Be prepared – lover’s hideout

Lover's hideout, by Damien Demolder

Lover’s hideout, by Damien Demolder

Try something out. Put your camera in its bag, and put the bag over your shoulder. Now, pretending you are Clint Eastwood in a cowboy movie, see how quickly you can ‘draw’ your camera, including switching it on and squeezing a shot off. Providing the settings are about right for the light levels and light types you are practicing in, it probably takes about four to five seconds. If you need to adjust the ISO to achieve a shutter speed at which you can hand-hold the camera and lens, that ‘draw’ time might extend to ten seconds – depending on how user-friendly your camera’s menu system is. It’s a good job you are pretending to be Clint rather than fighting against him, as you’d never get that shot off.

Whether you are a fan of Mr Eastwood’s movies or not you will have noticed that when the man himself is sliding round the side of the General Store in search of the bad guys he keeps his gun in his hand, safety catch off, so it’s ready to fire. And if you are into street photography and catching ‘the moment’ you need to take a leaf out of his book.

Keep reviewing your settings
The day I shot this picture it was heavily overcast and dark. It was also very cold, so I was wearing those fingerless burglar gloves, so that I would be able to hold the camera in my hands all day and still be able to work the controls. As the day got darker and darker I had been adjusting my ISO settings so that I would be able to maintain a shutter speed of at least 1/30sec – the camera had anti-shake built-in. I had a 28mm lens fitted, which gave me a 42mm equivalent focal length on my APS-C sensor, and I’d got it stuck wide open at f/2.8 to let in as much light as I could get.

Rounding the corner of a building I came across these two lovers hiding away from the world to share an few intimate moments together. Before I knew it I had the camera at my eye and was focusing the manual lens. As the shutter fired she just had time to look a little bit sheepish, and he just had time to hide his head behind hers.

Ready to shoot
I took one shot, smiled at them as they laughed at being caught, and then I walked on. It all took about two seconds, and I got the shot because the camera was there in my hand whirring and straining at the leash to take a picture. Had it been curled up snoozing in my camera bag this incident would have just been another one of those occasions when the shot got away. I wouldn’t even have drawn, as I’d have known immediately that as soon as I’d started getting the camera out the dynamics of the picture would have changed and the moment would be passed.

Composition in an instant
With practice I’ve learnt not only to get the subject in the frame in a split second but also to ensure I have a composition. I never know what the next composition is going to be, but I do know that even the sort of picture that is grabbed in a fraction of second needs to respect the viewer and respect the laws of image construction. I managed to keep the camera straight so those blocks wouldn’t create a distraction by sloping off to one side, and I positioned the couple at the bottom of a tall frame to prevent a centre-weighted or top heavy composition. I had to keep her feet in too, and his, and frame the pair of them in their alcove by showing some wall either side so the viewer can understand they were hiding away.

Wide aperture
The wide aperture has combined with the overcast sky to create an almost dreamlike softness that works well in the sooty black and white, blue/green channel conversion. There is romance in the softness that adds a fairy tale quality.

Pentax K10D with Ricoh XR Rikenon 28mm f/2.8 at f/2.8. ISO 400.

See more of Damien Demolder’s recent photographic posts here

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Lover's hideout, by Damien Demolder

Lover’s hideout, by Damien Demolder

Picking the decisive moment – at the Bank of England

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Give yourself choices • adding depth • simple or complex • when it all comes together

 

Capturing the decisive moment - when is it?

Capturing the decisive moment - when is it?

There’s too much reverence attached to Cartier-Bresson’s mystical Decisive Moment – the moment in which all the elements of a scene come together to make the perfect picture. Of course decisive moments do happen, but there is no witch-craft, spiritual powers or crystal ball gazing required. Any ordinary photographer is more than capable of capturing ‘it’.

The two key skills required are the ability to spot a potential scene, and the patience and foresight to wait until the right people walk into it and occupy the right places. Of course it’s important that they are the right people, as they will be making up a significant part of your image – and they have to land in the right place to create a balanced and pleasing composition.

Everyday scene

I spotted this scene in the late spring on my way to work. I walk past it every day, but on this particular morning the sun was streaking up the street and lighting the columns and pedestrians in a way I hadn’t seen since the same moment last year. I always admire the contrast between the bumpy roundness of the stone columns and the smooth flatness of the walls – they have massive photographic potential, I just had to wait for the right conditions.

On this morning I saw that the scene had been set. I pulled my camera out of my pocket and framed the columns and wall in a way that would show both well, and then wondered at what sort of passer-by I wanted to complete the show. It was just after 7am so the street was still relatively empty. If I waited long enough I would be able to choose whether to have the street occupied or empty, with a few people, a single figure or a crowd, as well as whether I had people only on the other side of the road or close to me; to create depth. There were various traffic options too – vans, buses, bikes…

To experiment I shot lots of options, to study and pick between afterwards.

The background

In this type of shot, where the interest is in the relative positions of the moving elements (the people), you need to ensure the background stays in the background, and does not become a distraction. This is a strong background, but it doesn’t take over – and that’s because I spent some time positioning myself and the camera to ensure that uprights were upright and that I wasn’t going to have converging verticals and sloping horizons fighting for the attention of the viewer.

Below you can see five different versions of the same scene, each of which presents a different view and a different kind of composition – as well as different types of content. Even on the back of the camera I knew which I liked the best; actually as soon as I pressed the shutter I knew that I’d got the shot.

I didn’t know beforehand what I needed to create the ideal frame, but when the right elements came together before my eyes I knew that was the shot to take.

Shooting with a compact

Using a compact camera with an LCD meant I wasn’t holding the camera to my face. This risks camera shake of course, but it also means you are able to see around the camera at what is about to enter the frame and where. You can’t do this so well with a DSLR, so while compact cameras are not necessarily the best option for perfect picture quality they do have many significant benefits that often outweigh the quality issues. This is also a very small camera that is easy to carry absolutely everywhere – including places you wouldn’t normally take a camera.

Which picture do you think represents the most interesting moment?

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX33, 1/250sec@f/2.8 ISO 100 and 28mm end of the zoom

See more of Damien Demolder’s recent photographic posts here

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

To see more of my pictures
visit my photo galleries site
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Photographing the decisive moment - when is it?

Photographing the decisive moment - Lone man

I quite like ‘Lone Man’. I waited for him to be between the pillars before I took the picture, so he’d stand out from the smooth background.

Photographing the decisive moment - when is it?

Photographing the decisive moment - the crowd

Here’s the crowd scene that shows how full the street can be even at that time of the morning. It’s exciting, but maybe lacking in a clear focal point

Photographing the decisive moment - when is it?

Photographing the decisive moment - all on the left

I like the depth the near-and-far people create, but the frame is over balanced to the left – and everyone is walking out of the picture

Photographing the decisive moment - when is it?

Photographing the decisive moment - scooter

Although scooters, cars, buses and vans are a real part of the life on this street for me they spoil the timeless nature of the Bank’s architecture

Capturing the decisive moment - when is it?

Capturing the decisive moment - balance and depth

This is my favourite. It has depth created by the head in the foreground and a good balance of subject on either side of the frame. The people are also ‘right’ for the scene

 Capturing the decisive moment - the next day

Capturing the decisive moment - the next day, different light

I shot this the next day, at exactly the same time of day, to show that when the sun isn’t streaking up the street lighting the building and the people there is much less to photograph. The impact has gone. The decisive moment is as much able the hour, the day and the season as it is about that split second when all the elements gel to make the perfect frame

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A single bold colour – red umbrella on a snowy morning

Using bold colours · making a colour stand out · low light photography · having patience · shooting raw

Red umbrella in the rain. The Bank, London. By Damien Demolder

Red umbrella in the snow. The Bank, London. By Damien Demolder

I’m not a great fan of black and white images that use a spot of colour. It seems a little forced to me, and the effort that goes into this sort of picture post capture is rarely rewarded with an attractive image. Well, that’s just my taste, anyway. I do like images that use limited colour, so long as the setting is natural or realistic looking. And, in fact, I actively go looking for this sort of thing – not just to show a black and white scene with a burst of colour, but rather to show how some colours can stand out against others.

I took this picture outside the Bank of England, in a square I cross everyday on my way to work. The place has a great atmosphere about it and it’s a favourite place of mine. I like to shoot the commuters as they emerge from the underground station, as they come out well lit into gloom of the morning. On this morning the wet snow added to the gloom, but it also created the luck that had this chap appear with his rather buckled bright red umbrella. While usually this is a monochromatic type of scene, the bold brolly really broke the formal grey and upright structures with it burst of jollity.

As always when I’m shooting at night, or in dawn or dusk situations, I had the camera set to raw+jpeg so I can choose which light source to balance for afterwards. In this case I took a custom white balance sample from the white tiles of the underground tunnel, the light of which matched that shining on the man and his brolly. Doing this made him look normal, while the cold of the sky could be brought out with its blue.

This wasn’t the first picture I took at this spot that day – I’d probably shot four or five other people as they emerged from the tunnel, and while they looked pretty good I reckoned that by hanging on I could improve my chances of getting something extra. It paid off – and it usually does. I spot a scene with potential and frame it up – then just wait for the right person to come along and walk right into the picture. It takes a bit of patience, but that’s the whole point. You need to be able to recognise when you haven’t quite got the best shot that could be had, and that by waiting a little longer you could improve it.

As with the other pictures I took before hand, without the brolly this is a picture of a man coming out of a tunnel. With the brolly it becomes something more exciting. And that’s what you get when you mix luck with patience.

Samsung GX10. with Rikenon 28mm f/2.8 lens, 1/30sec @ f/2.8, ISO 1600

 

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See more of Damien Demolder’s recent photographic posts here

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Red umbrella in the rain, London. By Damien Demolder

Red umbrella in the snow. Bank of England, London. By Damien Demolder

 

 

Back lighting graphic shapes – Bus Stop girl

Backlighting • Graphic shapes • Channel mixer • Cropping

The best way to show graphic shapes is to reduce the scene you are photographing to its most basic and fundamental elements. In this case that reduction process meant removing the colour and producing a level of contrast that would show exactly the lines and curves that caught my eye in the first place. I couldn’t control the light, obviously, and the scene only worked from one angle, but it is the element of back lighting that really helps, even in these overcast conditions, to create a semi-silhouette of the bus stop structure and the waiting woman. So I got lucky.

The backlighting reflects off the road and the pavement, making both brighter than they would be from any other angle. This backlighting has also brought out the pattern of the paving and has emphasised the straight edges between each slab. This creates a mass of lines travelling towards the camera and which also lead the eye back into the picture.

Contrasting shapes
The woman stands out as she is the only element in the scene not made up of straight lines, which makes her come forward as the obvious subject. Even the roof of the shelter, which we know is curved in reality, is represented here by straight and solid edges. The only random shapes are made by the pigeon about to land, but as that is quite hidden it doesn’t take too much away from the subject.

Contrast
Having shot this with low contrast settings in-camera I took the image into the Curves and created enhanced mid-tone contrast to strip out some of the image’s greys. In Levels I enhanced the blacks, and reduced the highlight output to inhibit true whites and to soften the visual effect.

Keeping it level, and cropping
At the time of shooting I was very careful to keep all the uprights absolutely straight and level, as they are an essential part of the picture. If you find yours are not quite straight they will distract the viewer’s attention and make them miss the point of the picture. I know I say it a lot, but keeping uprights completely upright is so important.

The last thing I did to the picture was a crop it to 5x4in proportions. I chose this format as it has a classic feel that introduces a quite formal atmosphere that compliments the neat and rigid linear structure and patterns of the scene.

Choosing the moment
Picking the right moment is especially important in this type of scene, as we want to keep things as simple as possible. With people and cars in the background the scene becomes cluttered and we loose the sense of what the shot is supposed to be about. With all these extra shapes that over lap it becomes difficult to see the woman, the back lit road is blocked and the pavement falls into shade. Even one additional element is enough to spoil the picture and create a distraction, as you can see from the these additional shots shown here.

About the black and white conversion
I converted this image to black and white using the channel mixer tool in Photoshop. I chose to use the green channel as it produces the more moderate contrast of the three available. The red channel showed blown out highlights, as does the blue channel. The green channel is also the sharpest and more detailed, and it displayed the right tonal differences between the coloured elements in the scene to make hedges and the grass verge stand out.

Sony Alpha 700, with DT 16-80mm F3.5-4.5 ZA Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T*. 

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Back lit girl at bus stop in Warsaw, Poland. By 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

Picture element relationships – skinheads and eyeballs

Seeing relationships • using humour • the importance of straight edges • catching a moment

Hair dressers window in Warsaw, Poland. By Damien Demolder. Pentax K10D DSLRThere is nothing new in street photography about targeting how the world of advertising compares with reality, but it remains a rich stream of original-looking and visually exciting images. It is not just the contrast of the advertiser’s dream world with that of the everyday existence of those these adverts are intended to influence, but this type of picture often has some significance as a document of social trends, wants and aspirations of the time.

Adverts and posters have a very short shelf life and can often really tie a picture down to a specific period in our history.

I spotted this scene in Warsaw, Poland, through the window of a hairstylist shop in the city’s smartest shopping street, Nowy Swiat. I couldn’t tell for sure what the young lad was thinking, or what his motivation was for having a haircut, but obviously he was shelling out a bit of extra cash for this upmarket treatment and I’d say he was expecting to get more than just shorter hair. The ad in the window says it all really – get your hair cut here and you’ll score with a hot chick like this.

I love the way it appears as though the stylist is giving the lad a haircut just like his own, and that the haircuts are so extreme. A skinhead is a proper teen statement, a sign of rebellion – as though shaving your head demonstrates that you have taken full control of your own destiny. Shaving your head is the first step to becoming a man, and attracting a beautiful woman with that strong sense of your own identity. Of course, we can all see that there is no strong identity at all, only a passage of conforming to a series of stereotypes that starts with the beautiful girl aspiration, as though that is what we all want, and ends with the idea that a hairstyle can define a personality.

Bizarrely, there is a certain amount of sexual suggestiveness in the curly bamboo canes as well. The way in which they twist around the girl’s nipples somehow demonstrates what the lad will want to be doing once his hair-do is completed. The look in her eyes suggests that we could all get a slice of the action – so long as we get that all important haircut.

When I took the picture I couldn’t possibly have identified all of these elements, but in a glance I could see there was something quite funny going on. It’s the same with composition – you don’t have to sit and analyse the leading lines to know you are seeing something powerful. On these occasions we need to go with our instincts and analyse later – shoot first, ask questions after.

I know I go on about keeping the camera straight and upright, and not allowing sloping lines or drunk horizons, but in this picture the viewer is allowed on concentrate on the subject because there is nothing to distract the attention away from it. The picture elements are in their own neat boxes and the lines are all parallel. Had that central poster edge been slanted I’m certain the picture would have lost some of its impact.

Although I usually keep my white balance settings to ‘daylight’, whatever the conditions, on this occasion the tungsten balance proved to be a better choice. Again, this is because by neutralising the colours they become less of a distraction, so we can concentrate on the people and their relationships. In fact, I shot the picture in raw and converted it using the tungsten setting, but if you are a jpeg shooter you’d need to be thinking about white balance at the time of the shoot.

Pentax K10D, 135mm manual focus f/3.5 lens, ISO 1600 and f/5.6 @ 1/125sec.

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Hair dressers window in Warsaw, Poland. By Damien Demolder. Pentax K10D DSLR

Sense of scale – Waiting to cross

low angles waiting to crossThis shot is part of a series I made of street pictures taken from ground level. We are so used to seeing street scenes from the normal standing position that anything else immediately looks a bit different. When you lay on your face in the street though, you get views that only drunks and ants experience. In earlier test shots I noticed that shooting with a wide angle, and combining humans in the foreground with buildings in the middle distance, often produces a warped sense of scale. So I went looking for just the right conditions.

The wide streets of Warsaw provide the ideal environment for this technique, and the crossing is a great source of the right kind of subject – the type that keeps still a while.

The totally dedicated will feel the need to lay down on the floor to get perfect framing for this kind of shot, but actually doing that draws attention to what you are doing and people tend to steer clear of you. I prefer to crouch as though doing up my shoe laces, Camera retsing on shoe for low angle photography. Damien Demolderand rest the camera on my toe, for stability and to allow me to keep it straight. If you have an angle finder, or a digital camera with a flip out screen, you will be able to take some control of your composition. If you don’t you’ll just have to guess – like I did here.

You can get the framing right by taking some trial shots to inspecting on the LCD – or just shoot slightly wide so that wonky horizons can be cropped straight later on at the printing stage or in software. A spirit level in the hotshoe can help with this as well as save you time post-capture.

For this particular shot I waited for the light to fade a little so that cars would be using their head lamps and the shops in the buildings would be illuminated. I had noticed that as cars at the junction turned right their lights spilled across the road and onto the path. If only someone would stand in the right place I could get them back-lit with a warm light to contrast with the cool blue of the winter sky. I wanted that person to fill the gap between the buildings where the street runs off into the distance. And as luck would have it, after about ten minutes of waiting, the right person came along, stood in the right place and a car turned right!To get the buildings straight I used a wide angle lens and held the camera straight rather than angling it up. This meant there was far more foreground in the picture than I wanted, but I just cropped the image after to remove it. I set the cropping tool to 5×4 proportions to create a classic format look.

Shot with a Pentax K10D, with Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6

The secret to this shot is not the lens or the exposure detail, but the previsualisation of the final picture. in situations like this you must be able to see what sort of picture could come out of the elements that are present – and what added element is needed to complete the shot. You must then be prepared to wait for all the elements to come together, and sometimes that can take quite a while. It is easier for most people to understand that if they were a wildlife photographer they might have to wait for a bird to turn up than it is for them to wait for a person to stand in the right place or a car to turn a corner. You must think of these as being all the same thing – worth waiting for.

 

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low angles waiting to cross

 

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