Friday, 9 January 2009

Developing a photograph

Construction hut, The Hague, January 2009

After a good discussion over at Stills about this image, I want to write about the process that went to making it. I felt the need to crystallize my own thoughts, in a sense verbalizing some things lurking in the back of my mind. Maybe others might find it interesting, too.

The subject. Here is was a portable hut used as a site office for some construction work on-going, installed between the trees lining a fairly wide avenue. In a setting where the buildings are quite old, there is a lot of weathered brick, a cobbled road surface and fairly substantial trees this hut is quite incongruous - it stands out quite strongly in colour and shape. For me, the key here is shape.

What I'm looking for. This is one of a developing series that I'm creating where I explore the relationship between natural forms and man-made, strongly geometric constructions. Many of them have the natural forms presenting as some for of weathering, decay or erosion of the man-made structure. It is these elements that I am looking for. In this case, all around me were natural shapes and the strong geometry of the hut stood right out among them. In other cases it might be some natural form or blemish in an otherwise ordered scene that catches my eye.

How I shoot the scene. I am trying to abstract the actual objects down to just the shape elements. This generally means cropping out anything that gives reference to what the structures actually are and also generally removing visual elements that give depth, effectively flattening the subject. Everything is done so as to accentuate the shapes I am presenting. This generally means getting quite close as I'm often shooting with normal to wide focal lengths. Largely this is because I find most subjects in an urban environment where I find it otherwise inappropriate to carry a long lens. In this case I was only a couple of meters away, and trying to reduce the sense of the entirety of the tree trunk and the sense of size of the hut. I wanted the straight lines of the stripes caused by the hut's construction and the more natural verticals of the tree.

How I feel at the time. The shooting is quite an instinctive process - I'm usually capturing my immediate visual reaction to a given location: see the shapes, shoot the shapes. This is in strong contrast to more more usual thoughtful considered style. I only take one or two exposures of a given scene. My experience is that I don't create a better final result in trying too hard. If I don't immediately see the shapes catch my eye, then there is no way to work a good result. I've also got an instinctive approach to the technical aspects of making the image: experience has taught me how to set up the camera for these subjects. So the entire process from seeing the scene to pressing the shutter takes a few seconds. I haven't got an understanding as to why this works best but the truth is for this type of subject I have to try and remove the rational response at the time to get the results.

How interpretation follows. When I'm then get home there is a more thoughtful process of looking at the image I'm going to present. Obviously, they don't all make the cut. In this case there were a few decisions I was looking at regarding: geometry, sense of size and depth, tone, alignment.
Key was the relative size of tree. I wanted to create a sense of the strength of nature. More so than it might be in real life beside the hut, creating the impression that the hut is seemingly smaller than it appeared in reality.
Verticals are rotated to true vertical - almost universal for these subjects. This is to create a stronger sense of the geometry and avoid distraction.
Here the right edge is included to give sense of third dimension, corners help strengthen that - as window shutters not truly horizontal due to perspective I couldn't abstract this completely to geometry.
Tonal balance has been adjusted to ensure strength of tree stands out. I want this to provide tension between the strength of the tree as an object and the geometric strength of the rectilinear nature of the hut.

Hopefully this series, as a group or individuals, causes pause for thought.

1 comment:

  1. I read this posting a day or two ago but didn't then comment. However, your discussion about a motivation for taking a photo got me thinking about why I'm taking photos, and I can't really answer.

    Usually I don't consciously know why certain subject seems worth taking a photo. However, I have started to do some analysis on the spot, to know what is the reason for the interest.

    Perhaps this will in the long run result in identifying some kind of unifying theme for the photos I take. Currently, I don't have such.

    A good thought-provoking posting!


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