An away day this week, some architectural photography, and though we have a lot of it right here in the city we also have a UNESCO World Heritage site just thirteen and a half miles away centre to centre and so it was to Bath that we retired in order to avail ourselves of some fine Georgian architecture. Actually I have been informed that Bristol has more Georgian buildings than Bath, but Bath is more concentrated and less broken up by interventions of later developers. I haven’t counted and there is a reason that Bath is better known as a tourist destination than Bristol. Bristol has a more working feel to it, Bath, at least in the centre, connects to a different era, a different world and in a costume drama smack down Jane Austen takes Wallace AND Gromit every time.
Architecture creeps into our photographs a lot of the time as back drop. Incorporating interesting features of it can be both a challenge and very rewarding. Also, of course, it is a subject all of its own. The challenge with our standard kit, compacts and bridge cameras is how to get it all in when it is the point of our image and accommodate it when it is a backdrop. The two can be interchangeable as a solution for one can be a photo opportunity in another. We interact with the built environment as we do with the natural one – of course the one is imposed on top of, in and through the other – but it still, photographically, about light and dark, texture and pattern. The devil, as is the subject, is in the detail.
Perspective is the first thing that strikes most of us about the photographs we take on standard kit, rather its distortion especially when we are trying to get the whole thing in. The focal plane tilts. The building tilts, the verticals converge, when we move the camera in the vertical plane. The effect is known as the Keystone Effect. It can, of course be deliberately employed, but for most of us most of the time it’s an effect that distorts the image perspective. It is not just a problem in camera, if you don’t square up a screen and projector you will get the same effect. The name is taken from architecture, the shape of the stone at the top of an arch which is, in the wonderful world of Euclidean Geometry, trapezoid, or “a convex quadrilateral with at least one pair of parallel sides”, though to us mere mortals either the top or the bottom is wider than the opposite giving the image a tilt. Hence the expensive corrective known as a Tilt Correction Lens, more often a Tilt Shift Lens, aka Perspective Control lens and the less expensive post production methods for the rest of us.
Perspective shifts are a function of “Getting it all in”. OK a product of physics, but physics don’t form. compose and capture. “Getting it all in” is a logical progression from “I want a photograph of that”. Perfectly natural progression, but is it the best way to capture what we are after? This want raises a fundamental question we have already introduced, why do we need to get it all in? It’s a useful question for any photograph we take, not one that should stop us taking photographs all together but one that might help us take better photographs. Well arguments on God or the Devil being detail oriented aside (may I offer God in the detail and the Devil in the lack of details).
Light, dark, texture, pattern. How does the light fall, how is it contrasted by the shadows and dark tones? How are the surface details reflected, where do the lines and spaces, colours take our eyes in the frame? All questions of composition, more of which in the 14th July meeting where we have a speaker who is dedicating the evening to that very question. Essentially what draws the eye and provokes the emotions? What shouts “Look at me?” and what gives it soul? Where is, and what is, the meaning?
Yeah but we are talking about getting the whole thing in and buildings are big things. Well there are ways of doing that, certainly a panorama might get a wide shot in but the perspective thing with tall verticals is still a problem. You can use the Thirds squares in your view finder (assuming it has them) to line up details left and right and the use software to stitch them together if panorama isn’t a feature of your camera. Use a longer focal length, somewhere round 50mm is a good start. If there is enough space around your subject this might be a solution, with the some post production voodoo, but it’s not necessarily the point. Because it is technically feasible doesn’t mean it is desirable. What I am saying here is another view point, a detail, a group of details (patterns) all speak of the subject. It still is documentary but it also open to artistic interpretation. David Hockney chose photo-collage for his Brooklyn Bridge piece (which fetched £44,500 at auction, by the way) and has used the technique with other subjects too. There are other ways of dealing with big.
Of course another antidote to big is far away. Simply move back or get a wider lens. The wider you go the more likely that verticals will start to bow, of course, but this can be fixed in post as mentioned above, or with the application of large amounts of currency at your local photo-emporium. Or you can use diptych or triptych frames – for which post production is definitely needed – but you will have to plan it and you will need a fairly strong idea of how the finished article will look before you start pressing the shutter button. In these forms you use connected details to make a bigger statement.
So the whole point is, with so many opportunities on our door step, go out and use these opportunities to explore our urban environment. Apply your imagination and press the sutter.
N E X T M E E T I NG
Social and Prize Giving. Black Castle, Brislington 19:30 hrs. PLEASE NOTE THERE WILL BE NO EVENT AT THE SCHOOL.