Tag Archives: photography

Photo showcase: Going against the grain

Going against the grain

Going against the grain (Click to view larger version)

Although I normally use the “photo showcase” category to revisit older photos, this is a new picture, taken just yesterday on a walk up above Hinterzarten in the Black Forest.

I have a bit of a thing for signs, as those who’ve followed my Flickr stream over the years will no doubt be aware (here is a collection of them put together especially for this post), and this one immediately caught my eye as it still had a lot of crispness despite being obviously rather old and weathered, and the red stood out really well against the grey boards of the background (it was a farm building of some sort, with chickens out the back…). The exposed grain of the sign perpendicular to that of the boards added interest that would have been absent had the sign been more pristine.

As it had been foggy when we left Freiburg, I didn’t bother with a “proper” camera on this occasion but relied on my phone instead. I knew it would therefore be well-nigh impossible to get a “straight-on” picture of this without horrible perspective distortion on the upright lines, so I went for a quirky tilt instead.*

* OK, let’s face it: I wanted a quirky tilt in any case.

When I got home and reviewed my pictures, I was annoyed to see I’d just nicked off the right-hand corner of the sign, making the whole shot look really careless and sloppy, despite what I thought had been valiant attempts to frame the sign nicely with a bit of space around it. The moral of this is that you MUST review your pictures properly at the scene when using a new version of a photo app in which all sorts of stuff has obviously changed. Clearly in this case, the lens doesn’t capture everything on the screen.

I almost deleted the picture in disgust, but I desperately didn’t want to, having thought of ever such a clever name for it and all that. The solution I decided to try was to tilt and recrop. The additional tilt was included so that I could get the left-hand edge of the sign absolutely vertical and (I hoped) give the picture a sense of balance, to pretend that there was a deliberate stylistic choice in there. The lopping off of the right-hand corner of the sign needed to look more deliberate, too. I’d have cropped it in a bit more closely on the right, but I didn’t want to “shave” too closely to that small round knothole above the edge of the sign.

The result is something I’m surprisingly happy with. I’d never have made a deliberate choice to chop off part of a triangular sign in that way when taking a picture of it – it would have felt like a poor framing choice – but I guess that in trying to save the photo I’ve just ended up going a bit more against the grain than I originally intended. I could have tried to “sell” it to you all as some kind of maverick, original conceptual idea. But then again, necessity is the mother of invention and all that.

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Travelling light

There was a time when going on holiday – or even on a day trip – meant packing my photo rucksack full of as many lenses, filters and other bits and bobs as I could carry.

Times have changed. I now have one saddle bag for all my clothes, and another that needs to accommodate my sleeping bag, cooking equipment and camera stuff. This ist smallest camera bag, and it fits inside a cycling helmet with room to spare (I’m just showing you this for scale – it’s not how I’m planning to transport it!).

20120818-140323.jpg

Yes, I could get a teeny tiny camera or just use the one on my phone, but I do want to be flexible and (maybe) experimental in the pictures I take, so a DSLR it is. It’s my old, smaller one (Canon 300D), simply because it’s light, not worth much now and a little battered as it is. I’ve got my two smallest, lightest lenses (though one has some zoom), one polarizing filter, two batteries, three memory cards. It’ll be enough, I think.

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Photo showcase: Sofa to go

Sofa to go

The sign says: “No dumping of rubbish” (but you probably guessed that…)

As a lazy kind of experiment, I thought I’d take a look through my Flickr stream to see if I could find any shots taken on exactly this day (15 July) one, two, three, four, five or six years ago. I had a sinking feeling when 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008 and 2007 in turn all yielded absolutely nothing, but to my great relief there were six of them (and mercifully, not too shabby, either) for 15 July 2006, back when I was new to photography and couldn’t get enough of it.

This was my clear favourite – in fact it’s a picture that’s always made me smile and one that I should really print out and frame one of these days. A pretty mundane, non-picturesque site by the side of a country road (I think, though I don’t remember the precise location) is transformed into a sight of wonderful, belly-laugh audacity by that funky orange monstrosity (which in its heyday must have been a great piece of furniture!). I love the fact that someone had obviously made the effort to place it absolutely neatly in line with the sign and the edge of the verge, so that it almost looks as though it belongs there.

I’m a notorious one for missed opportunities when it comes to taking pictures, but this is a chance capture that makes up for so many of those. I wonder who left the sofa there, and what became of it…

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Photo showcase: Cobbles

Cobbles 1

Cobbles 1

Following on from this post a couple of months back, this week I am continuing my occasional series of posting a picture I took some time ago and including a few comments on it.

This picture was taken way back in 2006, when I’d just started getting into photography. If I took the same picture today, I might go for a quirkier composition with the subject more off-centre, or introduce some stronger contrasts in the processing. However, I’m happy with it the way it is overall, with the diagonal slant and the colours that come out in the cobbles. What’s more, it’s a picture that sums up quite a bit about Freiburg.

These cobbled streets are a feature of the entire city centre – you’ll find them in the market place, and many of the streets have these built-in (and also constructed out of cobblestones) water channels – a hazard to tourists but – I am reliably told by M – something that born-and-bred Freiburgers can successfully negotiate without calamity. My entire walk to work is along cobbled streets, including some other quite impressive examples of decorative work and colour. It’s amazing to watch the artisans as they create a new one or replace an old one after street repairs and to explore the older patterns in the pavement that reveal, by means of e.g. a pretzel-shaped design in the cobbles, that today’s anonymous, one-size-fits-all mobile phone shop was once a bakery. There can be a tinge of sadness at this realization, but the pleasure that something historical has been preserved is normally the stronger feeling.

Bikes are another thing you can’t fail to miss in Freiburg, though even locals find it hard at times to avoid (near) collisions and accidents given the challenges posed by narrow cobbled streets, tram-lines, sometimes not-very-visible water channels, exceptions to the one-way system for cyclists, and stand-offs with groups of tourists, delivery trucks, stray (mostly out-of-town) motorists and less roadworthy occasional cyclists in the pedestrian zone (where it is mostly OK to ride a bike, but there needs to be some foresight and care shown by everyone using the area). I always breathe a sigh of relief when I’ve successfully got beyond the urban ring road on my bike and have left behind the juddering, shuddering cobbles, motorized and two-legged (or occasionally four-legged) obstacles and the general noisy, seething mass of moving objects.

Dangers aside, we’re actually jolly lucky to live in a city which is within easy striking distance of an elaborate mesh of purpose-built or dedicated cycle paths, and I rather wish I’d properly discovered the joys of cycling in the area rather earlier. Still, I’m enjoying it now, and long may that last. My only slight qualm is that it’s hard to impossible to take pictures while cycling, but I find solace in the fact that cycling is perhaps healthier than photography. ;)

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Photo showcase: cold comfort

Cold comfort

Click on the image to open it in Flickr (opens new tab / window)

I spent a little while a day or two ago tidying up some of my photo sets on Flickr – reassigning photos to sets, updating the content of sets, and so on. In particular, the set I call my best pics (a purely subjective title and certainly not all of whose content has been rated highly by others) had been a little neglected and in fact contained some items that I really didn’t like any more or just didn’t find as appealing as the items either side of them, plus some more recent shots that I was particularly pleased with hadn’t been added.

This photo was one that I decided to leave in the set as it’s one that I love just as much now as I did when I took it. It hasn’t been viewed very frequently so I decided to try to give it a little of the TLC I think it deserves by showcasing it here. Maybe this will become a regular feature of sorts – we’ll see.

The picture was taken in March 2009 when I attended a photography get-together in Oxford. It was a wonderful day out, and you can see a lot more photos by (and of) the participants here. As you might expect, we almost experienced sensory overload from the amount of majestic, historic architecture we saw in the course of the day, but as I often find is the case, it’s sometimes something a little more mundane that can make a more interesting picture.

You might well guess that this shot was taken inside a church, and you’d be right: it’s St Mary’s University Church. I like the way that even just showing parts of some objects – in this case with most of the background in very soft focus – can conjure up a clear sense of place. The way the light was falling on this pew also made it a more appealing choice: I find low-light photography VERY challenging and am often unhappy with the results. Yes, it’s something I need to work on and put a bit more effort and time into…

My eye was also drawn by the contrasts the scene offered. The battered, worn pew is a world away from the polished carved seating you find all over the place in many of Oxford’s other well frequented historic sites, and it is an excellent foil for the crisp, new-looking brocade of the cushion. The colours are another important source of contrast – the eye is clearly drawn to the cushion – and I did make the decision to tone down the saturation of the wood just a touch, though it really was only a minimal change that was necessary. I also wanted the detailed, regular pattern of the cushion to have the upper hand over the chaotic, random marks on the wood, though without losing any of that essential rough/smooth, random/carefully organized juxtaposition.

I did boost the overall light/dark contrasts and sharpness some more, because it’s a shot that screams out texture with the high relief of the velvety, silken cushion cover next to the splintered wood. I wanted it to be a tactile shot and for the visual element to help to convey sensations of other sorts.

Last but not least: the title “Cold comfort”. I wanted something that expressed the inherent contrasts I’ve just explained above, and I also love double meanings. I didn’t necessarily want to emphasize the negative tone of the term “cold comfort”, but if anyone else wants to include that element more prominently in their interpretation of the photo, then they’re welcome to do so. ;)

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Acanthus Ice

iPhone image processed in Camera+ (clarity + vibrant effect + square crop)

It’s just about a week on from my last post, and I’m still fascinated by the effects of the continuing cold weather. I’ve seen ice in countless forms – transparent, opaque, smooth, rough, brittle, solid, airborne, waterborne, shaped by the sun, the wind and by infinite crystalline forms.

Today’s ice treat was discovered on the (large and numerous) windows of a classroom where I was supervising an exam this morning. The rising sun was casting its weak, wintry rays obliquely across the grassed area outside the room, and this highlighted the most amazing patterns in the ice – amorphous blobs where it was beginning to melt at the edges, geometric arrangements reminiscent of school experiments with magnets and iron filings, and ornate, delicate leaf-like displays that were sometimes like ferns, at other times like acanthus leaves in a medieval book of hours.

The picture you can see here started life as a pale but detailed study of some of the acanthus-like patterns: blue, white and grey with just a hint of something reflecting the golden sunrise in the background, quite a long way away from the window. An interesting piece of documentary evidence, but not really very eye-catching.

A bit of bold experimentation with my camera app soon transformed it into the image shown above. Yes, its transformation was in technical terms pretty skill-less and arbitrary, merely a case of selecting certain presets to ham up saturation and contrast, and the image has been greatly denaturalized as a result, losing most of its photo-like quality.

But in this case I rather like the abstract effect that has resulted, mainly because it seems to allow a multitude of interpretations. I can see fire and ice, water, foam, clouds, rock and mud all at once. The brown-green shapes could be trees in a nightmarish Expressionist landscape, or peacock feathers, fountains or grasses. The colours and brush-stroke-like forms remind me of the painting styles of Turner and Munch in some kind of unlikely but not displeasing combination.

A slightly different crop with a (probably too heavy) frame can be seen on Flickr.

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December 25 – Photo

Sift through all the photos of you from the past year. Choose one that best captures you; either who you are, or who you strive to be. Find the shot of you that is worth a thousand words. Share the image, who shot it, where, and what it best reveals about you.

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Filed under Memes & blogging challenges, Photography, Up close and personal