The light of night, captured.
It is a challenge to head out at night when you've been relaxing on the sofa for an hour or two, after work, after dinner, watching a movie, sipping on tea. But night is a favorite time for me to photography.
Shooting August entirely in black and white, I'm very fond of dark, high contrast, dramatic imagery; the night so easily provides. August is the only other month to be shot entirely in Black and White. January too, was all black and white but there were no other guidelines to my month's theme.
The other challenges to night photography are simply technical. Aperture, ISO, and shutter speed are all very important. If one's shutter is too slow, any minor movement of the camera produces motion blur in the image. If the shutter is too fast, the image is too dark.
With apertures, the wider the more light but also the shallower the depth of field resulting in challenging focus scenarios. Stopping down (smaller apertures) increases depth of field but reduces light.
ISO, on the other hand, boosts the light available but invariably adds noise to one's image. Sometimes noise is acceptable giving a gritty, street photography look. Other times, it simply muddies the image.
All of these are a careful balancing act. They are part of a triad of water buckets. As one fills up, the other two empty. Finding the right mix of volumes is important to get just the image one is looking to achieve.
A tripod is always welcome. This will allow for one to decrease shutter speed and use low ISO while also stopping down the aperture. The result can be very clear and sharp black and white images. The caveat, but possibly the goal, is motion blur of moving object. A favorite from this month is from August 1st where I setup my Olympus E-M5 with a 45mm lens on my tripod. Opening my window, a waited for a train to pass buy and captured the movement.
At an f/8, ISO 200, -1 ev stop compensation, and a 1.6 second shutter, a very clear background of Chicago appears while the Brown Line train streaks through the frame.
A few other nights I used a long exposure but it does take a bit more effort. One must almost always use a tripod or other stabilization. However, occasionally, as with Run and Train, these were both handheld. Run, with an eerie, ghostly appeal, and Train, things moved quickly enough it didn't matter. But if you look closely, you can see that the subject blur is achieved but also background.
I did not find this to bean issue but I am one to usually express great concern with how important the background is while other photographers are concerned with blurring the background to the extent it is nearly completely unrecognizable.
Tripods are one of the most valuable pieces of equipment a photographer can have but they are usually big and carrying one around every day for thirty-one days was not something I could pull off. However, the crafty and resourceful photographer finds other ways to stabilize. In Flight Path, I was in a position to just set the camera down on a ledge. And by ledge, I mean, five stories in high with nothing but the air between the camera and certain doom.
Photographers and filmmakers take risks all the time to get their shots. And while I have no real fear of heights, I can safely say I did fear for my camera. I had a death grip on the camera strap that would have squeeze the juice out of an apple. But (!), my camera survived to shoot another day (night)!
I thoroughly enjoyed August for night photography. Perhaps September would have been easier as the days are shorter but I overcame the couch potato in me to head out at night an explore the dark. I'm certain more night photography is in store for the rest of the year as part of other themes but for now, I move onward; a merging of photography with filmmaking with a theme rooted in cinematography.
Up next: September – Cinematic
The Thirty-one Nights of August
The visual language of signs and symbols.
We walk by these items every day. Some may even determine how our day proceeds. Signs and Symbols are part a creation of humanity to communicate idea in a moment. Some are simple, some are obvious, while others are hidden or so obvious they hide in plain sight.
July was an experiment to notice the everyday things. While I could have explored everyday items, the first day of July snuck up on me. June had suddenly disappeared and I was walking to work when it dawned on me, "Architecture is over… what is my theme for July?" As if the Universe sent me a sign, the the sun reflecting off a building showed me the way. Bump.
I decided in the moment to make this the theme. With little planning, I had to maintain an awareness of everything that I likely had laid my eyes on hundreds of times before. The challenge wasn’t finding subject matter but to find interesting ways of sharing the mundane things these signs and symbols are.
It sounded like a simple month because signs and symbols are everywhere but most are not terribly exciting. And even exciting signs or symbols are sometimes not photogenic. Though, I would argue that is the challenge for any photographic subject. A slice of pizza isn’t really photogenic but by the right and skilled hand of a photographer, it turns into a beautiful piece in food photography.
Any photographer worth is salt knows the power and importance of light. More specifically, controlling, adding, and manipulating light. Really this month has been less about the signs and symbols and more about light and composition.
Chicago is known for a variety of great things: food, architecture, museums… blustery politics. It is an incredible city. One thing few share is the lighting. Chicago is nearly 42°N and while the midday summer sun is hot and high in the sky, the light tends to be a little more forgiving than in some other cities in the United States and world. As the sun sets, light washes down the streets like a Hollywood film set. Manhattanhendge happens only for a few days throughout the year but in Chicago (Chicagohenge?), it happens nearly all summer. Golden Hour in Chicago is second to none.
Casting this light, Chicago delivered many beautiful days of sunlight but with a few nights and some summer thunderstorms, a few had a darker appeal. Signs and Symbols was an engaging exercise in photography.
As with June, July passed by very quickly and August is upon us so onward to the next theme.
Up next: August – Night