Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Seventh heaven

It was supposed to rain...

...but Pia and I were lucky. Nevertheless, we began our session inside upstairs in the Königspassage where the photo gallery LUMAS used to be. Not many people go all the way up to the third floor of Stuttgart's downtown mall to casually look at expensive furniture, Oriental rugs and model trains, so I figured we'd be left in peace.

And we were until the security guard noticed all the flashes going off. He warned us that no stores were allowed to be photographed if I were planning to publish the pictures. So be it. After that warning he let us be. In the picture above, we took advantage of the light coming in from the glass ceiling behind her.

I had previously envisioned a picture similar to the one above, which I took with my 10-20mm wide-angle lens, using the architecture of the place as a fitting backdrop for my seventh photo session with Pia.
If the weatherman had been right, we would have stayed indoors a bit longer, but as it turned out, we were blessed with a gorgeous - if somewhat windy - day. We ended up in the courtyard of the Altes Schloß, where a few hundred white plastic chairs were set up in anticipation of an evening theater performance. We couldn't have wished for a better backdrop! And Pia just happened to have a black dress on!

First we tried it with the sun on her face. Then I ran around to the other side and went for the back-lighting.

I love both pictures. What do you think? Which do you prefer?
After surfeiting myself on black and white, we moved over to the nice old stone wall of the castle. Once again, here are two shots showing the effect of lighting placement. (Both use only ambient light.) This first one is a shot with the sunlight behind me (though we had some cloud cover making the light soft).

And then I swung around to the other side to face the light and get some sunshine on her hair. When I saw the pictures on the PC at home, I was amazed at how well the light and the colors of the wall matched what Pia was wearing. And I love the nice contrast between the castle wall's rough stones and the smooth curves of Pia's face, hair and clothes.

The weather was still on our side so we wandered over to the Neues Schloß, Stuttgart's sightseeing center.  Sounds busy, but few people actually go right up to the building itself, so we made ourselves at home there, taking advantage of the fountains for a splash of fun in the background.

All natural light
For this last picture, I was using my Sony 16-105 all-around lens so that I could get close enough to hold a reflector under Pia's chin to throw back some sunlight into her face. The catch-light in her eyes comes from the white reflector.

And to think we did all this in just two hours while taking care of my 15-month-old baby at the same time! What a life!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A good night

A good night

Last week I went downtown because I knew Chicago was playing at an open-air concert. Chicago was the first big pop band I ever heard live. That was in Williamsburg in 1980! Camera in hand - as always - I walked around the Schlossplatz and listened to the music for a while before being drawn over to the Königstrasse, Stuttgart's busiest shopping street. There's always something going on there.

A man was air-brushing tattoos on young people, allowing them to choose among the hundreds of stencils he has on display.

There were about eight bachelor and bachelorette parties cruising the main drag, looking for action. The tradition in Germany looks something like this: the person who is to be married the following day goes out with his or her friends, who are all dressed up to be as conspicuous as possible. I saw everything from policewomen to men in pink T-shirts. The betrothed usually has a vendor's tray (Bauchladen) with little things like condoms, chocolate bars and little bottles of schnapps. The people ask passers-by if they'd like to purchase something from them to help offset the cost of the wedding/the first therapy session/the honeymoon, etc. The groups are always in a good mood and not too pushy, so it's fun to talk to them. 

A very nice surprise on this particular evening was hearing the first piano player I've ever seen out on the street in Stuttgart. I listened to him for a while, donated what I could and moved on. Then came the main attraction of the evening for me.

An American was dressed up in Oriental garb and juggling with fire. It was just dark enough to make the shots interesting.

He had quite a large captive audience which was listening to the concert from a distance and watching him from up close.

Yes, he really extinguished the fire in his mouth!

Just before the grande finalé when he threw the flaming skewers high up in the air and then caught them, he made large circles with his arms as he danced to the music of drums. 

It was already an hour after sundown, so I decided to call it a night. This man retired before me, though he forgot to put away his wallet before nodding off.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Model, model on the wall

Model, model on the wall...

When you are taking pictures of attractive models and have lots of time on your hands and the right equipment, the job should be easy, right? It is certainly easier than it would be if some of these circumstances were different. Yesterday everything went my way but after three hours and 300+ pictures, I was dead tired.

And yet I still had to look at the pictures, select the ones I liked and process the best 10%. That's the approximate number of publishable pictures I usually get from a day's worth of shooting. I look at them all in Adobe Lightroom, and immediately give them an "X" (reject) or a "P" (pick) rating. I never delete pictures during a shoot. First of all, it takes up precious time. Secondly, looking at the picture on your small camera monitor, you never know if there might be something interesting somewhere in the picture that you will be able to use. Before I close Lightroom, I delete the rejects so that I do not back them up on the second hard drive.
Then I look at my picks (in this case, 113 of 338) and make basic adjustments. I usually start with cropping. I have to straighten many of my pictures and take away the "boring bits". After I've cropped the picture, I'll make other basic adjustments such as exposure, white balance, contrast, sharpness and a vignette (if called for). Once the picture is in pretty good shape, I give it a "one-star" rating. If the picture really jumps out at me and I say to myself, "Wow! Not bad!", then I give it two stars. I gave 37 of these pictures one star.

The background to this shooting started in April, when Kristina and Sönke posed for our art group in the studio of the Werkstatthaus in Stuttgart. There were a dozen photographers trying to get pictures of the two of them, either alone or together. This time, Sönke wrote and asked if I could take some full-body shots of him for his sedcard (a brief portfolio of pictures for models). Since our art group was looking for something to do, I organized it on the evening of our monthly meeting and three photographers (and one helpful assistant!) showed up.

The thing I learned about full-body shots is that you need a stool or chair to stand on if your model is as tall as Sönke, especially if you want to frame him in front of a nice background. In the picture above, the sun was being reflected from a tall office building across the street, throwing some nice, warm indirect light on the wall. So if the light was so nice and warm, why are all these pictures in black and white? You tell me!

After looking at all the picks of my pics, I saw what a difference good lighting made and how it looked even better in black and white. Of course, in photography lighting is everything, but I sometimes forget that when I have attractive people and interesting backdrops in front of me!
We walked over to the Hamburger Fischmarkt, which opens tomorrow on the Karlsplatz, and used its bright red and green tents and table cloths as backgrounds for our pictures. I thought they looked good together with the models' black outfits. However, in hindsight, I see that the people stand out more if there isn't a bright color vying for attention.

In other pictures, I just thought the simplicity of the lines and the basic atmosphere of the picture was better suited to black and white.

At one point, we were shooting with the sun setting at our back. We got something that looked like this:

Then we moved around to the other side and got some good natural backlighting. I prefer the lighting in the picture below. Of course, there was a little bit of fill-flash used to brighten up their faces.
After nearly three hours, they did a last dance together and while Bärbel and Michael got some more shots of Kristina while Sönke, I went over and got some pictures at one of the outdoor restaurants.

In the end we thanked the people from the Fischmarkt who let us hang out on their "sets". They were very nice and said they hoped to see us when the market begins on Thursday. Will do!

Friday, July 1, 2011

A good day

A good day

Just as I thought I had lost the "street magic" that had accompanied my Sony and me through Stuttgart these past two years, it reappeared on a hot, sunny day earlier this week. In town with an old Minolta 100-300 APO lens, Julia (in her stroller) and I (with my gear) strolled through the Schlosspark and up the Königstrasse and back down through the park, resting on brown benches and stretches of green grass to watch (and photograph) the day unfold before us.

In the park we watched the pigeons bathing in the fountains. At 14 months, Julia is still pleasantly fascinated by the flying rats. This proud mama pigeon - or should I call her a dove? - was apparently waiting for her partner...

...who joined her on a neighboring fountain, came and left again.

When we walked past the train station into a back alley where the scaffolding was being taken down from a building that had just been refurbished.
About scaffolding: somewhere around 15 years ago my good friend Mil told me in passing that she had been having dreams about scaffolding (her house needed some repairs, but who knows what the deep-psychological reason for the dreams was). I latched onto that thought, bought a little Ricoh camera (back in the film days, I usually used a Nikon 4004s, which was too heavy to carry around everywhere I went in Freiburg). For about six months I took pictures of scaffolding all around town and made a calendar for her, interspersing haiku and other verses among the pictures.
I presented it to her at Christmas and as she saw the first two pages, she said, "Did I ever tell you I have dreams of scaffolding?" Well, as she continued to turn the pages, she finally figured out she had. End of story: the calendar cured her. She never dreamed of it again.
The lines and composition seem to work well in this picture.

Moving up the main drag (Königstrasse), I noticed some young men throwing heavy old windows into a dumpster. Anticipating the next toss, I paused and caught them in action. In a different setting, you'd think they were cheering for Dirk Nowitski - as the pretty boy in the background looks on.

Since I hadn't been to the middle of town in a while, I walked past my favorite camera store and up to a city block that is being torn down. The following picture somehow reminds me of all those 9/11 pictures we've all seen.

Strolling back through town after picking up the latest issue of "Luftballon" (for which I am the photographer), I saw this man taking refuge from the sun under a cardboard box by his fountain (for he is always there), where the words "too late" on the side of the font seem a fitting caption for this scene.

We ended our walk four hours later back in the park, where I thought these chaise lounges near the beer garden would serve as a nice background for the silhouettes of the two resting bikers.

So the thrill of street photography has returned, which makes me very happy. Tonight I'm going out on a photo walk with friends in Ludwigsburg. Pictures will follow!