Monday, 8 July 2013

High-contrast Street Photography - Assignment 2 (Part 1 of 5)

Image 1
The lighting situation option 'Street scene in the middle of a clear, sunny day' I interpreted as a good excuse for street photography with a twist! The twist was of course the 'long, deep shadows' mentioned in the course in the description. This allowed me to be more creative than I sometimes had been doing street photography. I would put this down to having a themed criteria to channel my creativity into and also because I hadn't really had much experience with high contrast street scenes.

   I chose Covent Garden as the location for the first of my three versions of this lighting situation, simply because I reckoned it would have some potential for high contrast shadows.

Photograph 1, Assignment 2

With the first of the three photographs (Photograph 1, Assignment 2), I utilised an interesting idea I had thought up based on high contrast situations. It was along the lines of: while DSLR's are often desirable for their ample amounts of dynamic range, I have discovered that lesser dynamic range can still be desirable on the same cameras. Instead of harnessing the dynamic range inherent in DSLR's, it is sometimes effective to limit dynamic range within certain lighting situations. This can create a minimalistic effect that is powerful. It is the DSLR's ability to control the metering and to some extent the dynamic range of a photograph that make them useful in high contrast circumstances. The way dynamic range can be controlled to some extent in camera is a feature found on most DSLR's nowadays, in my camera's case: 'Dynamic Range Optimiser'. This setting effectively 'opens up' shadows subtly without much penalty for noise when turned on. So, deliberately turning it off - enhances the highlights' contrast with the natural, black backdrop when exposed for bright highlights.

   For example this minimalistic effect can be seen in a photograph (Image 1) I took of a yellow Welsh Poppy set against a natural black backdrop. I exposed for the highlights (the poppy), which was so bright the shaded background became solid black.

   I tried to employ the techniques described above to a street scene and I thought I was successful. I deliberately turned off the 'Dynamic Range Opimiser' and exposed for the bright highlights I'd found set against an already dark passageway in Covent Garden, which turned the passageway black. This created a dramatic effect - isolating the two people chatting. This created an interesting dialogue in my opinion - not only between the two women chatting but also their relationship with the intense black behind them. The latter 'dialogue' suggested instead of the two of them talking in a relaxed manner, that something slightly ominous was happening - backed up by the expression on the woman-on-the-right's face.

Photograph 2, Assignment 2
   I decided to try a variation on this theme of exposing for the bright highlights in the second of the three photographs (Photograph 2, Assignment 2). Here, I deliberately used the dark, shaded sides of a narrow alleyway on either side of a brightly lit area to effectively frame a subject present in the bright, sunlit area in the middle of the alleyway. I thought this dark, virtual frame provided by the sides of the alleyway led the eye well into the sunny highlights in the middle distance.  

   For the third image (Photograph 3, Assignment 2) I returned to a similar usage of the high contrast situation as in the first two images, where the background was very dark but the highlighted people were exposed correctly in front of the dark background. Here however, there was an emphasis on the people 'emerging' from the darkness rather than being set against it. This was helped I felt by the diagonal lines the shadows had cast from the high buildings in the narrow street. They helped to lead the eye around the frame, in particular towards the main subjects; the three women chatting while walking.

   I was careful, however with this third image to try to get the exposure how I wanted as of course no post-processing and only jpegs were allowed for the assignment. For me this meant leaving some shadow detail present in the floor and sides of the alleyway, while retaining all of the highlights (which were very bright because of the sunny weather). To do this I put the camera in manual mode and fixed the aperture, while adjusting the shutter speed until I had the exposure I required. This worked well, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the camera I was using was a Sony DSLT, which possessed an electronic viewfinder. While this type of viewfinder has its drawbacks, one of the advantages is the ability to quite accurately preview the result of your exposure before taking the shot through the viewfinder. So I just adjusted the shutter speed until the highlights were correctly exposed, while there was simultaneously quite minimal shadow detail.

Photograph 3, Assignment 2
   Secondly, and more obscurely, it meant I could preview the result of the exposure to check the people in the bright parts of the image without having to reset the exposure (which would have been by using the exposure lock toggle) each time. This was because with manual mode the exposure is already 'locked' in whatever exposure parameters you have set it in.

   As a side note, I found that with this type of high contrast street photography, there wasn't much time to check histograms (be it within the viewfinder or LCD screen) as you shot. This was because of the quick nature of taking the photos, where the subjects were mostly moving. Instead I found myself relying on the electronic viewfinder of my camera to give me an approximation of how the resultant image would turn out.