Shooting the Illuminated Crowd

I have been following this short but intense photography school with Linda Rutenberg.

I recently shared a story on “What makes a beautiful picture” after being assigned an exercise that I initially thought to be too theoretical. That is until I saw its purpose.

Another exercise that Linda gave us was to shoot a single object from different angles from our daily surroundings.

I chose a statue in downtown Montréal where I work: “The Illuminated Crowd” by Raymond Mason.

A classic. Taken over and over again by tourists and Montrealers alike.

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The statue depicts a crowd, larger than life, illuminated by either a street fire, a show or some other event that is not depicted by the artist and is left to the viewing public to imagine. As the light fades away from the those in the front to those in the back, we can see the mood of the crowd changing with the characters becoming more violent.

It is said that the Mason that wanted to symbolize our fragile world.

When I came to class with these pictures, Linda’s Frost reaction was, “oh my, yet another set of pictures of that statue”.

As it turned out, and contrary to my first picture critique, it turned out to be not just another shoot of a boring subject.

The exercise consisted of shooting an object, any object, from multiple angles. Obviously training our composition and creativity.

It was a beautiful workday afternoon with little pedestrians and workers crowding the scene.

I had brought three lenses but only used two: the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 G and the Sigma 8-16 f/4.5-5.6 DC HSM.

Because I knew that I would capture “portraits”, I thought that the 50mm would be great for it. And it turned out to be so. I was able to isolate some subjects like here with the character wearing a turban.

It is clear that at f/2.8 this works out much better than the second shot at f/13 where the background being too much in focus distracts the viewer, especially near the nose.

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As I mentioned in the intro, as the viewers move towards the back, you can see and sense the mood changing in the crowd. This picture exemplifies it with the characters shouting and the hand going up to draw attention. Only the Buddhist in the center is able to keep his calm.

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At the front of the statue is the main character, a man wearing a business jacket and shirt. Although he does not wear a tie, I can imagine it. He is pointing towards the horizon – towards the viewer? – at the fire or the shinning light.

This pictures captures it, although with some imperfections like the slightly cropped hand.

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One of the compositions that I find most challenging to see is the triangle. They say that in hockey good goaltenders create their own luck. I think that I got lucky here (note that the reverse is not true: if you are lucky then you are not necessarily a good photographer).

I did want to achieve something with this picture. One of my favorite shots I took in my first photoshoot was one of three kids each playing with their portable Nintendo DS. I was then able to recognize the situation as I was able to recognize here the three faces on three planes would make a great shot.

For the triangle, I got lucky.

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The fun thing about taking pictures with a prime, like the 50mm I used, is that it forces you to move around your subject as you can not use the zoom. Would I dare say that the zoom makes you lazy, maybe, just maybe…

What you have not seen yet from the pictures I shared and what I saw was the glass buildings behind the statue. And on the glass building, the reflecting sun. Definitely something to play with and the Buddha was going to be part of that game.

The shinning sun gives some mystical aura to this mystical character. If only I could cure this damn habit of cropping my shots, argg…

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Since I had brought my Sigma 8-16mm ultra wide angle, I wanted to try a few shot with it.

I very much like this next one. It gives a sense of the scene, with the lead character, a glimpse of the tension that builds up with the tall man on the left as the viewer’s eye moves towards the back as well as the shinning surroundings of the building and the shinning light.

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All in all, I was happy about this exercise. I was happy that I was able to use once again my “crowd control” skills, that is the ability I developed in Italy to take pictures while minimizing the appearance of bystanders.

After speaking to my good buddy Vincent (actually my best man at my wedding!), I understood that I could have used a ND filter to reduce the amount of light coming in on those wide aperture shots where the highlights are blown.

But what I was most proud of was Linda’s comment. She said that in the ten years that she has been teaching and of the countless number of times this statue was chosen as a subject in her class this was the best photoshoot there ever was.


I can’t compare, but I can share that this subject was something I wanted to take for quite some time and I did put my heart into it.

Practice makes perfect I guess.

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