Yesterday, I decided to have a little fun with my Leica. After all, with the cold, flu-inducing weather refusing to leave us alone for the season, it occurred to me that what I needed was a little lighthearted photo day. My goal: to do a little tribute to the famous Leica photographer Ralph Gibson. This name may not mean much to those who are not Leica fanatics photographers, but to those who are, Mr. Gibson is somewhat of a Dalai Lama figure in the Leica community. When he talks, people listen. And his talking is mostly done through the lens of a Leica camera.
But why Ralph Gibson? The answer is that contrary to just about everyone I have come in contact with in the photographic community, Mr. Gibson is known (among many other things) for mastering the “vertical” photographic style. The world may be busy taking photos with a horizontal orientation (which admittedly allows for lots of forgiving cropping), but Mr. Gibson is a master of the vertical world, and has been for as long, long time. Easy? Not really. After a day of shooting only vertically to see what this would feel like, all I can say is that not only is this approach ergonomically hard, but it is also compositionally challenging. At the end of the day I felt I had gone through an entire paradigm change in my approach to photography. My photographic world had stopped revolving around avoiding people from walking into my scene and was now obsessed with a somewhat unfamilial vertical line along a much narrower visual alley.
The funny thing is that this approach to photography is also kind of liberating. Verticality, I realized, tends to exclude the superfluous, or at least most of it. It also reduces dramatically those distracting elements that force photographers to use the cropping tool to the point of overheating. But mastering this vertical approach to composition is definitely hard work. Shooting with a Leica rangefinder while trying to keep both eyes open as you manually focus is a challenge in and of itself, not to mention that your eyes tend to see a lot more horizontally than vertically when on a natural state (blame it on the eyebrows or something). That Mr. Gibson’s trained photographic eyes appear to live easily on that up-and-down, rangefinder plane is nothing short of remarkeable. That this verticality takes place up close in shapes and figures that most people don’t even notice, is even more astounding. After a day of attempting to grasp this whole vertical approach to composition by shooting exclusively “that way,” I certainly had a taste of the challenges and rewards associated with this visual approach. Hooked? Not sure, but I surely intend to tilt my camera from its traditional comfort zone a lot more in the future.
Are we having fun? Don’t blame you if you feel a little down after hearing what the IRS has been up to lately, but this is a question that we ought to be asking ourselves on a much more regular basis. Walking down the Wales Alley in Old Town Alexandria yesterday with my camera, I was asking myself that very question when I came face-to-face with this bicycle just outside the old Bike and Roll shop. Not that taking pictures on a beautiful sunny day is not fun, but rather that seeing this old, so-called Penny-farthing bike made me think of the innocent fun we used to have when we were young. Fear of a broken arm? Nope. Knee scratches? Survived plenty of those. Helmet? You’ve got to be kidding. Did we survive our dangerous youth? Yeap. Carefree days zooming down the neighborhood streets on a wobbly bike, and with lots of dreams in our heads. It is refreshing to remember who I was before I became who I am now. And the more I think about it, the more I’m convincing myself that I just may have to give this Penny-farthing bike a try after all. Wish me luck.
Sometimes, your eyes just see beyond the photograph you are about to take. I should say from the beginning that I am no artist. Far from it. However, I think that I’m probably right in saying that most photographers tend to see at least two things when they look at a scene: the simple photographic reality in front of them, or a whole range of possibilities that will inevitably move the scene into some form of altered reality. The latter is exactly what happened when I saw these two gentlemen a couple of months ago, and thanks to the great folks from Nik Software, I was able to use their filter plug-ins in Capture NX 2 to recreate that altered reality I could have sworn I saw that day.
The top photograph was taken at Bethesda, MD and was processed using Color Efex Pro via Capture NX 2. I applied the Bleach Bypass filter to bring out those dramatic lines on the gentleman’s face and then played with the setting for a while until my eyes told me to stop. Pretty much the same setting for the bottom photo, but this time I used the Solarization filter to bring out some of that contrast and in order to achieve the colors that matched my mood at the time.