Monday, January 17, 2011

The Heart of Photography

On Saturday I went for a wonderfully delightful photo walk through Stuttgart with the fotocommunity group from Kirchheim. Since we were going to be walking through my main stomping grounds - the part of Stuttgart that I see several times a week - I decided to do something different and take my big Tamron 2.8/70-200 lens with me. It is heavy and not the thing I lug around every day, only for special occasions because it demands quite a bit more physical effort than screwing on a smaller lens.
The people in the group were very relaxed and seemed to know each other already. But even as an outsider, I was soon chatting with several of the others and ended up having a great day. The wonderful light was icing on the cake.
We were to meet at 2 pm at the train station in Stuttgart. As soccer fans started to pour into town from Mainz, things started to get a bit loud. When the fun-loving fans saw a group of a dozen photographers standing around, they called attention to themselves.

They thought their second-place team would easily beat Stuttgart's team, which is in next-to-last place, but we pulled out a 1-0 victory to start the "Rückrunde", the second half of what has been a very tough season so far.

The other photographers caught up with one another while I watched the sun shine on the main flight of stairs near the main entrance in the station. Between "Yes, I like that too" and "Did you see that?" I was starting my walk before we even took off.

I love photographing people on stairs. The latest DPReview challenge was entitled "People on stairs". I entered two photos, though I couldn't find one that I had really wanted to enter. This one above is now my current favorite. In the original the light faded the contrast in the stairs, creating the appearance of a wall. I took a bit more contrast and clarity out of the corners and ended up with this.

As I said, the light was fantastic, even though it was perhaps too bright for some people's taste. These two young women were enjoying their lattes as we left the station and headed into the park.

There we were met by a juggler who gladly - if a bit shyly - let our group photograph his act. When I am in a group as a participant, it is sometimes difficult for me to turn off my "teacher personality". I mentioned to one woman that she should take off her lens cap and as we were waiting inside another person asked if my camera were on by mistake. I could tell that I had a different philosophy regarding street photography and photo walks than they had.
Another issue that I've been concentrating on lately - thanks to some compliments from my mentor Jim Palik - is background. When I was a child, my mother made the three of us kids aware of the importance of backgrounds as she positioned us thoughtfully for her photographs. So when I saw this juggler and noticed everyone else taking his picture apparently regardless of the background, I moved over to the side and chose this colorful background instead. Does a background have to be plain? I think this adds to the charm of the picture. It smacks of street circus, doesn't it?

Then we moved on into the lower Schlosspark where the protesters have taken over. Muddy tents now stand where huge skylights will one day allow daylight into the underground train station. Activists mill around, decorating their habitats while tourist - and photo walkers - take pictures.
At this time of year, most everything is gray, especially the muddy park. So I was pleasantly surprised to see this fine-dressed gentleman enjoying his snack out in the sun. It took some maneuvering to get the Greenpeace halo over his head, but he sat still and seemed to be either oblivious or at least tolerant of my antics.

Photography is all about light - stark contrasts and gradations. So when you find both in a natural situation, you make the most of it. That's why I love the underpass leading from the station into the park.

On the other side, we were joined by a pretty young woman and her Dalmatian. Someone asked if we could take her picture and she kindly said yes, so a half-dozen sensors were barraged by pixels while I went around to the other side to capture the nice sunlight on her hair - and the other half of the story.

After waiting until they were finished, I could more carefully choose my background and wait for the perfect moment.

Another wonderful advantage to photographing in groups is that you lose your inhibitions. It is sort of the opposite of writing in a group. If you are in a sea of Sonys, Nikons and Canons, passers-by can more easily ignore you. This gentleman rode right past me while I took hispicture. You can decide whether you prefer the first image with the blurred people in the background (which gives you more of a sense of action), or if the second one suits your taste better.

At 3:15 the sun was still shining over the buildings and onto the Schlossplatz. As we entered the square, I saw this motif (stairs! sun on hair! woman sitting in thought!) and took about 20 shots. If you see something that captures your eye, "shoot it till it's dead."
Here I must also admit that carrying a 70-200mm lens had advantages. If I had been using my 17-50, I'd have gotten one close-up shot of her surprised expression and the picture probably wouldn't have made it into this final selection.

This man seemed to follow us around. He was in the park, in front of the opera house and then, apparently following the sun as we were, out in the square where he sunned himself against the wall. Could you have resisted taking his picture?

As it got cooler, I was just getting warmed up (photographically speaking). I had already taken 450 pictures but you never know what is going to cross your path when you are on the street. This elderly man was sleeping on a barricade post, blending in with the gray surroundings so well that he was nearly invisible. I'll just call this one "Arrangement in Gray and Black"; you decide if you could consider it a classic.

When we finally arrived at our destination - the flea market at Karlsplatz - we walked around looking for things worth photographing. Sometimes angels drop in from heaven, make your job easy for you.
This one was not posing for me. It seem that she and her friends had returned to the market where she wanted to show her boyfriend this faux (?) fox vest. She ended up not buying it, but she had her picture taken in it.

"Can you top that?" I asked myself. I really doubted it. I usually don't look at my pictures while I'm walking, but I had to look at the foxy woman again and was pleased as punch. The evening air was getting chilly and I had promised I'd be home for supper. Walking back to the opera house with the others, we were soon met by a couple of photographers who joined the group at 5 pm. After some golden time photography with tripods, they retired to a restaurant to review the day.
The evening sun shone on the old sandstone buildings on the hillside and we started taking bets as to whether the sky would turn red as it did the previous week. I thought it probably would.

It did.

My goal for the day had been 2-3 good shots. I took 750, shooting many things three times with exposure bracketing (0 -> -7 -> +7). Half the pictures made it into my "picks" category, meaning I think I might eventually be able to do something with them. Then I put one star on 59 pictures, cropping and doing a bit of processing on them. Of those, 20 earned a second star and are what I could consider worthwhile.
I hope even you think 2-3 were worth looking at.

1 comment:

  1. Hallo Jim,

    ich habe mir gerade Deine Fotos vom letzten Samstag angesehen - wundervoll! Ich finde nicht nur 2-3 sehenswert, mir gefallen alle. Mein Favorit ist die Frau auf der Treppe. Der Schärfeverlauf, das Licht auf den Haaren... klasse!

    War schön, Dich kennenzulernen & ich werde jetzt öfter hier vorbeischauen!
    Grüssle, Petra