Friday, October 24, 2008
Last night I decided to go back through the images I made during our trip to Germany and Prague. I had thought I'd pretty much mined the files for useable images but decided to be a bit less critical and see what I could do with what I'd taken - after all - I'd gone to the trouble to take the images in the first place - so what if the thumbnail didn't look useable.
In this particular shot, I was trying to capture the sense of fine detail - layers upon layers of it which the builders had created hundreds of years ago. It's hard to capture the ousides of cathedrals - they tend to be tightly surrounded by other buildings and a shot of the whole thing looks more illustrative than artistic and besides the whole is what the architect designed - if I want to bring something to the image I need to use light, shadow and composition to bring a fresh point of view if possible.
From a practical point of view, many of the angles are spoiled by awkward composition, or a bright bit of sky showing through or poor lighting and so on. The whole business of perspective with the building falling backwards as you point the camera upwards is problematic. It seems to work inside when there is no edge to the building and the receding lines show more of the ceilings but ouside it's a bit more difficult.
I elected to correct rotation and vertical perspective (and if need be barrel/pincushion) via filter/distort/lens correction in Photoshop. I liked what I saw. Many cathedrals suffer from millenia of soot and are almost black - Cologne was disappointing in that way - but they'd been working on the Aachen cathedral and sig. parts of it showed very nicely. This particular view avoided much of the black stone seen elsewhere.
I like the gradual ranking upwards and to the right of the spindles tops while the background building lines slope down to the right. These opposing lines often work well together and are to be sought.
There is a glow to the light stone to the right of the window and some judicious lightening of some of the other stone results in a richly toned yet balanced image.
I particularly like the lines of the corner stones in the top right, 1/3 from the bottom on the left and at the bottom 2/3 of the way to the right - they feed off of each other.
You might well ask how much of this I saw squinting through the viewfinder and the answer is not much - I simply saw a sense of "rightness" about the image and much of what I have explained above has been discovered after the fact. You might think that this is a bit strange and perhaps has more to do with luck than skill but if that's the case, I'm awfully damned lucky.
Let me illustrate. You see someone across the room who is really attractive. Lets simplify by saying you only see their face. Now stop and think about this - did you analyse the shape of the nose, carefully consider the cheek bones, check out the profile - of course not, you simply looked and found the whole appealing. It's quite possible that in fact if you break down the face, the parts themselves are unremarkable, it's the whole package that somehow works together in a way that appeals to YOU. You know damn well that others might well be admiring someone else in the room, that you might be the only person there who thinks this person's face is wonderful. With one glance at the face and no analysis, you might well already have a sense of this is someone you want to take to bed, or introduce to your mother or simply to get to know.
Going back to photographing and simply seeing a composition that "looks right", the analogies are pretty close. Not only do you see something appealing, you may well infer some feelings about it in the same way you inferred the personality of the face you saw across the room. That feeling may be of fragility, delicacy, endurance, strength, magnificence, reverence, or any number of inferences. All of this is entirely personal and that is what you bring to the image, even though you are photographing the creation of someone else. When others look at your images, they see your viewpoint. Either they are going to find it interesting or not - you can't control that and to some degree it doesn't really matter if you enjoy the images. Odds are though, that if you get the technical issues behind you and if you learn to effectively present your viewpoint, some others will appreciate it and you will acquire an audience. Whether they throw money at your feet or just kiss them is a whole other matter.
In the end, it's still just a picture of a building but I do think it goes beyond the ordinary postcard.