I’m still in the image harvesting stage from my Cuba trip. I have a good idea where some of the gems are located, just waiting for me to get to them. There are some sections of images I’ve hardly touched because they represent a big project. For example, I have a set of images taken off a rooftop in Havana. I know that I have a lot of culling and panorama stitching work to do in order to bring together the complete vision. So they sit and wait for a long quiet weekend.
This image, on the other hand, was a complete surprise. It was buried within a series of images I took walking along the Prado on afternoon. Sometimes, when I shoot, I see a theme but I just can’t get all the variables right. That was the case, mostly, with the images from that part of the day. Except for this one. I don’t even remember taking it.
a series of short tutorials on different compositional techniques you can use to make images with stronger impact.
Our responsibility as photographers is to show ordinary subjects in extraordinary ways, to point out what the casual or indifferent observer overlooks, that which the vigilant observer sees. Being attentive and alert observers is not even enough. We must show what we see in ways that capture the imagination and attention. We must show the world from an original and novel point of view.
Eye-level is boring.
Showing the world around us in this way means using your position to create a unique perspective or point of view. There are several obvious approaches including getting low, high, very close, using unusual angles, or obscuring your subject in interesting ways.
Get Low, Step Closer.
There are many images taken at eye level, but unless they use other strong compositional elements, they are just repeating the view seen by every other person walking around the face of this earth. One of the easiest methods for adding impact to an image it to get lower and closer.
On the left is a simple image of a child playing on the Prado in Havana Cuba. The has a lot of potential with a cute kid, nice expression, and interesting color play, but there is no presence. The eye-level point of view has simply copied a simple scene and, and due to the camera position, there are a lot of details competing with the top of the child’s head.
In contrast, the image on the right was taken after taking a step or two closer and getting in lower. This image has great presence and is very dynamic. There are no distractions around the child’s head. You can use your position to bring your subject’s head and shoulders above the horizon line which not only removes distractions, but also conveys a sense of elevated stature.
Getting low and close also gives you the opportunity to show details and context as seen with this image on the rooster on the farm in Trinidad, Cuba or with these old American Cars in the heart of Havana.
By seeking a higher vantage point you can begin to show the relationships between objects and display graphic designs. Notice the use of horizontal lines in this image looking down on a street full of Taxis in San Francisco and the patterns formed by the stars and pedestrians on Hollywood Boulevard.
Go Behind Something
Shooting behind something can add mystery, story, and context. Here is a two images taken from the back seat of a pedicab, or BiciTaxi as they are known in Havana Cuba. In each image I made sure to include the context of the taxi driver to ensure the point of view.
Don’t be Obvious
In summary here are things you can do to add Point of View to make your images have a stronger impact
During my time in Havana, Eduardo, our Cuban photographer guide, brought us to visit an old family friend of his. Throughout Cuba you notice a striking difference in their culture with the lack of clutter and the neatness of their living style. The other thing that struck me was the care taken with their possessions and repairs. It was often reminded of visiting my grandparents or great aunts, for they lived through the depression and exhibited this same attentiveness and care.
The Prado, a wide pedestrian walkway which leads from Havana Central to the Malecón, is always busy with people talking and playing. Down each side runs the one-way traffic of the busy Paseo de Marti. Lining the street are grand Spanish-colonial style 4 story buildings which are used as shops, churches, schools, and family apartments. Most of these buildings have ornate balconies onto which spills the everyday lives of the residents of Havana.
Free enterprise in Cuba means having your own barber shop in the hallway of your apartment building. This Barber Shop and Shoe Repair is on the busy Obispo Street in Havana. After some joking with the Americans and their cameras, the barber went back to his concentrated work under the watchful eyes of Che, Fidel, and Raul.
Each day in Havana we awoke at 6:15 to get a glimpse of the city waking up. On the first morning, we explored the colorful neighborhood just to the north and east of the Parque Central Hotel as outlined by the Prado (Paseo de Marti), San Lazaro (which parallels the Malecón), and Neptuno street.
School children, in their gold pants and skirts, were walking to class. Workers were stoping at the small Cafeteria’s setup from private houses to get coffee and roll. A few cars were on the streets, but generally people walked. By the time we reached this busy corner, the sky was starting to lighten, but there was still the feeling of dawn light.
The big American pre–1959 cars are ubiquitous in Havana. They seemed to make up about 50% of all the cars I noticed in Havana. Sometimes they are beautifully kept with bright shiny wax jobs, and other times they look like they are held together with wire and house paint. There are a smaller number of Soviet-era Ladas on the road which must have been the primary import until the break up of the U.S.S.R. in 1991. And finally, a small percentage of new Korean Hyundais are seen. The best kept of the American cars are private Taxi’s catering to the tourist trade. There are only a few intersections with traffic lights within the neighborhoods of Havana and, outside of the Paseo de Marti which runs down each side of the Prado into Havana Central, there seems to be little need.
On our first night in Havana, we attended a short talk and photography slide show from our photographic sponsors, Fototeca De Cuba. We traveled by bicitaxi, from our hotel, the Parque Central, to Plaza Vieja. Kip, from the Sante Fe Worshops, helped us negotiate a proper fare of 4 CUC for 2 people.
With night falling, an interesting perspective, and bumpy cobblestone streets, the short ride offered a chance for fun series and something a little bit different.
We saw some really interesting images at Fototeca, many were more political that I would have imagined. Some showing Cuba’s monuments engulfed in waves or juxtaposing people from the country side with American commercial products by holding cereal boxes or cleaning products. That night we saw the images of José Julián Marti showing the sweeping movements of the sugar cane harvest.
In the gallery, there was a series of about 16 images each arranged in one very large panel, like a contact print. Each print contained an image with one naked woman in a small room on a bed with an orange fringed bedspread. The women were in various positions of relaxation, repose, or boredom. The room was the same, yet, different with each woman. The feeling I got when looking at the images was as if each woman was asked to go into the room, undress, and then left there for an hour or so before the image was taken.
In some images, the woman’s belongings were clearly visible on the floor or shelves around the bed; some neat, others disheveled. In one image, in particular, there was an ashtray on the floor filled with the cigaret buts of at least a pack of cigarets. How long would that have taken?
Visually these images had great interest with green walls, orange spread, and the woman of her particular shape and size. The clutter and pose told the viewer something of her story, but just the smallest sliver. The real story versus the imagined sat solely with the viewer.
Here is my series from the streets of Havana that night showing you the colors, the streets, and the view from the BiciTaxi.