Upstairs, Downstairs

Upstairs, Downstairs
Upstairs, Downstairs by I Nancy, on Flickr

When I saw this situation, I was reminded of one Alfred Steiglitz’s famous photograph The Steerage. Steiglitz, in his photograph,  perfectly juxtaposes Jewish men in full morning prayer on the lower, steerage, deck of a ship against the more casual crowds in bowlers and straw hats above.

In this scene, I was able to use the lights and hand railings in the bottom part of the image to draw the viewer all the way through and into the scene. With the woman rushing up the ramp set back as well. The upstairs scene needed to take care of itself, as I was concentrated on the woman below and her positioning against to get her lit within the tunnel. I like the man on the left, his face full visible between the bars, and I think he brings a sense of order and meaning to the top image.

The image is divided by  the dramatically stylized art-deco STATION sign that is so characteristic of Los Angeles Union Station. Travelers familiar with Union Station will recognize this sign immediately.

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.

The Good Stuff

The Good Stuff

Artist and Geek collided for this shot at the Ventura County Fair.Night at the Fair

Like a hunter in pursuit of that elusive prey, I’ve been in pursuit of night-time fair shots for some time. Mostly they end up in the bit-bucket, a jumble of over exposed lights and chaotic people. (A notable exception is my 2nd Place Fair Theme win at this years Ventura County Fair. It was taken last summer at the Santa Monica Pier). Given that luck and quantity weren’t helping with the quality of my output, a bit more thought was needed. Time to get the Artist and the Geek to talk to one another.

I’ll explain this one like I have a few others since listening to David duChemin’s CreativeLIVE Vision Driven Photography webinar. First a list of what I saw and felt. Then lists of how I went about the Frame, Capture, and the Process using the list as a guide.

The List – what I saw and felt, what I want to convey in the photography

  • Lights and bright colors
  • Excitement
  • Vendor booths of junk, pure junk
  • People, together and separate
  • Colors
  • Light in the darkness
  • People are part of the scene, but not the scene itself

The Frame – what will I put in the frame

  • I really wanted to see people interacting with the brightly lit vendor food booths. Here I saw these three friends in front of this booth. There was a lot to attract me to this subject. They were there for quite some time so I had time to think and compose. They were well back lit. It was a group of 3 (perfect!). There were good colors and contrasts of the group – red, black, and white.
  • The background booth was as colorful and audacious as it gets – The Good Stuff – all junk, pure junk. Then think about the friendship of the group of 3, hanging at the VC Fair for the evening. Now, isn’t that the Good Stuff too?
  • The rest just sort of fell into place – nice oblique angle, balance using the rule of thirds, timing getting the rest of the path clear.

The Capture – what camera settings, lenses and why

  • The oblique angle gives me some excitement
  • The exposure was the difficult part. The obvious solution to high-contrast situations is HDR – so I bracketed -2, 0, +2. This would allow me to capture the detail inside the building as well as the outside. I also knew that I would need to reblend in the middle-exposure of the people in order to avoid ghosting of movement.
  • 55mm – really just a standard street length. Let the building and the scene do the speaking.

The Process – post processing

  • I’m not a fan of wild HDR, but it is quite useful for these high-contrast scenes. For this I wanted lots of detail within the image, but keep the people as silhouettes with just the edge light. A combo of Photomatix from the RAW images and tweaks of the tonemapped image in Lightroom.
  • Then I processed the middle exposure to match the HDR and using Photoshop and layers, I masked the people in over the HDR to remove the ghosting effects of the people movement.

The result is a bright and dark scene. The colors of the fair and the emotion of friendship.