Going Beyond The Lens

June would normally be the start of my workshop season, a wonderful four or five month period that I spend each year making images with students from around the world.  This year will be different of course, the world has far more important things to spend time on right now than photo workshops, so I will just be running one small course in Vancouver this summer for students here in Canada.

Spending time with my workshop participants is a privilege that goes far beyond just taking photographs, something that I was reminded of today when I found a few student images on my iPad from years gone by.  I am inspired by the work that my students create and by the conversations that we have, so I’d like to share these images with you now.  To my students whose work is featured here:  I apologize for not listing your name by the image… I am just working quickly from my iPad and don’t have the course rosters with me (please feel free to provide a link to your website or social media accounts in the comments).  

And, for those who are struggling right now:  struggling with illness, struggling with racial injustice, struggling financially due to the COVID-19 lockdown, just… struggling… please keep your heads held high and remember this quote from Dr. King:

“We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.”

Stay safe and focused right now everybody.  Be kind to each other, and to yourselves.  And, continue to make photos.  Lots and lots of photos.  🙂

Cheers,

Ian


Wednesday | Day Three

The forecasted rain arrived in full force, dark skies and wind combining to make it feel like fall and not early summer.  Water can add much to a photograph, creating beautiful light and reflections, but it’s important to be flexible during workshops so that the class isn’t spending 8 hours straight in the rain.

With that in mind, we chose to start the day with an indoor shoot at the beautiful Musée d’Orsay (I love this museum’s architecture and the interplay between light and shadow that you find there).  I have photographed the d’Orsay many times before, so while our students were working on their assignments I spent a bit of time making abstract images and silhouettes rather than classic “museum” photographs.  The Musée d’Orsay also has two wonderful restaurants, so we capped off our visit with a meal spent talking about photography and art.

After lunch we took the Metro to Sacré-Cœur, spending time shooting the beautiful Montmartre area.  This is one of my favourite parts of the city to visit in inclement weather, the rain somehow complimenting the cobblestone streets and overall romance found there.  Photos always seem to come easily in Montmartre. 

That evening, after dinner, I sat by an open window editing photos.  I listened to the rain pounding the streets below and enjoyed a cool breeze that was coming in through the window.  Exhaustion finally caught up to me around midnight, just as the clouds parted to reveal the stars above.  

It was a perfect ending to another wonderful day in Paris.

Click here to view part SEVEN of this series

What Lies Behind : Photographic Insights – Volume Five

“The eyes are the window to your soul.”

– William Shakespeare

The difference between an “ok” photograph and a great one is often a game of inches.  Consider a simple image of a couple standing at the alter during a wedding ceremony.  This photo can be bland, mundane even.  But, if you capture a moment when the couple glances at each other, smiling nervously with their eyes full of love, then that “ok” picture can become perfect.

Photography is often a game of inches.

Two of the things that consistently elevate photographs for me are emotion and eye contact (given that most of my photos have people in them).  Eye contact in street photography can be a controversial thing for some people; with many purists subscribing to the belief that it isn’t a street photograph if there is interaction between the photographer and the subject.  I care little for rules like this, however, and love it when my subject looks right into the lens as I click the shutter.  It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does I often find the resulting image to be a powerful one.

I took this photograph a few years ago, while I was wandering the streets of Los Angeles with fellow Official Fujifilm X Photographer Rinzi Ruiz.  We were walking slowly, enjoying a long conversation about photography, when I saw two things at the same time:  The first was this lady walking down the street, looking wonderful in her blue and pink outfit.  The second was the wall to my left, covered in blue and pink posters.  I am always looking for elements in a photograph that compliment or contrast with each other, so it was easy to see an image coming together as she walked towards us.

I crossed the street quickly, tweaking my Exposure Compensation slightly to adjust for the bright LA sunshine (my camera was in Aperture Priority Mode with Auto-ISO engaged).  I snapped a few candid frames as the lady entered the frame, but then she paused and looked directly at me.  I smiled, asked if I could make a quick portrait of her and, after a slight nod, clicked the shutter one more time (capturing the image you see above).  Within seconds she continued walking down the sidewalk, I rejoined Rinzi, and we made our way down the streets of Los Angeles looking for the next photo.

That night, as I was viewing the image on my iPad, I was struck by the intensity of her gaze.  The sunglasses definitely add a layer of mystery, but you can feel her looking directly into the lens.  It feels powerful, much more so than any of the candid photos where she was looking down the street.  This connection, this human connection, is something I love about street and portrait photography.

Post production was very quick for this image:  I elected to use a square crop to remove distracting elements on either side of the subject.  I also had to recover some bright highlights on the wall behind the subject, but the rest of the image is just Fujifilm’s Classic Chrome film simulation being awesome. 

I think that a few lessons can be learned from an image like this:

  1. Always be looking when you are out on the streets.  This day was about spending time with a peer while I was on vacation, but photo opportunities will always present themselves if you are tuned in to your environment.
  2. Don’t just take one image when you see a scene coming together, work it to increase your chances of getting the best image possible.  Here I shot an image from across the street, grabbed a few candid frames as I was finding my final composition, and finally took this one during our brief interaction.  Working the scene might mean trying different angles, different compositions, shooting it in black and white or dragging your shutter to create a sense of motion.  Much like shooting a portrait session, the first photo you take is rarely the best one.  Investing time into a great scene is worth it.
  3. Don’t be nervous around people.  It is common for new photographers to feel awkward photographing strangers, be it candidly on the street or in a more formal portrait setting.  But, the truth is that people are almost always wonderful, the world over, if you simply reach out to them and make a human connection.  There was a time in my life when I would have put the camera down and nervously looked away when this wonderful lady looked right at me, but that always resulted in a lost opportunity and a lost photograph.  Overcoming shyness and embracing the connection that comes from direct eye contact will only make your photographs better.

I wish I had been teaching the day I took this image.  The main subject is wonderful, the photo provided a compositional lesson about using colour palettes to tie a subject and background together, it was an opportunity to reinforce the power of direct eye contact, and I got to engage with a stranger on the street and ask to make her portrait.  The whole experience only took 2 or 3 minutes, but it is another in a long list of rewarding experiences that photography has gifted me.

Until next time!

Ian

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About this series:  

Ansel Adams once said:  

“The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.”

This statement is absolutely true.  To quote David Hobby, “we should all strive to become thinking photographers.”  I love it when my students ask questions about a photograph because I can see their minds at work.  Sometimes these questions focus on how an image was made (the craft), sometimes they focus on why it was made (the vision), but they always show a student’s desire to improve their craft.

When I look at another photographer’s image I am interested in the photographer’s thought process:  What drew their eye in the first place?  What did they see in their mind?  What was their process for the creation of the image?  How did they go about achieving success?

With this in mind, I have spent the last year writing a book featuring my images and the stories behind them.  The book will come out later this year, but in the spirit of open source education I have decided to publish 2 dozen of these photos and essays here as well.  My hope is that everyone can benefit in a small way from this sharing of ideas, much like I have benefited from other photographers who shared with me.