Saturday, May 28, 2011



Recently I was showing some of my current favorite pictures to a friend who has 50 years' experience in the field, both as a photographer and teacher. She picked up the prints and looked at them with a poker face, giving me no hint as to her judgement. Then she lay them down one by one, as if she were showing a Las Vegas dealer her royal flush and said, "Backlighting, backlighting, backlighting, backlighting, backlighting!"
Although I was certainly aware of the advantages backlighting can lend a photograph, I hadn't noticed that my favorites this time were all backlit. Soon afterward, I set out with my favorite model and tested some frontlighting and backlighting situations. 

Fiona was up on Oma's balcony where the evening sun shone right into her face and, as a bonus, light was kicking up from the yellow-and-white striped awning below her. It was as if I had a 20'x40' California Sunbounce right under her chin! The combination fills her eyes with light and creates a pleasant golden patina on her skin.
Then we went out front and she rode her roller back and forth - first into the light...

...and then away from the setting sun. As could be expected, she had to squint her eyes a bit when facing the bright sun. On the other hand, there is a nice catch-light in her eyes, making them look alive. The golden tint of the sun can be seen on her skin and on the foliage behind her. Her hair nearly blends in with the background in some places.

With backlighting her hair stands out clearly from the background and there are no harsh shadows on her face. There was still enough ambient light to make her face clearly visible. If that hadn't been the case, I'd have had to work with a flash set-up. In contrast to the photo below, the one above has her positioned almost directly between the sun and me. In the picture below, the sun crept onto part of her face. If you don't meter for such highlights, the details get lost in the bright areas and there is nothing you can do to get them back.

Backlighting is an advantageous lighting situation for your models. In the studio, a "kick light" is directed at the back of the subject, usually to highlight the hair and separate the model from the background. In outdoor situations that is not always possible, but by having your subject between yourself and the light and carefully metering for the highlights, you can capture some of that studio feeling in your photos. Backlighting is so popular in glamor photography that it is often coupled with decreased clarity (a slight blur) and brightened corners to add that dreamy look to the picture, as in the photo below.

Sometimes backlighting makes the picture what it is; without it, there would be less to enjoy!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sängerkrieg der Heidehasen

Sängerkrieg der Heidehasen

Imagine Wagner's Meistersänger von Nürnberg sung by children acting as little rabbits and you may be able to imagine what I heard in Obertürkheim last weekend. But this was special because even the audience got to get into the act by singing the third verse of a German folksong after the entrance march.

Every Friday since Christmas the children's choir has been rehearsing the musical by James Krüss under the guidance of Ruth Kurz. Sometimes the afternoons grow long and it takes a great deal of concentration to keep up with the intricate musical and theatrical details.

The victorious Meistersänger, as it turns out, is the handsome young Benno Herz, who also had a speaking role in last year's musical, Löwenherz.

With singers ranging in age from 6-12, pulling everything together must have been a real challenge for the music director as well as for the theatrical directors, Sabine Strizelberger and Uschi Osdoba, who spent an intensive, long weekend in April rehearsing with the children in a village in the country. For many of them, this was their first time away from their parents so they learned about being on their own, too.

The winner of the singing competition gets to marry the princess - as in all good fairy tales, right?

But during the singing competition, two wonderful songs were sung by the twins, Katharina (above) and Minja (below) Bosien. Katharina did a great job sounding like a warbling old Eurovision retiree.

And Minja's rendition of her song certainly would have won "douze points" from Finland, which has a taste for this style of music.

One of the greatest rewards for attending - and photographing - children's stage performances is capturing some of the real moments that the kids offer us.

 And of course they seem especially cute if the child is your own!

It was again a pleasure to watch Emma Herz perform. She has such a wide range of facial gestures and incredible stage presence. I predict a great future on stage for her. She is Benno's big sister.

After two performances - with the main roles being played by different people each time - the curtain fell on this production. What lies in the wings for this troupe is anyone's guess, but it will definitely be worth attending!

The Red Wheelbarrow

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depended 
this red wheelbarrow
razed by time,
hanging now
from the junkyard

(With apologies to William Carlos Williams)

I've never understood why Williams' original poem was so important and taught in English classes across the country. But somehow it has stuck in my head and when I saw this mess of a wheelbarrow hanging over the wall of the local junkyard, I thought of it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Portrait of a lady in Esslingen

Portrait of a lady in Esslingen

A fellow artist from the Stuttgart region needed a profile picture for her upcoming exhibition, so she asked me to take some pictures of her. I was delighted at the request because I had secretly been hoping to be able to do so. I hadn't seen any photos on her website or facebook page that did her justice, so I set out to change that.

She lives an hour east of Stuttgart, so we decided to meet in Esslingen, where she teaches once a week. With my little girl in tow, we strolled through the picturesque town on the Neckar River, setting up the lights whenever a nice background presented itself. In the picture above, you can see the river and a half-timbered house behind her. What you don't see is the kindergarten class that passed by right behind me, making it difficult for Gabriele to keep a straight face for this shot.

A stone wall leading up from the river into the old town served as a nice backdrop to this "American" portrait of the artist [edit: This is a medium shot. An "American shot" goes down to the knee. My lens was not wide enough for that and wide angle lenses shouldn't be used anyway when taking such portraits]. Granted, the background may seem inconsequential here, but I think the feeling it conveys does add a nice touch.

There was a beautifully weeping willow tree hanging over the river which provided a wonderful background and natural light softener as well. The green leaves go well with both her eyes and the jewelry she is wearing.

The technical side of the tale
In 90 minutes we were able to shoot in seven different settings. It was something I had always wanted to do - walk around a lovely town with a nice, pretty, patient model and make the most of the situation.
Since you can never count on the available light to be shining in the right direction with the right intensity in such situations, strobes and reflectors are a necessity. I had a big white Lastolite trigrip that I either flashed through or used to fill the dark side of her face. A strobe flashing into an umbrella provided the catch light in her eyes most of the time. A second flash was used for fill, too.
I had to set up the umbrella or hold the reflector close enough to her eyes to show up, so I was fairly limited in my use of lens. I chose the light and bright Minolta 1.7/50mm for the first two pictures here and switched to a Tamron 2.8/90mm for the last two. Prime lenses are great for such jobs because you have already set up and don't have to move around a lot. Besides, if you are holding a reflector or flash in one hand and the camera in the other, it is difficult to zoom in anyway.

In the end we were both satisfied with the results. Now on to the next challenge!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Lemon concentrate

Lemon concentrate

Lemonade serenade (thanks to Liz for that caption!)

One of the photography groups I'm in pursues one particular theme at a time, trying to come up with a series of pictures that exemplify that theme. After the catch-all "Time", which resulted in some interesting photos, the present focus is on the idea of "Concentration".
However, after a few meetings the results were somewhat meager. So last month the leader sent the group members home, challenging them to photograph a lemon. I had heard that you can really learn about lighting by taking pictures of an egg because you see how the light forms around it as you move either one. So I figured this challenge was similar.

Then it hit (or rather tickled) my bilingual brain: "lemon concentrate"! The double-meaning of the words is present in German and English, so I figured the pun was intended. In any case, it made for an interesting evening of lighting experiments in my studio!

My daughter tried some lemon juice recently and got her first concentrated shot of sour juice!

I'll end this blog with a little tip from a friend of mine: If you want to know where the light was set (where it was coming from), then follow the shadows and you'll find the light!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Reflections, Part III

Reflections, Part III 

The Germans say, "Alle guten Dinge sind drei", which roughly translates as "Three's a charm". Since I've gotten positive feedback on my reflection series, here's a third part for you before I move on with more architecture photos.
The third piano piece in Debussy's "Images" is called "Poissons d'or" and provides the listener with the impression of goldfish (like the koi above) darting through a pool (like this one in the Wilhelma Zoo here in Stuttgart). The reflection of the lines from the glass roof emphasize the message that these fish are indeed captive - yet have a captive audience!

In this atypical image of a Ford with automatic transmission parked in front of a corrugated aluminum house with iron bars on the windows, only the tiled roof seems to belong in Germany where the picture was taken.

Alanis Morissette might have sung, "Isn't it ironic that one-of-a-kind people are the ones you'd want to clone." Well my friend Jim is one of them. He and I went to a wonderful photo exhibit by Rupert Leser in the Haus der Geschichte in January and then went for a walk past the Staatsgalerie because it was such a nice day. The world famous architecture of that building (first brought to my attention by my step-brother Ken, both an architect and an outstanding artist) provides the reflection collector (my Sony Alpha 700 and Minolta 28mm lens in this case) with a series of growing - or, if you read right to left, declining - figures.

The florescent lights inside the museum provided the sun rays or crown (cloud?) of thorns (take your pick) in this pic.

This may be my choice of picture to hang over my sofa in a large format. I like the minimalistic, washed out, desert-like look to downtown Stuttgart in this picture. Now if I only had room on my walls!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Moonrise followed by sunrise

Moonrise followed by sunrise

Last night my photographer's sixth sense kept me awake or at least woke me up at 5 a.m.
On my way downstairs I looked out the window and saw this:

Over the next hour I checked out nature's wonders and headed out again with my Tamron 70-200mm and let my click-click at 6:15 play counterpoint to the birds' lovely chirp-chirp.