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

Colour balance for fluorescent lights – Under Southwark Bridge

8413845800_34b7ff6238_cColour balance • Exposure compensation • High ISO

Daylight is the ultimate light source and its almost infinite combinations of characteristics and properties make it an endlessly variable, changeable and exciting type of illumination. And consequently it is by far the more popular form of lighting for most photographers. Your camera is set up to deal with daylight by default and all your systems expect it unless you intervene with a different manual instruction.
Photographers are so used to using daylight that when the daylight fades cameras are put to bed to await sunrise the next day, or portable sunlight is loaded with batteries and slipped into the hotshoe – a flash gun.
When you put your camera away after sunset you miss the opportunity to enjoy the multitude of different coloured lights humans use to brighten their world during the night, and to capture the atmospheres those coloured lights can create.

Fluorescent strip lighting

I shot the picture shown here early on a January morning under Southwark Bridge in London. The sky was just coming alive, but under the bridge the world was lit only with artificial lighting – in this case fluorescent strip lights. We tend to avoid fluorescent lighting because it can be ugly and it often creates a sickly green cast, but it is important to appreciate that fluorescents come in many different colours, from white to yellow to red, as well as green. The light here was old and dirty, and its bulb emitted a deep yellow glow that felt strangely warm at that freezing blue hour.
What I wanted to capture at this scene was the haven of warmth that the light was creating in contrast with the dank, wet brickwork and the wrapped up people using the tunnel at that time.
The obvious shot from the direction I approached the scene was from the other side of the road – shooting square to the wall, with a people walking into the patch of light.

White balance

Fluorescent lighting with fluorescent white balanceI know most people would have used auto white balance, or even switched to fluorescent, without recognising that the colour of the light is an essential element in the atmosphere. I had the camera on the daylight setting, as I do for 90% of my pictures. The first image shown here was processed from raw with the fluorescent setting selected so you can see the colours that most people would come away with.
In this shot wanted to make the most of the symmetry of the structure, and with the light striking the subject at such an acute angle we only get an outline of the front of the body. It’s not a bad angle, and I quite like that lit rim of head, face and trousers, but to engage an audience I think we need a bit more than just that.

A different angle with leading lines

I switched to the other side of the road, returned the camera to daylight, and tried to guess the difference in illumination value between the faces passing me by and the background. I set –1.3EV of exposure compensation so skin tones would be the right brightness and to control the camera’s desire to render the detail of the background. As the subjects were moving I wanted a shutter speed that would avoid a lot of blur, and I needed a depth of field that would allow me to guess and pre-set the focus, but balanced with a nice soft rendering of the background. I closed the 25mm f/1.4 lens to f/2 which, with the exposure compensation and an ISO setting of 3200, gave me a shutter speed of 1/200sec – enough to freeze most of the movement but without creating a completely static-looking image.
And then I just waited for someone interesting to come by.

Colour combinations

In the final image it is the warmth of the light that delivers the atmosphere. The deep yellows scream out ‘artificial lighting’ so we know immediately we are underground or working at night. I love the rich reds of the brickwork that is pleasing and comfortable without taking away the sense of the dereliction of the filthy water-soaked walls.
I was lucky with the greens, browns and blues of the two guys in the scene, and their poses that seem to echo their status relative to each other – the more confident becoming the dominant figure by his looking into the lens in a semi-challenging manner.

Panasonic Lumix G5 with Leica DG Summilus 25mm / F1.4 ASPH  – ISO 3200 f/2 and 1/200sec

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Making the most of fluorescent lighting

Fluorescent lighting with fluorescent white balance

 

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

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

View a map of where this picture was taken


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
at www.damiendemolder.com


muzeum-techniki - damien demolder