Jul 28, 2009

Urban tattoos

I consider graffiti as a visually attractive form of 'urban decoration' - as long as it is put onto more or less appropriate surfaces, such as blind walls, old fences, etc. You shouldn't find it unwanted on traffic signs or any kind of private property. To the photographer on a street walk, these 'expressions of creativity' easily become colorful eye-catching subjects. Sometimes as a whole, sometimes in their detail.

If you look around a little, you may find nice samples in places where you would expect them less. Here below is a funny one, discovered on a rusty train wagon that is parked along the Schelde river quays in Antwerp.

You may have noted all pictures in this blog post are square. I like to go that route from time to time during post-processing, whenever the image itself invites me to do so, just like some other subject matter may lead me to black&white conversions. An exercise in composition and style, a tribute to old roll film cameras? You tell me, I don't really think about it that much when I go there...

Gear notes: D700, 24-70/2.8; D300, 18-200VR

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Jul 23, 2009

Loose ends

Dendermonde (D200, 12-24/4)

It took me a good while to realize, but I seem to have a thing for old, worn or broken electrical 'stuff'... Whenever I run into such a piece of equipment or circuitry during a shooting session, I simply cannot go on until I have grabbed a few frames.

Paris (D700, 28-200G)

I may spot them outside, indoors, on a wall or stuck onto whatever: I seem to notice them well before anyone else does. Sometimes, they are plainly visible in the open. At other times, they hide in the shadows or behind some other object and don't seem so easy to spot. What is it then that attracts me to these contraptions?

Gent (D700, 17-35/2.8)

For sure, it's not my training as an electronic engineer... More likely, there must be some visual qualities that make them look interesting - at least to the photographer's eye. Often, the textures of weathered or rusty devices are the first to get my attention, or the colors and how they contrast with each other: device against background, one material against another. Many times it is the pure geometry of conducts, wires and shapes that does it for me.

Dendermonde (D200, 18-200VR)

Remnants of older electrical installations are most likely to show such visually interesting characteristics. More recent gadgets tell a different story: you start wondering what may have happened, why the device was put out of use, half dismantled, left abandoned to the elements.

Brussels (D700, 24-70/2.8)

I guess that touches exactly on the core of photography: seeing what is there, dreaming of what could have been, and trying to capture and convey that imagination through a picture.

Gear notes: see below images

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Jul 20, 2009

Walk the World

Scott Kelby's second Worldwide Photo Walk took place last Saturday. More than 32,000 photographers participated to over 900 group shootings organized worldwide. I was one of the 50 'walkers' in Antwerp. We had a fun afternoon, strolling through the downtown area and - as always - discovering some nice new locations. Funny that an event like this brings you to places you passed by so many times, without noticing the photo opportunities!

Weather was very, very windy but dry and with enough sunshine for a good sky now and then. On such an occasion, making new friends is as important as making great shots. Nevertheless, I was able to put a fair little album together. I will put up some of the better pictures on this blog in the coming days, with a few short comments.

Of course we didn't part at the end of the walk without the obligatory 'terraske' along the busy streets of this wonderful town...!

Gear notes: D300, 18-200VR, 10.5/2.8

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Jul 16, 2009

Closed for business

The first time I came by this desolate scene in a Brussels suburb, I did not have a camera with me... So when I knew I would be passing nearby a good week later, I came fully equipped and planned for the extra time.

Don't ask me exactly what it is that 'does' it for me with this image. The textures (concrete, asphalt, metal, various types of stone...), the weeds, the spray-painted graphics: they all contribute in some way by adding their own bit to the overall story.

Looking at this 'installation' face-on presents an intriguing but not really interesting picture, as seen above (I slightly desaturated the colors to add to the dullness).

So I went looking for a better angle and perspective. That day the sky was overcast and dull: good soft lighting, but nothing fancy happening 'up there'. That's what led me to experiment with HDR (in this case: detail enhancement starting from a single RAW image).

Sometimes, it takes a lot of effort to make visible what you see (or feel) from the beginning!

Gear notes: D300, 18-200VR

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Jul 14, 2009

Vive la France!

What better subject could I pick for today's post but something from France? So here's a few more from last March's Paris trip. We had fair and dry spring weather with cold and clean air: ideal conditions for some night shots!

To start, a classic view on the Notre-Dame cathedral, taken from the Pont Saint-Michel. The light was great: colorful reflections on the water of the Seine, and just enough fading daylight left to leave some color in the sky and light on the buildings (it was around half past seven). At left, you can see an enormous canvas hiding scaffolding, and depicting various aspects of police work.

I used my favorite lens for night photography, an AF-D 35mm f/2.0. Being light and compact, it's a great walk-around lens well suited for unobtrusive shooting. With a little exercise, you can frame from the hip: you just have to remember that at this focal length the width of the image (on film or full-frame digital) will be about equal to the distance to the subject.

And nothing adds more 'mood' to urban night shots than a little black&white...!

Gear notes: D700, 35/2.0

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Jul 8, 2009

Frame Zero

I was born into a family of professional photographers. I spent time in a darkroom before I could read and write... As a youngster, I used various cheap film cameras (120 and 127 format rolls and later 35mm), and from time to time was allowed to touch the 'pro' stuff. Then I received my first 'own' SLR - a still very dear Nikkormat FT - and I learned about the urge to acquire more and better glass.

When I left home, access to a well equipped darkroom became difficult (and I was too spoiled to accept a small and simple one at my own place). So I went on to shoot 35mm slide film mostly. From time to time, I treated myself to another piece of equipment. But as both family and professional obligations increased, photography slowly faded away into a vacation thing. Until...

One day in 2002, I had the opportunity to add a few sightseeing days at the end of a business trip to Australia. It wasn't practical to take along my 35mm gear, so I bought a small digital compact for the occasion: a tiny silver 2 Mpix Nikon Coolpix 775 (I prefer not to remember what the going prices were at the time...!). And all of a sudden, photography became a big part of my life again.

My frustrations with the limitations of that first compact made me move on to a more capable bridge camera, a Coolpix 5700, until finally the D70 brought me back 'home'.

One day, I will get back to the original JPEG files from that first digital trip, to see how much more I can make out of them now that my post-processing skills - and tools! - have improved. But today I look back with pleasure to the souvenirs of the trip that restarted it all.

Gear notes: Coolpix 775

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Jul 4, 2009

Art in a box

Talking about art and exhibitions, let me share another story with you.

Back in August 2007, I had a chance to visit the ARoS Art Museum in Aarhus, Denmark. This is one of the largest art museums in northern Europe: its 10 floors offer a total of 17,000 m² exhibition space. It houses a broad collection of paintings, sculptures and installations, art videos, drawings, photos and graphics.

The interior architecture of the building is quite spectacular, and to capture its visual impact on the visitors is a real challenge. That's when my fish-eye lens got out of the bag once again: the more-than-wide angle of view and creative distortion offer a good match for the spectacular design. Just compare the picture on the left, shot at a 'regular' 18mm (27mm equivalent on full-frame), with the fish-eye image on the right.

That fish-eye lens also allowed me to capture the imposing presence by some of the museum's monumental art, here for example Ron Mueck's gigantic Boy now owned by ARoS.

And sometimes architecture becomes art all by itself... This detail from the museum's curved galleries was captured by my wife, using a simple compact, no more...

Gear notes: D200, 18-200VR, 10.5/2.8; Lumix TZ1

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