meeting expectations

Berlin’s Night of Music takes place on the longest day of the year, and that was yesterday; consequently, we are now on the slow slide into winter. That’s not really a bad thing as I like the winter months. It’s also the signal to begin the marathon of festivals and events that make the summer months interesting.

Like we have done for the previous two years, I – along with a group of intrepid artists from the Brücke Kunst – took up our positions on the crossover bridge at Berlin’s oldest harbor near Jannowitz Brücke. We do this to engage with people, both young and old in the process of painting, modeling, etching rubbing, playing an unplayable instrument and posing for an almost instant photographic portrait, all for a bit of loose change.

It may sound odd but we are getting repeat business, especially for the portraits. One family has gone from one child to three over the period and they have sat for a portrait with each new addition, becoming old friends, although I was assured that there would be no extra child in next year’s picture.

The two young ladies in today’s image are sisters from Melbourne, Australia who are travelling Europe and only in Berlin for a couple of days.

And if you were to ask ‘Why do I find this picture interesting? Because it looks like any standard tourist snap shot” then I would reply, “Where are the flash marks, why aren’t the highlights (faces) blown out by the flash, and isn’t the light nicely balanced to bring out the blue in the night sky?” It’s a movie version of what a snapshot should look like.

It looks like a travel snapshot because it’s designed to look like one.

In post some grain was added, a vignette filter to darken the top and warmed the image up a little, but other than that it’s straight out of the camera.

The soft even lighting on the young women is not the product of skillful lighting on my part, but modern technology in the form of a ring flash that cost just over €100. that I was using as a key light in portraits for the first time yesterday.

I think it is important to consider what a photograph will be used for, which in this case is memories of Berlin, and that’s why it is the way it is.

50mm, f5.6, 1/180sec, ISO320, Yongnuo Ring Flash at ½ power

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Framed

Another thing I like to do when photographing events like writers festivals is to include the audience in the picture while maintaining the viewers concentration on the principle author on the stage, which in this case is Samanta Schweblin, who is both centered within the frame and in the brightest part of the picture­.

Naturally I have headshots of her and the other authors, such shots are mandatory and everybody does them because they’re expected by the organisers for the web etc.

However, although these oddly framed shots are rarely used on festival internet pages, they do often appear much­ later in printed matter or online articles and the reason for this is something I find very interesting. Although such pictures appear to have been shot by an amateur they are in fact a part of the professionals toolbox. The deliberate “amateurish” framing of the shot makes the picture appear more spontaneous or truthful than its tightly framed brethren, a “this is how it really was on the day”-type of photo that adds visual engagement and points of reference to an article or review.

However, you do sometimes get some odd looks from people who wonder if you know what you are doing.

50mm, f4, 1/80sec, ISO12,800 (in these situations I always have the ISO set to auto)

A Post Revisited

I received a comment and a request to enlarge on a post done on May 26th of this year. I put the post up just after I bought a battery grip for my camera in effort to induce myself to break the long established habit of shooting in the landscape position and shoot more in the portrait position.

In this post I explained I spent the day shooting with the camera in a vertical position to become overly  familiar with the compositional elements of this format.

Why did I think this necessary? Because one of the main problems I’ve always had with shooting in this style was negative space either at the top or bottom of the frame, as is evident in the first picture of the car, which was also the first image shot on the day. The unwieldiness due to the large expanse of black at the top of the picture easily demonstrates my lack of familiarity with the format when shooting street work.

The second image (according to the metadata), was shot about an hour later, and still evident is my need to fill the bottom of the frame which in this case left the top a little empty .

The frame is getting fuller and more controled by the third image, which was about two hours later. After aprox three hours and a couple of hundred frames the format has been tamed, as is evidenced in the last photo, which is obeying rules of two thirds but ignoring the time-honored tradition of not placing the center of interest in the center of the frame.

Since the May post the battery grip has remained connected to my working camera and I now work comfortably in either landscape or portrait position. In fact, I’ve begun to notice many of my contemporaries still shoot only in the landscape position, whereas now I’m constantly switching as I seek to optimize the compositional elements of the image within the frame.

The first two images were shot using 50 mm and the bottom two images using a 70-200mm.

I’ve also found that a when shooting in the portrait position a lens’ length of 50mm or more is often an easier option than a wide-angle lens.

Experimental Accidents

Doing experiments like the one currently under discussion is more often than not boring for those with a less technical interest in photography than myself, but such experiments in fact make life as a photographer so much easier.

This picture was shot on Friday night under terrible conditions. The lighting in the room is tungsten, flat, and I deliberately underexposed by three and a half stops, in this and other photographs I shot during the evening. The results from this exercise were mixed, ranging from the just plain awful to this image, which, while I like it a lot, is the result of an accident rather than careful planned execution.

The grain/noise in this image is undetectably the same as film I’ve shot in this location over the years and it was achieved primarily in camera. A minimal amount of post-processing was done with Silver Effex Pro, free B&W software from Google.

Why is this important? Because I am once again resurrecting the book project that is/was Unreliable Truths, but this time I will have the help of a friend who will edit it and try and knock it into better shape, which means all new pictures will need to look the same as those shot ten years ago. Yes, I could manage it in Photoshop if I had the patience to endlessly experiment to get the right look, but it’s simply easier to get it right in the camera….

 

35mm, f2.5, 1/20sec, ISO400 (3.65stops underexposed)

Exposing Experiments

I’ve had a friend who is also a photographer visiting me in Berlin the last few days, so naturally we talked about photographic trends like the ubiquitous selfie/selfie stick and all the other happenings in the photographic world.

As we discussed these things we looked at images I had shot in Vienna and when we saw this image (which was grossly underexposed in the shadows and consequently never processed) we both agreed that it was a shame the underexposure made it useable and yet it was indicative of the quintessential Vienna café society I had heard so much about.

After she had left Berlin I thought I’d process the picture just to see what would happen and found the result very interesting.

What I’ve learnt.

Digital sensors are so remarkable it’s very hard to make a picture with the coarse grain of high speed film in camera . Normally lots of post-processing is required.

To get a photo with soft, course grain, that resembles high ISO film, early experiments have shown that it is imperative to grossly underexpose to create the film like characteristics that the digital revolution disposed with.

The whites are already in place so only the mid-tones and blacks are going to be excessively noisy/grainy, which is what I’m after

Post-processing of this image was very basic; I increased the brightness until I had details in the dark shadow areas, cropped, toned it and added a faux border for effect. Even the most basic free software can do this.

50mm, f3,2, 1/125sec, ISO100

allentimphotos2, in his comment on yesterday’s post got me to thinking about the limitations of the entire social media like-thing, because pressing a like-button, actually is pretty meaningless on the one hand and a positive affirmation on the other. As his comment clearly ratifies, there are endless gradations of meaning in the simple word LIKE, much the same as love and art, both words which are in danger of having their meaning diluted to a level where they become nothing more than popular slang.

I haven’t thought it through clearly yet, but I think I’ll pursue this line of thought.

 

Selfies, it’s a common theme in mine and other photographers’ work and again, in line with the ruminations on meaning, I wondered if selfie pictures will remain relevant as social commentary in the coming years. Take the pictures from the last three days posts: All involve the concept of recording yourself with a phone, but what happens when this becomes a thing of the past, when technology makes it obsolete? I doubt a photograph of a person walking down the street with a selfie stick would make a lot of sense to an audience with no concept of what a selfie stick is and it most certainly wouldn’t evoke any thoughts of isolation, so the picture would/will become meaningless. Also, we know that the two women in todays picture are photographing themselves not me, but would some one in the not to distant future intrinsically understand that?

maybe….. but I doubt it.

 

Regardless, I enjoy photographing people photographing themselves and those who mean something to them, most of the images may end up deleted or never looked at, it doesn’t matter. It’s comforting for me to know, at some level, a large proportion of people share my passion.

 

50mm f2.8, 1/13sec, ISO250

Before and After

It was about a year ago that I began investigating ways in which I could make a modern digital image look like a very old analogue print. In the interim my goals have changed as today’s picture demonstrates. What interests me now is how I can add to the overall aesthetics of the image, add interest to the original without really changing it, and deepen the potential for an understanding of what I am trying to say in a visual manner.

I know this is a tall hurdle to jump, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, and I like the way the post-processed images look, also it isn’t something that can be done in camera.

It’s a personal opinion I know, but isn’t everything?

 

70-200mm, f8, 1/125sec, ISO100