Sunday, August 08, 2010

Clean shots, obstructions and compromises

click photo to enlarge
I'm interested in architecture, and so I take photographs of buildings and structures of all kinds and all periods. In a country with a lot of history, such as England, it isn't difficult to find interesting and attractive subjects for the camera. Large, famous or important buildings such as churches, country houses, office blocks and the like are often sited with open space around them: they are designed to be seen, to impress, and to say something about the person who had them built. Consequently, securing a "clean" shot that includes the whole of the structure is usually relatively easy. In fact you can often take a number of such photographs that show different facades and illustrate the context in different ways. However, when you go down the scale to smaller houses, town churches, and other buildings in built-up areas, it is often very difficult to get that unimpeded shot.

There isn't a single overriding obstruction that impinges on photography in towns: there are many. And if one doesn't get you then another one surely will. Motor vehicles are omnipresent. There simply isn't enough space on our small island to provide off-street parking for everyone who would like it, therefore streets are littered with cars, and you have to accept them in your images. Frequently I'll be lining up a shot in a road that has signs forbidding parking, a situation where you can get a shot that doesn't include parked vehicles. But all too often a large delivery van will draw up in front of the chosen building and begin unloading. Ten minutes is the maximum allowed for this in no parking areas, and I tell you, that can feel like an hour when you're waiting for it to move on. Then there's street lights. These are spaced according to the needs of the pedestrian, which is fair enough, but I sometimes wish that they'd take account of the streetscape and the photographer! Traffic and other signs are also a problem. It's not only their obtruding physical presence, it's the bright colours - red, blue, white, etc, that are designed to be seen, and consequently glow like beacons in your images. And don't get me started on telegraph poles and overhead wires. Trees can be bothersome too when they screen the subject that you'd like to photograph.

I had that problem when I was framing this late eighteenth century house in Louth a few days ago.It's a distinguished building on a fine street that features buildings from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. The twin curved steps up to the main entrance on the piano nobile are reasonably common on such houses in large cities and towns, but less usual in a small place like Louth. However, I could not find a position on the pavement outside the house to compose the shot I wanted because the trees got in the way. In such circumstances you simply have to accept the compromise shot that is available. I settled on this one that uses the trees as contrast, offers framing of sorts, and which contextualises the building.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 11mm (22mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f2.8
Shutter Speed: 1/320
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On