X-100F, 1/800 sec at f/8, Acros + R

SUMMARY: The piece discusses the project “Mechanics of Seeing” – mapping and recording the intellectual paths to seeing and creating an image. Such a path to one of our photographs is being presented and discussed. The “Violinist” image was taken during a private Street Photography Workshop in Barcelona. My student and I were walking in tiny alleys of Barcelona in search of intriguing visuals. 


The “Violinist” image was taken during a private Street Photography Workshop in Barcelona. My student and I were walking in tiny alleys of Barcelona in search of intriguing visuals. At one point we entered a small public square, which had one corner restaurant with most guests sitting outside. This very corner was quite busy with people enjoying their food, sunny weather and music.

Usually when we walk in such tight spaces we are mostly observing the light, how it interacts with the street. However, what caught my eye this time was a violinist. I immediately knew he would be my subject.

Deciding on your subject early on in the process of creating an image is one of the most important decisions you can make. Not only does it provide you with a starting point in terms of context and mood but it also helps you in an elimination process. Just keep this in mind: Everything that fails to complement your subject in a contextual or design sense must be eliminated.

As we entered the square slightly on our left we saw the violinist facing a group of people in the restaurant. My first idea was to capture the violinist from behind with his audience in the background. As I looked into my viewfinder I immediately abandoned this idea for two reasons: Firstly, the visuals seem to be sterile and conventional. Secondly, the light was hitting the violinist and the crowd, therefore there was no clean separation of my subject, nor was any mystery present.

Then I walked around and took the perspective of the audience (people sitting at the restaurant). Right away three things grabbed my attention: (1) the pocket of light hitting the building elevation behind my subject, (2) beautiful, back-lit posture of the violinist, and (3) when underexposed pitch dark areas providing a clean space allowing my subject to stands out.


At this point it was a matter of compositional fine tuning. I wanted to position myself with a focus on a bright sidewalk. I had to decide where I wanted to place a transition point between highlights and shadows. Notice that I went for, what we called once, the impact zones (you may call it the rule of thirds if you wish – will explain it in one of our upcoming articles). Since I settled on a mysterious mood early on, technical considerations were reduced to quite an aggressive underexposure. Since the sun was hitting my subject from behind, I wanted to make sure that his shape was clearly visible, but not his face.


One of the appeals for this image is its mystery. A viewer doesn’t know whether the image was taken on a busy or an empty square. Such visuals engage and ‘force’ a viewer to create their own narrative. More questions your audience needs to answer, more powerful the image appears (obviously, a certain balance between a mystery and messy shot must be maintained). An audience doesn’t know if the man was standing along on an empty street playing for himself or maybe there was a big crowd watching him.

In sum, the earlier you notice and decide on your subject, the better. However, such an early decision very often shortens the process of CRAFTING THE IMAGE for many people as they take a snap and move on. It is one of the most common mistakes in street photography. CRAFTING THE IMAGE requires an enormous amount of visual engagement,an in-depth exploration of the scene in terms of elements and their interaction with the light, as well as an intense experimentation.



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