Last Sunday was the day that I got to play with the birthday present my spouse gave me: a photo walk tour with a live coach.
Zanna Strong is an Australia born photographer who lived most of her life in Vancouver, one of the most beautiful cities I know. She moved to Montréal only two months ago.
Zanna is a photographer with intention. She sees things that we, mere mortals, do not. Like a magician, she can make subjects appear out of thin air.
She has an acute vision for things and she also speaks her mind. So, if the shots we worked on were not good enough I would hear about it . Which also means that when she told me that some shots were good, I knew that she really meant it.
She suggested that we meet at Marché Jean-Talon, an open market fruits and vegetable market in Montréal with plenty of photo opportunities.
Once we met, we did not beat around the bush, no small talk, straight to heart of things: “Do you use aperture priority? Yes! Do you shoot Raw? I do! Do you understand DOF? Of course!”
But then and there she put me outside of comfort zone and asked me to set my Nikon in Shutter priority. I was nervous and fumbling on my dials.
We started off with something fun to do: slow shutter speed while zooming. On flowers, this creates a Monet effect. On people, in an alley, an eery effect as if they were coming out of heaven!
Next, still with a slow shutter speed, we moved to panning and “ghosting”. I am not sure of the exact word in English for this second technique – and not that this is the French word for it either – but looking at the pic you will understand what I mean … and tell me what it is called.
Panning while not quite following the subject…
Panning while following the subject
Ghosting the subject
When we sat down at the beginning to set establish our mutual expectations, I told Zanna that I knew how to shoot frames within frames but that I had more issues identifying triangles for example.
Some exist in nature, like with these flowers, while others have to be created, like we did when she arranged the corn cobs .
Triangles in nature
Man made (err, woman made!) triangle
We did a number of other exercises. Although these pictures are not worth publishing, it is nevertheless interesting to speak of them.
She told me the differences between shooting at 1/250s and 1/500s. Sounds trivial or basic, but still important: you can take a parade at 1/250 but to take sport action, you need 1/500.
She also talked about depth of field and aperture. Yes, I do know about how a larger aperture reduces your DOF. She taught me applications, or use cases as we say in product management lingo (my day job). These are:
- To blurry a background (or BG like she says), use f/2.8-f/5.3;
- To shoot a flat plane (we used a fruit stand), use f/7-f/11;
- To create a story picture (apologies, I think that I forgot the exact term she used), use f/16-f/22 to get all subjects and BG in focus.
Continuing on our triangle exercise, we came up to a guitar player. First things first, we asked permission to shoot and we paid our due by throwing a few coins in the open guitar case.
I had however a number of issues with these shots including background, framing, DOF. This picture cuts off the neck, the knee on the left and I am not sure that the DOF works well on that moving hand (this should have been the case for a f/11!).
With this picture, I learned one thing: each shot has to have a subject, even more to the point, every shot has to have an intention. This shot has none, or not enough of it.
The last shot I took was this close-up of a nice and shinny red Vespa. Again, a tough shot to get right, to get to say what you want. Simply shooting a Vespa might be fun, but does not tell a story. This shot however tells a few things: first the angle shows that I worked on it as opposed to taking a vertical shot, second, I wanted to show the reflections of the trees and the houses neighboring the market, and then I wanted to show that, hey, I too was there!
To get the depth of field, I closed the aperture to f/13, shot wide at 28mm at 1/60 seconds.
This shot is not perfect; I wished that I could have gotten rid of street in the upper right corner. I am also not sure about the green foliage reflection on the chrome section.
Nevertheless, a picture that indirectly represents two hours of work of a great photo walk tour with Zanna.
The Vespa story
In conclusion, there are three things that I take away from this photo walk:
- You make a picture, you do not just take it;
- You always shoot with an intention;
- Find yourself a coach, she will take your pictures to the next level.