Monday, 19 November 2012

Street Drainbows

Nikon D700  F/10  1/15s  ISO-400  PrSH  EV -0.7  35mm
Drain covers and I go a long way back. OK, so this is a manhole cover, but it's in the same spirit of underfoot street furniture, and fits into the category admirably.

There's someone, or some people, who a few years ago decided that these things weren't nearly colourful enough, and started decorating them. There are now quite a few scattered around the city, but they're getting a bit faded, as can be seen from the original photo below.

But this article isn't so much about drain covers or manholes as it is about men, or women. The last picture in this article shows the shot you might have at first been tempted to take; a straightforward record shot of a colourful manhole cover. But it's terribly lacking in punch, or rather kick, don't you think?

The original shot
This is what I did. The most obvious thing is to get a man being prevented from falling down the hole by said manhole cover. This can be done either by chance - i.e. you wait until someone walks across the thing - or by design - you get a willing volunteer to do it for you.

The first approach can be frustrating, if more genuine. People will either not come along, or won't step where you want them to or, very commonly, will avoid walking through your picture, blissfully unaware that that's exactly what you want them to do.

Getting someone to walk exactly where and when you want them to is by far the easiest solution. You can guess that I asked my willing cohort to step right in the middle and you can see the resulting masterpiece here. A fifteenth of a second on shutter speed priority was necessary to get the blurred swing of the following leg to give the shot a bit of direly needed dynamism. But that wasn't nearly enough.

As you can see from the original pic we had bits of road and stuff which wasn't really adding much to the shot, so I cropped it. But more importantly than that, I cropped it square. The simple reason for this was to echo the squareness of the manhole cover - obvious, perhaps, but worth doing in my opinion. Anything you can do to strengthen the picture is worth a go, and repetition to reinforce an element is worth its weight in gold.

There's a very pleasing correspondence between the skewed square of the manhole cover and the perfectly square sides of the photograph. Then we had to look at the quality of the shot itself.

The soleless first image...
It was a dull, rainy day, and this shows in the picture. Luckily, we can play around with the settings and punch things up a bit. Of course, you can overdo this, and maybe I have for some tastes, but it's only an example of what's possible and not a very sophisticated one. The main thing is not to go so over the top that people comment on the special effect you've used first and then, maybe, get around to seeing your beautiful composition and 'special moment' captured.

On my sister Paris and I iPhone photo blog I take the opposite approach, with one vital exception. I love special effects and all the cool and funky stuff you can do with applications on just a little telephone these days. But, and it's a big BUT, the original image has to be worth playing around with in the first place. Nowhere is the old computing adage garbage in, garbage out more true than in photographic post-processing.

Here on Nikon and Me I only do basic stuff, as here, such as bumping up the contrast, brightening the image, saturating the colours and sharpening, and those only if I think it improves the original image without making it look too unnatural.

Having said that, there's the question of personal style to take into account too. It so happens that my personal style is fairly hard-hitting shots based on the adjustments I've just mentioned. So I'll tend to use these settings in a very specific way which is more linked to taste and my personal photographic vision than generally accepted rules and regulations, which are only there to be broken anyway. Rebel 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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