Man Smoking, Woman Walking

April 13, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

On the same day as my previous Morning Walk post, I decided to take photos on my walk home from work. The light was a bit harsher as it was around 5:00pm (the sun sets in Edmonton at around 8:30 this time of year) but the wonderful chiaroscuro of the sunlight and deep shadows can be taken advantage of for good effect. I was over the halfway point to my apartment when I saw a man standing against a plain yet oddly lit, warm-coloured brick wall. I had my 45mm f1.8 on the Olympus E-M5 and was a bit of a distance away across a busy avenue. I was intrigued by this scene thanks to the interesting light and the lone figure, not quite sure why he was there, a solitary figure in this bleak setting. I then saw him gesture slightly, leaning a tad forward, inhaling on his cigarette, his shadow not looking at all like a human figure. Ok, I admit I didn't think of the shadow that way when I initially saw the scene, but it worked out in retrospect. I immediately brought the viewfinder to my eye, framing horizontally, fully aware of all of the interesting vertical objects and shadow areas in the scene, and took this photo (uncropped, original RAW):

I knew, while framing, that the 45mm (90mm equivalent in 35mm) was not the reach I wanted but, with some post-process refining, this image had good potential to be a keeper. I just shot one photo and carried on my merry way home. Upon reviewing the photo the next day I realized the the photo would be stronger if I cropped it vertically. I will indicate right now that I am not one who has a moral stance against cropping, horizon adjustments, etc. from the original photo. I do try my best to get it right on the initial click of the shutter, but there are times when adjusting the frame simply works better. And, it's very rare that I actually go as radical as changing the full position (horizontal to vertical and vice versa).

I also decided that I would love to see this in black and white. The colour works for me but, like The Hill photo a couple of posts back, there is a wonderful graphic component to this that would work so well in monochrome. So, after adjusting the framing and making minor tonal adjustments in Lightroom, I ran it through Silver Efex Pro. I added a bit of grain to it, as I come from the era of Ilford HP5+, my favourite black and film loaded in my Nikon F3 in the 90's, and I like a bit of grain in black and white street photos. In the software I also used a red-yellow filter to darken the sky and lighten the wall a bit, strengthening the shadow effect. Here is the result:

The vertical elements work really well in my opinion, I like the uneven leaning of the sign posts, and the array of tones from deep shadows to specular highlights. The man is only a part of the scene scale-wise, yet his shape contrasts with the surrounding rigidness of verticals that invites intrigue. Is he the main subject? I believe this is an example of gestalt, he is part of the whole sum of the photo. The needle-like steeple in the top left corner is a mysterious, abrupt shape stabbing at the sky because, well, it can. I will let this one sit for awhile and return to it in the future, perhaps my initial excitement will wane, who knows at this time.

The next morning I followed suit when I saw the gorgeous morning sun and took a few photos on my way back into the office. I wasn't having as many 'ah-ha' moments as the previous morning but on the final stretch into City Centre Mall there is a long, tight strip of sunlight framed by dark shadows along the south of the facade. When walking eastward (towards the rising sun) the pedestrians in front of you give off superb, long shadows when walking within the light. I couldn't help but notice a young lady ahead of me wearing black tight leggings ending with black ankle boots that had fake fur accenting the sides. I immediately thought about Peter Turnley's famous photo of the woman walking up the Paris Metro, the backs of her calves glowing below her waving, long coat, the stilettos of her shoes grinding into the concrete stairs as she walks up them. I am proud to say, thanks to Mike Johnston and one of his wonderful Online Photographer print sales, I own this silver gelatin photograph and it was one of the earliest street photographs that inspired me. So, using my LED screen with the 45mm lens I tried my best to capture some kind of photo of this woman's lower calves and shoes, trying to take advantage of the shadows and her movement. I'm not sure that I really succeeded but I'm more or less pleased with one of the frames I selected, and it was also converted to black and white:

The shape of the sole is interesting, slightly textured and the 'fur' really stands out. There is movement indicated here, something that can work in a photograph with the right intent. I also timed it perfectly with the light as her next step was literally into the shadows so I was a bit lucky in that regard. What can I say, deciding to bring my camera with me into work this week has jolted some much needed photo inspiration back into my soul, they won't all be keepers (and certainly not masterpieces) but one needs to just get out there and work at it; you never know what you will end up with.


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