Travel

IMPRESSIONIST PHOTOGRAPHY

It all started in 2014, when I was planning to visit Hong Kong for the first time. Wherever I travel I want to get at least one unique personal picture for myself, something special that maybe hasn’t been photographed before. Of course I will take pictures of the main sights, like the Hong Kong Island Skyline seen from Kowloon, but I won’t spend too much time photographing them. I know, it has been photographed before a million times, and many times better than I could achieve with the gear I travel with. As someone passionate about street photography I am usually drawn to street scenes, moments that might capture the feel or culture of a place.

This time, I wanted to try out something different. The skyline of Hong Kong Island is unique itself and I wanted to experiment with it and make an image just for myself. From a young age I was interested in Impressionism, especially in the work of Claude Monet, however that art form is naturally quite a contrast to photography.

Photography is mainly about recording the "real world”, portraying something how it really looks like. Of course you can change a scene through framing, lighting, add colour gels, smoke etc. and create something that is not actually real. Furthermore Photoshop offers endless possibilities to create whatever you like, but generally the aim is to make something at least “look real”!  

Impressionism on the other hand is more about the subjective perception of a scene. The Tate explains that impressionists “found that they could capture the momentary and transient effects of sunlight by working quickly, in front of their subjects, in the open air rather than in a studio. This resulted in a greater awareness of light and colour and the shifting pattern of the natural scene.”

What’s particularly interesting is that Impressionism was actually also “partly a reaction by artists to the challenge presented by photography, which seemed to devalue the artist's skill in reproducing reality. Photography actually inspired artists to pursue other means of creative expression, and rather than compete with photography to emulate reality, the Impressionists sought to express their perceptions of nature, rather than create exact representations. Photography encouraged painters to exploit aspects of the painting medium, like colour, which photography then lacked: The Impressionists were the first to consciously offer a subjective alternative to the photograph. [Wikipedia]

Back to Hong Kong, my idea was to capture an image that represents the Skyline in a different way. My first thought was to try a slightly longer exposure and pan the camera up and down, like a brush. My vision of the shot was that it might look somewhat similar to a barcode.

I was travelling light and didn’t bring a tripod, so I was panning the camera up and down just hand held at about 1/5  to 1/30 of a second. As with any new technique it is all about trial and error, and after a few shots I got the effect I was looking for. However due to the long exposure (I didn’t bring a ND filter either), even at a high aperture, the images came out completely overexposed. So I wasn’t sure if I could work with the files in Lightroom. Hence I was really surprised how much information there was still left in the extremely overexposed raw files. The colours were obviously completely washed out, so in addition to pulling back the exposure I also had to push the saturation up close to the maximum and then adjust the colours individually. Usually red and warm tones, at least with my camera, are blowing out quickly, so I had to pull back red and orange tones a bit after the saturation adjustment.

Hong Kong Island 1

The previous photo was taken at f/16 at 1/30s, whereas the following one at f/16 at 1/10s. Obviously this one was even more overexposed and not much of the warmer and brighter tones were left. Even though it came closer to my “barcode” vision, I do prefer to retain more colours in my images in this project.

Hong Kong Island 2

Hong Kong Island 2

Back in London I continued working on this technique as a personal project. It is very time consuming and some days I wouldn’t get a single frame that worked. I wanted to keep the images more organic, so I kept working without a tripod and it was great to just walk around and be more fluid with my decisions.

When I first started taking vertical panning photos of the Houses of Parliament, it didn’t really work or feel right though. The problem was that I would completely loose Westminster Bridge. I could emphasise the bridge by panning horizontally, but then I would loose Big Ben. That made me think to work with a double exposure, first panning vertically, followed by panning horizontally. It took me countless trials, considering the variables involved, the speed and direction of each pan and aligning the two exposures!

But eventually I did end up with a frame captured in camera that worked for me:

Westminster

For subjects other than recognisable buildings or parts of the city, the light becomes even more important. The light from the sun setting really gave the trees in Green Park here much more shape, and of course the warm colour added to the feel of the image:

Green Park

By the way Claude Monet also worked in London for a while producing his “Thames Series” and my favourite painting “Leicester Square at night”.

Both can be seen until 7th May 2018 in “The EY Exhibition: Impressionists in London” at the Tate Britain in London.

Earlier this year I travelled to New York then, which has been on my bucket list for so long. New York really helped me to enhance my body of work in street photography and ultimately inspired me to make more space and time to keep developing my personal work. That in turn also reignited my passion for my impressionist project.

I made sure to have enough time on top of the Empire State Building to experiment with panning my camera while capturing the amazing views. I love how the image came out in the end as if there are strokes from a paintbrush. You can clearly see the new World Trade Centre, thanks to its iconic architecture. All the glass buildings turned blue, while the older New York buildings maintained the red, brown and yellow colours, with some of the few trees in Manhattan bringing in some green! 

Manhattan

Manhattan

Finally, I think it is so important not to forget to really take in your experiences when you travel. I try to make a conscious effort to step back and just take in the culture, the scene, the light, the smell, the sound, the weather and so on, so I can really remember it later on. I rather take fewer photos, but the ones I do take are then the gateway to my memories in the future. It is like a good soundtrack to a film. When you hear a song of a movie you have seen ages ago, it brings back the scenes and feel of the movie!

SUB-FRAMING

Sub-framing is a composition technique in photography, where you put the subject or an object in a frame within the image. You can frame it with lines, other objects, out of focus areas, light and shadow areas to name a few.

I like to use sub-framing in my street photography to provide a more interesting point of view or show a bit of context. In general I want to create more visually interesting images and I like juxtaposing people with their environment. Framing interesting people or situations within their environment, especially other moving objects, just adds another layer to the idea of capturing a unique moment.

When I am taking pictures of sights (e.g. World Trade Centre or Big Ben) I usually can’t stop thinking that these have been photographed before millions of times. So when I am travelling I of course take the obvious choice of photos, but I also know that it has been done before and certainly has been done before way better. I am always striving to get a different picture of the sights, a different angle or some detail I find interesting, something a little bit unexpected. Often I achieve this through sub-framing:

Most of these compositions are different to the usual image of these sights, but just taken from a different point of view. However, I also try to find frames that are just there temporarily, e.g. the World Trade Centre framed within a graffiti within a building site window; can you call that “double sub-framing”!? ;-) The important point is though that in a few months when the construction work is done, this view will not exist anymore, making it also just a moment in time.

When I went to Washington I already knew what to expect from the sights. I’ve seen the Capitol, the White House, the Washington Monument  and the Abraham Lincoln memorial many times before, in the news, on photographs and in movies. However I didn’t expect to see so many food trucks on Capitol Hill! Maybe I was just hungry, but it really captured my interest. Furthermore I am a foodie anyway and especially love street food, so I tried to incorporate the food trucks in my photos of the capitol, while still putting the emphasize on the main subject.

Street Photography : Tate Modern

In June 2016 the new Tate Modern extension known as the Switch House opened its doors. It is 10 stories high and it allows 60% more artworks from the Tate collection to go on show.

The architecture looks great and uses a bricks similar to the original building. What I didn’t know and just read about is that the facade is made of “a perforated brick lattice through which the interior lights glow in the evening”. Sounds very interesting so I have to go back to see it after dark some time!

On the top of the Switch House is a viewing gallery, from where you have an amazing view all around. With the Tate and the Skygarden in the city there are now two amazing free viewing platforms, which I’ll recommend to anybody who is coming to London!

Fuji X100S Panorama in camera

The interior architecture of the Switch House is exceptional itself and one could be forgiven to be as interested in the building as in the amazing artwork it features.

As a street photographer I was especially interested to observe the visitors instead. I caught a lot of them on their phones :)

To be fair, with the Tate Modern now being the biggest museum of modern arts on earth, people do need a break sometimes!

In the Tanks on the ground floor there were video installations by Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul. The following photos just give an idea of it, but you have to see it for yourself.

There is so much else to discover, especially with a camera! I just leave it there with a couple of photos, one of a mirror installation and another one made inside a big box :)

Hong Kong

This year I finally was able to go to Hong Kong, where my girlfriend’s parents are from originally.  One of her sisters is currently living there as well, so it was a great opportunity to visit and stay with her for two weeks!

I could write a very long blog post about Hong Kong, but in a nutshell it is one of the most amazing places in the world! Great city (very modern, but also traditional), great people, great food, great mountains and islands for trekking and beaches. So you have pretty much everything in one place, and pretty good warm weather all year round as well.

 And you just can’t get bored of that skyline:

There is so much to explore, obviously the views from Victoria Peak, architecture, temples, markets, shopping and lots more.

Here is an iPhone panorama shot from Victoria Peak, whilst we were waiting for the light to drop:

If you are planning a trip with your camera to Hong Kong, I highly recommend watching David Hobby’s “The Traveling Photographer: Hong Kong” on lynda.

It is full of very useful, time and money saving travel tips, and of course lots of great photographic advice too.

If you have some more time in Hong Kong, I would suggest to also explore the other islands. Firstly go to Lantau Island and take the cable car to the Big Buddha. After that you can take a bus (approx. 25min) to Tai O, a small fishing town on the western side of the island, which turned out to be one of my favorite places.

You can take ferries to the other islands very easily with your octopus card too, some are great for trekking and some have nice beaches. (The octopus card is like London’s oyster card, just better, you can even use it to pay at seven-elevens!) One of the nicest beaches is apparently on the south eastern side of Hong Kong Island, called Shek O, which I have to check out on my next visit.

 

In the second week of our holiday I actually also increasingly tried to take some street photographs. I always loved that genre of photography, especially looking at great street photographers work. It is definitely something I want to explore further in my free time.

 

I can’t wait to go to Hong Kong again! You should go too!

More about street photography in my next post.