Reflections in puddles – flat tyre

Low angles – using puddle reflections – keeping a clear message – dynamic composition

Pentax K10D, Sigma 10-20mm wide angle zoom lens. Volkswagon Beatle with a flat tyre, in a rundown area of Warsaw, Poland. Most photographers would agree that reflections are the number one tool for those looking to add a little something to their pictures. It seems everyone is fascinated by them, and quite rightly too, as they provide us not only with an upside down mirror-image view of the world, their lack of clear resolution can deliver a quick and easy impressionist element to our pictures.

The obvious places to find reflections are in lakes and rivers, as well as in the window-fronted skyscrapers of the city – where we like to contrast the modern with an old church spire. We sometimes use the reflections of shop windows to show what is in and out at the same time, which is all very clever.

What we don’t do so often, mostly because we are all slightly afraid of the rain, is use the reflections in puddles to enhance our street photography. Cities and towns are filled with hopeless drainage systems and dips and holes in the pavements. These are brilliant places to find the answer to catching a completely different view of a scene that has been shot a million times, or to producing a more dynamic view of a scene that might otherwise be not so remarkable.

In this shot I wanted to capture a sense of what this slightly rundown area of Warsaw was like. I had tried quite a few different angles and compositions which all showed the street and the flats in a matter of fact sort of way that, while doing the job of communicating the content of the area, looked a little bit uninteresting. Being a rather damp place in December Poland had got me hooked on puddles, and seeing this rather exciting one, positioned perfectly next to the flat tyre of a Volkswagen Beetle, I knew my prayers had been answered.

Taking a low angle automatically creates a picture that looks different, and with the angle I was able to create a really strong horizontal convergence using the lines of the building. This makings it streak through the picture from right to left, drawing the eye right into the depths of the scene, until the eye crashes into the buildings at the end of the road. You can them come back to see the flat tyre, the eastern European car, the bare trees, the knackered kerbstones, the rusting wheel arch and all the things that I wanted to show that build a picture of the atmosphere of the place. Of course, here the puddle itself adds to the sense of dereliction, as it suggests the road is poor too – which it was.

To get such a dramatic view I used a really wide angle lens – a 10-20mm zoom at the widest setting. I didn’t want the dominant effect to be that of a wide angle, and the exaggerated sense of perspective that they can introduce, so I was careful to hold the camera as straight and level as I could. There is some ‘leaning’, but not much, and certainly not enough to draw attention. In cases like this, where the subject matter is strong in its own right, it is important to avoid photographic ‘effects’ that create a talking point in themselves. I didn’t want people to see the picture and say ‘Wow, what a wide angle’; I wanted people to notice the place and the clues that help to get a feel for what that area is like. Sometimes the power of lens effects can draw attention away from what you are trying to show, and to communicate what it is you have to say you have to be aware of that. Use photography to convey your message, not to detract from it.

The picture has a black and white look to it which I have been careful not to undo by adding saturation. I have altered the mid-tone contrast a little, by creating a kink in the central section of the Levels curve, but other than that the shot is just as the scene was.

Unless you have Live View with a flip-out screen, shooting from a low angle like this is either a guessing game or one where you lay on your face in the street. I try to wedge the camera onto the toe of my boot, as I show in this other post about low angles.

Pentax K10D, Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM lens 1/30sec @ f/5 and ISO 400.

Interesting? Rubbish? Let me know what you think, by leaving a comment

 

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Pentax K10D, Sigma 10-20mm wide angle zoom lens. Volkswagon Beatle with a flat tyre, in a rundown area of Warsaw, Poland.

Flowers at night by lamp light – night lavender

Using artificial light • Beating camera shake • Using walls for support • Shooting at an angle

Lavender shot at night by lamp light, by Damien Demolder

We are used to seeing flowers in daylight, and that is how we most often shoot them too. In fact, we really don’t expect to see flowers at night, as most disappear inside themselves once the sun goes down. I spotted this lavender in flowerbeds around a hotel car park late one night, lit by lamps dotted around that were kept on all night. Lit from below and on a level, the lavender stems looked most unusual. I suppose, looking back, I have seen lamp-lit plants many times before, but this was the first time they really caught my eye, and the first time I really looked.

I was on my way back from dinner, so I didn’t have a tripod with me, so I turned the ISO up to 1600, braced my elbows against my knees, and hoped for the best. Shooting with the aperture opened to f/5.6 I managed a shutter speed of 1/25sec most of the time – so with a focal length of 135mm on a full frame sensor I produced plenty of camera-shake. By trying each shot a three or four times I got at least one sharp frame for every composition. There’s always a wall or something to add extra support, and with a bit of luck the angles all work out well – in fact, restricting yourself to the views allowed by wall-mounting can lead to compositions you may not have thought to try otherwise.

For this particular shot I rested my arms on the top of a low wall and held the camera tightly to my face for extra support. Focusing manually in the low light I gently depressed the shutter release as softly as I could, while breathing very slowly. I was using an IS (Canon’s Image Stabilisation) lens, which helped too. Surprisingly, given the conditions, I did manage quite a few sharp images.

Keeping the white balance on daylight has allowed the colours of the sodium lights to reflect in the colours of the plants. The greens of the stems are really quite vibrant, while the purples of the lavender heads are slightly warmer than they might have been. The lavender was leaning over anyway, as it does, but I shot with the camera on an angle to emphasise the fact and to create a more dynamic composition.

Canon EOS 1Ds III with EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens. ISO 1600, f/5.6 @ 1/25sec. Shot in raw and processed in Adobe Lightroom 

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

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Lavender shot at night by lamp light, by Damien Demolder

 

 

Using exposure lock – Beach Boys at Sunset

Boat Boys refueling their speed boat on the beach at sunset, Skiathos, Greece. The correct exposure. Cameras are machines, and although they do feature a certain amount of artificial intelligence, ultimately they can only do as they are told. Knowing how your camera is likely to react in any given situation is the key to understanding when it is destined to get things wrong and that it is time for you to take control.
In a situation like this, where we are shooting into the light, and the sun is reflecting off the sea, the camera’s metering system will assume it is looking at a very bright subject – which it is. The camera will try to render the sea and sky so that we can see the detail – so it will aim to create a mid-tone of them. Only you know that it isn’t the sea and sky that you want to see the detail of, but it’s the people and the boat that are the subjects.

Finding a mid tone
To produce a final picture that looks the way we want it to we have to take control of the exposure and so over-ride the metering system. Instead of letting the camera measure the light reflecting off the sea, which is what it would do if left to its own devices, we have to direct it to an area we think is important. To get the right exposure for this scene I took a reading from the sand on the beach by my feet and then locked this reading into the camera, using the exposure lock button. I used the sand to take a reading from as it offered a good compromise between getting an exposure that would show the details of the faces and keeping the idea of silhouettes against the sky.

If you are going to take lots of pictures using the same exposure it can be simpler to transfer the exposure settings into manual exposure mode so there is no danger of the lock coming ‘unlocked’.
This reading has preserved enough detail in the boat and the people to show what they are doing and the expressions on their faces, while still holding on to that backlit sunset atmosphere.

Refueling the speed boat on Big Banana beach, Skiathos, Greece. Underexposed by the camera's multi-segment metering system.

Had I left the exposure up to the camera the picture would have turned out something like this. Although still an effective image, I prefer the version that shows more detail in the subjects.

White balance
Another important aspect of the shot is the colours of the sea and the sky. I kept the white balance set to ‘daylight’ to make the most of the natural warmth of the sun at that time of day. Had I left the camera in auto white balance (AWB) mode the camera would have tried to compensate for the warm, taking it out, which would have defeated the object of shooting at that time of day.

Samsung GX10, Samsung 18-55mm at the 35mm setting f/3.5-4.5. 1/30sec @ f/11, ISO 100

 

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Boat Boys refueling their speed boat on the beach at sunset, Skiathos, Greece. The correct exposure.

Low angles, new views – Lazienki Palace, Warsaw

Lazienki Palace, Palace upon the water, Warsaw. Damien DemolderThere are plenty of places all over the world that have been photographed again and again in exactly the same way from exactly the same place. Often there is a really obvious angle that lines up essential elements of the place so well that it takes will power not to take a picture from that position – even though you know that everyone else who has ever visited that site has the exactly the same shot. In fact, at some sites the famous view is so famous the place is unrecognisable from any other angle.

If you are making a photographic documentary of a place it is probably important to capture the well-worn view, but at the same time we should be looking to start afresh and to capture a different take. I have found that in many cases the most popular views aim for the spectacular image rather than that which communicates what the place is really like.

In shooting the Palace on the Water, in Warsaw’s Lazienki Palace gardens in late autumn, I wanted to get away from the obvious views across the lake with its symmetrical reflections and well formed tripod holes, to assess the place anew so I could show what it all meant to me.

One of the most striking things about the surroundings of the palace, apart from the lake, is the mass of trees. While the popular view shows trees it doesn’t really demonstrate quite how many there are or their importance to the overall atmosphere of the place.

In this picture I used a really low angle to show what is on the ground, the types and volume of trees in the gardens as well, of course, as the lake and the all important distinctive characteristics of the palace itself.

In the autumn the place has a quite distinctive feel, with the golden foliage, wet and colour saturated, lying on the ground, and the lightly overcast low angled sunlight. The air is cool and the atmosphere damp, rich and earthy. I wanted to show the detail of the foliage, its colours as well as the palace itself – so this low angle seemed the ideal route to take. I used a 10mm wideangle lens (the equivalent of 15mm on a full frame or 35mm camera) and closed the aperture down to just f/8 to get a significant depth of field without attempting to achieve complete front to back sharpness. By keeping enough detail on the palace it’s easy to see what it is, but with the focus and attention on the foreground the view is presented in a different way – most people focus on the palace.

The soft light meant a low contrast effect in the leaves and the horse chestnut came naturally, and also meant I didn’t have to contend with extreme brightness differences between the foreground and the background. I took a spot meter reading from the palace and then opened the exposure by 1EV to render it a lighter grey tone – which just happened to be perfect for the foreground details as well.

To get the low angle I held the camera down on the toe of my boot and guessed the framing – checking straightness and composition on the LCD each time. If I had been using a film camera I would have laid on the floor, or used an angle finder to make sure I got everything right first time.

Pentax K10D with Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5-4.5 , 1/15sec @ f/8 and ISO 400.

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

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Lazienki Palace, Palace upon the water, Warsaw. Damien Demolder

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.

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The baby sitter, Warsaw, Damien Demolder

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

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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
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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
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Dubai Hotel

Converging Verticals – software fix

Sloping Flats with converging verticals

If you have a picture you’ve already taken that has slight converging verticals the effects can often be corrected using the features contained in a number of popular software applications. The tool you should be looking for is usually called ‘Transform’, which will probably have sub sections that will be called something like ‘Perspective’ and ‘Distort’.

The idea is that the whole image is selected and then the top is stretched horizontally to counteract the inverted V shape of the building. This is a quick and effective solution to convergence in any direction, but users need to be Altering perspectiverealistic about what can be achieved before image quality suffers to badly. Obviously pixels are being stretched and made larger in one part of the image, and although the image will remain the same size detail resolution in the stretched part of the picture will suffer. If this area is mostly sky you don’t need to worry too much, but the stretch may be quite easily seen in areas of more fine detail. distorting the image

As this is the case only minor effects should be attempted, but the advantage of the method is that you will end up with a larger image than you would using the cropping method. In this example I have used a picture that is just too distorted to be able to correct easily, so you can see just where the limits are. The perspective is not only looking up, but also twisted. The correction is almost there, but the final image has a strange look to it. sloping flats with converging verticals corrected

Of course, the method relies on you having a software application that provides a ‘Transform’ tool. If yours doesn’t there is a free download application called GIMP that does – it is also a very good general purpose imaging application that offers an enormous amount of control.

Shot with Samsung GX10, with Rikenon 28mm f/2.8 lens. Exposure 1/4sec @ f/2.8 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

Sloping Flats with converging verticalsAltering perspectiveYou can find the ‘perspective’ tool in Photoshop by clicking on ‘Edit’ and then ‘Transform’. I have overlaid the image with a grid screen to help me to get things straight. This is hidden under the ‘View’ menu, after which you need to select ‘Show’ and then ‘Grid’. You can set the preferences for the grid – such as the spacing between the lines – in the main ‘Preferences’ menu. distorting the image‘Distort’ is also under the ‘Edit>Transform’ menu and can be applied without having to finish the ‘Perspective’ adjustments. I needed ‘Distort’ Here as the camera was not square-on to the subject, so we have a twist as well as converging verticals. I’ve pulled the top of the image out and pushed the bottom left in and the bottom centre to the right. It is almost a rotational movement. Obviously the adjusted image now has chunks missing from its corners – some cropping will be in order. sloping flats with converging verticals corrected

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