Monday, April 19, 2010

Still life

It's great when your subjects happen to sit still. And it's even better when you know they will. That's the charm of still life photography.

We got some tulips recently from a friend and just before they wilted, they screamed, "Take a picture of us! We'll bend and twist and look our best, even if you put a black sheet under us!" So I did.

And then when the sun shone in through the kitchen window, I just couldn't resist taking a few more. And we were all happy.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Second shooting 

After the euphoria that followed the first shooting, I wondered if it could get any better. I spent many happy hours at the computer re-touching the pictures, giving them the aesthetic tweaking I thought they deserved. Each RAW negative contained a treasure that I felt had to be dug up, polished and protected. I actually felt protective of the pictures! It wasn't that I thought someone would use them somewhere without my permission; I was afraid I might lose them. I didn't format my CF card for a week!
Well, it did get better. I would dare say perfect. The universe sent my best friend down from Lübeck on the day I had my second appointment to meet with Pia. He's a very experienced portrait photographer and has all the gear necessary for guiding the light where it belongs.
Christian and I got to the meeting point early. Pia was on time and looked great. We set up outside the Varieté at Friedrichsbau, where there are interesting rock formations being held in place by huge chains. The sunlight fell into the cavernous underground area in interesting, if challenging, ways.
Christian played the part of my lighting assistant as I shot away. Then we switched roles.
After a while we had enough of the hard look with the metal chains and moved over to the red entrance to the theater. Christian had his white balance set to "cloudy" so he didn't have any problems with the colors. I had mine set on "automatic", so the red wall appeared yellow in my pictures and Pia was blue. I learned a lesson there about the AWB and about how to fix the pictures quickly in Lightroom.
Then we wandered over to the row of bamboo trees in front of the restaurant a few feet away.
Now my sister, who has a great art blog detailing her work on nudes and other figures that catch her eye, thought Pia had on too much make-up. I'll leave this question up to debate. As I said, I was trying to capture a certain ideal of beauty that has been with me most of my life. Susan constantly questions this ideal in her work and on her blog. Right now I'm following my nature, which may well change later. After all, two weeks ago I considered myself an available light photographer, proud to not rely on artificial light sources (including reflectors, diffusors, etc.). Now I finally understand what fun it is to place the light, work with its interplay with the shadows, and challenge myself to create beautiful lighting situations. The only downside to this new realization is that it is awfully difficult to look at the first 30,000 pictures I took!

It is simply amazing to me how someone can look so different by simply tilting the face one way or the other, by brushing the hair back, by standing in front of a background of another color!

After about an hour in the pit, we moved into the adjacent park and looked for a suitable location. Some drunken young men (one with a broken nose) were sitting on the amphitheater-like bleachers, so we moved along to the backside of a big old tree. There Christian set up his softbox and flashed away, working to get the foreground light to match that in the background. His pictures came out beautifully. One day he'll get his website up and running and you will see some real gems.
With the two of us out in the park with all that gear taking pictures of this beautiful woman, people walked by suspiciously slowly and watched what we were doing, but that didn't seem to bother Pia, who kept her eyes focussed on us.

But often she had to rest her eyes from the blinding "California sun reflector", which we shined in her face. We taught her the old trick I like to use when taking pictures of groups: close your eyes until I count 1-2-3, then open them - click!

OK, now I'm going to admit how obsessed I've gotten with photography. It started last April when Thomas lent me one of his Leicas. It had a f1:1 Noctilux lens on it, which means you can take pictures in the dark. As a matter of fact, you practically have to. "It's not fun to take pictures of flowers in the sunshine with this," he said. Unfortunately, that is what I was having fun doing last April. So the Leica stayed in its case in my office for a month.
But then I dreamt a picture. It was night but there were a lot of lines that were lit up. The next day I went out to the Frühlingsfest at the Cannstätter Wasen. That's a folks fest that tops even Munich's Oktoberfest.
There I saw what I had dreamt. After the sun had set around 9 p.m., I put away my Sony with its Minolta f1:1.7 lens, which had done a great job around the lit-up tilt-a-whirls and go-cards. Then I pulled out the night-vision (film) camera and my eyes focussed on the roller coaster and the ferris wheel. I opened up the aperture and found a good composition and filled the roll.

The night before the second session with Pia, I dreamt three pictures. Two will have to wait for another day. One is shown here: a pirouette at the mouth of this underpass (you Freudians just shut up!). I was fairly pleased with the results, though I hadn't really reckoned with the splotchy shadows where she was standing.

After a good two hours, we were just warming up, but we were also getting hungry. Before lunch sitting outdoors in the sun at a great Italian restaurant, we took a few more in our last sun-drenched location. You let me know which of these last two portraits you like best; I can't decide.