Light, Color, Gesture

Which Way
Which Way by I Nancy, on Flickr

Yesterday’s field trip with the Thousand Oaks Photo Group took us to Los Angeles Union Station and Olvera Street. Union Station is a premier piece of Art Deco architecture and Olvera Street represents one of the original Spanish settlements in LA. There is a lot to photography just concentrating on the architecture, historic, and cultural significance of these two places. My mission yesterday, however, was about the people. Moreover it was about how to photograph the people with the story supported by photographic elements which make the viewer look harder, even when they are not sure why. I didn’t want to just find interesting (or weird people) and have only their oddity tell the story. I wanted to find those visual kick-starters that make the viewer continue to look at the image, to provide a layer of information and interest, that goes above and beyond the content. This is what I am learning adds dimensionality and impact.

As a sort of mixed-up compilation of three photographers writings and teachings, Ibarionex Perello, David DuChemin, and Jay Maisel (yes, Ibarionex and David, I put you in the same sentence as Jay) I’ve walked around Union Station mumbling the mantra “light, color, gesture”. In a recent video I was watching of Jay Maisel with Scott Kelby, I was introduced to how Jay talks about looking for “light, gesture, and color”. Ibarionex is all about “Chasing the Light“. And David is about all about being vision driven – understanding what the scene is saying and then capturing that.

This image, with its controversial composition, was one of the situations where I found my “light, color, and gesture”. In the first layer, we have an interesting story, where is this man with his hat and fancy shirt, people all around, what is he pointing at or asking about. The next layer was the color – harmonious warm hues of yellow incandescence echoed in his hat and shirt. Then we have gesture – dramatic and, although depth of field challenged, indisputable action.

Light, Color, Gesture – I think I’ll keep this mantra around for a while.

Tongue of Fire

Tongue of Fire

The 2010 Citrus Classic Balloon Festival was held this past weekend in Santa Paula, California home of vast citrus groves in Ventura County. I missed the event the past two years, once due to poor planning and the other due to a shoulder injury. Having seen the images my friends have flaunted, I wasn’t about to miss it this year. It is always interesting to read the local coverage of these events to get the full flavor of the event.

The event is organized around carnival events during the day and the Balloon Glow events in the evening. During the Balloon Glow, they fill 10-12 hot-air balloons and for about an hour or so they intermittently pump them with hot air using their large propane burners.

Continuing to practice the “vision-driven photography” approach which I recently learned from David duChemin’s CreativeLIVE webcast, I began making my mental lists. There were actually two distinct atmospheres at the festival. The time before sundown was characterized by a festival atmosphere with children playing in their painted faces, carnival foods, stunt planes, and family fun. But after the sun went down and the balloons started to go up, all focus turned to the rush of heat, contrast of light, enormity of the balloons, bright colors, and the chaos of hundreds of people running around getting their shots with everything from cell-phones to professional dSRLs. So that is my list. Mentally I shot two completely different events.

I’ve not really had chance to carefully edit my pictures, but in a quick look I spied this one, from the Balloon Glow event, which I knew was a keeper. Here is what I was thinking during the three stages of making this image: the Frame, the Capture, and the Process.

The Frame:

  • When the flame was on, some of the balloons lit up like stained glass windows while others were more opaque. I concentrated only on the transparent ones.
  • I wanted to capture the excitement of people as they look at the balloon and the flame so I should try to include both in my images.
  • The balloons are enormous, capture their size by juxtaposing them with other smaller objects.

The Capture

  • Use a wide-angle lens to get both people and balloon in the image
  • The flames create a very large amount of light, but I had little warning of when they would be lit or for how long the pilots would keep them lit. Be ready and have the focus set. Take a burst of images to get the right timing.
  • Since people were all over the place, I needed a combination of preparation and repetition to get a “lucky” formation of people and expressions.

The Process

  • I wanted to maintain the excitement, contrast, and mystery. Keep a lot of the darkness of the image.
  • The balloon needed to show its beautiful stained glass effect, add just a touch of dodging to the center of the balloon.
  • To achieve the stained glass look, I didn’t want the noise produced by ISO 1600 so I used the noise reduction in LR3 to bring back the smooth look to the balloon itself.

Many folks who have commented on the image have mentioned how I “got the exposure just right”. To be honest I let the camera do all the work shooting in AV-mode with evaluative metering. I just love the modern dSLRs, don’t you?

Post-script: I was quite surprised to find, after the fact, that I was shooting at f/2.8 – what was I thinking (or not thinking would be more like it). I was however pleased that due to good focus, wide angle, and distance from the subject, I got the sharpness that I needed.