Pigeons on 12th and Maple – On Composition

Pigeons on 12th and Maple
Pigeons on 12th and Maple by I Nancy, on Flickr

Last weekend I took a workshop from Sam Abell. It was entitled “Sharpening your Photographic Vision”, or something like that, but it was really all about composition. This man is a master of composition. He talks of macro composition and micro composition. Background and layers. He also talks about approaches to get these kinds of images to happen.

Here we had just arrived on our morning location at 12th and Maple in downtown LA. Of course we all saw the 200 or so pigeons on the wires above us. Sam’s words – compose and wait – find the background and then wait for the subject to come to you, miracles happen.

From time-to-time, the pigeons were coming into the street, so I found the orange background got down and waited for the birds to do something interesting. The street merchant threw rice in the gutter, the pigeons came down to eat, the van entered the intersection, the pigeons exploded, and a man rode through dressed in black wearing a hat.

In this image I achieved a deeply layered composition. We have the pigeons in front with all of their movement and flurry. A background of orange with the street patterns adding more visual interest. A “V” in the front of the image and the diagonals complete the macro-composition. In the micro-composition is the 12th St street sign – free from obstruction, its blue color standing out against the rest of the background,  the van which looks like it is bursting through the intersection, and the man riding through.

Miracles happen.

Street Walking

Prayer Behind Bars
Prayer Behind Bars by I Nancy, on Flickr

Although my photo stream has been chock-full of nature photography for the past year, my heart is on the street. This month I took my first step into the further development of my street vision. (Oh, I just know that this next sentence will sound all wrong, but here goes.) I bought a new camera.

Now before we all go screaming off quoting David DuChemin’s mantra “Gear is good, but vision is better”, let me quickly explain. I bought an Olympus PEN E-PL2 micro-four-thirds, or I like the term EVIL, camera. EVIL, which stands for Electronic Viewfinder, Interchangeable Lenses, is a class of mirror-less cameras which aim at bringing the lens closer to the sensor plane by removing the prism box and displaying the image directly on either the LCD on the back of the camera or through an electronic viewfinder. The advantage is that for the same image quality and lens-speed (size of aperture), the lens can be much, much smaller. Typically, these cameras have been in the “4/3rds” form factor which is named for the size, in inches, of the video-sensing tube diameter that was originally used in video cameras. (If I understand it correctly, and I may not, these = 4/3″ tubes projected onto an image area approximately 17.3×13.0 mm (21.63 mm diagonal) – which is now the 4/3rds standard.)

No matter how the system got its name, the sensor size is a 2x crop from a full-frame 35mm. This is about 1/3 smaller than a typical ASP-C sensor (1.6 crop for Canon, 1.5 crop for Nikon) but 9-times larger than a typical compact camera. The result, a much higher image quality than a compact for a camera coming in at just about the same size.

Ok, this explanation went on way too long. What I am trying to get at is that I bought less gear (now that’s an oxymoron). The idea was to get a small, light-weight camera that I could use on the street but which still had high image quality and flexibility which will allow me to flex my creative spirit. Ok, ok, ok – I want the freedom I get with my iPhone with good image quality and potential for shallow depth of field. Is that so hard to ask?

My first set of “Street Walking” images are up on flickr and, although in comparison to my beloved Canon 5dMkII, the camera is a little quirky, I couldn’t be happier with the image quality and flexibility of this new friend.