Developing a scene – Hanging By The Corner

Hanging By The Corner

When something catches our eye and we draw for the camera, like John Wayne in a Western, our attention is usually focused firmly on one spot. We watch the subject and close-in for the kill, get our shot, inspect it and walk away with a smile on our face – if it has turned out the way we imagined, of course. What we often fail to do is work at developing our initial idea or take the time to see what else can be got out of the subject. We should always challenge ourselves to find alternative angles and view points, and to create something quite different to the vision that first came into our minds.

I made this picture during a street photography workshop I was holding in London, and used the process of taking it to demonstrate how what we see and shoot in the moments immediately after recognising a scene with potential does not have to be the end of the matter.

Hanging By The Corner - developmentWhat had caught my eye was the hard backlighting on the man’s hood as we walked past the opening to the street. I liked the way the sunlight created a halo-like rim around his head, and the way the shadow of his body distorted on the wall. The dappled light on the background buildings worked pretty well too.

A new viewpoint
As we shifted beyond the point where we got our first sighting of the potential, we got to see how the light played out on the wall behind him, and we admired the hard-edged shadow streaking diagonally across the wall from the left hand side of the frame. We shot some compositions using the diagonal to cut the picture into two sections.

Hanging By The Corner - developmentThen the subject’s friend got up off the floor and became part of the composition as well. The two guys were just hanging out chatting, smoking, pacing and using their phones, and at moments the side lighting on the guy with hood combined nicely with the way his friend was part-silhouetted against the bright area of the wall.

Using your eyes for looking
I also have a thing about sharp corners on a sunny day and wanted to use the hard line of that edge create to a partition in the frame – so I dropped the camera down for a few seconds to take a good look at the scene just using my eyes.

It was then that I noted the reflections on the wall to the right of the area we had been working on, and how the shadow of a person further to the right was neatly framed in a little box of light on the wall. So, we recomposed our attention to include that element as well.

In recomposing the frame we somewhat sacrificed some of the drama of the long slanting shadow that had attracted us to the scene in the first place, but in doing so, and allowing ourselves to change our initial idea, I think we created a more sophisticated and enjoyable image. It still has a good dose of drama, but it now features a neat element of surprise to spice it up.

Hanging By The Corner - developmentBy the then the sun had moved round so that long shadow was gradually fading and the two friends had walked away, but the box of reflected light remained with the man’s shadow in it still – so I shot that on its own in the same environment and using almost the same framing. That works quite nicely too.

Open to change
Being flexible and open to developing an idea is a key for me in making the most of the situations I encounter. I rarely take a shot and walk on – I hang around for a bit, walk around the subject and try to see how else it can be explained and what other opportunities are there for the taking. Sometimes the first frame I shoot is the best, but often the better frames come with the benefit of time, consideration, exploration and a good hard second look.

Only six minutes elapsed between the first and the last frames shown here, so you can see how quickly the sun moves in the winter months and how completely one little spot can alter in the space of a very short time. Street photography is action photography, what with the light and the people on the move the whole time, so you have to think quickly and get on with it, but that doesn’t mean you shot one frame and move on.

These are some of the skills you can learn first-hand on one of my street photography courses, so visit my photography workshops page to see what locations and dates are on offer.


Hanging By The Corner - development

The light that got my attention in the first place

Hanging By The Corner - development

The next development came when we walked on a little

Hanging By The Corner - development

Development 3

Hanging By The Corner - development

Development 4

Hanging By The Corner - development

The better frame

Hanging By The Corner - development

And it even looked good when they had all gone

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

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


A digital camera with no LCD screen??

Leica M Edition 60Making a digital camera with no rear screen is a pretty dumb idea. Isn’t it?

The Leica M Edition 60 declares bells-and-whistles-free zone for those who can easily afford bells and whistles

Most devices have some element or other about them that is critical for the way they work or indeed for making them work at all. An engine in a car is an obvious example, as is perhaps a flame for a barbeque, ink for a printer and a door on a refrigerator. If we were to remove that critical element, the function of the device may become so undermined that it would become ineffective at performing the tasks we might reasonably expect of it.

Unpredictably unpredictable, Leica Camera has just launched, albeit on a limited, collectable production run of 600 units, a digital camera that does not have something we might all think essential in a digital camera: a rear screen for viewing menus or images captured. The Leica M Edition 60 comes with a Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH lens, and comes to us as some sort of Lenten celebration of the 60th birthday of the Leica rangefinder system, at which hair-shirts are compulsory attire. I can’t wait to see what they do for the 100th anniversary in 2054 – no imaging sensor perhaps.
A forward step backwards

Of course this isn’t the first LCD-free camera, but those that existed before have been left on the hillside to die, as technology has progressed and consumer acceptance of dysfunctional digital products has diminished dramatically. To read the rest of this article head to Techradar’s camera channel

Yo ISO, how low can you go?

ISO 25Why do camera manufacturers insist on taking ISO settings upwards instead of down?

It was by a series of great achievements that by the end of the 1800s photographic ’emulsion’ was sensitive enough to light that portrait photographers no longer had to use head clamps to ensure their subjects stayed still for the duration of the exposure.

Progress in the science of light-sensitive materials had discovered compounds and ways of creating larger crystals that reduced the time required to make a decent photograph.

By the end of film’s heyday, perhaps sometime in the 1990s, photographers had access to emulsions that had reached the heady heights of ISO 3200. That’s quite some dramatic progression from the ISO 1/4, and lower, equivalent ratings of the early days of our craft.

Efforts in the wrong places

Film users today can still enjoy loading emulsions that can be conveniently used at ISO ratings of 25 and others at ISO 6400 with excellent results, but in the new and improved world of digital photography most of us face life without any full-toned settings below ISO 100.

Don’t get me wrong – it is wonderful to have ISO 6400 settings that produce relatively noise-free and useable images, and some models go even higher before they break up, but it seems to me that 98% of the efforts put into the research of ISO settings have been with the aim of creating cleaner high settings rather than nice low ones. To read the rest of this article head to the Techradar site.

Panasonic Leica 42.5mm lens test

Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm-f1.2A lens that carries all the glamour of the 85mm f/1.2, but with the ease of construction of the 50mm standard is an exciting prospect. Damien Demolder tests Panasonic’s Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 Asph Power OIS

This is an extract from a test I wrote for the Amateur Photographer website

The difference between a myth and a legend is less than entirely clear-cut. In common usage, a ‘myth’ is a story that is wholly fabricated, while a legend is at least based on a degree of truth – however historic and altered that truth might be. This minutiae of linguistics occurred to me as I brought to mind the glitzy reputations of the wide-aperture 85mm portrait lenses used by professionals down the generations. I suppose it is the look and style of this focal length, with the possibility of extremely shallow depth of field, that has made the 85mm f/1.2 a legendary lens for those hoping to make a difference in the field of people pictures. That these lenses have been of exceptional quality, though, is the bit that is completely mythical.

The fact is that all those lenses I have ever used have performed very much like a toy lens when used wide open. The centres might be sharp, but image quality falls away as we progress down that diagonal line from the centre of the frame to the corner, and we get to enjoy vignetting, dropped focus and occasionally the swirling madness of coma distortions – not to mention the break up of contrasty edges into a neon cocktail of green/cyan chromatic fringing.

Technically, these lenses have been poor, requiring the expensive iris to be closed to f/4 or f/5.6 before a respectable performance can be achieved – although, of course, it is easy to forget that this is their charm. For a centrally placed subject and a desire to draw a focused eye from the page in glorious 3D effect, these characteristics are heaven-sent.

With the benefit of a smaller imaging area, the micro four thirds system has the opportunity to create the classic shallow depth-of-field effect with a focal length that is much easier to make well. And when we double the focal length of this new 42.5mm lens according to the 2x magnification of the four thirds system, we find we have the same view as that achieved by the legendary 85mm.

However, making a super-fast 42.5mm lens involves many fewer compromises than the design and construction of the longer focal length demands. Read the rest of this review on the Amateur Photographer website

How many pixels is enough??

Pixels twoHow many pixels is enough?

I guess that many of us have programmed ourselves to want more of a good thing, and perhaps also to not know when we have enough.

There’s security in having more than we need, in the stored hoard, in the squirrel’s stash, for when the expected unexpected comes to pass: we crave reassurance that we’ll get by and be equipped to take any situation in our stride. 
There’s a glut of reality TV shows at the moment that deal with those who fill their house with collections of junk and precious belongings.

Do we act in a similarly illogical, paranoid and pathological manner when deciding how many pixels we need in a camera?

In reality, we only actually NEED around 6-millon pixels to take decent picture. Indeed, some of us remember a time not so long ago when we were grateful to aspire to owning so many. The sensor-population we need to accomplish what our style of photography requires or, more accurately, what the means we use to display our pictures demands, is a different matter.

There is no factual figure that determines when we have enough, as we all use our pictures in different ways, but if we are honest with ourselves and look with open eyes at what we do, we will easily see at least how many we don’t need. To read the rest of this article follow this link to the Techradar website

Nikon D810: Small Changes, Big Deal

Nikon D810This is an exert from an opinion piece I’ve written for DP Review on the Nikon D810

There is a rule in the cruise ship business that you never go on a vessel’s first voyage. The ship is just out of builder’s yard, the crew is new and unfamiliar with the layout of the decks, and the toilets and/or air conditioning are almost guaranteed to fail the moment you are too far from land to turn back. It makes sense to allow others to experience all the problems, to do all the pointing out and complaining, and to give the cruise line time to complete the fixes that will make the ship the way it was originally intended. Then you can actually enjoy the trip.

The same principle applies to new technology – we all appreciate the cost of being one of those people the electronics industry flatters as ‘progressive’ and ‘advanced’ by labeling them ‘early adopter’. Unkind people might say that ‘early adopter’ is a polite way of saying ‘guinea-pig’.

It is usually easy enough to avoid becoming an early adopter by simply not buying anything when it first comes out. But sometimes the presence of new technology, new ideas or new concepts is well enough concealed below a layer of trust and excitement that we can become early adopters without realizing. The pixel-count of the Nikon D800/E was ground breaking when the cameras were launched in early 2012. Now, with all the benefits that hindsight brings, perhaps we can all see that fact alone should have alerted us to wait a while. To wait for a better view of what the issues were going to be.

Wait for the Compromising to be Over

For me it was enough that there were two versions of the D800 launched at the same time. I’ve never been a fan of this-one-or-that-one products, as history has proved that when a company produces twins it is because it can’t get something right or can’t make up its mind. It annoyed me when Nikon used to produce H and S versions of its pro-end bodies, offering either resolution or speed. I knew that what we all wanted, and would eventually get, was both. Tandem models will always amalgamate, then into X cameras, and now into the D810.

To read the rest of this article please go to


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