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

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Drinking coffee, Prague. Damien Demolder

 

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

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

 

Photographing street scenes – The right moment

Having a fag, by Damien Demolder. Sony Alpha 700 DSLRJust as with wildlife photography it is the shots that show behaviour, rather than the pure record pictures, that work best in street photography. To show that behaviour clearly, so that the viewer can recognise what is going on, you have to pick your moment carefully. You have to show the moment in which the action happens.

Decisive moment?

This moment is often called ‘the decisive moment’, but the phrase is so over burdened with history and expectation that I prefer to just call it ‘the right moment’.

In this scene of a couple of office workers having a smoke break I spotted the potential from a way off, as the pair made an interesting shape that broke the pattern of the straight lines of the pillars and windows. As they had only just lit-up I knew I had a while to get the shot I wanted. I noticed the guy on the left had a particular way of blowing out his smoke in an over dramatic fashion. He turned his head, blowing the smoke away from his friend and in the process propelling it across the dark lines of the concrete. As the smoke got caught in the light of the overcast day it became illuminated, and created just the contrast I needed.

I shot a few frames to get a feel for the composition, and to watch the behaviour before everything lined up and I got the picture I wanted. Going back over those other frames, it’s obvious that it is the small detail of the smoke blowing that makes this moment stand out from the others. The alternative frames have the same pattern and the human shapes that break it, and they have the interest of two humans chatting. But they lack that extra something that separates the ordinary picture from the interesting.

Using a shallow depth of field

To help the subjects stand out from the background I used a really wide aperture to introduce a really shallow depth of field. Using a long lens helped too, as longer focal lengths make it easier to reduce the amount of the scene that is in focus. I was lucky that I had an exceptional lens – a 135mm f/1.4 which I was using on an APS-C sensor camera, so it was acting more like a 200mm. But even if you don’t have a long lens that’s not quite as ‘fast’ as this one you can still get the effect. A 200mm zoom will give a similar effect at f/4.5 on an APS-C camera.

Making the crop

The last thing I did to this picture was crop it to the 16×9 format. I did this for two reasons, firstly there is quite a bit of spare space at the top and bottom of the picture, as you can see from the full frame examples below. The second reason is that I love the movie feel this cropping ratio lends an image, and this picture suits that look. It could be a frame from a film, and the ratio of the format just enhances the sense of the moment.

Sony Alpha 700, 135mm f/1.4 ZA Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* lens, 1/2500sec at f/1.8 and ISO 400

Taken in Warsaw, Poland.

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Having a fag, by Damien Demolder.

Not quite the right moment

Having a fag II, by Damien Demolder.

This one’s nearly there, but it could be more interesting

Having a fag, by Damien Demolder. Sony Alpha 700 DSLR

Ahh, that’s a bit better

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.

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

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

Follow Damien on Twitter and on Facebook

Book a place on Damien’s street photography classes, full day or evening/night

The baby sitter, Warsaw, Damien Demolder

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
at www.damiendemolder.com


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

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


Dubai Hotel