Thursday, 26 August 2010

Paris Photo Walks - 'Storm Brewing'

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~ Storm Brewing ~

The original, grim and grimy capture!
In the last post, Tunnel Vision, I was complaining about terrible contrasty lighting conditions - you much sun causing deep, dark shadows and screaming highlights, you might remember.

Well this time I'm still moaning, but for the opposite reason! This time it was a grotty, grimy July 14th, the French National Holiday, and it was grey as... granite.

What to do, what to do..? The danger is that the photos will be completely unusable due to being too flat and boring. This was indeed almost the case, but the first thing I have to say is that I did actually take the picture. It's a funny thing, but a lot of people, even keen photographers, see something really interesting but don't snap it because they don't think the lighting is good enough. Wrong (in my opinion)! You can rescue all sorts of crappy shots these days, even if, as here, you have to go a bit over the top to do so.

The thing is, even without resorting to some clever sophisticated techniques like HDR, there is still quite a lot of detail in most shots which can easily be brought out by simple operations like increasing the brightness or contrast. That's pretty much what I did here.

Although I was really just playing, given the flatness of the original, I still tried to look for some valid photographic parameters to highlight.

Picture 2: Could have been OK, but... no
Composition is obviously key in a very simple shot like this with very few elements. I liked the way the angle of the roof contrasts nicely with the frame. It also takes up about a third of the shot, the other two thirds being sky, which is good practice. If the 'thing', i.e. the subject - the building - is much smaller than the surrounding background - here it's the sky - the effect is often more striking. So that was quite good.

Then there was the flag. For me, flags need to be billowing folks, unless there's a good reason for them not to be, such as trying to show sadness or lack of interest or whatever. If there's a flag in your shot then wait until a breeze gives it a bit of life. It might take a few minutes but it's worth it. A billowing flag can be the subject of a picture all on its own. A limp, lifeless one doesn't say anything.

The other thing I tried to do was tell some sort of story, not easy with such a static structure as a building. Luckily, though, the sky came out as incredibly stormy after some playing around with contrast and stuff. So linking this to the complete name of the Assemblée Nationale, where vital decisions are made after heated debate, I imagined that this might suggest a particularly stormy session of parliament going on within these hallowed halls.

I've shown some of the other shots I could have used here. I had some very similar to the final version but where the composition was not quite as good, so they quickly got binned - a good discipline and first step to get out of the way.

Picture 3: great angles, great sky but... crappy flag
Picture 2 might have had potential, the flag's billowing nicely, but I just couldn't find anything that pleased me, and I didn't like the angle of the left side of the roof, which was too close to the horizontal for my liking. It was also unbelievably dark and probably would have lacked some detail in the end which I was able to pull out of the final shot chosen.

Picture 3 has some great converging angles, fantastic clouds and a nice skyburst up top, so this could have been a winner, except that... the flag looks like some old shirt on a washing line on a windless day. So just for that one reason the picture's out of the running. No boring unbillowing French flag is going to spoil any of my Paris pictures, I can tell you!

Looking back, I can't believe how much I pushed this in terms of over-the-top contrast and eye-popping texture, and it will certainly not be everyone's cup of tea. But I love the clouds, love the detail of the freize in the elegant pediment, and I'm pleased that the vital words are relatively sharp. There's nothing worse than words that aren't sharp in a picture, unless they're clearly in a purposely out-of-focus part of the shot. For that reason, words are generally the thing I spot focus on when they are present in a picture.

The main thing I'm a bit sad about is the very dull flag - the red, white and blue aren't very punchy at all. I suppose I could have tried masking it out before changing all the rest to keep some colour but I didn't think of that at the time. But maybe that echoes the ominous stormy sky - I'll try to convince myself that's the case anyway!

Sab's Quick Photo Hints & Tips

1) Take a couple of shots anyway, even if conditions seem terrible
2) Play with diagonals to make your shots stronger
3) A small subject can be incredibly strong
4) Flags need to be billowing, unless there a good reason against it
5) Spot focus on words - blurry writing screams 'camera shake' or just 'crap'!

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This photo is part of the following walks on the Paris Photo Walks web site:



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