A Momentary Moment

On Saturday I was taking photos for the Literarisches Colloquium Berlin or the LCB for short. It was the annual Garden Party day held at their stately chalet at Wannsee. A day full of reading, music and good cheer that went off exceptionally well marred only by the occasional shower of rain. It was a wonderful day, but after a few hours of photographing literary luminaries, reading, chatting and sipping drinks in a beautiful garden setting my mind began to want a little more photographically.


Late in the afternoon I was taking a break and talking to the writer Milenko Goranovič when a beam of light speared into the room as the day faded, transforming an otherwise dully lit space into a visually exciting Hopper-like environment. Milenko, who I have photographed before took directions without dissent, thereby enabling me to get a couple of very nice images in the short envelope of time before a door was closed blocking out the light. You might say a modern version of the decisive moment, where I took advantage of a lighting opportunity and posed someone nearby for no other reason than that a creative moment existed momentarily.


24-70mm, f2.8, 1/30sec ISO400.


Simple Complexity

As I can’t use the pictures I took today for the blog, I’ve had to fall back on the archives.

This picture is a staged conceptual piece for an idea centered around the questions “What does a normal relationship look like?” and “Who is the arbitrator of normal?”.


The original idea for the lighting was in part inspired by the work of the American painter Edward Hopper, whose work I have admired for many years.


The picture tends to look like it has a complicated lighting setup, but in fact it is a very simple single light arrangement. The shoot started out with a complicated 4-light-setup, but became simpler and simpler as we stripped lights away when the shot refused to give us what we wanted. In the end we used only the key light, elevated on camera left side.

To reduce light spill and keep the light soft we used a 500-watt flash head with a small 60x60cm double diffused soft-box. This configuration kept the light localized and threw the rear shadow, which, while unplanned, is integral to the final image. Just out of shot, on camera left side is a wall that was utilized to stop light spilling onto the background, but fortunately a mirror in the cabinet on the left of the shot picked up the flash on the wall and added depth to the image. I guess if there is a lesson to be learned here it is when something isn’t working the way you want, then the answer may not be a more complicated setup, but a simpler one. Maybe then, all those little niggely things, like the mirror in the background, that were a problem, might be what the picture needs.

24-70mm, f6.3, 1/125sec, ISO100

A Painters Influence

I think it’s very important to both know where one’s influences come from and to attribute those influences when it is obvious that one is more or less copying.

This picture is a case in point. Would I know or want to do images like this if I hadn’t first seen Edward Hopper’s paintings and secondly, the flower photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe. I would answer yes, because like most people I’m attracted to colour and contrast, but they supplied the visual memory from which I reference. Not that every such picture with slanting light and lots of colour can be called beautiful, but it’s a great starting point. And let’s face it, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But like many people I find pictures with a sense of isolation interesting, and in this case, the light and colour also make it graphically engaging.

But there is an irony here. The table was empty and I was contentedly shooting the vases as a still life, when the woman came in and ignoring the camera sat down at the table.

Damn, I thought, but then I looked again and it was obvious that the sterile still life I had previously been photographing now held elements of human drama.

A woman, pensive and alone. What’s she thinking? Is there a story here?


Minutes later the scene was flooded by other tourists from her group, in for a package deal lunch, presenting a different photo opportunity, of which I took small advantage.

These later pictures are nice, but I really hate nice.

The good news is, if I go back to this restaurant/café on a sunny fall day, around one o’clock, the slanting light will be back, but sadly, the accommodating woman will not be.


70-200mm, f4.5, 1/125sec, ISO320.