Thursday, 8 November 2012

Keep Off The Grass

Nikon D800  F/20  1/15s  ISO-400  PrSH  EV +0.7  120mm
Pictures of pigeons isn't exactly the most original subject, I know. The thing is, not only are they all over the place in any big western European city, they sometimes actually are worth snapping if not outright shooting.

The thing is, there has to be some sort of story, or the shot's just, well, a pigeon shot.

I saw what would have been a great one a couple of days ago - a homeless guy sharing a warm air metro grill with three huddled up feathered friends.

That would have been a sad one though, and this one here is, thankfully, a bit more light-hearted. Nothing mysterious about it, the joke is obvious. A dozen birds quietly grazing like sheep around a sign explicitly forbidding them to do so.

OK, the sign is for humans, but you can see why I found it a bit funny.

I took a few shots, some before I even had the idea of the 'joke' and share some of them here.

This one on the left attracted me at first because of the bird's wings but then I realised that was taking the attention away from the humorous situation, and as the joke is slight anyway I needed to focus as much attention as possible on the nonchalent rule-breaking.

Another problem is that everything's pretty much the same size, or there isn't enough of a contrast between the birds on the railings and those on the lawn, which again weakens the shot.

In the next shot we can see at least three reasons why it's not as strong as the one I eventually chose. First of all, the bird on the railing is looking away from his law-breaking colleagues, thereby taking our attention away from them, unless we imagine he is trying to ignore the blatant disrespect for the park rules.

The second thing is that the railing bird is the same colour as the others, whereas in the final shot he stands out splendidly in his bright white birdy colours.

Finally, in the shot on the right, the 'pelouse interdite' (keep off the grass) sign is out of focus, which hinders the immediate telling of the story, which can't be a good thing.

Other comments are to watch out for dangerously sloping horizons or grass edges, as in the flapping bird shot and to a lesser extent my final shot. This can cause distinct queasiness and again take away from whatever it is you are trying to say with the rest of the shot.

And then, in my efforts to brighten up the picture utterly unexpertly, the near bird's very light grey plumage has been completely blown out to a blinding white. I decided not to care, as the story is more important to me than reality-matching perfection, but this could really bug some people of course.

We are so close to him though we can almost imagine ourselves in his place, as though he were a disapproving park keeper watching a bunch of kids playing ball on the 'No Ball Games' section of his patch!

In the end, you hardly ever have the perfect shot and just have to make the best of whatever you have, first of all in front of you in the field, and then back home, slaving over a hot keyboard.

Oh, I should add that I obviously cropped to focus even more on the illicit grass-walking and get rid of unnecessary detail (and another whole row of pigeons doing not very much in particular).

The last thing I'll do is explain my rather strange settings. I'd put the camera onto shutter speed priority to try and get some nice flapping wing shots as my fellow snapper scared the poor brutes off the railing for me. Hence the weird 1/15th of a second and the corresponding F/20 needed to compensate for that much light coming in on a fairly bright day at ISO 400. This lead to unsharp grass blades which would probably have been sharper at 1/250s, say, with my Nikon D800's mega pixel count, but hey, what the hell, I got a blog post out of it in the end, and that's good enough for me!


* Sab Will runs Photo and Curios Tours in Paris, and also manages a variety of Paris and photography-themed sites and blogs. He writes an illustrated Paris Chronicle every day, runs a Meetup group for Paris lovers, interviews Paris personalities and reviews Paris books (on this blog), and even contributes to the city's street art (shh), so feel free to browse some of the links below and in the right-hand column to find out more about what he gets up to out there...

© 2012 Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Contact me directly for photo tours, interviews, exhibitions, etc.

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