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

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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

Learn firsthand how to take pictures like this and how to improve your street photography skills with a street photography workshop with me. You can find all forthcoming classes on the Damien Demolder Photography Workshops page.

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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

 

Best cameras for street photography

What’s the best camera for street photography?

L1000440 HD copy2When we consider what might be the best kind of camera for street photography we should think less about ultimate image quality and more about a camera that is small, discreet and quick to operate. The best camera for this kind of work will be one that doesn’t make you stand out, doesn’t draw attention to you and which allows quick access to the key settings you will need to find when out in the thick of the action.

There are a number of basic choices to be made and different camera types to consider.

Are DSLRs good for street photography?

Most people who have been taking pictures for some time will already have a digital single lens reflex (DSLR), as this is the most popular type of camera among enthusiasts and professionals. A DSLR has what is called an optical viewfinder, which is the window on the back of the camera that allows us to see through the lens, and each model has a range of lenses that can be fitted and exchanged.

The benefits of a DSLR for street photography

The benefits of DSLRs for street photography centre mainly around their speed and the range of accessories and lenses that each model will be compatible with.

EOS 70D TOP w EF-S 18-55mm IS STMAt the moment all DSLR focusing systems are faster in real-life use than other camera types. They track moving subjects more easily and find subjects in low light more quickly. Other camera types are catching up, but for now at least they are still behind especially when it comes to subjects that don’t keep still. On-sensor contrast detection systems, as used in compact and compact system cameras, are more accurate, and can be faster, when shooting still subjects but they can’t compete when the subject is moving or light levels are low.

As DSLRs have been around for longer than other types of interchangeable lens cameras, there is a greater choice of lenses in the range of each of the manufacturers, as well as a host of excellent quality lenses from independent makers – such as Sigma, Tamron and Tokina.

All DSLRs have an optical viewfinder, which offers a clear view of what you are photographing. In bright conditions a viewfinder is easier to use than the rear screen of a camera, as these can overpowered by reflections.

The reasons you mightn’t use a DSLR for street photographyPentax-K-3-product-shot-10

The main reason you might choose not to use a DSLR for street photography is that these cameras are generally more noticeable than types that are smaller and less ‘professional’ looking. When you wave a DSLR at a stranger he or she will be more inclined to see you and assume you are a professional than if you were holding a small camera. This doesn’t have to be a problem, but DSLR users will be more conspicuous on the street purely because of the way the camera looks. DSLRs become more conspicuous when they have large zoom lenses fitted, but with a reasonably small body (they do exist – EOS 100D for example) and a small lens the DSLR user can blend in effectively too.

Going back to viewfinders – although an optical viewfinder makes it easier to compose an image in bright conditions than a rear screen does, they don’t offer nearly as much information as a rear screen. They don’t allow exposure preview, demonstrate the effect of white balance settings, or display menu options for scrolling and changing.

Are DSLRs good for street photography? Summary

While there are positive and negative points concerning using a DSLR for street photography, they are rather negated by the fact that most enthusiasts already own one, and only the particularly keen photographer will buy a separate camera system specifically for street work. If you are a DSLR user you can make fantastic street images, just you will stand out a little bit more than those with smaller cameras.

Continues on next page…

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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

 

If you would like to learn how to take pictures like this, and become a confident and creative street photographer, sign up for one of my one-day street photography classes.

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Tonal Contrast for Emphasis

Tonal contrast for emphasis. Street photography courses in London. Damien DemolderSmoking at the Bank – Tonal contrast for emphasis

If you asked twenty people in the street ‘What’s the best colour to make a white object stand out?”, they would probably all say ‘black’ (except those who know that black isn’t a colour!). It is obvious, isn’t it? But in the heat and excitement of the moment the street photographer can easily forget the most obvious principles and miss the opportunity to make a scene into an effective piece of communication.

This picture is clearly about the whisps of smoke that appear above the man’s head. We know that because they are probably the first things we notice when we look at the picture. They are the first things we notice because they stand out, and they stand out because the difference between their brightness and the deep dark shades of the doorway represent the strongest tonal contrast in the scene.

Tonal contrast: brain v camera

When I saw the potential of the shot I’m not sure where the smoke was, but it stood out because my eyes and brain were able to separate the smoke from whatever background it was against, but the camera can’t do that on its own. When I came to take the picture I adjusted my position so that the light toned smoke would be against a dark toned background – not against the stone wall or the pillar in the distance. It is this slight shift in my position, and the differences in the tonal values of subject and background that make the shot work. Had the smoke appeared over the wall of the Bank the picture wouldn’t have worked at all.

The reason I moved was because I had thought all that through in the seconds between seeing and taking the shot. I didn’t just get wow’ed by the smoke, I thought about the best way to get the message to you that the smoke rising from the man’s head looked cool with the light shining through it. And it is that few seconds of thinking that make the difference and which are so often missing.

Contrast, depth of field and saturation

The shallow depth of field helps, of course, as does the soft light of the rainy day that allowed the camera’s dynamic range to capture the full scale of the tonal values of the scene. I exposed for the smoke, not for the man’s jacket, because I didn’t want it to appear pure white and featureless.

It was a muted sort of morning, and there are no strong colours in the scene. I’ve desaturated the image it a little more to give it a stronger monochromatic atmosphere. I also cropped square for a classic feel that suits the moderate tones and colours.

Smoking is of course pretty bad for the health of humans, and as prices and prohibition increase fewer and fewer people are doing it. That’s great for the lungs of the nation, but one day scenes like this will be rare. Go out and make the most of smokers while we still have some.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 with Taylor Taylor Hobson 2in f/2 Telekinic lens

 

I run regular street photography classes around London, both during the day and at night, so why not join me and a very small group of other photographers for some instruction and inspiration – and a lot of fun?

I can help to improve your photography whatever your level of experience.

You can also follow me on Facebook or on Twitter:
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https://twitter.com/damiendemolder

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

I run regular street photography classes around London, both during the day and at night, so why not join me and a very small group of other photographers for some instruction and inspiration – and a lot of fun?

I can help to improve your photography whatever your level of experience. Find out more in the Events and Courses section.

See me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/demolder
Follow me on Twitter at @damiendemolder

 

Please do leave me a comment below.

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

 

Photographing graphic shapes

Photographing graphic shapes Damien Demolder in London. Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3

Photographing graphic shapes – creating a frame

Most built-up areas are created using three basic shapes and the variations on them; rectangles, triangles and circles. Alongside those basic shapes we have the lines that define their edges and demonstrate their existence. When we recognise these shapes, and acknowledge that they are the foundations of the city structure, we can begin to make the most of them in our pictures. And when we do that, we tap into an awareness that can create really powerful images.

This picture is all about shapes and the lines that create them. The shapes of the world this man lives in are hard-edged and rigid, while his own shape is rounded, organic and soft – so he stands out against the foreground and the background. That act of standing out makes us aware that he is the subject, but only in the sense that his presence makes the hard/soft contrast possible – and it is that contrast that helps us to notice the hardness, rigidity and geometry of the world around him.

The frame

I shot this through a vast metal sculpture at Liverpool Street station’s Broadgate Circle entrance, in London. Looking between the great sheets of metal, I liked the way a giant doorway could be formed and the way the soft light of the overcast morning was bleeding into the deep dark shadow inside the structure itself.

The viewer’s first thought on seeing the image is probably that we are looking through a four sided aperture, but the four-sided idea comes only from the fact that the triangle made by the converging edges of the metal sheets meets the top of a wall that leads into another darkness in the distance. The two dark areas can play the trick of fooling us that they are one – and the overall visual effect is that they are as between them they contain our attention and hold all the action.

Composition and shooting position

I had to position myself quite carefully to ensure that I made the most of the shapes and lines on offer here. To get the full impact of a structure and its angles it’s important to have some sort of baseline that grounds us and lets us know we are standing straight and upright ourselves. In this picture that levelling anchor is the group of lines on the steps – that travel left to right parallel to the bottom edge of the frame. These, whether we recognise it immediately or not, let us know we are upright and perpendicular. When we know that, we can appreciate the relationships of all the other lines and shapes in the picture – that they really are off at an angle, and that it isn’t just us leaning over ourselves.

The lines of the steps are a strong visual element as they contain so much contrast themselves. The treads are lit from above, while the risers are comparatively dark. The combination makes a series of black and white lines, running like those on a sheet of ruled writing paper. They are powerful and influence our perception of the scene. That they are straight, and that our brain knows that, allows us to see the slope of the path, the diagonal of the handrail, the man’s upward journey and the angled edges of the sculpture.

The right man

I shot quite a few images from this position, as I experimented with composition and the different types of people using the path. Once I was satisfied with the camera angle and my exposure, I just had to wait for the right person. While it is easy to project what you think the right person will look like before they arrive, we should always be ready for whatever comes along. Here I knew I wanted a ‘city person’, and a suited worker would fit the bill, but with the light-toned background I had expected to be making a silhouette of someone in black. It didn’t occur to me that Colombo would come by, with a pale raincoat and newspaper – but he did, and I’m very grateful for that.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 with Taylor, Taylor and Hobson 2in f/2 Telekinic lens via a C-Mount adapter

 

I run regular street photography classes around London, both during the day and at night, so why not join me and a very small group of other photographers for some instruction and inspiration – and a lot of fun?

I can help to improve your photography whatever your level of experience. Find out more in the Events and Courses section.

See me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/demolder
Follow me on Twitter at @damiendemolder

 

Please do leave me a comment below.

 

Photographing graphic shapes Damien Demolder in London. Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3

Photographing graphic shapes Damien Demolder in London. Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3

 

 

 

Damien Demolder’s Street Gallery

A small selection of Damien’s
street photography work

I hope you like the gallery, and that it will encourage you to go out with your camera in any weather and at any time of day. Please do leave me a comment at the bottom of the page.

I run regular street photography classes around London, both during the day and at night, so why not join me and a very small group of other photographers for some instruction and inspiration – and a lot of fun?

I can help to improve your photography whatever your level of experience. Find out more in the Events and Courses section.

See me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/demolder

Follow me on Twitter at @damiendemolder

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