The Moment of Exposure III

It’s a fact of any photographer’s life that pictures happen in the most unexpected of circumstances. You can walk for hours and get nothing but just as you turn to head for home a whole series of pictures can appear. A single day can give you more pictures than an entire month. Photography is unpredictable, sometimes frustrating, but successful pictures always seem to correspond to the amount of effort you put in. You just have to open yourself up to the fact that even though you may have got nothing so far, the next shot could be just around the corner.

This particular image of Sarah’s is a great example of this. It was taken last month while we were out on one of our Street Photography Experience Days with another photographer, Peter, and was one of the last shots of the day just as the light was fading. Sarah had gone with the Peter for a walk around the back of Central Pier in Blackpool looking for pictures. I was at the front of the pier shooting something else. She had been on her feet for over eight hours, the light was dropping rapidly, and she was using a Leica rangefinder camera for the first time!! Despite all of this she never lost faith in the next shot being just around the corner, and here it is.

This is the outside of a bar at the end of the pier. The salt covered windows make it difficult to see outside but this young boy’s natural curiosity has lead him to a cleaner part of the window. As he looks out Sarah has taken the image. This is one of three frames, the middle one, the most successful. Shooting with a Leica meant that each of the three frames was considered in its own right – it wasn’t a case of blasting this scene at 14fps in the hope of getting a good one.

Compositionally the image works on several levels. This is the full frame as it came out of camera. The line from the bottom right and the strong upright next to the boy’s face give him strength within the composition. The lines of the tables take the eye around the frame along with the fence. The light is perfect on his face and the salt covered windows take away the distractions of the inside of the bar. The use of the wide angle puts the image into context and the muted, cool colours draw the image back from his warmer flesh tones. Even the blue sign matches the tones of the man’s blue shirt inside the bar.

Aside from the technical points on composition and light, I personally love this image because it says a lot about Blackpool in the early Autumn. The old railings stripped of paint by the battering from the Irish Sea. The salt on the windows which were a consequence of Hurricane Ophelia. The old crutch at the window. The young boy, probably bored, looking for something to do while his parents enjoy a drink.

~ Jeff

 

Two days in Bergamo

Earlier this month we were invited to Italy to cover the wedding of Anna and Andrea. This wedding was a bit unusual for us as our photography was a surprise wedding gift and 40th birthday present to Andrea, who is an amazing wedding photographer. So everything was top secret in terms of where we were in the world right up until the wedding day.

Due to the availability of flights and the location of the wedding, we found ourselves in the beautiful city of Bergamo for three days. We had a day either side of the wedding to do some street photography and a little bit of sight seeing. Bergamo is probably best known as being the location for Milan’s main airport but the city itself sits on a hill about 5 miles away overlooking the airport. I can imagine many travellers don’t even notice Bergamo as they are ushered out of the airport terminal and into the waiting buses to take them into Milan.

Bergamo – a city of two parts

Bergamo is roughly divided into an old, upper part of town (Città Alta) and a new lower part (Città Bassa). Città Alta is surrounded by a huge Venetian defensive wall built in the 16th Century. Inside the wall, the Città Alta is beautiful and still largely untouched by tourism. There were some tourists while we were there but the numbers were tiny compared to the more popular Italian cities. The lack of tourism also means the heart stopping prices for food and drink that we found in Venice, for example, didn’t exist. Bergamo’s cafes and restaurants are all reasonably priced. We spent most of the two days in Città Alta as it was just so interesting to photograph. One word of caution, getting to this part of Bergamo requires a degree of fitness and some good shoes. It sits on a very steep hill and with the hot Italian climate I would imagine it is quite taxing to get around if you are not particularly mobile. There are cable cars which are pretty cheap and run all day to the centre of the town.

Accommodation in Bergamo

We stayed in an apartment just on the outskirts of Città Alta . This really suited us on this trip and when working we often find hotels can be too regimented. There are large hotels in the new town but they are pretty sterile in terms of what they offer. We fancied something a little more authentic. A little more Italian. The apartment we stayed in was very secure and not accessible from the street without a pass key to security gates. This is important given we were shooting a wedding and had a lot of expensive gear with us.

What to photograph in Bergamo

While we were there the piazza’s were being set up for the Maestri del Paesaggio (Landscape Masters) installation which made for some interesting pictures. The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is just spectacular. The Venetian wall needed a bit of walking around to get the best pictures as the wall itself looks impressive to look at but it is quite uninteresting in terms of photography. I guess it’s just too big and too overgrown now. We found the best photo opportunities came around the entrances to Cità Alta from the wall. The light in Northern Italy is just amazing, but by far the best time of day to shoot was later afternoon when the light had some warmth and direction to it. The narrow streets during the main part of the day did afford some opportunities particularly with the play of shadows and highlights. We only spent an hour or two in Cità Bassa and that was with a large thunderstorm making its presence felt.

Things to look out for when taking street photographs in Bergamo

Travel light. The walking up and down hill on cobbled pathways for several hours a day will take its toll on your knees and back if you have a lot of gear with you. We took one small camera body each and a couple of lenses with us. We did see the occasional American tourist toting a huge DSLR with telephoto while sweating profusely. I like to have a bottle bag on my belt to make sure that I am not without water. Both myself and Sarah always work out of ThinkTank’s excellent TurnStyle 20 bag. Security isn’t really an issue in Città Alta, but we are in the habit of using bags we can work out of which don’t have to be put on the floor to use, and which can be worn on the front, side, or back depending on whether we are in crowds or not.

Wear good shoes. This is really important. The paths are pretty uneven with lots of cobbles. I virtually live in a pair of North Face Sakura GTX shoes these days. I’m not sure if they are still made, but they seem to be available on the High Street.

The locals are pretty relaxed as everyone seems to have a camera with them. I guess that’s a positive of shooting in a picturesque city. We encountered absolutely no issues with taking photographs of the people and the various monuments and places of worship. The light can be harsh in the middle of the day and in September the evening light disappears very rapidly, so realistically there is a 2 hour window when the light is at its absolute best.

So when are we going back? Hopefully very soon. Two days wasn’t long enough and we didn’t even get to see the newer part of the city. I also hear it is very nice during the Winter months.

~ Jeff

 

A Day Off – The Bakewell Show

Social documentary photography. People. Life. Telling a story about a time and place. I guess this is what makes myself and Sarah tick as photographers. We enjoy the challenge of stepping out of our front door with a camera and a couple of lenses, going somewhere we haven’t been before, and taking photographs. 

We lived together in Derby for the best part of fourteen years. We got married there, our daughter was born there, and Sarah’s family still live there. The picturesque town of Bakewell was somewhere we used to visit on our day off during the wedding season, but we never went to The Bakewell Show. So last month we went. And it rained. A lot. And then it rained again. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t kind, and yet there was something quintessentially English about carrying on with the show regardless of the weather. Over two days we walked through mud and puddles and took photographs. It was a challenge but incredibly enjoyable to do.

Dealing with the weather

Rain is a problem for photographers and living in the UK we are subjected to a lot of it. Just the process of trying to keep everything dry can become a distraction. It’s not the camera bodies particularly, but rather the lenses and, in the case of my Leica’s, the rangefinder optics. Most of the time I was shooting using zone focusing with a wide angle lens so I didn’t need to focus to take the photographs. This solved the problem of water on the viewfinder. I just needed to see enough to frame the image and take the shot. I have an old Berghaus Rosgill jacket with large front pockets which are the perfect size for a Leica M9 and 28mm lens, so when I wasn’t shooting this is where the camera was stored. We racked up in the region of 25-28K steps each day we were shooting and those that have followed my blogs in the past will know that I’m a great believer in good shoes. The bad back problems that photographers experience are often nothing to do with carrying gear and everything to do with bad footwear. Unfortunately it was so wet underfoot that normal shoes were out of the question and so I dug my old pair of Meindl GTX boots out for the two days. They were great. Everything stayed dry.

The photographs

Photo by Jeff

Photo by Sarah

Photo by Sarah

Photo by Sarah

Photo by Jeff

Photo by Sarah

Photo by Sarah

Photo by Sarah

Photo by Sarah

Photo by Jeff

Photo by Jeff

Photo by Sarah

Photo by Jeff

Photo by Sarah

Photo by Jeff

Photo by Sarah

Photo by Jeff

Photo by Jeff

Photo by Jeff

Photo by Sarah

photo by Jeff

Photo by Jeff

Photo by Jeff

Photo by Jeff

Photo by Jeff

Photo by Jeff

Photo by Jeff

Photo by Sarah

Photo by Sarah

Photo by Sarah

The Moment of Exposure II

father and daughter at a london weddingThis week’s image is of a father and his baby daughter at a Winter wedding in London. I’ve never really seen this image as a wedding photograph as such. To me it’s a moment between dad and daughter which, in many years time and possibly on her own wedding day, she will be able to look back on and see just how much she means to her dad. It just happens that this moment took place at a wedding.

The guests had just alighted from a London bus just outside of the venue and were walking through the building on the way to the back terrace for the drinks reception. There were a lot of people quickly moving through the venue and because of the strong Winter sunlight and busy backgrounds there was little opportunity to get good pictures in this situation. In cases like this, which happen quite a lot at weddings, I will often seek out pictures away from the main action. If the light or backgrounds aren’t conducive to getting good images I will look for places where I can photograph. Simply snapping away without thought isn’t an option. Our pictures have to be of a certain standard. That is really important to us.

The man in the picture is a guest at the wedding. He was helping his daughter to walk through the building and the interaction between them caught my eye. She was getting a little distressed at all of the people around them and he picked her up. There was my picture. I wanted to show the intimacy between these two and so shot the image back through a mirrored panel that was part of a large piece of furniture I was standing next to. The abstract patterns of light were caused by the edges of the mirror catching the sunlight. These reflections helped to isolate the two of them from everything else while adding a dream like quality to the image. I also think the picture has quite a voyeuristic feel to it.

The light on the two of them came from several large windows which opened out onto the terrace. It was a soft rim light with the baby’s dress acting as a kicker pushing light into her father’s face. Flash would have absolutely killed this image and it would have also made them aware they were being photographed. For me it is important that they were totally unaware of my presence so that I could explore the interaction between them. Compositionally it works best as a vertical image; the lines are all running top to bottom, and because the mirrored panel was a vertical rectangle we are seeing what the mirror saw.

This image for me shows the images that can be found just by observing, being patient and not being drawn into the mindset of recording everything that moves.

Click on the image for a bigger version.

~ Jeff

The Moment of Exposure I

wedding photo in a marquee

 

I’ve often spoken in the past about my work and how it isn’t really wedding photography. Obviously it is. My career and business has been pretty much dedicated to photographing weddings, but what I mean is I’ve never really seen the pictures that myself and Sarah provide as being wedding photography in the accepted sense of the term. One of my street photography friends described our approach as being like a couple of National Geographic photographers capturing a ‘day in the life’ story of a couple of families on a wedding day. I can live with that. In fact it describes what we do very well. Although I’m not sure Nat Geo would be happy with the amount of black and white pictures we shoot!!

This picture is from a wedding. It was taken by me during the drinks reception. It doesn’t show a bride or groom. It doesn’t show a bridesmaid, or anyone in the bridal party. It doesn’t show any flowers or shoes. All of the things wedding photographs are supposed to show. These small and often overlooked moments are always constructed carefully and with consideration to the composition and light. They aren’t random snaps. We don’t do those.

The picture was taken towards the end of the reception. Most of the guests were outside with only a handful remaining inside. The lack of people forced me to look for something different in terms of picture. Something simple and interesting. The lines and shapes of the glass and aluminium structure of the bar caught my eye, along with the young man’s proximity to it. I felt there was a picture here if I was patient. The light was pretty flat because of the location of the bar within the marquee, so to make the picture interesting it would need some careful framing and good composition. The young man leaned against the bar with a canapé in his hand just as someone reached for their glass. I took the shot. This is the result. For me it’s what Cartier-Bresson referred to as a decisive moment; all the elements are in play within the frame and have all come together geometrically. It’s a simple shot but to my eye at least, it works. Take any of the elements out of the frame and the picture doesn’t work; the boy’s hand, the glass, the hand reaching for the glass. Even the people in the background work within the frame with the guy mimicking the boy. The dark suit contrasting with the hand to allow it to stand out, and the white bottle making sure the black sleeve also stands out.

A wedding photo with golden swirl showing composition
If we look at the composition, we can see it works within the theory of the Golden Ratio, the Golden Spiral, or whatever you wish to call it. It also works well within the rule of thirds. I don’t consciously think about any of this when shooting, I just know what I want my pictures to look like within the camera. My photographic brain loves geometry and lines, and the placement of elements within a frame. Sometimes my images may need cropping slightly, but that’s absolutely fine, I can’t always be in total control over camera to subject distance at something like a wedding. The hands and glass became the main elements within the frame, and yet it was the boy and the bar that initially took my attention. In my mind I went from watching a potential scenario to reacting to a change and putting together a different picture very quickly. This is a picture that does appeal to my eye. Whether or not it’s a wedding photography. I’ll let you decide 😉

~ Jeff

 

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