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5DMarkII 24mm f/1.4 1/40sec at f/1.4 ISO 1250
I am starting a new section call Anatomy of a Photo. I’ll post different images (mostly recent) and explain the inner workings of how they were made. Enjoy!
I was in Peru a couple of months ago; I hadn’t there for five years and I really loved it. We went to Lampa, a lovely small town, north of Julicaca. I enjoyed photographing in the late afternoon when the shadows were deep and long, however I knew that plaza would be lovely just after the sun set and the artificial lights appeared. Lampa is 15 degrees south of the equator so the dusk does not linger. The sun set at 5:35pm on July 11th. I figured there would be 10 – 15 minutes of “dull” light before the ambient artificial light glowed with the same intensity as the lingering blue in the sky. Then there would only be 10 to 15 minutes, maximum, to photograph before the sky turned too dark.
The first evening I brought my 5DMarkII with a 24mm f/1.4 lens and photographed hand holding, occasionally with an off-camera flash with a 1/2CTO gel. It was fine and I got some reasonable images. However, the church was a dominating presence and it begged to be sharp. The next evening I returned with my tripod and set up near a food stall and waited for people to cross into my frame. It is not a busy plaza, even on a Saturday night. I felt very lucky to have this confluence of activity. I only had ONE opportunity, and ONE click of the shutter when the spacing between the subjects was perfect.
It was taken on 7/11/2011 at 5:53 PM. A couple of minutes later the sky was too dark.
So why did I use such a shallow depth of field since I was on a tripod? Because I needed a relatively fast shutter speed so that my subjects would not ghost out. I did want a bit of motion blur but not too much; the subjects had to be recognizable. The church was at “infinity” and I almost parallel to it so I know it would be sharp even at the very shallow f/stop of 1.4. (You get what you pay for… the Canon 24mm f/1.4 fast lens is expensive but sharp). I kept my White Balance on Daylight to preserve the Kelvin temperature of the various mixed lighting. ISO 1250 was as high as I wanted to go with this camera.
Any other questions?
I’m mid-flight from New Delhi to Bangkok, and then tomorrow I’m on my way to Myanmar. I have just enough time to reflect a smidgeon on the photography tour I just led for National Geographic to Rajasthan. One of many things I love about National Geographic tours is that they are so international in nature; there were avid photographers from the US, Canada, Hong Kong, Thailand, and France. It was a group of singular synchronicity and fun.
We had many lively discussions. They had very thought provoking questions for me as we went bumping along in our magical bus through the desert of Rajasthan, such as “What is the element that is most important for a photograph?” What makes a photograph great? I’m sure all of you will have your own answer but here is mine, quite simplied.
Those of you who have taken workshops with me know that I talk about how photographs have the possibility of great Color, Light, Action (large in your face action or just a twinkle in the eye), or Pattern (or you could say Composition). CLAP, if you need an acronym.
You need two of these elements to create a photograph but to make a memorial one, one that SINGS… you need an added factor. It could be a punctuation of another element (as I discussed in an earlier blog post). However, I think it is more than that…it is when there is a harmonic convergence of the emotion of the photographer with the emotion of the moment (even if it is inanimate). In a way it is a photographic epiphany. These are rare, but it what all virtuosos of light aim for in their art.
And, because they are rare, this is why I continue to photograph. I don’t expect to reach my photographic Everest; I just love the journey through the ups and downs and many plateaus.
© nevada wier India, Jodphur. Evening Street Scene.
© nevada wier India, Rajasthan. Early morning Pushkar Fair.
© nevada wier India, Agra. Taj Mahal.
October 28 Update: I just arrived at the Pushkar camel fair and have 15 minutes (and a good Indian cell/bluetooth connection) to explain a bit about the images I posted the other night. The updates are in this color red.
October 26: I don’t have much time to write but here are a couple of images from Rajasthan on the sand dunes! I’m leading a National Geographic Expeditions tour and we are having an amazing time. More on the photo technique tomorrow. but for now enjoy … the natural light and exuberance
This image was taken with a 100-400mm lens probably close to 400mm. It is not easy to find the perfect sand dune – where people and camels can walk right on top of the ridge so you can see their feet kicking the sand. So this was a find! We were riding our camels in the evening, spotted some local girls and enticed them to come with us to dance on the dunes. Because of the dusty sky the sun did not flare into the lens. I have so many great ones that it is hard to choose my favorite. I surely do not mind that!
and here is an image combining natural light with a bit of off-camera fill flash with a warming gel
This image was taken the next night at Jamba. This is a spectacular place but not the “perfect sand dune” for silouhettes showing feet so I bent very low, almost lying down, and photographed upwards. I had a slightly amber gel inside a diffuser on my flash which was held by my left hand outwards and upwards, at -1 EV. I took a light reading off the sky (about 20 minutes after sunset) and held the camera as steady as I could with my right hand. But I wasn’t worried about camera motion or the fact that 1/3 sec. at f/3.2; I knew the flash would give the illusion of sharpness. I positioned myself so I could see the two men and the camel in the background. I love images with depth.
And now I’m off to enjoy Pushkar! more camels. more images. more fun.
Even though I travel to so-called exotic locations it doesn’t mean that great images will automatically appear. There are the same creative challenges as photographing in your hometown (although there are very different social challenges). The main difference is that we are usually very jazzed and ready to photograph whenever we travel into our own terra incognito. Yet, this is often when the joy of travel overcomes artistic insight. Exoticism should not carry an image; it should stand by its own photographic gravity.
I have often said that there are four possibilities in a color image – the possibility of intense color, great light, strong action or gesture, and compelling pattern or composition (CLAP). There has to be at least two of these if an image is to have impact. And, sometimes one of these elements adds strong punch, zing, woo-hoo, or punctuation. Like putting an exclamation at the end of a sentence. One takes notice. The punctuation is the zing to an already commendable image.
Recently I was in Nagaland of northeastern India right on the India/Myanmar border. Literally, I was standing on the border; it ran through the middle of the headman’s house. There was serious opium imbibing in extremely dark rooms. I blessed the high ISO capabilities of my Canon 5D Mark II since using a tripod was not an option. However, I didn’t want to photograph the usual “person in front of a fire” tribal image. BTDT. Then I noticed the serrated light falling on the face of one of men. I balanced my camera on my knees, framed him on the right side, waited for the right moment, took a deep breath and let it out, then ripped off five frames. (Even at ISO 1600 with a 28mm f/1.8 lens I was down to 1/5 sec at f/1.8). As I hoped, the middle frame was sharp. And the punctuation of the light makes the image. Zing!!
© nevada wier 2009 India. Nagaland State. Longwa Village.
DETAIL OF FACE
Here is another example from an older image taken in Ladakh, India. I don’t know how long the shutter speed was (film days) but it was long enough to “ghost” out the image of the head monk crossing the room (no, it is not a curtain). I was on a tripod (no way to hand hold an image like this one) using Kodachrome 200. The punctuation is in the face peering through the ghosting, it is the only frame that worked.
© nevada wier Ladakh, India. Rizong Monastery.
DETAIL, IN GHOSTING, OF A PILGRIM’S FACE
I have increasingly becoming less interested in photographing a literal moment in time — a portrait, a moment when someone is working, an expression, a stunning landscape, and such. Oh yes, I still photograph these, but, while editing they do not interest me as much as before. I am more intrigued with the moments that a casual glance cannot see. Only a virtuoso of seeing can notice them, and only a master of a camera can express them. These images exist in shadows, fleeting expressions, and wiry juxtapositions.
I think travel (or should I say “destination”) photographers go through certain phases; I know I did:
First: Figuring out how to use a camera and just pointing the lens wherever.
Second: Clicking when you see a moment you like.
Third: Deciphering more of the camera and then clicking more deliberately.
Fourth: Feeling confident about your photographic skill and so photographing with enthusiasm but not intent.
Fifth: Starting to understand that the combination of a camera, lens, and sensor (or film) has a creative potential of its own.
Sixth: Traveling further afield with a camera, feeling confident, and then the emotion of the travel smothers creative photographic expression. (An amazing travel experience doesn’t necessarily translate to amazing images.)
Seventh: The technical level excellerates and expectations rise, images become technically lovely (perhaps like a photographer you admire) yet they are soulless.
Eighth: The photographic journey eventually begins… and expressive levels become very personal.
Ninth: You hate everything you have ever done and see all the imperfections.
Ten: Photography becomes more than a record or documentation of a journey; it becomes an expression of self, place, and beyond. And it is more challenging than ever before.
© nevada wier 2009 Assam, Manjuli Island. Rass Dance.
June 5 – 7, 2009
Creativity in Travel Photography ( FULL)
THE JULIA DEAN PHOTO WORKSHOPS
VENICE BEACH, CA www.juliadean.com
July 12-18, 2009 & May 2 – 8, 2010
On Assignment in Santa Fe
July 19 – 25, 2009
Outdoor and Travel Photography (FULL)
SANTA FE WORKSHOPS
At this point I am not offering other workshops in 2009. I will post more of my 2010 workshops as soon as I know the dates.
Sadly the Sundance Photographic Workshops have closed. They will be missed.
© nevada wier Jaipur, India 2009
The Santa Fe Workshops recently started offering mentorships with a select group of professional photographers. It is a brilliant concept, for photographers who want to work in depth or have a consultation with a particular professional photographer. (Check it out http://www.santafeworkshops.com/mentorships/).
I recently had a one-hour conversation with Deigh Bates (http://deighlight.wordpress.com/) about his photography. I thought I was an interesting choice for him as a Mentor since he is primarily a landscape photographer and I am primarily a people photographer. But he was looking for a different perspective outside the nature crowd. And, I certainly have a different perspective. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation and it got me thinking about a number of topics.
One of which is … tripods. I rarely use a tripod, except when it is absolutely necessary.
Nature photographers tend to gasp when I say that they use the tripod too much or that depth of field is not that important. Tripods are limiting and people tend to get stuck photographing from whatever height and angle in which they set it up. I find that people do not experiment with creative angles, such laying on the ground and shooting upwards, or getting up higher than their tripod can reach, or experimenting with different tilts of the camera. I find that people just get stuck in “shoulds” when that tripod is set up.
And, one of those “shoulds” is that most everything should be in-focus. This “should” extends far beyond nature photography. It appears to be primarily a concern for western-culture photographers. I am not exactly sure where it comes from since the early photography is quite dreamy; I think it has to do with the advent of instantmatic cameras like the Brownie (I would love to have your thoughts on this). Of course, not all nature photography is f/16 and beyond; plenty of photographers experiment with “selective” focus but primarily with flowers and details and water. And, there are some spectacular nature photographers like William Neill http://www.williamneill.com/ and Eddie Soloway http://www.eddiesoloway.com/, who push their imagery into new directions. I just would like to see more emerging nature photographers let go of conventional moorings and experiment A LOT. Goggle “bokeh” and start photographing what you imagine, not just what you see.
I will have more to say about my conversation with Deigh in future posts because I think he has an extraordinarily open mind. And, he photographs almost every day in his environs (that beats my commitment to photography!). His dedication and photography are exemplatory! I applaud him.
A final word about tripods: Yes, I rarely use a tripod; however, I know intimately that it is not enough to up the ISO on the camera (a digital photography crutch); sometimes I REALLY need the tripod to avoid camera shake and occasionally for a particular depth-of-field that I cannot get handholding the image… just like I used to shoot with film. 95% hand-held, and 5% tripod.
© nevada wier 2009 Rajasthan, India
However, I do promise to write more after April. I have been on the road since October in Myanmar, India, Thailand, Ecuador, the Carribean, and currently I’m back in India. I’m in Mumbai at the moment, taking a rest after running a National Geographic Expedition in Rajasthan (if you have never experienced the crazy colorful festival of Holi it is a must!). Next week I’m off to Gujurat to continue working on my project Outer India.
One of the main points I was pounding into a number of people in my fabulous merry Rajasthan group was to avoid “centeritis”. EVERYTHING in the frame has to matter. (And you should know exactly what percentage of the image is actually being shown in the view finder; only a few high end cameras are 100%. Check your manual in the back under Specifications). Yes, everything in an image has to matter, even the space around a portrait. You will rarely see someone in the middle of my frame unless I have a specific reason. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to jam “things” into your image, or smear a face to the edges (unless you want to) … space… can have its place also.
Here a few photos from a workshop I taught in Bangkok, Thailand a couple of months ago in January.
This face begs to be centered in the frame, yet please notice that I only included what is necessary in the frame (I do not crop my images; I challenge myself to create images in the frame).
But most of my images are not centered.
© nevada wier 2009 Thailand
So avoid “Centeritis” … it is a prevalent disease in photography!
Forgive me! I have been traveling non-stop since the beginning of October in countries that have zero to limited Internet connection (and isn’t that a wonderful thing!). I was in Myanmar (zero Internet), India (limited, in the rural areas of Rajasthan and Gujurat), and just recently in the Galapagos, Ecuador (hey, too much to see and do to think about a blog!). Here are a few photos from the Galapagos.
Ah, Lensbaby… helping me stay creative. www.lensbaby.com
© nevada wier Ecuador. Galapagos 2008 (Lensbaby)
© nevada wier Ecuador. Galapagos 2008 (Lensbaby)
© nevada wier Ecuador. Galapagos 2008 (Lensbaby and Digital Infrared)