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


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

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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


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