The Street Photographer’s Manual – David Gibson (2014)

Cover Shot

Cover Shot

A gem of a book. Beautifully designed and produced. Great photographs reproduced really well, a bargain price and a decent, if slightly contentious read. What could possibly go wrong?

Although I don’t classify myself as a street photographer, I have a lot of admiration for many of the photographers that do. In fact some of my favourite photographs fall into this category.

What this book does exceptionally well is to cover most sides of the discussion. People get very worked up about street photography and there are quasi-religious wars on the subject of post-processing (forbidden), mono or colour (mono), camera (Leica) etc. This book acknowledges the divisions in the community and calmly takes the view that there is room for all sorts of photographic styles, techniques and equipment within the genre. By using so many photographs to illustrate various points, Gibson makes it very difficult for the reader to maintain an extreme position.

Is the book a manual? Well yes and no. Much like the University of Life, there can be no definitive manual for street photography. It seems to me that there are broadly three schools, one where the art is in capturing a moment and condensing all of the emotion contained in that moment into a solitary image. Another where the art is to arrange everyday figures and objects into a pattern which has resonance to the viewer. A third where the photograph is about shapes, light and shade. Graphic design using found components. These things can rarely be taught and I think that is what draws so many people to street photography. It looks as though it should be easy, but isn’t!

To conclude, I bought this book on a whim, not my usual fare at all, but I’m very glad I did. And at £8.38 from Amazon, it’s a no brainer.

Posted in Books, Photography Tagged , , , |

The Nature of Industry

Satellite in the woods

Satellite in the woods

I’ve lived in Ironbridge for four months and as beautiful as the Shropshire landscape is, this tiny community nestled in the Ironbridge Gorge next to the River Severn, is telling me a different, more engaging story than the hills and sunsets for which this area is justly renowned.

The traces of the industrial revolution are everywhere in the woods surrounding Ironbridge, I’ve walked many miles now exploring the paths which thread through the forest, frightening the odd deer into crashing through the undergrowth, and very rarely meeting any other human beings. The paths close to the river follow the old railway line that used to bring fuel to the power station. Along this track I have found the remains of old Lime Kilns used to convert the Limestone of Lincoln Hill into Quicklime for use in agriculture. A quarry, once used to supply the stone with which Buildwas Abbey is built, is now completely reclaimed by nature.

The story here is one of regeneration, I recall my friend Dana Wiehl telling me about the hills of New England, completely denuded of trees by the industrialists of the North, providing building materials and fuel for the civil war. Now unrecognisable, cloaked in some of the most beautiful forests I’ve seen. The Forests here remind me very much of that part of America, dense and sprawling, spilling over the edge of the Gorge onto the Shropshire plain. Yet here, Ironbridge Power Station nestles into the valley bottom supplying electricity for Birmingham. A strangely beautiful juxtaposition of ancient and modern.

There’s a theme beginning to emerge, it’s not the theme I had in mind when I moved here, but I’m finding traces of industry in these hills and forests, not just the industrial revolution, but modern artefacts. Satellite dishes and power stations. The contrast between the uniformity of the things left here by humans and the apparently timeless landscape with it’s rivers, woods and plains is fascinating and I’m finding myself photographing it more and more.

It’s the beginning of a new project and as usual I’m filled with optimism and not a little trepidation. I’m looking forward to the Autumn and even the Winter, because the land and the light will change, offering new perspectives and fresh challenges.

Posted in Photography, Projects Tagged , , , |

Workflow for Digital Photographers

Fun of the Fair #2

Fun of the Fair #2

Do you ever get the impression your workflow around digital media looks a little more like the photograph here than it really should?

Prompted by a discussion I’ve been enjoying in the Brighton & Hove Camera Club page on Facebook, I thought I’d revisit the subject of workflow.

I’ll split the discussion into four sections. In Camera, Ingesting, Editing, Exporting.

In Camera

The modern digital camera stores data on a card. Data is what your picture is, the sum of the pixels and the metadata you’ve set your camera to add. That’s all it is. The card does not differentiate between good and bad shots, it simply stores the bytes and bits that together make up your photograph.

Cards have a finite capacity and choosing the right one for you is a function combining the use of the card – video/stills and the project – wedding, event. If it’s a film, you’ll use many many cards and each one will be labelled according to the content and the shooter.

The way data is stored on a computer is the same whether it be desktop or a camera. Data is added to the card every time you press the shutter. If the card is blank then data is added in a neat and orderly fashion determined by the camera’s operating system. This is like unpacking the weekly shopping and transferring it to the fridge – eggs in the egg tray, salad in the salad container etc. All digital cameras are able to delete a photograph. This is not the same as formatting the card. All deleting an image does is delete the index that points to the data.  The picture remains, the instructions of how to find it are trashed. Formatting a card aims to do a complete refresh of the entire contents.

Some photographers like to delete images on the fly, in camera. This is not good. For two reasons, firstly you can’t really see all the strengths of a picture on the camera screen.  Many a decent print has been pulled out of a poorly exposed and poorly framed shot. Secondly, deleting a photograph on the fly means that sections of your card are flagged to the camera as re-writable. The Operating System will then try and plug the gaps with data – this is what is known as fragmentation in computing terms. The result, to return to the shopping analogy, is that you are storing your eggs in random locations around the fridge. Bits of your picture are inserted between bits of other pictures. Sounds like a recipe for disaster? It is. Whilst storing your eggs with the lemons may just result in a curdled omelette, occasionally, the camera will be unable to retrieve a picture from the card. Lost. Forever. If you’re a wedding photographer that’s potentially going to cost you your reputation and your next job. This is why I always format my cards every time I ingest pictures to Lightroom.

Ingesting

When I ingest pictures, I save them to two locations. You can set Lightroom to do this for you. I save to the Mac, and to an attached storage device. I then format the card(s) and I’m ready to go for my next shoot. By doing things this way, I have a copy of the original file (I convert to DNG in ingest because its a more efficient in terms of size and more transferable format than Canon’s proprietary CR2 format.) This way I’m pretty confident I can retrieve an image if I accidentally delta it from the Mac.

Editing

The approach I take to deleting pictures starts here. I’ve tried this two ways, the first way involves identifying the keepers first and then grading the others 4, 3 , 2, or 1 star. I’ll generally delete the 1’s and then the 2’s and 3s. The second way is better and I think this is a psychological aspect to the job. When I start by deleting the unusable pictures first and then grading up, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, I’ll end up with fewer pictures. Furthermore, the keepers identified this way often include pictures I miss when I do it the other way. Plus I’m more ruthless about the grading – realistically, anything from 3 down to 1 probably deserves dumping so I wield the axe quite mercilessly when I do things this way around. If I do make a mistake, I’ve always got my second copy to bring back a picture from the dead. My recommendation is – start by dumping the no hopers and work up, towards the keepers. You’ll end up with fewer, better pictures and won’t waste time trying to make a flawed photograph exceptional.

Exporting

I export photographs for four reasons. One  hi-res to give to clients, one hi-res to upload to Smugmug (my chosen commerce platform), one high-res smaller format to enter in projected image competitions and one lower res, smaller, 1000 pixels long to upload to the internet. I’ve created directories for the last three on my desktop and for the first case, export directly to SmugMug from Lightroom, using the SmugMug plug in. The reason I put small pictures on the internet is to make it harder for people to steal my work. I don’t mind people putting my pictures on wweb sites, I’d prefer them to be attributed and mostly that happens in my experience. My view of picture theft is mostly that it doesn’t really change anything materially except for spreading my name around. It’s free publicity. I don’t want to make it easy for people to get hold of the full sized high resolution picture though. Not unless they are prepared to license it.

In a nutshell, that is my workflow for photography. For video its only different in the detail, the principles are the same. That might be a topic for another post. If you’re interested in looking deeper into the subject, a great starting point is “The DAM Book – Digital Asset Management for photographers” by Peter Krogh published by O’Reilly.

 

Posted in Photography, Process, Video Tagged , , , , , , |

Web Curation for Photographers

Electrical Image: On Photography

Electrical Image: On Photography

In a moment of headstrong wilfulness, against the sage advice of my peers and even my own family, I’ve started an online newspaper.

Electrical Image: On Photography and Photographers.

Why? In part because I’m headstrong and wilful. In part because I’ve recently discovered some excellent aggregators for the Apple platform and it’s a great way of sharing the things that I find interesting with other people. Rather than squirrelling them away for private consumption with Evernote or Instapaper.

Aggregators have moved on a lot since the RSS reader was the only game in town and I thought I’d use this post to review the ones I use and to explain why I find Web Curation so rewarding.

The Apple IOS platform has been well supported by aggregators from Flipboard to Pulse and beyond. It’s been a continuing source of frustration that none of these applications seemed to care about the Desktop platform. On any operating system. I imagine that the thinking is most of these apps are used whilst travelling to work?  My routine is that the first hour, pre breakfast is spent reading news with a cup of tea. I do use the iPad on the train and on airplanes, but fro me, it is a tool for immediate consumption. Occasionally I’ll save something for the journey home, but my routine is – news in the morning.

Sourcing

These are the apps I use everyday to source material.

Prismatic

There are two aggregators worth paying serious attention to in my view. The first, Prismatic, is a browser based application that allows the user to choose topics based on keywords. It uses these preferences to retrieve articles from the web for your delectation. It supports its own community and allows the user to rate articles or give a simple thumbs up/down. The interface alas is minimal and allows no branding. Nonetheless, with a bit of fine tuning of keywords, it has become indispensable. Why? Because it supplies at least 70% of the information I like to read in my first waking hour. secondly because I can click through to my browser for any article and that allows me to repost the good ones to my own curated newspaper – Electrical Image.

Pulp

The second, as far as I know, is a Mac only application. It’s called Pulp. It lives on your computer and does pretty much the same job as Prismatic, with one important difference. Two important differences, it allows you to save articles for offline reading by dragging them onto a ‘bookshelf’. More importantly it supports the concept of pages. For me this is massive. I read about a lot of stuff, in IT, Business, Photography, Sport, etc etc. I don’t want this arriving in a hopeless jumble, I want it to be accessible via sections, like the Sunday Newspapers. Pulp does this brilliantly.

Flipboard

An honourable mention to Flipboard. One of the first ‘build your own magazine’ apps and still the best in terms of look and feel. It is viewer centric, by which I mean it enables me to build a newspaper for me. Nobody else. Great way to source material, but it stops there.

Publishing

Using the tools mentioned above I can gather more interesting articles than I can reasonably expect to read. So why bother to republish them into an online newspaper? The answer is not vanity or self obsession! I’m developing a brand. I don’t mean that in any over ambitious sense, but it’s a reality I’ve written about before. We are, all of us, complicated creatures with a variety of roles and interests. There is a glut of information out there now and if I want people to notice me I need to stand out in the flood. This means focussing, it means being selective and matching my viewers interests. Put simply, I imagine there are more photographers out there than there are photographers with an appetite for Politics, Socialism, IT, Business and Tennis. The first audience is a lot larger than the second.

Paper.li

Paper.li has been around for a while now. It is still the best curation vehicle out there because unlike so many of its competitors it allows branding and it is getting better and better at integrating the users preferences in a seamless fashion. If I find an interesting article, I can post it on my paper by using the Bookmarklet, downloaded from Paper.li and installable on most available browsers in a couple of seconds. It then produces a pop up window in which I can choose a picture I’d like to accompany the article and whether or not I would like to add the source of the article to my automated feed. In this way, the bulk of the newspaper assembles itself more or less automatically. All I have to do is add more material as I find it and delete articles that I consider to be inappropriate. Over the course of a few weeks it builds up a pretty good representation of my tastes and curiosities.

Scoop it!

The other curation medium worth a look is Scoop it! This one supports a community and allows the user to publish topics. This is great because it means you can still separate your concerns and target a defined audience. The downside is it does not support branding and so identity is hard to come by. The successful users are mostly already well known in their niche and so people are drawn to them for that reason alone.

Developing the Brand

I talked about the need to present a focussed identifiable version of myself in order to align with an audience of photographers and image collectors. Social Media is about more than self-promotion. It is about sharing information and in that regard, curation is very rewarding. All my social media activities are linked by the name ‘Electrical Image’. In this way, I am creating a recognisable brand and if I get the content right my audience will continue to grow. This is the way photographers market themselves these days.

Photography used to be a service industry and remnants of that practice still exist but with stock photography paying pennies the photographer that wants to do anything other than glamour or wedding photography (for which perfectly good commercial frameworks exist) has to find new ways of attracting an audience.

The internet is awash with astonishing photography, 20 million uploads a day to Flickr tell their own story. For this reason it makes sense to build up a brand. The bad news is it takes time. Not hours out of the day, but months of elapsed time before any momentum is established. As Hunter S Thompson once observed: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!”

 

Posted in Editorial, Internet, Media, Software Tagged , , , |

Michael Levin: Zebrato (2008)

Michael Levin: Zebrato

Michael Levin: Zebrato

Milky seas and murky clouds have become something of a cliche these days as a short trawl through Flickr will certainly demonstrate. Its a device I’m certainly guilty of using, perhaps more than I need to, so receiving a copy of Michael Levin’s Zebrato on my birthday was a welcome reminder of just how powerful this effect can be in the right hands.

The effect is achieved through the use of, typically, a ten stop filter, applied to reduce the amount of light entering the lens and thereby extend the exposure without blowing out the highlights. I use the Lee “Big Stopper” filter and although expensive, I haven’t seen anything better although the B&W equivalent runs it close. The B&W filter is a screw in that effectively requires a further step up adapter if you want to use it on more than one lens. The Lee filter requires the Lee filter adapter which has the advantage of offering further slots to insert for example a graduated filter to further control the exposure across the whole image. In addition to the filter, a good tripod is required in order to minimise movement in the camera and, for the same reason, a remote trigger. I use the Canon intervalometer which enables me to precisely time the exposure, but the ordinary remote trigger without timer is perfectly adequate for the purpose as long as you have a watch which displays seconds.

Levin’s work makes a virtue of the long exposure by using it to isolate the subject and generate a sense of timelessness. Minimal in extreme, the effect is to make a point of the apparently pointless, to take one part of a landscape and focus all of the viewer’s attention on the purest representation of form.

Zebrato is exclusively shot in monochrome in locations all over the world, including Brighton, where mysteriously he passed on the opportunity to add yet another photograph of the West Pier to posterity. Instead he shot west to east along the seafront, making a virtue of the natural curve where beach meets water. A solitary mysterious figure is seen lying in the foreground.

This book has made me re-evaluate what I’m doing with long exposures and has sparked some ideas about how I can photograph my new surroundings in Shropshire with a style I am comfortable with. What more can you ask of a book? Highly recommended.

Posted in Books, Equipment, Photography, Techniques Tagged , , , , , , , |

Photographing IBM: La Gaude

IBM La Gaude

IBM La Gaude

I’ve been lucky enough in the last eighteen months to have been involved in a long running project with IBM’s Academy of Technology which has taken me to various IBM sites around the world. My favourite so far has been Somers, designed by the architect I.M. Pei, but La Gaude, in the hills above Nice runs it a close second.

Needless to say, my personal experience of local accommodation came a distant second to the splendour of the architecture. This has been a recurring theme in my travels. Usually determined by the same logic. I elected to stay in a hotel close by, which turned out to possess all of the charm and indeed some of the architectural features of the Bates Motel. The identity of said hotel shall remain a secret, but for those, like me, expecting to work at La Gaude, I can in good faith recommend alternative accommodation on the medieval town of Vence, about five miles distant.

IBM La Gaude #2

IBM La Gaude #2

Back to the lab. this extraordinary example of 1960’s brutalism was designed by the Hungarian modernist Marcel Breuer and built between 1960 and 1962. It’s worth repeating a story here that plays on the fact that the IBM building was supposed to have been one of his favourites.

Breuer’s Architecture went through five recognisable phases and this example using modular prefabricated concrete facades was the first in a phase that went on to dominate an entire town at Flaine.

IBM La Gaude #3

IBM La Gaude #3

Accused by critics of being perhaps a little repetitive, Breuer responded somewhat peevishly: “I can’t design a whole new system every Monday morning.”

I’m not sure that even IBM can design a new system every Monday morning, but I like the retort, especially in the context of La Gaude.

One of the things about these buildings is that they embody the kind of bold statement that one might expect from one of the world’s largest and most successful corporations of a certain time in history. I doubt we’ll see this type of statement again, indeed many of the IBM sites are being returned to the wild, a reflection of changing times and changing workplaces. Most of our work is done these days from home or from customer sites, the offices being required only for research and development, customer demonstrations and administration. Perhaps the pendulum will swing back and we’ll see another phase of  these grand designs.

IBM La Gaude #4

IBM La Gaude #4

Finally, a detail from the front of the building, shot in the early morning sunshine, accentuating the shadows and bringing out the best I think of this type of architecture. I used a wide angle lens to get this shot, accentuating the curves and really maximising the geometry. These buildings really are breathtaking, the scale and scope of the project being quite vast.

So, on to Dublin next week. Not sure what I will find by way of architecture, but it’s a great city and I’m looking forward to the couple of days I’ll be spending there.

Posted in Photography, Travel Tagged , , , , , |

The Good Life

Harley

Harley

Two days before I left for America at the beginning of the month, I moved permanently out of Brighton and parachuted, temporarily courtesy of my partner Viv’s parents, into the rather wonderful countryside of Shropshire.

So, no longer a Brighton based Photographer – rather, given the amount of travel I’m doing this year a British Photographer!

New York was an absolute blast, freezing cold I nonetheless managed to get two shots I’ve been kicking myself for missing on other occasions – the view from the Rockefeller Centre and the interior of Grand Central Station.

Manhattan

Manhattan

The Rockefeller centre is one of those trips that you just have to grit your teeth and do. It’s expensive, full of tourists and the resident photographer will try and persuade you to pose for a grisly humorous portrait against a photographed backdrop but there really is no better viewpoint. The Empire State runs it close, but taking pictures there is a nightmare – dirty glass protects you from falling off the thing and of course you can’t get the Empire State into the shot. The big advantage of “Top of the Rock” is there is aa viewing platform in the centre of the tower that raises you some ten feet above the protecting glass screens. There are also gaps between the screens large enough to get a 24-70mm lens through.

Grand Central Station, NYC

Grand Central Station, NYC

The other must grab shot that I’ve failed to grab in four previous visits is the interior of Grand Central Station. This has been photographed so many times it’s virtually impossible to find a new angle. I chose the long exposure route using a wide angle lens. I decided to shoot diagonally and rely on the natural movement of the people to fill the frame.

I processed this particular shot in Silver Efex Pro to get the high key effect – it was a very gloomy day and I wanted to be able to pick out the people in the final rendering.

After a couple of days in New York, I moved on to San Jose where I was due to work last week. I had a whole weekend to explore and having not visited the west coast since I was seventeen, there was a whole lot to explore. I discovered a beach in Santa Cruz that boasts a natural arch and spent a whole morning taking carefully composed landscapes. None of which turned out as good as this – a shot taken rather casually on my way off the beach!

Natural Arches - Santa Cruz

Natural Arches – Santa Cruz

I used a wide angle lens held really low, at sand level for this shot. I took about six frames, moving about to try and get the people separated from the rock. I was really pleased with this one because my attention was on the rock and the family to the right. I hadn’t noticed the little girl to the left and she really makes the picture in my opinion. There’s a rather obvious echo of the arch itself and the stance of the mother, but the little girl pointing adds balance, depth and a little bit of a mystery to the picture.

So am I going to settle down to a life of rural bliss in Blighty? The chance would be a fine thing! I’m jetting off to the South of France on Sunday, Dublin the week after. This is proving to be a great year for both travel and photography. The only regret I have is missing my friends at the Brighton & Hove Camera Club – if that club were a lager it would definitely be a Heineken!

 

 

 

Posted in Photography, Techniques, Travel Tagged , , , , , |

Street Photography in Bangalore

Living The Dream

Living The Dream

When I finished my 365 Day Project, I found myself curiously adrift. I no longer felt motivated to go out and shoot every single day, but I was also keenly aware that the simple fact of shooting every day had improved my ability to see photographs and also my technique by sheer force of repetition. To compound the problem, most of January was spent searching for a new house, so my photography was somewhat reduced.

I decided that what I needed was another context to put my photography in. Sure, its great to carry a camera around and I’ve been fortunate enough to stumble across some great opportunities while so prepared, but I felt I needed to get excited about something and I knew that wasn’t just going to come out of thin air. I resolved to be patient, knowing I would recognise the opportunity when it came.

A trip to India provided exactly the stimulus I was looking for. I was very struck by the billboards. Everywhere I went in Bangalore, posters of epic machismo glared out of the walls, a whole mythology of the modern Indian male, straight from the imagination of advertisers. I was very conscious that these posters were setting a high bar for the majority of the population, feeding aspiration but also fuelling disappointment and anger. I decided the subject of my Bangalore project would be related to the advertising.

Dreamland

Dreamland

The day after the event I was working on finished, I got up early and drove out to the KR Market. I’d been here before and knew I would find some good juxtapositions of aspirational advertising and stark reality. This time however the market area was mostly deserted so I started to explore the backstreets surrounding the marketplace. Inevitably I quickly became lost and resolved to explore further. Diving deeper into these streets I discovered an area I would describe as impoverished. Here, the gap between poster life and real life became wider and more blindingly obvious. Beyond the business parks, there is an India of grinding poverty and I realised it would be here that I would find my best subjects.

Street Life

Street Life

I probably should mention at this point that roaming the back streets of a strange city alone, with a camera that probably represents several months wages to most of the people you meet is perhaps not the wisest thing to do. In a couple of places, I became aware that I was being scrutinised and moved quickly on. It’s a peculiar thing about travel, I’m a confident person and I’ve never felt directly threatened. I’ve walked the streets of New York, Beijing, Delhi, Bangalore, Paris and London in the last twelve months without a single incident. Always a first time, but I make an effort to be friendly when I’m out taking photographs and also maintain an awareness of what’s going on around me.

My final picture is the one that made the whole expedition worthwhile. I’ve always felt uncomfortable photographing poverty. It’s a conscience thing. I’m a middle class, educated male from one of the worlds leading economies.

Broken Dreams

Broken Dreams

No matter how little cash I feel I have at any one time, there’s a danger of being patronising and worse, prurient in photographing extreme poverty. I’ve walked on past several opportunities to photograph people sleeping rough, because at the time I had no purpose in photographing them. On this occasion though I had a purpose and a point to make. This picture absolutely nailed what I was trying to articulate with my poster shots. It’s a shot that carries the emotional punch I was looking for. Above and beyond the fact of the enormous gulf between the indomitable alpha male of the poster and the broken spirit of the man sleeping, there is also the fact that this person is somebody’s son, has been somebody’s lover and friend. It’s a very sad image I think and one that I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to take.

Posted in Photography, Projects, Travel Tagged , , , , |

The Real Tough Guys

Sierra Lujar

Sierra Lujar

I just got back from a week in the Alpujarras, ostensibly working on the house, but finding time to do a bit of photography as well.

The Alpujarras are as different from the Costa del Sol as the Earth is from the Moon. January in the mountains is an experience not to be missed. As stunning as the Alpujarras are in spring, winter reveals another side entirely. The days can be warm and sunny, the nights uniformly freezing.

The landscape changes character too. The mountains, capped with snow and shrouded in clouds look formidable and demand a healthy respect. Walking in these hills, suitably clothed and equipped with compass, food and a map is an amazing experience. Even the view from the house, shown here, is breathtaking at this time of year and changes by the minute as the clouds throw shadows across the land turning it into some kind of enormous shadow theatre.

The people that live here, making a living off the land are the real tough guys, I’m not talking about the hippies, blow ins, criminals and flakes attracted by cheap North African drugs, rather the people that go back generations. The real tough guys.

Tough Guy - Orgiva

Tough Guy – Orgiva

Conditions here are brutal. Work is available in construction or….construction. Luckily food is cheap or many of the people now living on their wits would be starving. This is the sharp end of modern capitalism. The spanish economy harbours some massive companies, Santander, Repsol, Zara for example whose balance sheets are very healthy thank you very much. In the meantime, in Motril I saw people protesting under the watchful gaze of armed police outside the Banco Popular, at the Bank’s ruthlessly implemented repossession policy. By which I mean that ordinary folk are being evicted from their houses so that the Bank can maintain its shareholder value.

In a few months, the tourists will return and the local economies will begin to function again, the English the French and the Germans come back with armfuls of cash which will be spent in the many excellent restaurants, bars and coffee shops. For six months or so things will return to normal and then there will be another winter.

Street Photograph - Orgiva

Street Photograph – Orgiva

In the time I have spent in Orgiva, I have found the Spanish to be almost without exception, charming and hard working. The ex pats, occasionally reminiscent of the itinerant population of Casablanca before the second world war. As the once favourable pound to Euro exchange rate becomes a thing of history, the danger is that a new kind of normal is beginning to prevail. A normal where desperation overrides decency and the desire to get on the gravy train is stronger than the desire to provide a service. What we northern europeans have always held to be Third World pressures are making themselves felt very close to home. There is a lot of property for sale in the Alpujarras at knock down prices, but it takes nerves of steel and some real street savvy to make it work.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Travel Tagged , , , |

Brighton in Black & White: West Pier

West Pier & Boardwalk

West Pier #5

Brighton’s ruined West Pier is one of the iconic landmarks of the South Coast. Certainly one of the most photographed and when I started my 365 Day Project, I made a resolution to try and avoid repeating the most cliched of the shots I’d seen. In fact I almost went out of my way to avoid shooting the damn thing!

No matter how many times a subject has been shot, there is always a different approach and it is worth taking the time to find that different shot because that’s what differentiates one photographer from another. There is nothing wrong with recreating shots with a view to understanding how they were done and in so doing mastering a technique, I’ve done that plenty of times, but I’ve tried not to publish those shots as a rule.

West Pier Abstracted

West Pier Abstracted

The reason the pier has become such an emblem is that it symbolises the best and worst of human nature. Even in ruins, the ironwork is beautiful and so far, resists the fiercest storms. The shape is instantly recognisable, even as here, when it is abstracted. The worst? The persistent rumours that the fire that destroyed it was started deliberately. Legend is that a speedboat was seen leaving the scene as the flames took hold. The identity of the arsonist has never been discovered and as long as there is no proof, there can be no accusation.

One of the challenges in landscape photography is to find a way to connect the land to its occupants. This is what elevates the best landscape photography above the biscuit tin class. West Pier does this at a stroke, the contrast that can be achieved by showing the ruin in the context of its surroundings is very powerful. The opposing forces of nature and architecture caught in perfect balance.

Brighton Gothic

Brighton Gothic

This shot was made with a Lee 10 stop “Big Stopper” filter around dusk at low tide. An exposure of a couple of minutes. The effect is to calm the ocean and the wreckage rises out of this preternatural stillness like a ghost ship, encrusted with barnacles and seaweed. The intent here was to stretch time, to show something that has been with us for years and to imply that it might just be here long after we’ve gone. I genuinely hope it is and during the last set of storms have fretted, hoping that they haven’t succeeded in bringing the old girl to her knees.

The final challenge I set myself was to show the pier with people. People playing, people watching or even photographing, the important thing was that they shouldn’t be interacting with me. I wanted to be the observer.

West Pier with Dog

West Pier with Dog

I chose to shoot at sunset again, the idea being to frame the participants in silhouette. This shot was one of about fifteen I took over a period of about twenty five minutes. I like the composition because there are distinct layers in the photograph and the pier is not the dominant figure, instead the eye is drawn from the couple in the foreground along the edge of the beach to the man playing with his dog in the middle. If anything, the dog is the dominant figure in the photograph and from there the eye can wander to the pier, with the sun directly behind it, silhouetted against a sinking sun.

Technical notes, the first and last images were processed in photoshop, using layers to bring the right textures to all points of the photograph. I use a very slight vignette to pull the eye towards the centre. And in all of these images except the last, the pier is centre stage. I used Nik Silver Efex Pro to process the colour conversion to monochrome in all instances.

Posted in Filters, Photography, Projects, Techniques Tagged , , , , , , |