X100F, 1/900 sec at f/9.0. Acros +R.
The location of your street photography does matter. During our recent trip to Berlin, I decided to explore the area near The Marie-Elisabeth Luders Haus, a stunning building designed by the Munich architect, Stephan Braunfels. The large but simple elevation of this magnificent building provides a great visual starting point. Then there is a multitude of lines and curves which, combined with light and shadows, provides a creative photographer with an abundance of visual choices.
Usually when I shoot in a chosen area I walk back and forth observing (1) how the light interacts with all present elements – in this case the building, and (2) looking for an appealing stage. When a building or structure has rich architectural elements, there is a strong temptation to capture it all. In some cases, such a capture might be warranted, although it is most likely to be documentary in nature.
I prefer a different approach. Instead of including the entire structure in my photograph I try to extract strong visual elements from the building and build a simple but visually appealing stage. That is exactly what I did in this case. After working the scene for about 30 minutes I found several magnificent stages. They were all positioned along the pathway, so passersby had no choice but to pass my stages, one after the other.
My preselected stages differed in terms of light and geometry as well as the number of elements. Why is it important? Because the stronger and more powerful the subject, the simpler the stage should be. For example, when photographing a distinctive woman in a large, red hat you don’t want a busy, cluttered background. The background would compete for attention with your subject.
Going back to the “Along the wall” image, as I was walking along the building, I noticed a man in a hat and a long, black coat coming my way. At this moment, I had to decide which stage would be appropriate for this character. I noticed that the man was walking close to the elevation of the building. His black coat and dominant contours stood out strongly against the plain white wall. It was not enough. I needed another element to inject some visual tension. As I walk along in front of my subject (a few meters behind), I noticed a break in the white wall created by a strong shadow providing me with the missing piece of the visual puzzle.
At this moment, two questions arose. First, where to place the “impact zone” or in other words the transition line between whites and blacks. Second, where to place my subject within the frame. The placement of the subject against the white wall was a no-brainer given his black coat. The transition line had to be on the right, along the “impact zone.” It was a matter of timing and positioning at that point.
Notice that I first made myself familiar with the area, then I designed a couple of stages and waited for my subject to enter the frame. Of course, I could have captured the man at any point without much preparation and it would probably have been a reasonable image. But to create a great image, all the elements need to come together.
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