The Look

Just around the corner from my hotel in Venice was a shop whose windows were full of cashmere sweaters.  Passing it as often as I did, it was inevitable that I’d succumb and go inside to buy one, but when I did I was surprised to find that instead of smart displays, the interior was full of clothes rails and resembled a dry cleaners more than a boutique!

The man running the show explained that he was a wholesaler rather than a retailer, and I was reminded of the League of Gentleman as he tried to explain himself in English.  A local shop?  For local people?

His enthusiasm got the better of him and he went on to show me every style of sweater available (several) in every colour (many), insisting that I tell him which colours I liked and didn’t.  I started to get the feeling he was looking a wholesale order.  As he did so there were a number of colours that would never make it to my wardrobe,  bright yellows, oranges and pinks.  I reminded him that I was English!  His response was that because I was from the north I would prefer more sombre colours; as a Northern Italian, he was wearing navy and grey, but those from the south of the country, or Spain and Portugal, they would love the brighter options.

Perhaps he was right, but back out on the streets a couple of things became apparent; Italians love black.  (I say Italians, but I have no idea of the nationality of most of those in the images below).  The black quilted jacket or coat was virtually everywhere this winter.

Many others still chose darker options

There’s an exception to every rule of course… Venezia-17


Fur was a very popular choice too, far more so than in the UK.  I don’t know if it was real or not, though I’m pretty sure that they last woman in this group wouldn’t have accepted anything man-made:

Incidentally the young man who begins that group was introduced to me as an up and coming footballer playing in Serie A.  They picked the wrong guy to try and impress and his name, which meant nothing to me was swiftly forgotten.  If you recognise him, let me know and I’ll caption his shot appropriately.

Only one question remained to be answered.  It was December and the light was subdued and flattened by the mist and fog.  Why then, do so many Italians still wear shades?


Blinded by the Light

Photography.  Literally, writing with light, but in the same way as a marker pen might be great for leaving a message on a whiteboard but wouldn’t do the trick for writing a piece of personal correspondence, so it is that some lighting conditions are better than others for certain types of shot.

I visited the beach twice today, the first at midday when returning from an appointment.  The sun was bright and relatively low in the sky creating crisp, shadows and bright highlights, extremes which exceed the range of camera sensors so choices must be made.  I contented myself with more abstract shots, but didn’t even consider a portrait as most possibilities were shielded behind dark glasses or squinting against the glare.

And so I returned about three hours later.  The skies now overcast and the light less intense.  Fewer people about but better possibilities for me.  I spent a couple of minutes looking up and down the coast, but there was one figure that called me to photograph her.

Judith, accompanied by a small boy was looking out to sea simply enjoying the endless surge of waves.  Her dimpled smile was perfection. 




One of the photographers I follow occasionally through Facebook is Eric Kim, a street photographer who runs workshops all over the world, and provides detailed information about the why’s and wherefores of this art, including a some useful links that clarify the often misunderstood laws relating to public photography.

I’d read one of his recent posts about “the decisive moment”, a phrase coined by Henri Cartier-Bresson to describe the way in which a skilled photographer can synchronise pressing the shutter button with the optimum moment in a scene that is unfolding before them.  Joe McNally paraphrased this in his book “The Moment It Clicks“.

Eric writes that from his studies of the full range of images taken by great photographers it is clear that they shoot multiple images as they find something of interest and then select the critical shot from a range of possibilities.  You can see what he means by reading the article here.

Thus inspired, I decided to hit the streets today and abandon my usual collaborative approach in favour of something more predatory.  I walked into the centre of Sunderland, found myself an unobtrusive place to sit and watched the world go by in anticipation.

Didn’t shoot a single image.

OK, we’ll up sticks and find somewhere else to sit, a bench at right angles to the flow of human traffic.  An elderly woman and a younger man sat opposite me, restricting me options but I resolved to wait.  Still nothing.  

After a while the son got up to window shop and I realised I’d been missing the best opportunity – the woman opposite!  Hearing the siren of a police car alongside us, she was distracted long enough for me to capture one frame only, but I wasn’t convinced I’d found gold yet.

Eventually I put it down to experience and decided to head back home, but as I returned to my car I spotted a young woman smoking in a street cafe.  Something about the poise of her slender fingers and the angle of the cigarette leaving her lips appealed to me, so I raised the camera to shoot, a motion which alerted her and she turned away laughing.  I shot one frame, but was so convinced that I’d missed the moment I didn’t even offer her a card or ask her name.  Even if I’d clicked before she moved, the whole “quick on the draw” thing doesn’t work for photography, not if you want sharp and focused images.

So I returned to my car a little disheartened, but decided to scan the images on my memory card to see how bad they were.

And the result?

Well you can be the judge.

I like them, but don’t think I’ll be making it a regular occurrence; with two of you working on getting a good image it seems to increase the chances of success!


A bit of a headache…

Another beautiful day today and I was in paparazzi mode.  No, I wasn’t getting in people’s faces against their will or chasing princesses at high speed, but I was on two wheels.  It’s been a while, but it was nice to feel the pedals turning under my feet as I cruised along the coast.  (I wouldn’t have troubled Augustus Windsock in a race though!).

Despite my gentile approach I did seem to bring out more resistance than usual in people (hence the paparazzi comment) which is a shame since some of my refusals would have made great pictures; particularly the man with the white handlebar moustache who very curtly made the point that he would mind if I took his picture, and the woman who was beautifully framed by the open window in her car, but was too self conscious to pose.

Against this background I encountered two girls taking pictures of each other with a Blackberry, so did the decent thing and offered to take one of the pair of them.  Having done them a favour it was their turn to reciprocate and be photographed by me, and that’s where the headache begins.  What do you do with two pretty young girls on a sunny beach?  (Clean answers please!)

The problems are these:

  • It’s so bright that the dynamic range is too bright for the camera.  Any angle that cast shadows and I’m reduced to either blown out, pure white highlights or deep, black shadow with no detail.  I shoot into the light to avoid this, but end up with flat uninteresting lighting on their faces; less of a problem with well lined faces but with fresh, peachy skin like theirs I’m on a hiding to nothing.
  • They’re young and fashion conscious so they’re both wearing shades.  No chance then to really make their eyes pop and sparkle.  What’s more, the trend being for large shades I’ve lost a good proportion of their faces.  Worse still, because they’re so large you can clearly see me reflected in them and this wasn’t supposed to be a self-portrait.

So Sarah and Kirsty, what am I going to do with you?

If I keep it dark enough for Kirsty’s hair I lose Sarah and her vibrant hair colour in shadow…

If I go to monotone and try some different filters I can compensate a little, but then I lose Sarah’s crowning glory even more completely…

What about a bit of cross processing?

Too contrived, I agree.

How about a high fashion glow?  Interesting but now I’ve lost Kirsty’s hair.  This might have come off if I’d gone full length and the girls had made the most of their great legs in some angular poses.

What it came down to was that there were two elements that kept drawing my eye – Sarah’s smile and that bright red hair, so sorry Kirsty but my solution had to be to reach for the cropping tool.  Now I had just one colourful character I could really boost that colour and hey presto!

What would your preference have been?  Leave me a comment below with your ideas please.