Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Questions of scale

Most hobbyist photographers pray for sunny days. Particularly for shooting landscapes. I was tempted out the other evening and suckered into trying yet again to make some normal landscape pictures.  And yet again I found the overwhelming greenness of the summer countryside a verdant mush. I threw in some leading lines and a framing branch or two. The results were the usual dreck. I still kept trying.

In the mean time I'd seen some subjects which were in line with pictures I'd made at the quarry. Jumbles of branches and shadows playing on tree trunks and such like. While quickly made and hand held it was more interesting trying to make pictures from them.

I did have one attempt at a more traditional landscape picture of a tree. The difference being that I wanted to incorporate the line of pylons in the picture. Although I had two lenses with me one proved too long and the other too short to get the framing and perspective I wanted. Zooming doesn't alter perspective, and it's by altering position that I was able to position the pylons where I wanted them in relation to the three's branches. It would have been much easier to do this in a painting by simply moving the pylons exactly where they ought to go. But that's the challenge, and difficulty, of photography.

A couple of days later, with the weather holding, I went back for another try with a more suitable lens. Despite a lot of looking and trying I still couldn't quite make the picture I was aiming for.  In fact I'm not sure if I want to move in closer or stand back for a wider view, or if the pylons ought to be less prominent and the picture more obviously of a tree. Perhaps I'll have another try.

After my first attempt at the tree I went to another area that intrigues me but which is difficult to photograph. I did, however, make a rather laboured shot of a keep out sign to add to my collection. I suppose it's a landscape picture of sorts but more of a heavy-handed commentary. If I was being clever I should have made the sign less prominent, and maybe put it out of focus.

After my second trip to the tree I headed for the pier area. There were plenty of people around but I've got tired of the whole 'street photography' thing. Not just trying to do it but looking at it. It's ubiquitous. Which makes me wonder why anyone would want to sign up for a workshop in the genre. If there is one area of photography that should be about doing your own thing it's the branch that calls itself 'street'. I'm coming round to thinking that the way to picture people candidly, doing what they are doing, while avoiding the clich├ęs of 'street' is to put them in a wider context. Rather like the pylons in the landscape. Time to turn the axiom that says you have to get in closer to make your pictures better on its head.

I like what's going on in the picture above. It has an abstract almost-symmetry to it (which I think is always more visually interesting than an actual symmetry as it makes you look longer and harder trying to spot the discrepancies), there's a sense of light, and there are two groups of figures. Landscapes by 'the old masters' very often contain animals or people, sometimes for allegorical reasons or to give a sense of scale, but always because they engage viewer.

The pier itself is oft photographed. There was another bloke there with a camera and tripod. Finding different ways to picture it is a real struggle. The obvious pictures are so obvious that you take them anyway and regret it later. As the pier runs out to the west a favourite time to photograph it from the sea wall is at sunset - so I try to avoid that time of day if at all possible!

When the tide is well out the pier always looks like a rather pointless construction. So that's when I like to photograph it. It wasn't always thus. Steamers operated from the pier in its heyday, but tidal forces have altered the coastline and silted the channels over time. That's why much of the pier actually extends over dry land and an artificial lake rather than the sea it used to. Strange place, Southport.

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