Venice Noir

View the whole series

I’ve been very excited to complete the edit of two specific series of images from Venice and Palermo. One is about the tourists, and although I’ve not quite settled on a name, it is definitely about the tourists. In fact, I have images from Japan and Los Angeles that will also fit in the series, so I think this will be a longer project. I’ll be revealing that series in a few weeks.

The other is a series of images of Venice after dark, or Venice Noir. The first few images started as a lark. Amusing myself while walking home from a cultural-appropriate late dinner, I was feeling lighthearted and frisky from the good food, good company, and ample drink. During the week, the weather was mostly overcast with episodes of rain. Nothing dramatic, but certainly enough to bring out the umbrellas and turn the cobble-stone streets into shinny surfaces of light and color.

The patchy light and dark scenes made perfect photographic backdrops. Perfect, that is, if you are not bothered by extreme contrast, slow shutter speeds, and high-ISOs. Is it the fool-photographer who tries to make these images handheld? My shutter speeds hovered around 1/15th of a second and I often underexposed the image in order avoid loosing all detail in the highlights. With a fixed 35mm lens the walls tilted in and out, and the horizon was not always level. But I was not so concerned about perfect images, I was willing to accept all kinds of aberrations in order to capture the mysterious mood of these night-time Venice streets and canals that was in such stark contrast to the hustle-bustle commercial day-time vibe.

There is no “secret” to how I took these images with such low light and high dynamic range. I just went out and made the images. I looked for light and color and waited for some unsuspecting human presence to add some spice.  In post processing I applied, what is for me, a liberal amount of noise reduction and my standard sharpening.

The series is currently featured on my website at I’ll be posting and explaining more of this series on this blog and on my instagram (nancy_lehrer) and facebook (Nancy Lehrer) streams. This, I think, is how Venice should be experienced.

A Street Photography Manifesto Cover JPGLearn more about making compelling street photographs in my book Life Happens in Color – A Street Photography Manifesto, or you can hear me talk about my photographic process in a couple of recent interviews – one on Martin Bailey’s podcast number 616, and the other with Ibarionex Perello on The Candid Frame.

Footnote about Lightroom and graphics acceleration: For a while now (a long while now – perhaps over a year) I have been struggling with my images in Lightroom not looking like the images after being exported from Lightroom. If the images looked right in Lightroom, the exported image had with too much contrast. Before you get on your “calibrated monitor” soap-box – yes, my monitor is calibrated and I assure you the problem is related to something else, as I was finally able to fix it. I had resigned myself to recalibrate my eyes and to make the images look a little washed out in Lightroom in order to print and export correctly. Needless to say, this was never really a satisfactory solution as it was sort of a crap-shoot to determine if I had gotten the adjustment just right. Last week, however, feed up, I took one more dive into a Google search and the Adobe support pages and finally found the answer. The problem was being caused by having graphics acceleration turned ON. Go figure? I turned it off and I am a happy, happy camper. It is in the Preferences menu in Lightroom. If this is happening to you, go take a check. You might want to also check your preferences in Photoshop.


Little Man


When my husband and I just want to get out of the house on a hot summer day we will often head to one of the small Malibu beaches. We take the windy 30 minute drive through the Santa Monica mountains, find an open parking spot on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), and step out to a refreshing ocean breeze and air temperatures at least 10-degrees cooler.

The free beaches in LA are a great social equalizer open to all walks of life and economic classes. There is always a story and I always bring a camera. Although the direct lighting is often a struggle, reflecting harshly on the great Pacific Ocean, the payoff are the people, timeless setting, and the stories to be found.

This image, like many street images, was a gift with all the elements aligning just right. I am on wooden staircase leading down from PCH. To get to the beach, you must first cross this strip of asphalt. It was likely once a piece of PCH itself  but is now closed providing pedestrian access to the coast.

This littleman surfer was walking up the road. I am attracted to by color and gesture – orange and blue complementary colors, the turquoise of his boogie board tying in with the ocean scene. He glances up at me, but keeps walking. He is trailed by a sandy-white dog dragging his leash, I do not know if they belong to each other. The dog’s color is in harmony with the road slowly returning to its natural unpaved state. These two subjects are tied together by the nostalgic lifeguard stand in the mid ground, adorned by a single seagull perched in profile on the roof. There are many other small details adding to the story: the single communication line leading into the lifeguard station and the silhouette of the tiny people in the surf. The one tiny person standing with arms slightly raised and feet spread provides a special visual gift by showing this fully detailed outline. Even the scraggy row of cactus at the bottom of the image provides locational cues and a compositional base to this southern California scene.

It is a bright sunny day. Before getting out of the car, I mount a fixed 50mm equivalent lens and set the camera to f/11, ISO 400, with the center focus point turned on. Images will appear and disappear quickly. There will be no time to frame with a zoom or fuss with focus or other settings. Little Man gave me this gift within 5-minutes of our arrival.

Hey, I’m the Featured Member for August 2015 – Los Angeles Center of Photography

Santa Monica, California

This month I am the featured member in the Member Gallery at the Los Angeles Center of Photography website. My gallery displays a 20-image portfolio of my street work from the past three years. As I choose this set of images, I was looking for those of which I was most proud of with a consistent feel. I was not looking for images from a single place or time, so it is all the more interesting to examine some of the characteristics of this set.

Of the 20 images, 10 are from Los Angeles taken on various trips to Downtown, Santa Monica, and Beverly Hills. 5 of these are from a 3-day stretch of intensive shooting downtown that I did earlier this year for a book project with John Free.

Flowers and DogDowntown LA with John Free

2 images are from workshop intensives, with Jay Maisel and Sam Abell. During these workshops, you are challenged each day you to make 5 images for the next day’s workshop critique. These two images mark, for me, a breakthrough in thinking.

New York, NYNew York City with Jay Maisel

Whidbey Island, WAWhidbey Island with Sam Abell

The remaining 8 images are from the various travel trips I have started to do in the last few years. The images are from Havana Cuba, Oaxaca Mexico, Lisbon Portugal, and Dublin Ireland, but none of are particularly “travel” images.

Of the 20 images, all but 1, was taken with a micro-four-thirds mirror less camera as I ditched my dSLR sometime in late 2012.

One of the earliest images in the collection, from 2012, was taken in Beverly Hills. I was out for a couple hour photo walk with a good friend and my husband. It was a nothing special day with a nothing special agenda, but my mind had been freshly implanted with the teachings and matras from Jay Maisel’s: “you are responsible for every millimeter of the frame”, “show me the rip in the fabric”, “light-color-gesture”. This image was my only keeper of the day, but what a keeper it was. It will be a permanent member of my top 20 street photographs.

Beverly Hills, CABeverly Hills with Jerry Weber

The most recent images, one is featured at the top of this page, are from Santa Monica Beach and represents all that I am working to achieve now in my photography: walking into the scene to create deeply layered images capturing the full figure and the context behind while carefully managing the juxtapositions between the image elements.

Enjoy my portfolio gallery at the Los Angeles Center of Photography website. And I can’t help but plug and upcoming guest lecture workshop “Sharpening your Photographic Vision” with Sam Abell. The lecture is Dec 3, 2015with the workshop Dec 4–6, 2015.

Wall to Wall People – Working with Complexity


When it comes to my street photography, I am heavily influenced by the work of Alex Webb and David Alan Harvey. Both of these photographers are known for their highly layered complex images with compositions that play with the juxtapositions of near and far subjects. Though these compositions are quite complex, each image is collection of clearly identifiable scenes and interactions, each playing out in their own space within the image.

Here is a set of images from Santa Monica Beach taken during the busy July 4th weekend. The bright sun and harsh light adds to this colorful and active scene. Images were taken with the Olympus OM-D EM-1 and 17mm lens (35mm effect focal) prime lens. Although you may think that with these more complicated the scenes, a zoom lens would help manage what is in the frame, however, I find it easiest when I stick to a fixed focal length and move my feet to find the right location then wait for the moment.







The forest, a cape, and a dog – How I got this shot in Ireland

Click image to appreciate large.
Click image to appreciate large.

I want to talk about this image –  what makes the image stand out for me and why I put it in black and white (something I rarely do), I want to illustrate how I got the shot and what I was thinking. It is a process I use often and sets me up for being able to capturing these poignant fractions of time.

Choosing the frame

I took 36 images to get this shot. This image is frame number 10.

I chose this particular frame from the sequence because it shows clearly a figure and a dog miniaturized by the breadth and majesty of the forest. There is not a lot of detail in either the future or the dog and this helps the viewer appreciate the size and magnificence of the forest around them. They are clearly recognizable, however, and in each occupy own separate space in the image. The figure, all in silhouette, looks mysterious with her jacket forming the shape of a cape. The silhouette is also fully surrounded by lighter areas making the shape standout without ambiguity. In art they call this using “figure and ground” to make the shapes stand out. The dog, is also in a figure-ground relationship with the background, only in this case a white dog against the shadow of the path floor. The fast that the figure is black on white and the dog is white on black increases the visual enjoyment of the image. Finally there is the forest and the diffuse light hitting all the bright green spring leaves in such a way as to highlight every little layer and texture.

I rarely turn my digital images to black and white, not because I have anything against black and white, but because I usually use the color in my images as an additional form of contrast, focus, and emotion. For this image, however, it is too green – all green. The beauty of this image are the layers of texture and light patterns in the leaves and the use of figure ground and I think black and white will show this best.

Getting the shot

If this were a roll of 36 exposure film, this is what you would see.

Click to view large in another window.
Click to view large in another window.

Novice photographers often try to capture these types of images with a chase the image sort of process: “see image, hope your camera is set ok, pray you focus well, try to grab the shot”. Rarely am I successful in taking “grab” shots using this method, instead I have developed a discipline of looking for situations that could present opportunities in the near future and following my instinct and waiting for the image to materialize, as was the case for this image.

I was standing on the steps of Moore Hall and had just finished taking this shot of the graffiti I found inside. I turned around and saw the forest and the path and liked this higher vantage point.

Moore Hall
Moore Hall

Graffiti Ghosts
Graffiti Ghosts

I was lagging my friends because I was taking many pictures in the forest on our way to Moore Hall. They had already moved off the scene and where off to the right. As I turned around I noticed the figure coming up the path. My first thought was to wonder if something unusual would happen to make this more than just a “person on a path” image. I framed up the shot, checked my camera settings and dug into my position.

Frame 2
Frame 2
(Frame 2) As the figure moved closer I noticed that her jacket looked like a cape
– that would create a nice extra piece of the story. I started shooting, not really confident that my tiny photographer brain would know, in the moment, exactly what combination of person, path, and forest would have impact.

Frame 6
Frame 6
(Frame 6) A little closer and I noticed the dogs. “Dogs!”, my tiny photographer brain in my tiny photographer voice exclaimed, “A cape and dogs!”. “Oh no, two dogs! Why two dogs? I need just one dog.” My tiny photographer voice continued jabber on. I continued to shoot.

Frame 7
Frame 7
(Frame 7) One dog lags behind and I evaluate the scene: a figure in a cape, with a dog, on a path in the forest. I figure is nice with the cape-like silhouette, the dog still just a speck. I keep following the scene as it unfolds, carefully holding my composition as best I can.

Frame 8
Frame 8
(Frame 8) Good, the dog is now in profile. It is recognizable as a dog, even at this small size. What will it do next. I just follow the dog. Taking my pictures to capture the dog gestures and relationship with the unidentified “caped” master. This is perhaps the most important moment of getting the shot.

Frame 10
Frame 10
(Frame 10) The dog stretches. I hardly notice that this will be the keeper, I’m simply keyed into taking a shot at each different gesture of the dog.

Frame 15
Frame 15
(Frame 15) The dog starts to run ahead. Just as with Frame 8, this is another important moment to notice as it constitutes a pivotal point in time for the next potential perfect alignment of juxtaposition and gesture. Another shot might still be in the future. Will the dog turn and do something interesting a little closer? As it happens, it doesn’t materialize.

Frame 20
Frame 20
(Frame 20) Sniffing the ground, the two dogs are separated, this is promising, my tiny photographer brain thinks.

Frame 28
Frame 28
(Frame 28) One dog is now out of the picture and never really made an interesting gesture. The figure is not in the light with fully recognizable features, and the small dog by her side. I keep shooting, but notice that when the dogs run, my shutter is really to slow and the mystery is gone as soon as all the figures are in the light.

The scene is over. Did I get one? I remember the steps and the concentration, I’m pretty sure I held my composition throughout the sequence. Did I get a moment, a gesture, and a play of light all to coincide? I would only be able to evaluate my success by looking at the whole sequence after the emotion had passed.