When my husband and I just want to get out of the house on a hot summer day we will often head to one of the small Malibu beaches. We take the windy 30 minute drive through the Santa Monica mountains, find an open parking spot on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), and step out to a refreshing ocean breeze and air temperatures at least 10-degrees cooler.
The free beaches in LA are a great social equalizer open to all walks of life and economic classes. There is always a story and I always bring a camera. Although the direct lighting is often a struggle, reflecting harshly on the great Pacific Ocean, the payoff are the people, timeless setting, and the stories to be found.
This image, like many street images, was a gift with all the elements aligning just right. I am on wooden staircase leading down from PCH. To get to the beach, you must first cross this strip of asphalt. It was likely once a piece of PCH itself but is now closed providing pedestrian access to the coast.
This littleman surfer was walking up the road. I am attracted to by color and gesture – orange and blue complementary colors, the turquoise of his boogie board tying in with the ocean scene. He glances up at me, but keeps walking. He is trailed by a sandy-white dog dragging his leash, I do not know if they belong to each other. The dog’s color is in harmony with the road slowly returning to its natural unpaved state. These two subjects are tied together by the nostalgic lifeguard stand in the mid ground, adorned by a single seagull perched in profile on the roof. There are many other small details adding to the story: the single communication line leading into the lifeguard station and the silhouette of the tiny people in the surf. The one tiny person standing with arms slightly raised and feet spread provides a special visual gift by showing this fully detailed outline. Even the scraggy row of cactus at the bottom of the image provides locational cues and a compositional base to this southern California scene.
It is a bright sunny day. Before getting out of the car, I mount a fixed 50mm equivalent lens and set the camera to f/11, ISO 400, with the center focus point turned on. Images will appear and disappear quickly. There will be no time to frame with a zoom or fuss with focus or other settings. Little Man gave me this gift within 5-minutes of our arrival.
There is a big dog show twice a year at the Ventura County Fairgrounds just 30 minutes north of where I live. As a non-dog person, I love to watch how people over-extend themselves on their dogs. Here are a few scenes.
I’ve been building my portfolio over the past 6-7 years, but have struggled with how to present the work. I do not tackle big projects or causes for various reasons. I could just pull together the “best of” portfolio, but I want a little more than that. So instead, I have create a portfolio of Couplets. A couplet is a pair of lines of metre in poetry usually comprised two lines that rhyme. The word “couplet” comes from the French word meaning “two pieces of iron riveted or hinged together.”
Here I present visual couplets, comprised of two images that are visually hinged together by what I consider to be the core concepts in photography: theme, composition, color, gesture.
When it comes to my street photography, I am heavily influenced by the work of Alex Webb and David Alan Harvey. Both of these photographers are known for their highly layered complex images with compositions that play with the juxtapositions of near and far subjects. Though these compositions are quite complex, each image is collection of clearly identifiable scenes and interactions, each playing out in their own space within the image.
Here is a set of images from Santa Monica Beach taken during the busy July 4th weekend. The bright sun and harsh light adds to this colorful and active scene. Images were taken with the Olympus OM-D EM-1 and 17mm lens (35mm effect focal) prime lens. Although you may think that with these more complicated the scenes, a zoom lens would help manage what is in the frame, however, I find it easiest when I stick to a fixed focal length and move my feet to find the right location then wait for the moment.
Ulysses, by James Joyce, chronicles the peripatetic appointments and encounters of Leopold Bloom in Dublin in the course of an ordinary day, 16 June 1904. It opens with a scene overlooking the Forty Foot, a local and historic swimming cove outside Dublin in Dun Laoghaire.
Chris and Ian, members of the Dublin Camera Club, brought us here during our stay in Dublin, but we would have no idea that we would be treated to a show of youthful diving. The air temperature was about 55-degrees F and who knows how cold the water was. But to these Dublin youth, it was a warm and sunny evening.
I want to talk about this image – what makes the image stand out for me and why I put it in black and white (something I rarely do), I want to illustrate how I got the shot and what I was thinking. It is a process I use often and sets me up for being able to capturing these poignant fractions of time.
Choosing the frame
I took 36 images to get this shot. This image is frame number 10.
I chose this particular frame from the sequence because it shows clearly a figure and a dog miniaturized by the breadth and majesty of the forest. There is not a lot of detail in either the future or the dog and this helps the viewer appreciate the size and magnificence of the forest around them. They are clearly recognizable, however, and in each occupy own separate space in the image. The figure, all in silhouette, looks mysterious with her jacket forming the shape of a cape. The silhouette is also fully surrounded by lighter areas making the shape standout without ambiguity. In art they call this using “figure and ground” to make the shapes stand out. The dog, is also in a figure-ground relationship with the background, only in this case a white dog against the shadow of the path floor. The fast that the figure is black on white and the dog is white on black increases the visual enjoyment of the image. Finally there is the forest and the diffuse light hitting all the bright green spring leaves in such a way as to highlight every little layer and texture.
I rarely turn my digital images to black and white, not because I have anything against black and white, but because I usually use the color in my images as an additional form of contrast, focus, and emotion. For this image, however, it is too green – all green. The beauty of this image are the layers of texture and light patterns in the leaves and the use of figure ground and I think black and white will show this best.
Getting the shot
If this were a roll of 36 exposure film, this is what you would see.
Novice photographers often try to capture these types of images with a chase the image sort of process: “see image, hope your camera is set ok, pray you focus well, try to grab the shot”. Rarely am I successful in taking “grab” shots using this method, instead I have developed a discipline of looking for situations that could present opportunities in the near future and following my instinct and waiting for the image to materialize, as was the case for this image.
I was standing on the steps of Moore Hall and had just finished taking this shot of the graffiti I found inside. I turned around and saw the forest and the path and liked this higher vantage point.
I was lagging my friends because I was taking many pictures in the forest on our way to Moore Hall. They had already moved off the scene and where off to the right. As I turned around I noticed the figure coming up the path. My first thought was to wonder if something unusual would happen to make this more than just a “person on a path” image. I framed up the shot, checked my camera settings and dug into my position.
(Frame 2) As the figure moved closer I noticed that her jacket looked like a cape
– that would create a nice extra piece of the story. I started shooting, not really confident that my tiny photographer brain would know, in the moment, exactly what combination of person, path, and forest would have impact.
(Frame 6) A little closer and I noticed the dogs. “Dogs!”, my tiny photographer brain in my tiny photographer voice exclaimed, “A cape and dogs!”. “Oh no, two dogs! Why two dogs? I need just one dog.” My tiny photographer voice continued jabber on. I continued to shoot.
(Frame 7) One dog lags behind and I evaluate the scene: a figure in a cape, with a dog, on a path in the forest. I figure is nice with the cape-like silhouette, the dog still just a speck. I keep following the scene as it unfolds, carefully holding my composition as best I can.
(Frame 8) Good, the dog is now in profile. It is recognizable as a dog, even at this small size. What will it do next. I just follow the dog. Taking my pictures to capture the dog gestures and relationship with the unidentified “caped” master. This is perhaps the most important moment of getting the shot.
(Frame 10) The dog stretches. I hardly notice that this will be the keeper, I’m simply keyed into taking a shot at each different gesture of the dog.
(Frame 15) The dog starts to run ahead. Just as with Frame 8, this is another important moment to notice as it constitutes a pivotal point in time for the next potential perfect alignment of juxtaposition and gesture. Another shot might still be in the future. Will the dog turn and do something interesting a little closer? As it happens, it doesn’t materialize.
(Frame 20) Sniffing the ground, the two dogs are separated, this is promising, my tiny photographer brain thinks.
(Frame 28) One dog is now out of the picture and never really made an interesting gesture. The figure is not in the light with fully recognizable features, and the small dog by her side. I keep shooting, but notice that when the dogs run, my shutter is really to slow and the mystery is gone as soon as all the figures are in the light.
The scene is over. Did I get one? I remember the steps and the concentration, I’m pretty sure I held my composition throughout the sequence. Did I get a moment, a gesture, and a play of light all to coincide? I would only be able to evaluate my success by looking at the whole sequence after the emotion had passed.