Archives for posts with tag: available light
Parkour athletes train on the decorative stone benches and walls beneath the opulent Shelby Engineering Center at Auburn University. The ruins of recently demolished Dunstan Hall lie in the background.

Parkour athletes train on the decorative stone benches and walls beneath the opulent Shelby Engineering Center at Auburn University. The ruins of recently demolished Dunstan Hall lie in the background.

First among the rules of photography I’ve emphasized in Multimedia Journalism is the Rule of Thirds, which I was studiously applying Tuesday afternoon after a day on campus as I composed an urban blightscape of the ruins of Dunstan Hall, which, along with some other buildings in the background and to the right in this image, is destined to become a parking garage. But then the unexpected happened. You’ll want to click the thumbnail to enlarge since it’s easy to miss at thumb size.

I had seen Parkour athletes training on utility boxes, stone walls by the parking deck at RBD Library, and other fixtures on campus. As the man in mid-somersault crossed along the bricks and pavement above the steps, I figured he’d just provide a sense of scale for the destruction behind him. And then, he began his run. About six strides along a loping curve led to his leap into the air, perhaps five feet high and 10 feet long, landing atop the oddly shaped stone bench from which he hurtled, tucked, spun tightly as if on a string, and stretched his arms to catch the top of the wall at the bottom of the frame.

It was a magnificent act, wholly unexpected, and perhaps as much a delight to me as to its executor. And it illustrated other key rules of photography beyond the Rule of Thirds:

  • F/8 and Be There: This saying admonishes us to not fixate so much on technical perfection so much as to be present and alert and mindful of the possibilities presented by the moment at hand. F/8 is the f-stop that provides optimal depth of field. OK, so my antiquated Droid2 smartphone’s camera has no such thing as f-stop settings. The key part, however is to BE THERE.
  • Capture the decisive moment: As the Top L Project blog points out, you have to be ready to capture the exact time when something great happens; without doing so, you risk losing your shot. Top L says to do this, you have to know your camera. In the moment, I saw our Parkour artist act abruptly. I knew from shooting baseball with low-grade gear that I had a split second to have a chance of capturing anything. I got lucky this time. But I have maybe hundreds of garbage frames from the Detroit Tigers at Spring Training last March and maybe two frames where the ball explodes off the bat or the ball is in the frame after a pitcher releases it. As Charles Bukowski wrote in a fight scene in “Barfly,” a guy gutted with a knife shouts at his attacker, “Damn luck, motherf*cker!” to which the assailant responded, “Yeah, but that counts, too!”
  • Use the light: I’m borrowing from Top L’s list here, but it’s so true: Photography is about the light. This shot didn’t have the greatest, on account of the cloud cover and the shadow of the massive Shelby Engineering Center buildings in which the action took place. I think the moment makes up for it, though, and being there. It could have been worse; it could have been harsh mid-day, overhead light. This was the hour before dusk when the photo took place, and the building shadows eliminated the advantage of shooting during the magic hour. And naturalistic documentary photography demands that you shoot things where they take place. No staging. Capture the moment, be there, and use what light is there. Available light is the key to being nonintrusive.

If only I had one of those sweet DSLR rigs that Canon so graciously loaned me at the National Press Photographers Association’s Multimedia Immersion last summer. I’m saving my pennies until the day comes to take the plunge. Suggestions for good gear are appreciated.

I only really started to get interested in the techniques of photojournalism when I was at one of the great news organizations for visual journalism, The Santa Fe New Mexican. I won some news page design awards there, but it was really press photographers like Abel Uribe and Craig Fritz who deserve the credit for making it such a gorgeous and at times visually stunning paper. The light in their work was just spectacular. The following piece demystifies the process.
Jim Richardson on Photographing in Available Light — National Geographic.

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