This is one of those dead simple shots that is actually quite difficult to pull off. Believe it or not I have favourite backgrounds that I return to occasionally to see what I can make of them, and this window pane is one of them. I like it because it is always backlit with a warm yellow/orange glow, and as it is part frosted the colour really takes. The top part of the glass, which is clear, allows us to see through to the distance and adds an element of not-too-distracting depth, so we don’t have to feel confined to the few feet in front of the camera where the subject sits.
On this occasion I decided to get close and do head-shots as people walked by. I framed in advance and practised the composition with no-one in the frame so I could see clearly the graphic elements on the frame and how the lines and segments would work together. I used the wall to create a deep black heavy rectangle on the left that I hoped would be matched by the density of the silhouette I would create with the passer by.
Straight to the point
This is an architectural scene, so everything has to be straight to avoid any distraction that a leaning wall or toppling building will inevitably create. I used the level in the camera to ensure the sensor was straight left-to-right and up-and-down, and used my feet to ensure I was flat to the subject.
I wanted to keep the person I shot sharp against a soft backdrop to add strength to the visual direction I would give with the silhouette, so picked a wide aperture and a fast shutter speed – to give me a shallow depth of field as well as frozen motion.
And then I waited for the right person to come long. I didn’t have to wait for long before this flat-capped chap came in to view. He walked directly into the area I needed him! Just like fishing, sometimes it works like that and other times nothing happens for hours.
Luck always plays a part
I was lucky to have been able to get the placement of the subject just right in the frame and against the background. The man’s head fits neatly over the brightest part of the backlit window, and so is surrounded by an attractive glow that centres our attention. With him looking directly forward, with his face at 90 degrees to the sensor, we have the perfect profile that demonstrates clearly the shape of the face and the features of the nose, lips, chin and of the zipped-up coat. His cap works nicely to mirror the path of the nose, and between them they form the beak of a shadow-play bird created by a hand in the beam of a torch.
The warmth of the foreground is emphasised by the cool tones of the distant daylight, which again adds depth and contrast. It’s a shot I’m rather pleased with, I have to say.
Taking pictures like this is one of the things I can teach you on one of my classes. Visit the Photography Workshops page to see what locations and dates are available.