The definition of an urban sprawl is: A multifaceted concept centered on the expansion of auto-oriented, low-density development. The word that I’d like to focus on is expansion, and how that can be transferred to urban photography. There are countless photographic opportunities for those in both rural and urban centers to explore; we simply need to open our creative minds and let concepts take hold. From here, it is the execution of those concepts that bring opportunities to fruition. In this issue’s column I’ll take you through three of those concepts and how they were completed.
In the header image of Kamloops, British Columbia (my hometown), I wanted to capture an ethereal quality for a client. I knew that movement and emotive light were the keys. It had snowed the night before and after checking the weather that night, I was on locale well before first light. I chose my vantage and composition with plenty of time to spare. This is critical! Always leave enough time for set up so you aren’t panicking when the skies light up. In order to get the shutter speed low enough for streaking traffic I needed a four stop solid ND filter. You can see that lights from the traffic have been lengthened and even after a large aperture number of 16 and lowest iso setting of 100 were chosen, I needed that filter to get my exposure down to ten seconds. I also used a three stop soft Grad filter (a hard edge would have been visible here) to allow the sky to fall into proper exposure. Without that the sky would have ended up being blown out. The result, after trial and error by using my histogram in manual mode elicited the result I wanted and a happy client. Tip: Always trust your histogram, never the back of your LCD!
In the second image of the two motorcycles, the tourism client I was working for needed new images that were fun and engaging. My idea (created before the shoot day) was to actually ride on the bike to create a ‘first person’ perspective and engage those interested individuals as though they themselves were riding. To accomplish this, the key was the shutter speed. I needed a fast enough speed to freeze the rider’s bike and hands but yet slow enough to allow for a sense of motion. I was lucky on the first attempt at around 1/100. There was also the issue of depth of field and focus. I chose an aperture of f16 and manually focused on the instrument panel. That allowed for enough depth of field to include relative sharpness on the lead bike as well. I let the camera do the exposure work with the quickly changing scenery, and shot on aperture priority. In this case it did a wonderful job, although for 80% of my work I choose manual. As a finishing touch I chose the image with the winding road sign to add an element of adventure. The pre-planning and thinking as a rider allowed me to execute the shoot with the results I wanted.
In the final image I want to touch on urban portraiture. In listening to my students there is a real apprehension about this kind of photography; I think it has to do with being nervous and a bit overwhelmed in working with people. The key here is to work with someone you’re familiar with, at least to start. Whether you begin with street scenes or individual subjects, remember it’s just a process, and if you see it as such it will become far more enjoyable. I chose a familiar setting for this shot, the local University, Thompson Rivers. I love this building and thought it would make a great background to showcase this image. First I located the vantage point that I liked and then settled on an ambient exposure I was happy with. In this case 1 stop under proper exposure to allow the attention to be on the model after utilizing artificial lighting. Then, I introduced the model, Morgan into the scene, all the while talking and staying engaged with her in order to keep her comfortable. I used a standard 30 x 30” soft box on a studio light stand with radio signaled flash triggers. In this case I used only one flash and a reflector (gold side) for warmth and lack of shadows. I adjusted the flash output to garner skin tones slightly brighter than the backdrop for effect. Tip: Soft boxes allow for a much softer light and wrap around result.
There’s no doubt, urban possibilities abound. Whether you’re in a rural or urban environment, exercise your creative mind to expand your possibilities and diversify your portfolio. Experience gained is never a bad thing, and I think the challenges will make you a better photographer!
To see more of my work, go to my portfolio here