Shooting into the light – the baby sitter

The baby sitter, Warsaw, Damien DemolderThey say you should never shoot towards the sun, but I have never really understood why.It’s true that when you take pictures with the camera facing the sun you get flare – reflections within the lens that reduce contrast – but it only looks the same as the flare we get in our eyes. In that way what you see in the picture is a realistic representation of what we see in real life.

In this scene I loved the way the sun was reflecting off the paving, and the contrast between the lightness of the stones and the darker grass and trees. The sweep and shape of the path’s route creates a dynamic feature that really catches the eye, while the line of the trees – on both sides of the shot – lead us from the foreground right out to the distance. The figure walking towards the camera down the central path gives another point of focus in the middle of the shot. The timing was perfect, and is completely down to luck.

I’d lined up the shot and tried a few variations, which I was half pleased with, but felt there was something missing. Then I spotted this old boy coming along pushing a pram and prayed he’d walk into exactly the right place. Strolling slowly he gave me plenty of chances to try out different compositions, but this was the shot that worked best.

I love the long shadows and that special atmosphere that only winter light delivers. There is some flare in the picture, but it adds a sense of reality. What I like most is that the picture looks just as I remember seeing the scene. Using a wide angle lens allowed me to capture a wide sweep of the scene, and keeping the camera as level and straight as I could means viewers can concentrate on the subject rather thedistractions of leaning buildings and a sloping horizon.

I shot in colour, and converted the picture to black and white via channel mixer using only the red channel, and then adjusted the contrast a little. I knew the light reflecting off the paving would fool the camera’s light meter, so I took a spot reading from the grass on the right hand side of the scene.

Pentax K10D, Sigma 10-17mm at the 10mm end. 1/60sec @ f/8, ISO 100.

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The baby sitter, Warsaw, Damien Demolder

Symmetry and timing – at the ticket window

Warsaw PhilharmonicI spotted this character in the foyer of Warsaw’s Philharmonic Hall (Filharmonia Narodowa w Warszawie) on a rainy day in early winter.

He looked really interesting anyway, but stood in this position, against the symmetry of the window and the symmetrical-enough notice boards, the contrast between the order and right angles of the surroundings and his roundness makes him really stand out.

And I couldn’t have arranged the umbrella any better myself.

Photographically, there are a number of elements that make the picture work. Firstly, you need to be holding your camera in your hand when you spot a scene like this so you are ready to take the shot. If the camera is in your bag, and you have to get it out and switch it on the likelihood is that you’ll miss the moment.


The next important consideration is to echo the symmetry of the scene through your composition. I placed the man in the middle of the frame and made sure I had even spacing between the notice board edges and the edges of the picture frame. Holding the camera as level as possible and making sure you are directly in front of the shot (so that the film or digital sensor is parallel with the subject) keeps all the picture elements right-angled and even.


I enhanced this view by cropping the final image square, to add to the timeless feel of the shot. It was taken in 2007, but it could have been 1930 from the look of it. The light sepia tone, of course, further emphasises this atmosphere.


Exposure is important as well in this scene, as a certain degree of overriding was necessary. Left to their own devices all cameras would produce a picture that was too light when faced with the darker shades of the situation. However, these darker shades represent what I saw. Keeping the picture slightly dark also allows the inclusion of the complete range of tones – an automatic exposure would have left some areas too light and burnt-out.


Pentax K10D, 50mm lens 1/60sec at f/4.5, ISO 1600

To see more of my pictures visit my galleries at www.damiendemolder.com

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Symmetry and timing - warsaw philharmonic

Patterns and shapes – Muzeum Techniki

muzeum-techniki - damien demolderThis ship’s propeller really caught my eye as I walked around in Warsaw, Poland, as its curved form is surrounded by a mass of squares and triangles.

Much of Warsaw’s non-modern architecture is based on right angles and straight edged shapes with few curves or circles. Although I suppose I hadn’t really made a mental note of that fact, when I came across this object, that has no straight edges at all, I was quite struck with it. In taking the picture I wanted to get over the contrast between the roundness of the propeller and the sharp edges of the notice board next to it, plus the visually powerful squares of the walls behind it. It was only when I looked through the camera that I noticed the blocks of the car park and the lines painted on the floor. These were something of a visual bonus.

At the time I had a wideangle lens on the camera and this is what I made the first pictures on. Viewing them on screen I realized that I wasn’t getting across the strength of the squares, as being close enough to fill the frame was creating too dramatic a perspective, which in turn distracted from what I really wanted to show. Instead I fitted a more standard lens (in this case a 28mm on the APS-C camera). This meant I had to move further away, which helped me to include more of the ground and those lines, plus it flattened the perspective. Moving away also meant I would have to worry less about the lens distorting the brickwork into curves rather than those strong straight lines.

Keeping the camera absolutely level was essential for the graphic and purposeful image I wanted to create, and keeping a wide aperture would allow the propeller and the notice board to stand out from the background, while still retaining enough focus in the brickwork that the shapes could easily be seen. I didn’t have a tripod with me at the time, but I wished that I had. Although the shutter speed was short enough to hand-hold the camera without fear of camera shake, mounting on a tripod makes getting everything right-up and level so much easier. In the end I took about six pictures before I was satisfied that I’d got what I needed.

Fortunately the day was overcast, so the reduced contrast of the softer light allowed me to show the three dimensional shape of the propeller without burnt highlights or overly dark shadows. The soft contrast also helped to display all the fine detail in the stonework, the notice board and the car park.
Originally shot in colour, I converted the picture to black and white via a channels conversion, using a combination of green and red channels. The green channel gave me fine detail, while the influence of the red channel boosted the contrast of the scene a little.

I didn’t have to do too much else to the image, other than some minor curves adjustments and then some unsharp mask to finish. The exposure was already quite dark, which I think adds to the atmosphere. The place the picture was taken is quite hash and serious, so making a jolly picture would not have been appropriate.

Pentax K10D with 50mm manual focus lens, 1/80sec @ f/2 and ISO 400

To see more of my pictures visit my galleries at www.damiendemolder.com

To see more of my pictures
visit my photo galleries site
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muzeum-techniki - damien demolder

Keeping your eyes open – Dubai Hotel

Dubai HotelPatterns, and pictures, are everywhere, and of course we all know we need to keep an eye open for them in the most unexpected places. It seems though that the most unexpected place of all for most photographers is ‘up’. Looking up is something most of us fail to do, as we are just not programmed that way. With few airborne predators I suppose we don’t feel we need to.

Although I do now make an effort to look in the directions others are not, I saw this shot quite by chance. I was waiting for a bus and had the time to stare

At first glance, the face of this hotel looked just like all the other glass mirrored buildings in the district – which by their numbers had already become boring subjects by the second day of the visit. The difference here is that the windows actually opened, and thus they destroy the neat graphic designs of the building. The architect would probably not approve, but in fact the at-odds angles have made an interesting picture where one did not exist before.

The trick, beyond spotting the potential in the first place, is to represent what you are seeing in your photograph, and to get across what it was that made you look. In this case the attention-grabbing element is the break in the pattern. So, to begin with, you have to show the pattern. Here the pattern occupies the largest area of the image, so we can see what is the norm. The windows that are open are only small, but simply by breaking the flow of the pattern they stand out, and draw the eye.

To help emphasise how much the windows stood out I used a wide aperture for a shallow depth of field, as well as a tilt and shift lens which enabled me to alter the plane of focus completely. This meant that it was easy to de-focus the rest of the building, while keeping just the open window area sharp. You could achieve the same in software.

I shot the picture on a Nikon D40, and used the in-camera cyan-toning facility in the post capture menu. I find this a bit strong, even using the mildest setting, so I reduced the colour saturation in software.

Shot with Nikon D40, with Nikkor PC Micro 85mm f/2.8. 1/3200sec @ f/2.8 and ISO 200

Nikon D40 kit in black

To see more of my pictures visit my galleries at www.damiendemolder.com

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Dubai Hotel

Converging verticals – what, how and fixes

Converging Verticals Eiffel Tower with guide linesWhen we look up at a tall building its sides slope inwards to form an inverted V shape. We are so used to seeing in this way that we hardly notice the effect while we are enjoying the view. When we take in the same scene in 2 dimensions, as we do when looking at a photograph, the experience is quite different and we do notice the convergence of the vertical aspects of the building.

If the effect is exaggerated, or at least very obvious, it lends a sense of height and drama to the picture, and we can appreciate a a split second just how tall that building is. However, if the effect is only moderate the building might look as though it is tilting backwards and in danger of falling over.

As with many photographic visual effects moderate applications simply look like mistakes, so we should avoid them at the shooting stage, or learn to correct them afterwards.

The way to avoid the problem is to hold the camera completely level when taking the picture, as it is the looking up angle of the camera that creates the effect. Unfortunately, keeping the camera level usually means that the top of the subject will be cut off. You can move backwards to alter your perspective, but in the majority of cases this is not an option as space is usually limited in architectural locations. In any case you’d have to move a long way for even a moderately tall structure

To see more of my pictures visit my galleries at www.damiendemolder.com

To see more of my pictures
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at www.damiendemolder.com


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Converging Verticals Eiffel Tower