Thursday, March 8, 2012

P30: wide-angle views - near and far

The basic premise of this project is to create juxtaposition between foreground and background to introduce depth and possibly tension into an image.  Many photographers use this technique, frequently to editorialize in an image.  A famous example is the "Mickey Mouse" doll lying among the ruins of a recently bombed apartment block in Beirut.  Shot by a photojournalist, Ben Curtis, this is a controversial photograph as it portrays a child's toy set against the destruction of a city by the Israeli air force.  This is how the New York Times presented the picture:

Mickey Mouse toy in Tyre, South Lebanon

Was it simply a comment on the horror of war, an attack on Israel's bombing, or a critique of Hezbollah and the housing of fighters in a residential neighbourhood.  Worse still questions were asked about whether or not the toy was placed there to dramatize the shot.  More on the ethics of photographs in a later blog post.

Photographically what makes this work is that the photo divides neatly into two elements, the foreground detail and the background landscape, separated from either the image has no impact, the juxtaposition of both creates a statement.  I was not in a war zone, nor had I such interesting subject matter, however, during my visit to New York I kept this project in mind and whenever using my 16mm (24mm FF) lens looked for subject matter that would enable me to create a near-far contrast.  Like Ben Curtis I was one the move, so did not use a tripod, however, I was enjoying strong winter sunshine and with the smaller sensor camera could maintain a depth of field that was consistent with hand holding a small camera. Aperture was typically between f/8 and f/10, I am reluctant to shoot much above f/11 to avoid loss of sharpness due to diffraction.

The first and most successful shot was a bin and pile of chairs set against the background of the empire state building.  I wanted to contrast the skyscrapers with the rather banal foreground

The next 2 shots attempt more or less the same graphical structure, trying to provide some structure to New Yorks street scenes.

Walking along the Highline, this group of bird boxes and feeders made for an interesting shot, this time low down, trying to superimpose the framework against the sky, but still permit enough of the city to add context to the image.

Finally and one that does not work to the brief, this is still an image that contrasts near and far, this time with a strong geometry.  A very typical New York image.

The type of image asked for does not fit well with my style, I hope that the above images meet with the spirit if not the precise requirements of the brief.

This technique is not restricted to the landscape or photojournalism, recently Close Focus Wide Angle (CFWA) has become all the rage in underwater photography.  Here the concept is twisted a little, by using an extreme wide angle, normally 20mm or wider and adding extension tubes.  This enables the lens to focus much closer, but loses the ability to focus on infinity.  The outcome can be very dramatic images of smaller animals in a very wide setting.  I have not gone down this route, the equipment needed to  mount a wide angle lens on an extension tube is expensive and the loss of access to infinity focusing severely limits options on a dive.  I do however work in close using WA lenses, but not in a landscape mode of thinking (both taken at 10mm on an APS-C sensor camera).

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