Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Underexposed and panoramic experimentation

Thanks to Oat Vaiyaboon [hangingpixels on Flickr] for suggesting I use PTGui for photo panoramas. [Funnily enough, I think he used to be a student of mine in Digital Media at Sydney Uni, way back at the beginning of the century]. Oat is, for me, a very memorable name. Today, therefore, I set about taking another set of images at twilight from McMahon's Point and stitching together 10 high res images from Milson's Point Harbourview and Luna Park right around via SOH and bridge to Darling Harbour. I think it looks much better. This was still just using a regular tripod (not a pano-head - will try to borrow that some time).

These images I took -2/3 f/stop for the reasons that follow. The second image shows the ant-like dimensions of the bridge-climb tour group atop the SHB, using the 420mm 35mm-equiv (Leica 88.80mm) zoom.

Another experiment I tried today was inspired by the advice of amateur (yet remarkable) photographer (and heart specialist), Marco Pozzi from the U.K. who was featured in Photography Monthly. His self-professed inspirations include Steve McCurry (photographer of the notorious Afghan Girl image widely employed by National Geographic, a Magnum Photographer) and Pozzi's images share the intense rich, saturated and dark colouration and textural detail that McCurry's have. Both also photograph seemingly exclusively abroad in exotic locations, especially portraits and people in context, people in countries like Afghanistan (McCurry), India and Nepal (Pozzi), Cuba and fascinating cultural contexts, capturing people posing or going about daily activities. I very much admire the images by both. Pozzi's article states that one of his standard techniques is to underexpose, then treat contrast, levels and saturation in PhotoShop, which seems to achieve what I call the 'Leica-look' (though he uses Nikon primarily). This is the aesthetic of depth, darkness and more underexposed appearance more closely resembling film than typically seen in digital photography. This method is especially well suited for portraiture of people with darker and coloured skin. The overexposing for scenery, landscapes, urbanism is not such a marked advantage: its greatest impact is for portrait shots. I took the picture of myself and the majority of harbour shots -2/3 f/stop.

Two of my currently favourite books - Lonely Planet Code Green traces a series of eco-tourism, small footprint and remarkably unusual places on the earth - the atypical tourist destinations - acclaimed for their natural beauty. The National Geographic photography book is self explanatory but fascinating because it covers a range of photographers and their disctinctive approaches.

Today, reading Setting Sun: Writings by Japanese Photographers (ed. Ivan Vartanian, Akihiro Hatanaka, and Yutaka Kambayashi), I enjoy exploring the different reasons these photographers give for pursuing variously their passion, profession, documentary, investigation through picture. Daido Moriyama, for example, states that he keeps pondering about what photography is, what the camera is ... i.e. he concludes a photograph is a commemoration and espouses that the camera goes with him to capture interesting or surprising events but his agenda is never fashion, journalism or art photography. On principle, he thinks a photograph cannot have the same status as a unique work of art. Naoya Hatakeyama in his chapter on Lime Works on the other hand offers a less serendipitous, highly astute observational eye and descriptive narrative eschewing spontaneous for a considered and very conscious understanding of context. He seems very contemplative and photography seems to awaken for him his raison d'être. I like his rationale pointing out that perhaps there are as many worlds as there are instances looking at and re-looking at it, i.e. it exists in a moment and every perception is distinctive and fresh, and to that photography can bring new glimpses. We also share an empathy for nature and his potent desire to remove the denatured, distant we have of nature, over-idealised yet un-integrated with our daily experience in many cases. He questions the very core assumption that modern objective photography facilitates a stepping away from collusion and participation, finally rationalising that "understanding the multifaceted nature of the world based on this ideology of looking at things may serve to broaden the world's surface. In my fantasy, three spheres cling together as they expand and contract: the Earth, the brain, and the eyeball". Takuma Nakahira asks the same question "what isa camera?" that Moriyama asks. Nakahira concludes that it might be the embodiment of our desire to look, a technology resulting from historical accumulation - or a system unto itself". It locates the photographer relative to the world, distances(?) and frames and isolates single elements of reality. "The entire 'memory' of the world is the truth of looking".