Isolating Content Through Vertical Perspective

We don’t just see the same old things most of the time, we see them from the same old angle: horizontally, from eye level. Sometimes all that is needed to provide a new perspective is… err… a new perspective.

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A marching band may not be a daily experience, but many of us have shot enough parades to find it a challenging subject  to find a new expression for. And then there is the issue of isolating the band, from the bystanders, from the street clutter, or in this shot, from the Tuscan landscape which is at least as interesting as the musicians. There is also the issue of permissions; one way to isolate the musicians is to shoot closeups with a long lens, which tends to produce something closer to portraits than a group shot, and which makes the individuals clearly recognizable, limiting some of the possible uses of the images.

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The shot above is… well… shot from above. Its a simple technique, though one that requires forethought, or else good fortune to achieve. Notice how it consolidates the band, forms a clean abstract of them with little else but the paving to compete for our attention. And at the same time is eliminates the musicians faces, so the image is not limited in use by lack of release forms. In this instance, all that was required was to risk hanging somewhat too far out a second story window (third story to Americans), to get the clean shot from above. Drones are making this angle far more common in photography, but it is one worth considering even without flying gear.

C. David Tobie

Lens Distortion as a Tool

We typically use Lens Distortion functions as a way to remove distortion our lens has imposed on an image. But that its not the only purpose that such tools can serve. In some instances there is no perfect angle available for taking a shot in a constricted space, and while in some cases a drone might be able to reach that ideal spot, in others, it would need to be an x-ray drone, as there is a building in the way of what would otherwise be the perfect angle.

Over the years I have shot the civic tower in the hill town of Montepulciano in various ways, including with my camera at a rakish angle, in order to take shots of the tall tower from the restricted space in front of it. Wide angle lenses and composite panoramas also can offer improvements in this location. But a simple one-shot, standard lens fix is to apply lens distortion in the negative direction to make a more interesting image from the angle of the church steps on one side of the square.

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Above is a shot from that location, processed, but without any perspective yet applied. To my eye, it begs the photographer to move out in front of the building, for a more centered shot, which would require a crane or a drone, as the view from ground level in the square is much more vertically compressed.

Below is the same image with a few simple adjustments applied right in Lightroom. Under the Lens Correction > Manual section, adjustments to both the Horizontal, Vertical, and Aspect sliders have been made, but first, the maximum adjustment (+100) has been made using the Distortion control. Further distortion was added in the Profile section. The result offers more verticality to the tower, creates a more centered feel, and a cascading effect that is architecturally pleasing. The curvature emphasizes both the upward nature of the shot, and the compressed nature of the space it was taken in. The resulting image won’t suit all tastes, but it certainly offers an alternative technique for dealing with a constrained location.

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C. David Tobie

Watching for Still Lifes in the Landscape

Its all too easy to be watching for the big, panoramic vistas when scouting for landscape photography locations. With your eye on the horizon, and judging when the foreground elements come into just the right balance for the shot, the items closer up can often be missed. And yet, people are at least as compelled by a still life image with a good story as by a landscape. With the added advantage that the still lifes can be often be taken at times which are not prime for landscape shooting; when the sun is too high, or not bright enough, or the landscape is not at its prime season.

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The image below is a classic example. This wine press and grinder were sitting under an overhang in an old farm being converted to an agriturismo. It was not very visually interesting at a distance, and had I not been involved in pressing cider with similar equipment myself, I would not have taken the time to walk over and inspect it. Yet, with a bit of adjustment to the lighting, and some digital removal of distracting elements, it creates a still life with a clear story, especially of interest to those who have ever seen wine or cider being processed. This image has been an excellent “kitchen art” print, in smaller sizes, in part because of the unique apple green tone that makes it work well with kitchens decorated in that color.

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C. David Tobie

Vertical One Point Perspective

One point perspective is a powerful tool, creating tunnel-like symmetry and focus on whatever is at, or in front of, the vanishing point. But we nearly always use one point as a horizontal tool, looking down a corridor, tunnel, or street.

There is a second orientation which can be utilized for one point perspectives, one that still respects the rectangular geometry of most architecture. That is vertical one point. The image below is an even less common type of one point: an exterior vertical one point perspective. Typically exterior one point shots are reserved for creating powerful visuals in redwood groves or amongst other tall trees.

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Here the mix of tall architecture, a convent bell tower, and Cypress trees, provides the encroaching elements from all four sides, which make a one-point work. Lighting provides a second layer to the image. But the single element that adds a living story to the shot is the crow, heading towards its nest in the belfry. The bird, and its relation to the belfry, was sufficiently important to my vision of this image that I took the best shot from the series, then rotated the crow 180 degrees, so that he was flying towards, not away from the nest. Other images had that direction of flight, but not that clarity of silhouette, so this edit offered the best solution to tell the story.

C. David Tobie

Landscape as Fine Art Nude

Whenever I see the work of a great fine art nude photographer, I find myself viewing the images much as I do landscapes: as light, on forms, in space. And when I find myself in the rolling wheat fields of Washington’s Palouse or Tuscany, the similarity strikes  me yet again. One does not get to move the lights, or ask the model to shift positions, when shooting landscape, so it becomes a waiting game, and, like real estate, is all about location, location, location.

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The shot above is a Tuscan winter wheat field. The similarities to the human form are clear, despite the differing scale and color. Shooting wheat fields later in the season brings the colors closer to fleshtones. The image below is less abstract, so the viewer is less likely to notice the similarity to the human form, but the goals in shooting it were similar. By including recognizable elements, the image tells a more developed story, but in the process, loses some of the power of the more abstract image above.

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C. David Tobie

The Light, But Also the Shadows

One of the pleasures of seeing a location over time is watching the changing light. But along with the light come shadows. We are accustomed to viewing shadows as the enemy of the photographer, the thing we are looking to minimize or in some cases totally avoid. Yet in some instances shadows can add another dimension to an image, offering a stronger composition than what we have captured at other times.

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In this instance the pruned trees offer a spiky, witchy winter feel, unlike the green tunnel they present in the summer. But on this particular occasion, the angle of the sun produced the powerful row of shadows crossing the walkway as well, adding, with a bit of editing,  that extra graphic element, never to be seen in the summer, and fleeting even in the wintertime.

C. David Tobie

Image Memory and Photography

We are told that photography is a universal collective, each new iconic image informs us all, changes the way we see the world, and our own photography. I have had too many occurrences of that to doubt it. Here is one particularly uncanny example. The movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s is certainly burned into our collective culture, but I was not consciously aware of the black and white still images that had been shot to promote the movie. Yet, after a session with an Italian model, I found something nagging in the back of my mind. What was it that was familiar about these images? An on-line search turned up the Tiffany’s promotion stills, and answered that question. Here are the movie promo stills:

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And here are sample shots from the session, nearly half a century later.

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C. David Tobie