May 30, 2009

Just another wall

I love to find such little gems quietly hiding all around me, just waiting to be discovered... This interesting composition decorated one of the walls of the courtyard behind a pub, where we halted for a drink after a busy shooting day. And there it was!

The late afternoon sun puts the vivid painted wall to fire. The clogs in the weathered wooden crate offer a festival of hues and textures. The bucket below, the long bolt holding it up through a crack in the crate and the strange arrangement of twigs on the side (still no idea what these were about, if anything?) complete the scene.

I must have taken over 10 shots, varying angles and framing, but only this one recorded in full what I saw. Diagonals, attraction points, lines leading the eye... all classic rules of composition seem to be condensed into a single example.

And the beer was tasty and refreshing as well!

Gear notes: D200, 18-200VR

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May 28, 2009

Sign of the times

A fairly simple shot this time. I noticed these typical Parisian lanterns close to the Notre Dame cathedral. I was immediately struck by the contrast between the old (style) lanterns and the busy collection of stickers and graffiti covering the contemporary road sign. Another example of 'cohabitation'!

The composition works well due to the two crossing diagonal patterns. The set of lanterns and the sign both come close to intersections of 'rule of thirds' lines. The classical building below gives the frame some stability and anchors the scene in the its surroundings. The few branches left also add to the context.

Not much post-processing: a slight brightness and vibrance boost to make the blue spring sky stand out even more, and another touch to eliminate the visible corner vignetting produced by my trusty 28-200mm zoom lens. That 'old' Nikkor from the analog days currently enjoys a second life as a walkaround lens on my full-frame digital body.

Gear notes: D700, 28-200G

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May 24, 2009

Underground poetry

First, the facts. The city of Antwerp is located on the right bank of the river Scheldt. Since 1933, pedestrians and cyclists can go through the Sint-Anna tunnel to get to the left bank. This 572 meter long construction, 31 meter below ground level, has become a popular photographic icon for the city.

I recently went down to have look at what might very well be the longest poem in the world: a work by Antwerp's city poet Joke van Leeuwen titled 'Eleven hundred and forty-four meter poem'. It measures, as the title says, 1,144 metres and is displayed across both sides of the tiled walls in the pedestrian tunnel. If you want to go see (and read) it yourself, you should hurry: the adhesive letters will be removed by the end of next week.

I had some fun trying to combine the stillness of the words with the fleeting rush of people passing by. I ended up shooting a few bursts at slow shutter speed, and the image above came out as one of the better. Back home, I decided for a grainy black & white treatment - it's about art, after all...

A little irony: the Dutch verb 'stappen' means 'to step', but in this picture there are no pedestrians to see... Maybe I should have read the whole poem first, and looked for a more suitable word play?

Gear notes: D300, 18-200VR

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May 21, 2009

From a jungle near you

This picture comes from my archives. Some two years ago, a new addition opened at the nearby Planckendael animal park and zoo: a huge glass-and-steel greenhouse to shelter Asian plants, flowers and (small) animals within a year-round rain forest environment.

An artificial waterfall covers the concrete wall at one end of the building. It is in fact part of the setup to maintain the tropical temperature and humidity conditions. The builders took some care to 'dress it up' but it remains obviously man-made.

By crouching (really) low on the walkway, and carefully moving and zooming around for a while, I managed to find a viewpoint from where the illusion of 'real' wilderness was maximal. Steadying my heavy zoom lens on a stone and taking full advantage of its vibration reduction feature, I was able to shoot at 1/5 of a second (for a milky blurred water flow) and f/11 (for a generous depth of field). Other than the usual exposure and contrast tweaking, I only had to darken the top left corner in post-processing: a medium brown wooden beam otherwise would seriously spoil the game.

If you're willing to spend some time and effort to discover a different and less 'conventional' point of view, the world near you may open up and reveal unexpected fantasies!

Gear notes: D200, 70-200/2.8VR

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May 17, 2009

And the winner is...

It was an early Saturday morning in March, and I was on my way to a day of shooting the Paris streets with my friend Sab Will. I was about to take the metro at the Trocadéro station, which a few days later would close for a thorough upgrade.

I spotted the colorful chairs across the tracks, and immediately realized I 'had' a picture. I was left with only a few moments without trains or passengers 'disturbing' the image, I managed to capture no more than two frames.

What attracted me was the simplicity of the composition: strong horizontals, the cold fluorescent lights, the blotches of vibrant green and red, the desolate name sign, the already emptied ad spaces... I kept the tracks and ceiling in the frame on purpose: they strengthen the panoramic view, create some distance from the camera and thus add to the 'size' of the scene.

This image happened to me in a brief flash, and though I waited a little longer the opportunity for more shots was gone: life-as-usual in the metro station simply took over. But I have been wondering since that day what stories I could have created on top of this simple scene, if only I had been in control. Just image one or two willing people that you could direct to play a part in some tableau vivant...?

Gear notes: D700, AF-D 35/2.0

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May 11, 2009

The enchanted castle

This night shot features the castle of Ooidonk (near Gent, Belgium), taken around ten o'clock on an April evening, after a day of open air shooting in the beautiful surroundings of the Leie river.

I passed by the spot the picture was taken from earlier that day, and the idea of returning there after nightfall had come up immediately. I really should have gotten out a few hours earlier to take advantage of the 'blue hour' - just after sunset, for a better light in the sky. But at that time I was enjoying dinner with a fine group of friends/ photographers...

I realized it would take some care in shooting and post-processing to preserve the mood of the moment. So I came prepared with my tripod, set the D700 to ISO 200 (bye bye noise) and to RAW (keep all options open!), and shot three frames at 1 EV difference, by varying exposure time:

Post-processing started in Lightroom, moving to Photomatix Pro to combine the three images in 'exposure blending' mode. I much prefer this dynamic range processing approach to the 'traditional' HDR techniques, as it leads to a more natural 'photographic' look of the final result.

The -2 EV image still shows burnt highlights (most noticeable on the tower roof in the middle of the frame); so I created an additional -4 EV variant in Lightroom (making a virtual copy of the -2 EV NEF file and reducing exposure by -2 EV), and then went back to Photomatix for a blend of now 4 images. Still not ideal, I should have made more bracketed shots to begin with, but anyhow a noticeable improvement.

A couple of graduated fills helped balance the various parts of the image (top/bottom, left/middle/right): there was for example a very bright spotlight barely out of frame at the right hand side, which required some local darkening. I warmed the colors and pushed the saturation (or rather, the vibrance) to get closer to my recollection of the scene. Finally, I added a more panoramic cropping.

I have taken the habit of exploring how my shots turn out in a black & white version. The one below came by playing around with contrast, adding a touch of vignetting and pushing the crop a little further. But I still prefer the color version!

Gear notes: D700, AF-S 24-70/2.8

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May 8, 2009

All is quiet...

We had the pleasure to spend an early February weekend at the Belgian coast, staying in a cosy little apartment owned by close friends. The weather was frisk and windy, but mostly dry.

One afternoon, I was looking out from our 6th floor balcony onto the mostly deserted beach. The already lowering sun in a fully overcast sky threw very soft light across water and land - God's own softbox at its best.

I took a number of shots of the scene ahead of me: water, sand and sky blending into each other, creating a layered geometric pattern. I especially like the subtle tones and textures in the image above. The lonely strollers and their dog complete the picture just fine.

What more does one need?

Gear notes: D700, 70-300VR

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May 5, 2009

The writing on the wall

On an afternoon stroll (with my camera, of course) through the city of Antwerp, I ran into the above scene at a quiet street corner: a true expression of contemporary urban culture.

A number of elements make this picture attractive and interesting: the chaotic graffiti with a couple of rather enigmatic glyphs; the blotches of fluorescent blue, orange and yellow contrasting with the pastel-ish green and brown; the scraps of paper on and around the door frame; the cigarette stumps on the floor...

Not much of a composition going on here, there was only one reasonable viewpoint to capture the image. If you insist, there's a subtle play of light and shadow adding a diagonal accent.

Then I noticed the rusty contraption to the right of the door, obviously a mechanism to raise and lower some kind of rolling shutter, and clearly not being usedfor a long time.

Googling for the "Jero" brand visible on the device, I learned that it once belonged to an Antwerp area manufacturer of wooden shutters and blinds, established in 1858, which after the turn of the century expanded to become... the very first Belgian aircraft building company!

Or how a stop on a corner may open up many more alleys...

Gear notes: D300, AF-S 18-200VR

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May 3, 2009

In & Out

We just had finished an excellent dinner in this rue Saint-Louis en l'Île, Paris restaurant. While my wife was fiddling with her gloves, I stepped across the street just to take a souvenir snapshot of the place. Only later, behind the computer, I realized that much more was going on in this picture.

First I noticed how the light is playing across the frame. There's a spotlight nicely illuminating from above the head and hands (the rest mysteriously stays in the dark). Then there's the scene inside, a lively dinner party still going on (you can see a raised bottle and glass if you look carefully). Such a contrast with the silence of the empty street...

There wasn't any significant cropping, I prefer to get the composition right in camera whenever possible. I brightened a few shadow areas to reveal structure and detail, and also brought up the light behind the window.
Finally, I decided to desaturate the colors, so the image reflects the quiet atmosphere I experienced when taking the shot.
Et voilà...

More images from this Paris weekend here.

Gear notes: D700, AF-D 35/2.0

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