Photography is pretty simple stuff. You just react to what you see, and take many, many picturesElliott Erwitt
For me, one of the most important words in that quote is ‘many’. So often I observe some with a phone or camera taking a single photo of a sight and moving on, in a hurry to reach the next. In the pre-digital days when every picture taken meant a hit to your wallet, that made some sense (although even back then I was relatively profligate with film and was never happy with only one shot). Today it strikes me as strange, but then I am rarely completely happy with my first shot of anything!
This week for our Lens Artists challenge Patti reminds us to slow down, take a longer look at a subject, and experiment a bit. I tackled this topic in a Friendly Friday challenge a few months ago. There I talked about the importance of not always settling for the first shot that comes to mind. In that post I allowed myself the luxury of sharing multiple viewpoints of my chosen subjects, but Patti wants just three. So this week I’ve hunted out a few different examples from my archive.
For my first set of images I’m taking you, as I so often do, to North Korea. But this is a very different side to that enigmatic country. On any tour there you are taken not just to the big sights but also to some very unusual ones. They are proud of their achievements in industry and farming and want you to see how advanced they are. (Any less successful efforts are of course strictly off-limits to tourists). One of our visits was to a mushroom farm, although to me it felt more like a factory. We were shown how a small team of women inserts the spores into plastic bags of compost. We then walked through large rooms filled with racks of mushrooms at various stages of growth.
My shot of one of these rooms was a good record of what we saw. But it was hardly very interesting photographically.
Likewise a closer look at the plastic bags with mushrooms sprouting out of them. It shows you how the mushrooms are grown, but visually it’s pretty dull.
But when I got closer and started to play around with almost abstract shots of the mushrooms themselves, finally I felt I could get some decent images. I loved their sinuous curves and the play of light and shade.
The Virgen de Quito
El Panecillo is a small hill in Quito, the Ecuadorean capital. The name means ‘the little bread loaf’, because of its shape. The hill was a sacred site for the Quechua. They had a temple to the Sun god (Yavirac) here and called the hill Shungoloma, meaning ‘hill of the heart’.
Today the hill is crowned with a statue of the Virgen de Quito who watches over and protects the city. This dominates the skyline when you look south down any of colonial Quito’s avenidas.
But you’ll get a better look at the statue if you climb the hill (ideally in a car or taxi, as the steps that lead here are notoriously bad for crime and tourist muggings).
A shot taken from the foot of the statue gives a better idea of its size, at 41 metres tall. You can also see how the Virgin stands on top of a globe and steps on a serpent, a traditionally symbolic way to portray the Madonna. Less traditional are the wings. Indeed, locals claim that she is the only one in the world with wings like an angel. The statue is full of movement – she might almost be dancing – very different to the usual static portrayals of the saint.
Zooming in on her face you can see just some of the seven thousand pieces of aluminium of which she was constructed.
The Hofburg Palace in Vienna
The Hofburg was built in the 13th century as the principal imperial palace and winter residence of the Habsburg dynasty. It has been much added to over the years, and today is the official residence and workplace of the president of Austria. It is a sprawling building, taking up a large plot on the city.
This impressive frontage is the Michaelertrakt (St. Michael’s Wing), one of the palace’s newer wings, dating from the 19th century. We were here on a lovely sunny day but the light wasn’t great for photography, as much of the building was in shade.
I decided to focus most of my attention on some of the details of the palace that were better lit. While details alone don’t show the scale of the building they do hint at its grandeur. I liked the contrast of green dome, white sculptural pieces and blue sky.
Zooming even closer I picked out individual figures within the sculptural groups. I liked this angel’s golden trumpet and feathered wings.
Salto Grande, Torres del Paine
These falls link two of the Torres del Paine National Park’s lakes, Lake Nordenskjöld and Lake Pehoé. They lie about a kilometre off the park road along a level but stony path. When we visited the winds were incredibly strong, making what must usually be quite an easy walk into something rather more challenging. But the scenery along the way was stunning. It would be well worth the effort even without the reward of a waterfall at the end of the path!
From a distance you can appreciate the falls’ setting in the landscape: rocky, barren, desolate. The beautiful turquoise colour of the water is due to Nordenskjöld being a glacial lake, fed with ice run-off from the surrounding mountains.
You need to get closer to the water to take a photo that shows the power of the falls. I took several here but I liked this one best, focusing not on the water but on the branches of a nearby bush stripped bare by the winds and spray.
But my favourite shot from this spot wasn’t of the falls at all. Maybe it’s not so obvious a shot to take, but I couldn’t resist the beauty of the landscape I saw when I turned away from them. While it was the falls that brought me here, I felt I got my best photos not of the waters but of the surrounding mountains and those bare shrubs.
Waterlily at Angkor Wat
For my last example I thought I’d have a look at how you can use a variety of editing techniques to show a subject in different ways.
To start with, here’s a straightforward shot of a waterlily in the lake in front of Angkor Wat. It’s pretty much as it was straight out of the camera, just slightly cropped and with a touch of vignetting to draw attention to the flower.
I used the ‘poster edges’ filter in Photoshop Elements to create this effect.
And finally, here I used Silver Efex Pro to create a monochrome version. I added a stronger vignette, upped the contrast and tinted it slightly with the copper filter. This, I think, is my favourite version, despite the draw of that vivid pink.