With photography, as with many things in life as well, you get better by setting goals for yourself, making your homework, accepting challenges, and doing things you didn’t do before – at least not that way. So I asked myself: What pictures do I want to make? How do I achieve that? And then: what worked as planned, and what didn’t?
In order to not lose track of my ideas, I resort to an idea by Stephan Wiesner: the photo board. I’d like to share my own photo board for 2017 with you here – and of course, I will report on my progress here as well.
When I think back how my photography developed, there were three stages: At first, I simply took snapshots – I documented where I was and what I did without thinking too much about it. At times, some really great shots would come out of that, which I still like today, but back then, those were mostly coincidental.
Then came the time when I started to think more before taking a picture: careful choice of the field of view, the main motivation or item of interest in relation to its surroundings and background, the lighting etc. I became pickier with my images. I no longer simply photographed everything, but cherry-picked the things that interested me most. And I also deliberately chose to not take a particular picture, for instance when the lighting was completely off. However, the motto still was: “Ok, now that I’m here, let’s see what pictures I can take”.
This leads us to stage three, where this is becoming reversed. Now I ask myself: “if I want to make this photo, where do I have to go to get it?”. “When do I have to be there?”. Thus, the image becomes the goal for a trip or afternoon, and no longer is a mere side effect. This requires planning, not only on the where and when, but also: what equipment do I have to take along? Which lens? Do I need a tripod, a filter, a remote shutter release, an external flash…?
When I have an idea for an image, I start looking for hints and tricks on the Internet, gather suggestions, and then I go out and try it. This way, I managed to create a number of great images over the course of the past year, which I certainly could not have created in 2015. And in 2017, I want to raise the bar even higher.
PHOTO BOARD 2017
NIGHT CAPTURE / LONG EXPOSURE: SYKLINE
I always like nighttime photographs, especially of larger cities. In that respect, I am fortunate to live close to Frankfurt. With the combination of the Main River and its skyline, it offers a number of marvelous motives. I made several attempts on this image over the last year, but so far, the result does not meet my expectations.
But these attempts were not in vain. For instance, I have found my preferred vantage point: on Flößerbrücke (‘rafter’s bridge’). From there, you can see the Ignaz Bubis Bridge in the foreground, which is nicely illuminated when it’s dark, and then the skyline of the financial district in the background.
In addition to selecting a good spot, I was also able to try out and optimize my equipment. I will definitely take the picture using my Sigma A 18-35mm ƒ/1.8 lens, due to the outstanding sharpness it renders. Tripod and a remote shutter release are a given as well. In addition, I always take along a piece of black cardboard or something similar, because the Flößerbrücke is illuminated as well by strong floodlights mounted in front of the bridge – these will shine into the lens despite the lens hood and tend to created distracting artifacts in the resulting image. I also take along my neutral density filters. I have two of them: an 8x and a 1,000x. I will use them to slow down the shutter speed to make the water appear silky and smooth.
All that is missing is: a workday evening in winter, when it gets dark early and many of the offices in the high-rise buildings are still illuminated, and an interesting sky. No clouds at all is boring, and too many clouds isn’t good either – because then the sky doesn’t get dark, since it reflects the lights of the city and in particular the airport behind the city. I am mostly interested in the time period from sunset to about 45 minutes afterwards, the so-called “Blue Hour”.
CLOSE-UP / MACRO: EYE
Macros, or at least close-up images, are another area of photography that appeals to me. The reason is that these images expose details that are usually missed – either because they are simply too small to see, or because they move too fast to take a thorough look. This was important enough for me to get a dedicated macro lens: the Tamron SP 90mm ƒ/2.8 Di VC Macro. I went hunting for butterflies and bumblebees in the lavender bush with it, and took a magnified image of a dandelion.
While browsing the Internet for macro photography ideas and tutorials, one fascinating motive repeatedly came up: close-up images of eyes. This has become something I definitely want to try myself.
Of course I’ve read a number of how-tos and tips, so what remains is to actually try and do it. I don’t know yet, for instance, whether it works better for me to take the picture outside in the sun, or inside with a flash. How does the light have to be set up so that the details in the iris are clearly visible, but the model does not squint from the glare, and so that I don’t cast a shadow on the eye with the camera or lens?
MACRO: ICE CRYSTALS / SNOWFLAKES
Let’s stay in the macro realm for another photo idea: ice crystals and snowflakes. However, this requires something that around here is a complete no-show for the third winter in a row now: snow. Or at least, long-lasting decent frost.
I was able to get a few “test images” with white frost on clear mornings at least – with promising results. But I am sure: there is way more to be seen. Preferably in the grazing light of the low early morning sun, but otherwise, a strategically placed flashgun will to the trick as well.
FREEZING MOTION ON A FOUNTAIN
This idea is basically the opposite of a long exposure: Here, I do not want to show the water in a silky-smooth way, but instead I want to freeze the motion with a high shutter speed so that every single drop can be seen floating in mid-air. With my Rebel T6s, this means: 1/4,000 second. Maybe I will manage the upgrade to the 80D, then I can even go with 1/8,000 – but there are other priorities to take into account as well. Anyway, because of its wide aperture and image sharpness, I will use the Sigma A 18-35mm ƒ/1.8 for this shot.
While I am rather sure on the “how”, so far I am missing the “where”. I am looking for a well with a nice fountain. Unfortunately, many of the fountains here in Darmstadt are permanently turned off, even in summer. Either due to lack of funding for necessary repairs of the ailing pipes and basins, or due to wanton damage and pollution. So far, I haven’t had the patience to systematically look for fountains in the nearby cities, but it’s definitely on my list for 2017. If you know any beautiful waterspouts, I will gladly take any suggestions!
CAR PORTRAIT WITH AN EXTERNAL FLASH
This idea came from rummaging in the Internet for the questions: “what can you possibly do with an external flash?”. In doing so I came across a YouTube video by Christian Adams and immediately thought: what a great idea! The concept comprises taking many pictures, in each of which a certain area of the car is illuminated by a hand-held external flash, and then afterwards compositing them in Photoshop to get the final image with a “showroom” feel to it. Fortunately, a worthy model for such a picture has been a member of our family for 20 years now:
I’m still thinking about a good location, where there are no distracting reflections or background objects. Most of all, I want to be undisturbed, and also do not want to irritate anyone with all the flashing. Aside from that, all I need is the right occasion – and of course a fresh polish for the gem.
PLANES AT THE AIRPORT
For me, planes are kind of special, because they are tied to a very specific feeling: wanderlust. Oftentimes, when I am sitting in the garden at home, or I’m looking out of my office window, and see the planes climbing into the clouds I wonder: where are they going? What would be like to be on that plane now? And even when I am actually sitting on a plane for business travel every now and then, it still feels special to me to be at the airport.
I want to try capturing this feeling in an image. At and around the Frankfurt airport, there are a number of photo locations that are suitable for that purpose. So far, I stuck to theory and research on that topic. I want to change this next year – go out to the airport, get a feeling for the views the various vantage points actually offer, and take pictures. I’ll definitely pack my telephoto lens, as well as my “always-on” lens – and a tripod.
Of course, there are more ideas than that – but they are not as concrete or thought-through yet as the ones listed above, so they haven’t made it to the sketch / photo board stage yet. For instance, Darmstadt has a small but pretty zoo, called the Vivarium. It offers a wide variety of potential motives, ranging from butterflies to kangaroos, hence I definitely plan to go “hunting and shooting” there.
And I’ll keep looking around the local Railway Museum, for special lighting moods – for instance, when the setting sun floods the roundhouse with orange light through the old windows. Or behind the scenes, capturing sights usually hidden from the public eye.
Apart from that, I’ll keep my eyes and mind open for new ideas throughout the year…
I definitely plan to work on a photo calendar project again. For 2017, I had composed a calendar with a “best of” my pictures taken between October 2015 and October 2016. Some of my family and friends really enjoy having one, not only because many of the images have a quite different effect when viewed in A2 size (roughly 16×24″) compared to a small screen. I particularly liked the challenge of finding a motive matching each month.
Hence, I want to repeat that for 2018. This time, I tasked myself with creating a calendar in portrait orientation. I have started by adding a few images from this year to a short list. Probably not all of them will end up in the final calendar, since the fire and forge images are very similar, but I will take the final decision only when I have the rest of the images as well, to make sure they fit together.
Of course, some ideas from the photo board will make it into the calendar as well – even though not all ideas can be done easily in portrait mode. But this challenge is also what makes it appealing…
– Jochen =8-)
Picture credits: All sketches and photos: own images.