Venice Noir

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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 inancyimages.com. 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.

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The Unposed Portrait – My Challenge

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I want to talk about unposed street portraits. I do not intend to start a debate, though this may indeed start one, it is just how I feel about the work I want to do.

When traveling to a “far away place”, whether literally far away, culturally different, or just to an event with dress-up costumes, there is a strong seductive pull to take posed portraits. You may ask your subject to move into the light, change to a different location, turn their head, or perform a particular gesture. These posed portraits can be striking and fun and I’ve seen many photographers fill their portfolios with these posed images of exotic faces in exotic places.

For me, however, posing has never been my thing. I’m not sure if it is because I am bad at posing and communicating with a subject or if I deep-down believe that the posed portrait is missing a more deeply authentic expression. So while in Mongolia I made myself a challenge – no posed portraits.

As we gathered around and photographed the beautiful and generous people of Mongolia, herders and families, many would freeze in a stern face as if they only new of slow film requiring long exposures. While the group began to photograph, I laid back  and waited for the release in the tension, looking for the in-between moments when they let their guard down. I looked for the breaks in the stoney expressions, a caring glance toward a family member, or the far away stare into the vast country side.

Here are a few of the unposed portraits that I captured.

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The Beginning – Impressions of Ulaanbaatar

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It is difficult to describe the beginning of an adventure while the end is most present in my mind and my dreams are still filled eagles, yak, and the sour-musty smell of dried yak yogurt-cheese (I have never before experienced dream smells.) Here, however, are my first impressions of Ulaanbaatar, where my 14-day through Mongolia began.

The trip started on the final sliver of moon mid-September in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia. After 24 hours of mostly uneventful airline travel from LAX to Beijing with a transfer on to Ulaanbaatar (or UB as the locals say), I first met Buugii and Yonda at the airport on the east side of the city. I had yet to fully realize their role in our adventure: Buugii as guide and camp mom and Yonda as driver in Van #1.  In the parking lot on this pleasantly warm 70+F degree day, Yonda was greasing the front axle of his pale green-grey vintage UAZ 469 or “Buchanka”. To me it looked sort of like a VW van. They are apparently mechanically very simple, last forever, and, as I experienced, can traverse almost any terrain.

After being dropped off at the hotel, I went for a walk through downtown UB. I was hardly prepared for what I saw with its hustle and bustle and the contrasts of old Soviet buildings, shed-based shops, and modern high-rises with a busy street life showing both traditional and modern fashions. And the traffic! Mongolians are truly crazy drivers. I walked an hour or so to the center of town and back to the Kempinski Hotel Khan Palace and tried to capture a few scenes of a city and people very unused to seeing camera wielding visitors.

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The Burren – (Gaelic: Boireann, meaning “great rock”)

Another stop on Day One was The Burren. I had a difficult time understanding the name until Conn told us that it simply meant – Great Rock. 250 square kilometers of granite in County Clare which took time for me grasp how unusual this was for Ireland. Seeing large expanses of rock – white, red or otherwise – is hardly a rare occurrence in the Southwest USA, but in Ireland this area is indeed unusual.