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.

Dia de Los Muertos – Santa Maria Atzompa


From Wikipedia:

Day of the Dead (Spanish: Día de Muertos) is a Mexican holiday celebrated throughout Mexico and around the world in other cultures. The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. The celebration takes place on October 31, November 1 and November 2, in connection with the Christian triduum of Hallowmas: All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.Traditions connected with the holiday include building private altars called ofrendas honoring the deceased using sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favorite foods and beverages of the departed and visiting graves with these as gifts. They also leave possessions of the deceased.

I had the honor of visiting several cemeteries in the towns surrounding Oaxaca City for Dia de Los Muertos this year. These images were from the town of Santa Maria Atzompa on October 31st, though we witnessed similar sights in Xoxocotlan and San Filipe del Agua. The cemeteries were overwhelming and the task of capturing the the scene and their mood was daunting.They were both solemn and festive, traditional and modern, quite and loud all at the same time. Street festival took place just outside the gates and there was plenty of mescal being poured. At one point I found myself in a dose-doe with a drunken man in a cowboy hat, as we tried to pass on the narrow paths between the grave sites.

It has been a few weeks since my visit and the distance has only served to strengthen my memories as I look back on these scenes. The cemeteries glow with candles and the air is filled with the potent smell of wild marigolds (cempazutchil) accented with bright red cockcomb (terciopelos). It is visually overwhelming and surreal.

On a photographic note, it is maddeningly difficult to print these images. It is hard enough printing night images, but these images have an additional challenge. The natural shade of the bright orange marigold and the magenta of the red cockscomb are “out of gamut” color on most printers. I am still working through finding a solution.

In a Line


Life Story

The View from the BiciTaxi

View from the BiciTaxi

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.

Car Lights

A Woman Passes

Dance with the Blue Car


Cat in the Road

Tunnel of Lights

Study of a Trumpeter

Study of a Trumpeter

Last night a group from the Ventura County Camera Club took an excursion into Los Angeles first to visit the Annenberg Space for Photography and then to hit Hollywood Blvd after dark.

When I go out on the street, I never know what I’ll get. I am still very much in training and continually thinking about what is interesting and what is important. As well designed as they are, I don’t much like taking images of things that are standing still such window displays. I consider these “other people’s art” or OPA. I don’t much like taking pictures of the homeless or people sleeping. This is too depressing. I do like taking images of people doing things in a way to expresses their personalities.

About halfway through our walk along Hollywood Blvd, I spotted (well heard) this trumpeter (well flugelhorn player) from across the street. Look at that, he was sitting in front of a brightly colored window proudly displaying in red and green “TATTOO”

Study of a Trumpeter

I took out the bazooka (70-200) and worked this angle and waiting for the moments in between the cars and the spectators. The man noticed me and my bright white horn (why Canon, oh why make them white!) and stopped playing and started fiddling with his valves. Darn! Had I missed the opportunity?

My husband said, “he’ll be there when we come back the other way”. Knowing how many times I’ve seen situations vanish I said “No, one thing I’ve learned is that you never assume you can come back for a photograph”. So we stared across the street.

Once across the street, the man was still fiddling, but as my friend and I each added a few dollars into his hat, he started to sing and then to play again.

Study of a Trumpeter

A friend walked by, a conversation ensued, laughs and smiles were shared.

Study of a Trumpeter

One image could not do him justice. Look at how dapper he was dressed. His mouth indicates years of playing. And he had set himself up for the night on a brightly colored stage. Yes, a study was needed.

Using Light


Every other month I present a Digital Composition Challenge to the Thousand Oaks Photo Group. This months challenge is Using Light with the objective to have the photographers think about light and how it is contributing to the image. The challenge is to make photographs where light and shadow are a major contributor to the image’s story, mood, emotion, and purpose.

First some basics. We know that all photography is about the capture of light, but some photographs rely on strong and angular lighting to tell the story and convey the mood. Some photographs are about the light itself.

When thinking about using light, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Where is the light falling?
  • Why have you chosen to position the light (or position yourself to the light) at that angle?
  • What elements are lit?
  • What elements are show by shadow?
  • Can you see the light? (not just the reflectance of the light)
  • Are there significant elements created by by shadow?
  • Would changing your position to the light change the story or impact?
  • Would increasing or decreasing the amount of light change the story or impact?

Tips for Using Light

  • When outdoors – shoot during early morning or late afternoon when the low angle of the sun creates strong directional light
  • Experiment with back light and side light
  • Experiment with low-light situations with a small, yet, poignant use of light
  • If using flash – move the flash off the camera

I always showcase images of my own and others. Here is an album of images of mine and some links to other photographers.

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Home for the Holidays

Home for the Holidays
Home for the Holidays by I Nancy, on Flickr
Holiday cheer in the small town of Lone Pine, California

How many times have your heard this advice, “Follow your heart”? Most photography blogs that I read offer this guidance fairly regularly. But how do you know what is in your heart to follow? What is true to yourself? Do the blogs offer any guidance?

This is an image after my heart. Is it pretty? Will win any awards? Will a local professional judge it meritoriously? Is it technically perfect? These are all rhetorical questions. Does it strike me as poignant, interesting, emotional? The answer here is yes.

I am first attracted to this image by a visual feature; the starburst on the tractor-trailer’s headlight. However, there is also symbolism in this single star and in its the echo on a vehicle down the road; a lonely star, a lonely person but brightly lit. Look at the understated Christmas tree decorations on the lampposts. They are not large and bright and gregarious like you would find in a large town; the holiday spirit barely shining through. The large MOTEL sign sings out to visitors, they will not be home for the holidays.

I know that this image follows my heart because this is the image I chose to process first. I chose this image before my lovely black-and-whites of snow covered Lone Pine Peak and before my images of the chocolatey Alabama Hills. This is the image for which I packed that extra lens, a fast-fifty. I knew that there would be opportunity to find some bit of street photography, some bit of irony, some bit of Holiday spirit, that only this lens would do justice to.

I was forwarded a story today about a woman, Vivian Maier, a Chicago nanny who took more than 100,000 photos during her lifetime but never showed them to anyone. By some fluke her vast collection of negatives have been found and are being curated. From what I’ve seen, and others, her work ranks among the best street photography of the 20th century. Saul Leiter, a famous fashion photographer, also did street photography that was virtually unknown in his lifetime but is now highly acclaimed.

Everyone loves a beautiful photography, but you must follow your heart. Shoot what you love and love what you shoot. But don’t do as these two did, tucking these often-unflattering slices of life away for haphazard discovery. Share them. Who knows who might appreciate them and be influenced by them.