him, a moment that wouldn’t be possible for them in a few more years.
I posted to Instagram, and got valid questions back about whether this was a moral and legal shot to share. No, I didn’t have permission, they didn’t know, but at the same time, it was public space, non-commercial, anonymous, and wholly complimentary. This would seem to put me on the right side of things, but its always something that I keep in mind.
And, where possible, I do ask permission (even if it gives a less spontaneous shot)
The On Taking Pictures podcast had a good discussion last week about whether good Street Photography is luck or skill. Where a studio photographer might work to get lighting, arrangement, balance and focus just perfect to capture the mood and composition they want, street photographers take lots of shots of juxtaposed objects hoping for a good one. It is, they observed, more observation than control.
I would disagree: while there are times when I am lucky enough to turn and catch a good composition, other times I have to visualize what I want, set it up, and wait for it.
And even then, it still may not come…there’s a nice element of unpredictability in stalking and recognizing the right moment when it comes.
The final question they asked was whether street photography is best rendered in black and white. Certainly a catalogue of good pictures is predominantly backlit, high-contrast, monochrome shots. But I normally shoot in colour, and there’s more to rendering a shot in black and white than simply turning off the saturation.
The rules for how to compose and process a black and white picture are different, and worth learning. I do pay more attention to juxtaposing tones, to getting patches of clean white and clean black, and to getting contrast right.
Reflections and straight lines also help, but I’m still learning. ‘And Im still playing with the difference between flat and sharp (left and right, above).
The sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial, Daniel Chester French, was not happy. His bust of the 16th president looked startled, afraid, wholly different from what was intended. The effect was caused by the lighting. When lit from above, the brows lowered, the expression hardened, the figure looked resolute. French decreed that the bust should never again be lit from beneath.
The contrasting photographs, and the story of how light creates mood, are iconic. I took a lamp up to my daughter’s room to experiment with how just the play of light on her rocking horse can change the entire character of a picture.
Moving right or left, top or bottom, front or back, changes the visible detail, the 3-D relief of the object, the drama of the scene.
Which is the best representation, the most compelling photograph?
Since getting my new camera last April, I’ve focused on improving my composition. Worobiec’s Photographic Composition and Excell’s Composition, both given to me as gifts, have both been great guides. At their suggestion, I’ve been experimenting with different angles and heights, aligning different parts of the scene with the intersection of thirds in the frame. You can follow my evolution on Instagram.
All of this has led me to think more about the photos I take, framing what is best in a scene rather than cropping later. It’s makes a difference: I feel like my landscape and still life photos are becoming more interesting and evocative. Portraits and street scenes are still difficult, but I’m working on how I can better compose them.
And I’m starting to understand how light and contrast also matter.
Light creates colour and shadow, giving warmth and relief to objects and scenes. Just moving a desk lamp around an object can alter the picture’s mood and appearance. For me, the angle of the light presses or lifts the subject (below, my sequence fiddling from high light [positions to low). Some angles look more ‘natural’ than others, others make the subject look ‘startled’.
Professional photographers think about lighting from three points: the main light that gives illumination and contrast, (key), a second to soften the shadows (fill) and another to give outline and depth (back). While I’m not adding lighting to a scene, I am watching where I stand and how the subject is lit in these three ways. Is the face lit or shadowed? Is the background too bright? Are my steepest light / dark differences at the picture’s focus (this, from painting classes).
Another change has been in choosing the time of day that I take pictures. I like the dramatic contrasts and vibrant colours that come from having low, filtered light, natural at sunrise and just after sunset. I try to get out during the ‘golden hour’ when the camera gets vivid blue skies and orange lights: an hour later, the scene changes completely.
Finally, there is the issue of photographing coloured lights. A rainbow of hanging lamps invariably photograph as monochrome white lights. I thought that getting closer and reducing background light might help, but these results from a London alleyway are scarcely changed.
Wikihow offered relevant advice on photographing Christmas lights: Use illuminated backgrounds, get closer, and adjust the camera settings. It helped a lot with getting strings of lights to resolve and to photograph better, but I’m still trying to find the right solution for capturing vivid colour.
Folks in the Dorset Landscapes group have been posting lovely pictures from around Poole Harbour at sunset. In some ways, it’s easy light for taking striking pictures: High key, high contrast, saturated colours, lots of reflections. At the same time, that’s the challenge: Is there a composition, an ambiguity, a moment that captures the feel of the place.
Once you’ve reached a new destination, experience it, understand it and enjoy it before you take any photographs. Then scout for fresh angles and moods that gives your photographs a unique, fresh look and feel, suggests Amr Tahtawi.
So, this evening, I wandered all around the point and sat on a few rocks, both above and along the waterline, both over the marsh and facing the Habour. Then I felt ready to settle in to wait for the sunset.
I’ve been gradually building out my community on Instagram, trying to connect with people who are doing good work, and to post better photos myself. The site requires different aspect ratios than my camera frame and limited photo editing, so it’s tricky to load raw pictures. But if I load my A5100’s raw files to my PC, fiddle a little in Photo Gallery, then upload with InstaPic, my gallery really improves (like this shot along the M3 over the weekend).
I’ve been using Instagram’s Search People function to find new photographers to follow. Much like Match.com’s Pick Six, I’m given samples from a couple of dozen candidates that I can Follow or Hide. Selection seems based on what I already Follow or Favorite: if I add a food site, I’ll get days of foodie lover’s albums to sort through.
There is a lot of chaff, people that basically post selfies or glamor poses, monoculture series of cars or pets, celebrity sites, and overprocessed candy-colored scenes and still-lifes.
But I’ve got a good selection now that gives a manageable number of pictures with a high ratio of interesting things. It gives me lots of ideas for my own composition as well as a smile when I thumb through the new shots (gallery of recent Favorite’s, right)
I’ve registered for the 100 Happy Days challenge, and began yesterday. The trick will be to keep variety along with happiness, as well as to make time each day. At the end of the exercise, late summer after travel and sailing, I’m looking forward to having a mosaic of 100 greatest hits to use as a screensaver or wall poster.