Friday, January 4, 2013

Blinded by the light, Part 2

Sun on the left, reflection or "sunbow" on the right
As the new year rolled around last week, I went out into the woods behind the house where we were staying  with friends. The landscape and trees reminded me of our tree farm in Virginia, where I spent last New Year's Eve celebrating my father's life with my sister and her family. As a matter of fact, the picture above looks a lot like the one I took at sunrise exactly one year ago there.
But as the new year neared, I began missing him a lot and realized it as I shot the pictures below, which are different from any I've taken.

Ansel Adams once said, "A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed, and is, thereby, a true manifestation of what one feels about life in its entirety." I'm not saying these are great photographs here, but they seem to express my feeling of loss.
If I were trying to analyze these photographs from that psychological standpoint, I'd say that the shadowy outlines represent the impression or imprint he left on my life. The strong light in the background is his spirit trying to reach out to me. 

But we all experience loss at one time or another. It could be an abrupt change in a relationship or the loss of a friend who leaves you. The lack of color in the pictures represents the emptiness you feel then. 

So there you stand, in the middle of a field like a thistle, reflecting all the light you can back at the sun, but half of you is dark and empty and cold.

Perhaps there is someone close to you who is also in this situation. You can reach out and communicate your feelings to that person and perhaps come to a better understanding of your sadness. After all, life isn't always happy. You can rejoice in the good times even more, having experienced sad times, too.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Blinded by the light, Part 1

Gegenlicht - the German term for light that shines into the camera from the other side of the photographer's subject - literally means "against light." Artists always have things going against them or they wouldn't have to struggle, right? And if there's no struggle, there's no art, right? In these photos from a shoot in early September, the sun was with us just long enough to get a few good shots, but we had to play with the back light to get it right.

If it's not the light, it's the equipment (usually a weak excuse) or lack of knowledge or a bad mood or any number of other things that work against us on any given day. But let's concentrate on that all-important factor for photography today: light.

In the studio you try to project light on your subject in a way that creates a three-dimensional impression on the viewer, making the subject look real. Out in the field, however, that's usually not possible. There is usually only one source of light and - in event photography at least - you rarely have the opportunity to place a subject in a position that creates a perfect mixture between light and shadows. So you have the choice of either placing yourself directly in the sun and shooting into the light or working around the lighting situation in another way. Perhaps you shoot into the light and add a little of your own, either with a reflector or a flash.

In Ludwigsburg, just north of Stuttgart, there is a weekend-long event every two years, during which nearly 1,000 people dress up in fantastic costumes and parade around the city, much to the enjoyment of nearly 1,000 photographers!

The people behind the masks act stately and saunter around grandly as if they belonged to the aristocracy. Who knows what they are really like? Does it matter? The photographer is interested in the superficial beauty in this case. Perhaps he projects his feelings onto the one or other beauty, only to be disappointed once she is unmasked.

The parade on Friday goes through town and ends on the closed market place, where viewers must pay a fee to enter. There are several stages set up, on which magic, music and acrobatic shows are on continual rotation. All this makes for a real spectacle.

Whether the sun is shining directly into the camera or hidden by some sheer fabric, the effect can be stunning. I was the only photographer taking pictures from behind this woman, who was emerging from a flower into the setting sun.

Here is a short video of this show.

During the parade I shot into the light most of the time, earning a comment from this gentleman about the fact that he thought the pictures wouldn't come out well.

After a while, though, you figure out just how directly you can shoot into the sun and how much you must compensate for the light.
Changing sides of the street and shooting with the light also has its advantages. With 1,000 people walking by, you are bound to get a few lucky shots if you keep your eyes open. Contrasting colors are always nice!

I am not sure I could have reproduced the light on this beauty as well as nature did that day.
 Sometimes a bit of negative space adds a sense of mystery to a picture.

I must admit that when I went to the parade this year, I was not sure I'd be able to get any interesting shots. Two years ago I had been blown away by the masks and ambiance of the place. My expectations were high and my standards even higher. So trying to capture something new, I intentionally blurred my vision and shot into the light. Depending on the shutter speed and aperture, the light looks totally different. These two pictures were taken one minute apart.