Archive for January 2011

Story telling

January 29th, 2011 — 1:28am

This year I want to focus my photographic attention on creating images that tell stories.   Using photography to convey a message is not something that I do well, but I would like to improve, so I gave myself story telling as an area of  dedicated focus this year.  I wanted to share an example of how the photographer can create images with more or less story telling content from a single context.

Tonight I photographed my children playing with their iPods - I didn’t have a specific idea in mind initially, just wanted simple images of life at home.   Here below is a first image:

Children at hime

Children at hime

This image above is pleasant, shows clearly the two children in a home setting and it shows that they are holding their gadgets.  However, it falls a bit short on the story telling department for a couple of reasons.  First, they are not engaged with their toys - they are posing for the camera, and this makes the image more about the interaction between the children and the viewer than between each child and his or  her toy.  Also, it’s hard for the viewer to discern a clear message coming from the picture.



This second image, a candid, has more story telling content, as it shows the children interacting with their players, seemingly unaware of the presence of the photographer.  The story is about children and their electronic toys - so now we have a theme for the picture, but we still don’t have a story, as there is no message or specific point of view conveyed by the image.



Now we are getting somewhere.  The iPods cover their faces and make it impossible for them to connect with the viewer, and they are isolating themselves from the viewer by their widgets.  They are also isolating themselves from each other even though they are so close to each other… The photo has a theme, children and electronic toys, but it also has a point of view and a message - a visual story that speaks about the dangers of letting children get caught in the alternate reality of electronic games and other devices.

The subjects are the same, the lighting is the same, but in this case, it is the pose that provides the symbols for story telling.

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Emotions and light

January 26th, 2011 — 1:08pm

We as photographers use light as our main ingredient for image making.  Without light there is no photograph, and light plays a very direct role in the emotional response one has to an image.   At the most basic level light is necessary for a correct exposure, but the impact of light and lighting on the making of a photograph goes much the physics of image making and into the message and emotional content of the photo.   Depending on the quality of the light, harsh or soft, shadowless, or dramatic, concentrated or filling, a portrait produces very different impressions on the viewer.

In addition to light at the time of exposure,  color and tonal manipulation as part of digital processing are critical elements in defining the mood of a photograph.   Hard contrast, combined with hard light, creates a raw feeling, whereas soft, low contrast light is soothing and pretty.

I show a couple of examples here from a recent shoot.

Pretty headshot

Pretty headshot

This first image above uses delicately soft light created with a very large octagonal softbox.  Note how shadows are low contrast and soft, while at the same time the light contours the shape of the face and produces a pleasant impression of three-dimensionality or volume.  The message that the simple composition, designer glasses and carefully done makeup send is that of calmness, self-confidency and beauty.



This second image above of the same model is the opposite.  A white background is used, but instead of using soft, gentle light, harsh lights have been used - they generate high contrast shadows projected against the white background.  The shadows are not only very visible, but the upper body shadow is disjointed from the lower body shadow, as two different flash heads were used for this effect.  The gradation of light to shadow on her face is really harsh, almost as an illustration - due to additional contrast added in postprocessing.  The mood here is drama and raw sensuality, as opposed to soft femininity.

The photographer can use light to help define the emotional content of a photograph, not only to create the exposure.   The “quality” of light is decisive in defining the mood of an image.

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Visual stories from Spain

January 7th, 2011 — 9:16pm

I spent the last three weeks in Spain with the family - a very enjoyable experience for all of us. Photography was not the main purpose of the trip, as it was more of a family visit, but I took my D700 with the 35mm f/2 and the 85mm f/1.4 and carried the camera in a small bag wherever I went.

In 2011 I want to focus mostly on story-telling photography, still with a focus on people, but less so on pure portraiture. I kept that in mind when I was photographing in southern Spain, and I wanted to share some of those images along with the context for the story.I am not as interested in technical feedback on the images as I am on your emotional or intellectual response to them - do the images speak to you or move you in some way? do they make you want to know more? Technically all the images are done with ambient light, and in some cases with a pretty high ISO.

1. Flying over me. This place in Seville is popular with kids and families, as the birds are used to people feeding them and only fly away when some dog gets assertive with them. This is what happened here, and I simply pressed the shutter as the doves started to fly towards me. This images speaks to me of the old fashioned parks in Europe, like this one built in 1929.

2. Skipping horse manure. Spaniards, including children, dress well. Here I captured two sisters with their pretty coordinated outfits maneuvering around horse manure from horse carriages in this historic district in Seville. I liked the contrast between their preppy looks and the dirty streets.

3. Rowing with suspicion. Seville built a massive square for the 1929 World Expo, the Plaza de Espana, which has been recently renovated and people can again rent a boat and row in the semicircular pond around the plaza. I caught this family rowing and they caught me too. I liked the suspiciousness in their faces, especially the boy.

4. Last goodbye. This was hard to watch. I was strolling in Carmona, a town near Seville, where the toll of bells spoke of death. I approached the group of people waiting outside a church, where a funeral limo was waiting. Eventually the relatives of the deceased appeared, and much to my surprise, the driver of the limo did as well, carrying a small white casket by himself. These two images capture the moment in which the tiny casket is placed in the car and the grief of the mother.

5. Sand lipstick. Taken in the Mazagon beach, a beautiful stretch of sand. I loved the absurdity of the older woman applying makeup while the sand truck was coming. The only story here is whatever we want to fabricate.

6. Living on the edge. With the economic boom in Spain immigration has greatly increased, especially from Latin American countries. Making a living in Spain these days is tough, as the economy has turned sour and unemployment is rampant. One way to try to make a living is selling stuff on the streets, but permits are nearly impossible to get, and vendors are constantly harassed by local police. I think this image shows how nervous the vendor is, watching out for trouble.

7. Spanish pride. This couple lives in Vejer de la Frontera, a beautiful white village in Cadiz. They rent a room in a tenant house that was built adjacent to the Moorish city wall. In fact, they hang their laundry to dry on top of one of the wall towers, which makes for a funny tourist experience - big underwear hanging next to 700 year old stones. Here the man of the house shows his pride and his wife to the camera.

8. Maintenance. There is some ambiguity in this capture of a couple of guys fixing their horse carriages. They are actually changing one of the horse shoe’s in the middle of the street, but it looks as if they are concerned with the thin tire around the cart wheel. I spent some time talking with them and suggested that they charge tourists for picture taking, as it would be more profitable than waiting for passengers. They looked at me funny at first, and then they immediately saw the truth in my proposal and started to discuss how to place a sign requiring tourists to make 1 euro to take pics of their tired horses.

9. Tapas bar at noon. This is the interior of Bar Tino in the heart of Sevilla, a tapas bar that’s been there since the time of the Romans  The bar has a terrance outside where people sit to have some food and wine, and also a counter whence I took this photo.

10. Freshness between the Virgen and St. John. This photo was taken at the Triana Market, where they sell the freshest seafood. This shop keeper was helping her customers with a smile on her face. On the back wall I noticed two religious images, the Virgin Mary, and the Spanish Saint John of the Cross. There is quite a bit of traditional religious fervor in this Triana neighborhood.

11. Fishing village in Portugal. Not much of a story telling picture, but it does reflect the calm and simplicity of living in a fishing village by the ocean. This picture was created in Tavira, Portugal, where I had the most wonderful seafood lunch I can remember.


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