Developing a scene – Hanging By The Corner

Hanging By The Corner

When something catches our eye and we draw for the camera, like John Wayne in a Western, our attention is usually focused firmly on one spot. We watch the subject and close-in for the kill, get our shot, inspect it and walk away with a smile on our face – if it has turned out the way we imagined, of course. What we often fail to do is work at developing our initial idea or take the time to see what else can be got out of the subject. We should always challenge ourselves to find alternative angles and view points, and to create something quite different to the vision that first came into our minds.

I made this picture during a street photography workshop I was holding in London, and used the process of taking it to demonstrate how what we see and shoot in the moments immediately after recognising a scene with potential does not have to be the end of the matter.

Hanging By The Corner - developmentWhat had caught my eye was the hard backlighting on the man’s hood as we walked past the opening to the street. I liked the way the sunlight created a halo-like rim around his head, and the way the shadow of his body distorted on the wall. The dappled light on the background buildings worked pretty well too.

A new viewpoint
As we shifted beyond the point where we got our first sighting of the potential, we got to see how the light played out on the wall behind him, and we admired the hard-edged shadow streaking diagonally across the wall from the left hand side of the frame. We shot some compositions using the diagonal to cut the picture into two sections.

Hanging By The Corner - developmentThen the subject’s friend got up off the floor and became part of the composition as well. The two guys were just hanging out chatting, smoking, pacing and using their phones, and at moments the side lighting on the guy with hood combined nicely with the way his friend was part-silhouetted against the bright area of the wall.

Using your eyes for looking
I also have a thing about sharp corners on a sunny day and wanted to use the hard line of that edge create to a partition in the frame – so I dropped the camera down for a few seconds to take a good look at the scene just using my eyes.

It was then that I noted the reflections on the wall to the right of the area we had been working on, and how the shadow of a person further to the right was neatly framed in a little box of light on the wall. So, we recomposed our attention to include that element as well.

In recomposing the frame we somewhat sacrificed some of the drama of the long slanting shadow that had attracted us to the scene in the first place, but in doing so, and allowing ourselves to change our initial idea, I think we created a more sophisticated and enjoyable image. It still has a good dose of drama, but it now features a neat element of surprise to spice it up.

Hanging By The Corner - developmentBy the then the sun had moved round so that long shadow was gradually fading and the two friends had walked away, but the box of reflected light remained with the man’s shadow in it still – so I shot that on its own in the same environment and using almost the same framing. That works quite nicely too.

Open to change
Being flexible and open to developing an idea is a key for me in making the most of the situations I encounter. I rarely take a shot and walk on – I hang around for a bit, walk around the subject and try to see how else it can be explained and what other opportunities are there for the taking. Sometimes the first frame I shoot is the best, but often the better frames come with the benefit of time, consideration, exploration and a good hard second look.

Only six minutes elapsed between the first and the last frames shown here, so you can see how quickly the sun moves in the winter months and how completely one little spot can alter in the space of a very short time. Street photography is action photography, what with the light and the people on the move the whole time, so you have to think quickly and get on with it, but that doesn’t mean you shot one frame and move on.

These are some of the skills you can learn first-hand on one of my street photography courses, so visit my photography workshops page to see what locations and dates are on offer.

 

Hanging By The Corner - development

The light that got my attention in the first place

Hanging By The Corner - development

The next development came when we walked on a little

Hanging By The Corner - development

Development 3

Hanging By The Corner - development

Development 4

Hanging By The Corner - development

The better frame

Hanging By The Corner - development

And it even looked good when they had all gone

Excitement in the spotlight

Excitement in the spotlight Damien DemolderExcitement in the spotlight

Just as there is gold at the end of a rainbow, so a beam of light in a shady zone will lead us to riches. Where sun shines in the darkness we have a spotlight, and spotlights are perfect for picking out a subject for us to see, to concentrate on and to photograph.

This scene is just the opening of a tunnel on a sunny day, and with a relatively high angled sun and the assistance of a reflective glass building, we had this double spotlight effect that created multiple shadows from each person that passed by. I had been concentrating on those shadows, and looking for people making interesting shapes to cast good shadows on the wall in front of themselves. Most people were lit from the side, so there was some light on their face but more on the side of their head. The effect on the wall was great, but the light on the people was much less interesting.

I was just coming to the conclusion that while there was some potential in the scene I was only getting half interesting pictures, and no matter how dramatic the shapes were I didn’t know what was needed to create a spark of excitement beyond the passive shadow experience.

And then this animated chap came along. Obviously excited about appearing in a picture that would end up on my website and in endless street photography talks, he went to town to engage with his friend in a dramatic manner and turned to face him to ensure whatever he was saying was being registered and sinking in.

Of course, as he turned his face towards his friend he also turned it into the light, and with that enthusiastic expression and that dynamic body position it was going to make a good shot. We have no idea what he is saying or why he looks like that, but we can all appreciate the energy he is putting in to getting his point across.

His friend is also nicely semi-silhouetted against the light grey background and he shows us enough that we can see his reaction and how much he is enjoying his friend’s antics. We need that element of communication and connection so that we can join in the fun and be a part of what is going on.

Had I given up when things weren’t quite coming together I wouldn’t have got this shot. I kept the camera up, however, and was still ready to shoot as I pondered what was needed – and as if by magic what was needed appeared before my eyes. Fortunately, I was ready and waiting to capture what luck was serving up at that moment.

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Excitement in the spotlight Damien Demolder

Shapes and silhouettes – John and Yoko

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While shooting in the city during daylight is exciting, the style of image that can be created is very often in the hands of the weather. Light during the day, outside at least, is dependent on whether there are clouds or not, and the time of day. Strange as it may seem at first, light is much more constant and reliable at night. At night light is all man-made and lamps that are lit at 9pm on a Tuesday will usually be burning at 9pm on a Thursday.

What I particularly enjoy about shooting at night is the different colours created by the various light sources we find in the street – orange or green street lights, the yellow glow of a shop window, and the multitude of hues produced by neon signs. We also have light coming from all angles too – above from street lights, on a level from shop windows and from below from car headlights – which inevitably produces images that catch the eye.

For this picture I wanted to make the most of the illuminated menu in the restaurant window, by using it as a bright flat background against which I could create silhouettes of passers-by. I liked the little orange lights around the window and determined to use them as a neat frame-in-a-frame and to fill that sector of the image with interest when the subjects were low down in the frame.

I wanted people in the shot to appear completely black – in the darkness of the evening that was easy. I exposed for the light of the menu, and then arranged my composition on the back of the camera.

Obviously, anyone who walked between the camera and the menu would appear in silhouette, but to make the shot work I needed someone with an interesting shape. I didn’t know who would appear, but I did know that I wanted a good profile and accentuated features.

It was luck that brought me these two well defined heads with their glasses standing away from their face adding extra interest, and luck that made them coincide to form that jagged patch of light between them as they passed me by. It reminds me of Edger Rubin’s Vase, where we see a face or an egg timer between the shapes – though we are drawn to look, no such apparition is there to be puzzled out.

I like the sharpness of the shapes and the clarity around the features of the faces – the lips, the noses and the peaks of the hats. The shapes and lines have a happy parallel harmony that looks arranged and organised, but which is just an accident of timing and position.

To get this kind of picture you do need to know what you want and what is achievable. You have to plan a bit, imagine the finished product and get yourself in the right position for it all to come together. And you have to keep your eyes open to the possibilities of what may happen, so you are ready to capture them when they occur.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 with Leica 25mm f/1.4 lens. f/2.8 and 1/500sec @ ISO 400

Learn firsthand how to take pictures like this and how to improve your street photography skills with a street photography workshop with me. You can find all forthcoming classes on the Damien Demolder Photography Workshops page.

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Graphics and the element of surprise

Damien Demolder street photographyCafé, Prague

In my head street photography is architecture with people in it, so I am constantly on the lookout for ways to show how humans and buildings come together to create the atmosphere of a place. Every town and city has different zones, where a different style of building exists and where different atmospheres prevail. None is more or less valid than the other, and while some are more obviously attractive to the eye than others we can choose to remember that we don’t need conventional beauty to make in interesting picture.

This picture was shot in one of the less touristy areas of Prague, in the Czech Republic. If you type ‘Prague’ into Google images this part of town in unlikely to pop up – it’s a little shopping area near a train station on a junction of two busy roads. It isn’t one of the famous bridges, or in the quaint old town.

What caught my eye here was the vibrant graphics in the window of the café, and the rigid lines and angles that make up the framework of the window. The reflection of the building across the road fits nicely into the theme of collected rectangles – and the light streaking across the pavement adds texture that somehow works well with the curved shades of the bread and cream illustrations in the window.

These elements would all be fine on their own, as observational architectural details, but the man in the café brings humanity into the scene and brings the place to life. He was kind enough to sit just in the right place, so that the sun caught his nicely reflective head, making him just the right brightness so he stands out from the scene. He is dramatically round in a frame full of squares, which makes him drawn our eye by breaking the pattern, but the tonal and chromatic contrast helps to lift him from the dark background so we can see him through the reflections.

I like this sort of surprise – where we look at a big scene but are drawn by visual coincidences to one small part of the frame. It is the job of the photographer to say ‘look what I saw’ and to ensure that part is what the viewer sees too. I hope that in this case you experience the scene the same way I did when I came across it.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 with 12mm f/2 lens

If you would like to be able to shoot pictures like this check out my street photography classes schedule.

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Drinking coffee, Prague. Damien Demolder

 

Timing in street photography

IPad man Decisive moments: timing in street photography

We have all heard of the ‘decisive moment’, and we know it relates to the split second in that which the multitude of disparate elements within our view come together to form a single harmonised image in which all those individual entities suddenly somehow relate to each other.

When many of us think about this concept we visualise the world moving and the photographer passively standing by waiting to catch what happens next. To some extent this is true, but the part of the successful photographer is of the active fortune teller who analyses the lines on the palm of the situation to guess what MIGHT come to pass in the seconds and minutes that follow. When we spend the time to see and to predict we can try to ensure we are in the right place with the right settings on our camera, and prepared to capture that future in a way that communicates the essence of the moment.

I liked this man’s hair and the way the light and dark streaks emphasised his style and shape in the pale overcast evening light, and I hovered around behind him waiting to get a shot. I wanted him taking a picture down the river, with The Shard softly setting the scene in the background, but I needed to wait for those elements to come together in a single cohesive moment.

He decided to create a sweep panorama with his iPad Mini, and I could see he was going to swing from left to right as he captured the view, so I quickly composed my own view so that I would be ready for the moment his iPad was in the right place. As I have a building in the shot we need to activate our mental architecture mode, making it essential to keep the camera upright and straight so the viewer doesn’t have to face the distractions of London falling over. Guessing where the iPad would be I set my AF point for that spot using the Touch AF feature of the camera I was using. This allows the photographer to position the focus anywhere in the scene by touching that place on the rear screen. I set a wide aperture of f/1.2 to create a tiny depth of field that would blur the background behind the iPad and even the man’s hair in front of it.

And as he swung the iPad in to position I was ready and just had to trigger the shutter at precisely that moment.

 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 with Leica DG Noctilux 42.5mm f/1.2

 

If you would like to learn how to take pictures like this, and become a confident and creative street photographer, sign up for one of my one-day street photography classes.

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Tonal Contrast for Emphasis

Tonal contrast for emphasis. Street photography courses in London. Damien DemolderSmoking at the Bank – Tonal contrast for emphasis

If you asked twenty people in the street ‘What’s the best colour to make a white object stand out?”, they would probably all say ‘black’ (except those who know that black isn’t a colour!). It is obvious, isn’t it? But in the heat and excitement of the moment the street photographer can easily forget the most obvious principles and miss the opportunity to make a scene into an effective piece of communication.

This picture is clearly about the whisps of smoke that appear above the man’s head. We know that because they are probably the first things we notice when we look at the picture. They are the first things we notice because they stand out, and they stand out because the difference between their brightness and the deep dark shades of the doorway represent the strongest tonal contrast in the scene.

Tonal contrast: brain v camera

When I saw the potential of the shot I’m not sure where the smoke was, but it stood out because my eyes and brain were able to separate the smoke from whatever background it was against, but the camera can’t do that on its own. When I came to take the picture I adjusted my position so that the light toned smoke would be against a dark toned background – not against the stone wall or the pillar in the distance. It is this slight shift in my position, and the differences in the tonal values of subject and background that make the shot work. Had the smoke appeared over the wall of the Bank the picture wouldn’t have worked at all.

The reason I moved was because I had thought all that through in the seconds between seeing and taking the shot. I didn’t just get wow’ed by the smoke, I thought about the best way to get the message to you that the smoke rising from the man’s head looked cool with the light shining through it. And it is that few seconds of thinking that make the difference and which are so often missing.

Contrast, depth of field and saturation

The shallow depth of field helps, of course, as does the soft light of the rainy day that allowed the camera’s dynamic range to capture the full scale of the tonal values of the scene. I exposed for the smoke, not for the man’s jacket, because I didn’t want it to appear pure white and featureless.

It was a muted sort of morning, and there are no strong colours in the scene. I’ve desaturated the image it a little more to give it a stronger monochromatic atmosphere. I also cropped square for a classic feel that suits the moderate tones and colours.

Smoking is of course pretty bad for the health of humans, and as prices and prohibition increase fewer and fewer people are doing it. That’s great for the lungs of the nation, but one day scenes like this will be rare. Go out and make the most of smokers while we still have some.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 with Taylor Taylor Hobson 2in f/2 Telekinic lens

 

I run regular street photography classes around London, both during the day and at night, so why not join me and a very small group of other photographers for some instruction and inspiration – and a lot of fun?

I can help to improve your photography whatever your level of experience.

You can also follow me on Facebook or on Twitter:
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https://twitter.com/damiendemolder

Lighting for 3D effect – orange pillar

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALighting for 3D effect – orange pillar

It is through directional lighting that we appreciate the three-dimensional qualities of the things around us. Very early on in primary school art classes we learn to draw a cube and shade one side black and another grey; I was amazed how it jumped off the page, and repeated the exercise over and over. Of course we understand how all this works when we have a pencil in our hands, but it is another thing to apply the same principles when out with a camera.

Depth through layers

This image has a sense of depth through the different layers created by the lighting of the scene, and these make the man stand out clearly from the foreground and the background. As a silhouette he could be a cardboard cut-out, except that the light falling on his left foot suddenly lets us know he is in fact a 3D object.

The single bulb that lights the scene creates a definite mix of 2D and the 3D objects, and the contrast between them makes one stand out from the other. The heavy side lighting on the pillar describes very clearly its cylindrical form, and because of the strength of this impression the flat cut-out top half of the man’s body stands out. That he is sharply defined, with jet-black hair, eyebrows, lips and nose, against one of the lightest areas of the scene, our attention is drawn immediately. The figure jumps off the page by being 2D against a 3D background, and then by his 3D foot against the 2D background of the pavement.

Understanding the scale

We know exactly how far into the scene the man is, as we have his shadow to mark the position for us with engineer’s precision on the pavement – the grid of which lends us the front-to-back measures of the stage he is striding across.

There is further mix of 2D and 3D elements on the rear wall, where the long straight shadow of the door catch breaks the flat plane of the image background with one small but significant area of relief.

Atmosphere of mystery

I rather like that the fact we only have an outline of the figure makes his identity something of mystery. We get some clues, but not enough to really know much about him. He evades our detection, just as he bypasses the CCTV camera mounted on the wall in the background – that focuses only on a very empty dark door where there is clearly nothing going on. The mystery is continued by the dangerous deep orange night-time glow of the ambient street lighting.

The right person in the right place

When I saw this scene I knew I would be able to get something out of it, so I lined up the shot and waited for the right person to walk in to it. What makes this chap work is that he is in full hurried stride, giving a clear sense of his outline shape. This stride coincides with the moment right before his outline breaks the brightest edge of the pillar, so his darkness is at maximum contrast and he doesn’t interfere with that powerful long straight line. That he doesn’t intersect that line is critically important – we rely on the strength of his outline to identify what he is, and if that outline is complicated by external elements the message becomes less clear. And rather nicely, his shadow leads us from the lower left corner in a powerful diagonal straight to the subject of the photograph.

Olympus PEN E-PL5 with Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 25mm f/1.4 ASPH
f/2.5 and 1/150sec @ ISO 1600

I run regular street photography classes around London, both during the day and at night, so why not join me and a very small group of other photographers for some instruction and inspiration – and a lot of fun?

I can help to improve your photography whatever your level of experience. Find out more in the Events and Courses section.

See me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/demolder
Follow me on Twitter at @damiendemolder

 

Please do leave me a comment below.

Create 3D pictures with a sense of depth. Damien Demolder

 

Photographing graphic shapes

Photographing graphic shapes Damien Demolder in London. Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3

Photographing graphic shapes – creating a frame

Most built-up areas are created using three basic shapes and the variations on them; rectangles, triangles and circles. Alongside those basic shapes we have the lines that define their edges and demonstrate their existence. When we recognise these shapes, and acknowledge that they are the foundations of the city structure, we can begin to make the most of them in our pictures. And when we do that, we tap into an awareness that can create really powerful images.

This picture is all about shapes and the lines that create them. The shapes of the world this man lives in are hard-edged and rigid, while his own shape is rounded, organic and soft – so he stands out against the foreground and the background. That act of standing out makes us aware that he is the subject, but only in the sense that his presence makes the hard/soft contrast possible – and it is that contrast that helps us to notice the hardness, rigidity and geometry of the world around him.

The frame

I shot this through a vast metal sculpture at Liverpool Street station’s Broadgate Circle entrance, in London. Looking between the great sheets of metal, I liked the way a giant doorway could be formed and the way the soft light of the overcast morning was bleeding into the deep dark shadow inside the structure itself.

The viewer’s first thought on seeing the image is probably that we are looking through a four sided aperture, but the four-sided idea comes only from the fact that the triangle made by the converging edges of the metal sheets meets the top of a wall that leads into another darkness in the distance. The two dark areas can play the trick of fooling us that they are one – and the overall visual effect is that they are as between them they contain our attention and hold all the action.

Composition and shooting position

I had to position myself quite carefully to ensure that I made the most of the shapes and lines on offer here. To get the full impact of a structure and its angles it’s important to have some sort of baseline that grounds us and lets us know we are standing straight and upright ourselves. In this picture that levelling anchor is the group of lines on the steps – that travel left to right parallel to the bottom edge of the frame. These, whether we recognise it immediately or not, let us know we are upright and perpendicular. When we know that, we can appreciate the relationships of all the other lines and shapes in the picture – that they really are off at an angle, and that it isn’t just us leaning over ourselves.

The lines of the steps are a strong visual element as they contain so much contrast themselves. The treads are lit from above, while the risers are comparatively dark. The combination makes a series of black and white lines, running like those on a sheet of ruled writing paper. They are powerful and influence our perception of the scene. That they are straight, and that our brain knows that, allows us to see the slope of the path, the diagonal of the handrail, the man’s upward journey and the angled edges of the sculpture.

The right man

I shot quite a few images from this position, as I experimented with composition and the different types of people using the path. Once I was satisfied with the camera angle and my exposure, I just had to wait for the right person. While it is easy to project what you think the right person will look like before they arrive, we should always be ready for whatever comes along. Here I knew I wanted a ‘city person’, and a suited worker would fit the bill, but with the light-toned background I had expected to be making a silhouette of someone in black. It didn’t occur to me that Colombo would come by, with a pale raincoat and newspaper – but he did, and I’m very grateful for that.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 with Taylor, Taylor and Hobson 2in f/2 Telekinic lens via a C-Mount adapter

 

I run regular street photography classes around London, both during the day and at night, so why not join me and a very small group of other photographers for some instruction and inspiration – and a lot of fun?

I can help to improve your photography whatever your level of experience. Find out more in the Events and Courses section.

See me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/demolder
Follow me on Twitter at @damiendemolder

 

Please do leave me a comment below.

 

Photographing graphic shapes Damien Demolder in London. Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3

Photographing graphic shapes Damien Demolder in London. Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3

 

 

 

One-to-one classes with Damien

 

One-to-one photography and

CAMERA-SKILLS CLASSES WITH DAMIEN DEMOLDER

 

One-to-one tuition for all levels of experience. Sessions fully customised to your needs

£499 – including lunch and refreshments

My one-to-one days are designed around each individual student’s needs and are tailored to fill specific gaps in knowledge or experience that we identify before the day starts.

The day usually begins with a chat about the type of photography we will be doing or the techniques and modes we’ll be using. Then, to put into practice what we’ve discussed we go on to a series of great locations to so we can both be sure that the lessons stick and are really learnt in a concrete way.

Damien Demolder's one-to-one photography courses
The whole time I’ll stand next to you delivering instructions and instant assessments, in a friendly and constructive way that so you can see exactly what your mistakes and successes are. By the end of the day you will have thoroughly grasped the concepts and skills covered and you will be a much better photographer and a wider experience and a more open mind to future progress.

Working on a one-to-one basis is an ideal way to fast-track your photography skills and your understanding of how your camera works. You get all the attention and you can ask all the questions you like – in the comfort that there are NO silly questions, and that everyone has to start somewhere and from a position of hardly any knowledge.

I have 15 years practice teaching photography, from writing practical and technical articles for Amateur Photographer magazine, Photo Technique magazine and DP Review, as well as from working with countless individual students. I am fully familiar with every brand of camera, having tested and used DSLR and compact models from all manufacturers over the last decade and a half. So I’m in a perfect position to help you to understand how to find your way around your camera if you are a beginner, or how to get more out of it and your manufacturer’s system if you are a more experienced user.

Understand and control basic and advanced settings and photographic skills
• Apertures and shutter speeds
• Exposure modes
• Exposure metering
• Depth of field
• Editing techniques

Visual Concepts
• Composition
• Framing
• Subject placement
• Camera angles

One-to-one classes take place in London, and students can request a weekday or a weekend. Please email me for more information, available dates and with details of the areas of photography you’d like to learn about.

You can see a galleries of former student’s work in the One-to-One Students’ Gallery and in the One Day Street Photography Classes Gallery.

 One to one photography lessons with Damien Demolder