Category Archives: Part 2 – People Unaware

An Organised Event – The Burnham Market Horse Trials

bmhtFor this exercise a planned a visit to the Burnham market Horse trials a three-day eventing competition for riders in various classes from Juniors through to Olympic hopefuls. This event takes place close to where I leave and had attended in some years ago when it was just starting up and trying to establish itself on the eventing calendar.

Prior to attending the event I worked on a plan that involved trying to capture some unusual shots of the riders using my 70-300 telephoto to try and capture their expressions as they jumped some of the large fences in the cross country section. I know form my previous visit in some cases there was some expression of fear as the horse took off followed by a sense of relief once they had cleared the fence. I also planned to catch some pictures of ‘characters’ around the show jumping ring and browsing the many stands that sell horse paraphernalia, country attire and other typical country show items.

My intention was to get a series of photographs of riders framed like head and shoulders portraits as the horse jumped and anther series of people attending the event. However, things rarely go to plan and just after I arrived the my 70-300 lens decided to stop working with the camera body started generating error messages about not being able to connect to the lens and neither the autofocus or aperture worked correctly. I tried a few shots on manual focus but it was obvious that even that was going to work satisfactorily. rather than give up and go home I walked around the cross country course and found a couple of locations where I could get close enough to take the pictures below with the 17-85mm lens I had brought to shoot the crowd shots.




What I particularly liked about the three pictures about is the rider’s expressions: in the first picture the rider looks like she is hanging on praying that she will not fall into the water. In the second picture the rider looks so confident she almost seems like she has time to smile for the camera and in the third picture the rider has a look of absolute determination, nothing is going to prevent him from getting over the fence.

Beyond the actual eventing there was less to shoot than I had been expecting, I shot a lot of pictures of the crowd but I wasn’t really happy with any of them. I liked the picture of the two judges sitting in the shelter of their car taking notes on each rider as they past. In some ways this was a fairly surreal science they were parked at the far end of a field across which they had obviously driven but the way I choose to frame the image really doesn’t capture the absurdity of the scene. It would have been better to show more of their surroundings.


There were opportunities to take picture of riders discussing they performance with friends like the two below. These were the most successful of the crowd scenes I took. In the picture below I can imagine the rider is reliving details of her round with friends and Family.


Finally, people always bring their dogs to events like this indeed in some cases the dogs are more interesting subjects than their owners. Although in most cases the dogs just look bored by the whole event. For examples the owners of the dog below are engrossed in the show jumping by their dog seems more interested in the people and other dogs passing behind them.


Prior to attending these trials, I had done a lot of research on the times of various events and classes and worked out some locations to take pictures but in the end I was disappointed with the results. I like the action shots I took of the riders and in many ways I think being relatively close worked better than standing back with a 300mm lens. I had expected there to be a lot more spectators and more opportunities for good crowd shots and I really struggled to get anything that I really felt happy with. I don’t believe that I have captured the real feel of the event, in the end I have a few good shots but they don’t tell the story of the horse trials.

I have thought about what I would do differently if I shot this type of event again and I am sure that a working longer lens would have help with the crowd shots to enable me to shoot the crowd on the across the cross country course and maybe around the edges of the show jumping and dressage arenas.  My expectations would also be different; I would look for shots of riders just before or after an event rather than expecting interesting crowd shots. I got the idea of shooting the dogs towards the end of my time there and with more planning I think this idea could result in some great images.


A Public Space

The High Line Park on a Summers Afternoon

HL-pic1The High Line Park is a public park that has been constructed on a disused elevated railway line in Manhattan. I first visited the Highline a few years ago when I took pictures there when I was working on the Art of Photography Course.  In those picture I tried to capture the park in the context of the surrounding architecture as in the picture on the right.  I really was not completely happy with the pictures I took on that visit so when I was in New York again this year I went back this time with the idea of capturing the locals and tourists in the park.

After the railway closed in1980 and before it was turned into a park High Line was really the American photographer Joel Sternfeld captured a series of images in his book “Walking the High Line” that showed the high line as an unknown oasis of nature surrounded by the intense development on Manhattan Island.

At the time Sternfeld took his pictures the high line was really overgrown and largely ran through a very dilapidated area that had once been a manufacturing area of New York City. You can see in the examples of his work below the lush vegetation surrounded by empty and decaying buildings. Since Sternfeld’s pictures were taken the highline structure has been extensively renovated and careful planting has taken place to make it an attractive and increasingly popular site. The area along the line has also undergone considerable renovation becoming an area of smart apartments with a number of art galleries and restaurants.


For this exercise I wanted to capture the people in the park and their activities rather than capture the sense of how the park fits into its environment. To start with I choose the picture below showing the two girls looking over the rail at the side of the old railway line at the artwork on the building beyond. I particularly liked the humour in this picture and that it gives some sense of the height of the park above the surrounding streets.


The long narrow nature of the park means that there is a lot of opportunity to take shots of people walking purposefully from one end to another looking at the sights. Of all the shots I took of this type I like the one below with the two women shading their eyes against the glare afternoon sun. I guess the locals tend to walk the other way so the sun is behind them all the way.


The park is about a mile and half long, many people take a rest part way, the man below looks like he is breathing heavily, I wonder if had jogged through the park.


While they are relaxing these two women are taking a time out to write up their journals or diaries of perhaps write a postcard?


The High line is a great place for shots of couples and perhaps these two capturing memories of their vacation .


The couple below are sharing a joke and were completely oblivious to everything around them.


Finally on the High Line there are people taking time out from work, this women catching up on email or perhaps face book while the tourist behind is busy eating. This picture has nice contrasts between the woman calmly working on her phone and the one in the background stuffing here face. I also like the way the leopard skin pattern of women in the foregrounds skirt seems to be at odds with her fairly austere hair style and formal black jacket .


Another  two office workers taking a break from work and share the latest office gossip.


This was an interesting exercise; I tried very hard to capture good pictures without being obtrusive. I ended up with a few people scowling at me but most people that noticed me taking their picture looked happy some even broke into a smile.

From a technical perspective getting these shots was relatively straight forward; the bright light enabled me to use an aperture small enough to get a reasonable depth of field and a shutter speed that resulted in sharp images without increasing the ISO too much. Most of these were taken at ISO 400, f5.6 to f8 and shutter speeds between 1/100 & 1/800.

I am happy with the set of pictures presented here, I do think they capture the different types of people that were on the highline that day. They are reasonably composed, have acceptable exposure and are sharp. That being said when I go back and look at all of the pictures that I took that day there are some that I would have liked to include but which are not sharp enough. When photographing in this type of situation I believe I still have to learn to relax more and take the time for the camera to be still before pressing the shutter. There are still too many shots ruined by me quickly bring the camera up to my eye and shooting too quickly

Close and Involved

For this assignment I was motivated by the famous work of Walker Evens who took clandestine photographs of passengers on the New York Subway capturing the everyday routine of ordinary people. Evans wanted to capture his subjects unaware as he wrote “when the guard is down the mask is off” and “people’s faces are in naked repose down in the subway”. For this exercise I used a Nokia 1020 mobile phone which has a focal length equivalent to 25mm on a 35mm camera to take pictures of people travelling. Most of the pictures were taken on a commuter train in the spring and summer of 2015; there are also some I took in airports. The Nokia phone has a silent shutter, with the flash turned off and focus set to manual there is nothing t indicates to people that you are taking pictures rather than reading email or browsing the Internet.

The 25mm focal length is a little short for taking portrait and in some of the shots below the resulting exaggerated perspective is distracting. One advantage of the very high resolution of the camera on 1020 is that images can be cropped and still have an acceptable resolution. For example in the picture of the man working on his iPad below the exaggerated perspective makes his legs look much larger than they really are. I think the image is much better when cropped to a square format.  It could be perhaps improved more using the lens correction tools in Lightroom but I have resisted doing this in this assignment.

close-16 close-involved-1

When I look at this picture I am unsure whether he suspects I am taking his picture or whether he is just lost in his own thoughts.

The picture below captures the two women deep in conversation, again I have cropped this to a square image  because i think it makes the picture much more flattering as again the distortion introduced by the short focal length exaggerates the size of their legs and also their dark clothes do not add anything to the  uncropped picture.



I think the square format works well for these pictures it allows cropping out areas of relatively uninteresting content and obvious distortion. In addition it really allows the subject to standout . The standard 16×9 image created by the phone works well when used in landscape images for groups of people but I really do not like many of the un-cropped  portrait orientation pictures. The picture below is another strong square crop that did not have anything like the impact in a 16×9 portrait.


Not everyone is friendly on the train there are still people who cocoon themselves in their own world behind newspapers. Although this is not as common as in the past because many people are now reading news on smart phones or tablets rather than traditional newspapers. This picture with its Facebook advert proclaiming “Friends” to me has a certain humour.


Taking pictures in a train there was bright sun in the early morning or towards dusk produced its own challenges with many pictures having very pronounced harsh shadows or isolated patches of very bright light. In some cases careful cropping and post processing to tone down some areas lead to a satisfactory approach like the one below of the rather sulky looking girl.


In other cases the extremes of light just don’t work and in those cases I have tried more extreme post processing like the black and while image of a woman gazing intently at her smart phone below. In this picture I wanted the image to have contrast a vintage look where the extreme vinaigrette largely eliminated distracting details and the low key look made what were extreme shadows across the woman’s face more acceptable. I don’t often process images to this extent but in this case I believe it has made a photograph that looked poor in colour have a significant impact. I quite like the contrast between the up-to-date subject matter and the vintage look of the final image. Certainly, in future I will make more experiments like this when lighting conditions are fairly extreme.


This was a difficult exercise and it took a long time to collect the photographs above while sometimes people are so engrossed in their phone, book or tablet to notice anything else ofte it is a case of quickly grabbing a shot and hoping the framing of the picture is good. In my experience I took a huge number of pictures that were nearly good to get these.  Overall this exercise turned into a very interesting project that continued over several months.

Standing Back

For this exercise I choose to shoot picture using a zoom lens between 80 and 90mm on my Canon EOS 7D, I deliberately chose to not to use a zoom with a longer maximum focal length because I wanted to be reasonably close to my subjects and not be taking picture with a 300m lens that have a voyeuristic or paparazzi feel to them.

This first image is my favourite of a number of shots of crowds I took in New York I really like the look of excitement on the face of the boy in the foreground, the woman behind him and the girl beyond her (perhaps the boy’s mother and sister) also look  happy about what they see but the man behind them has a careworn look like he has seen it all before and just wants to get to his destination.


I was surprised how hard it was to capture this type of crowd shot from a distance, too often people moved between me and the group I was interested resulting in an out of focus blurred person in the foreground or perhaps the auto focus locking onto the new figure rather than my subjects.

To take the pictures I for this exercise I used a focal lengths between 80-90mm because I wanted to be close enough to my subject to reduce the probability of obstructions between me and them.  I did some experiments with longer focal length using a 70-300mm zoom but I really didn’t like any of the resulting pictures. The problem with this type of lens, particularly near the 300mm focal length is that for handheld shots getting a shutter speed high enough to avoid blurred images with a small enough aperture to get an reasonable depth of field means turning the ISO up so far that for me the level of noise was too high to be acceptable. From an aesthetic point of view I also didn’t like the way that a 300mm lens compresses the depth in the image although that can give the sense of a densely packed crowd  personally fr this type of street shot I think it just looks artificial.

I used the same 80-90mm focal length to take some portraits of people on a New York water taxi tour. I wanted to be far enough away to be able to take shots of people enjoying the tour with them being aware of me. Given the size of the boat and the crowd on it this focal length enabled me to pick out individuals without other tourists in the frame


standingback-8I liked this picture of a mother and daughter taking a selfie in front of the statue of liberty, the daughter seems keen but the mother seems less sure of the selfie stick culture. Ideally I would have been able to get the statue of liberty between the two figures and use a smaller aperture to keep it in focus. However, this is the best of several shots I took, sometimes things just don’t line up as I would like them.

standingback-7This was the tour guide on the trip although the background is a bit busy I think i captures some of his character and shows him in the environment he works in.




standingback-6This was a quickly grabbed shot of a man taking a photo of his family overall perhaps this picture is a little dark and maybe I could process it more to make the figure stand out. What I really like about the picture is his infectious smile.



standingback-10The last picture of this series shows a man apparently more focused on getting the shot he wants than looking at the sights.  To me there is an air of frustration about the man as if he is really wrestling with his high-tech camera.



I found this a very useful exercise it really made me look carefully for opportunities where the subject would not be obscured during the shot. I also had to plan to get a high enough shutter speed  to get sharp images while maintain enough depth of field.  In some ways the portraits of individuals or couples were easier because a shallow depth of field worked well in most cases allowing me to use faster shutter speeds without compromising on the level of noise.

Capturing the Moment

I took number of shots from different angles of these two street musicians in New York before I got this one where the guitarist is looking up at the woman playing the double base. To me this picture shows a real connection between the two performers that is missing from the other shots shown in the contact sheet. Maybe a shot with the two performers looking directly at the camera would also be good. However, I not sure even that would beat the base players expression of pure concentration and the way the guitarist is gazing at her, perhaps waiting for her to complete a solo. I was so focused on getting a good shot of these two I really cannot remember what they were playing


I have included a contact sheet below showing more of the pictures I took of these two musicians and the more I look at these I think the one I selected above (second from last of the contact sheet) best captures the performance and relationship between the two.


I did spend time wandering the streets in New York trying to capture shots of people at critical moments of activities they were engaged in. I like the one below in the sculpture garden of MOMA, when I took it I thought this was two people in a selfie but looking at it now I think they are looking at a picture the woman has just taken with her phone.


This is one of many pictures I took of tourists taking photographs; I particularly like the look of real concentration on the woman’s face as she captures her memories of Times Square.


This next picture I think of as someone receiving a text message or email that they have been waiting for and perhaps thinking about what to send in reply.


Finally in MOMA the excitement of being photographed with Marilyn, the picture is a little blurred due to the very low shutter speed necessary because I didn’t want to use flash but I think that adds to the sense of excitement that the picture captures.


The exercise has taught me the value of taking multiple shots of a scene, I would have got such a good picture of the musicians if I had not walked around them taking many shots and then being able to pick out the one above. I also set out to look for pictures of people on their phone or tourists taking pictures and I think that the pictures above show the value of this premeditation. Finally, I must admit that the picture of the woman with Marilyn was something I just saw and took when I was actually looking for people taking selfies with famous art works behind them.

Developing Your Confidence

What better situation to start taking pictures of people who are unware than being one of hundreds or thousands of tourists mingling at a famous site? I was fortunate to have a weekend to be a tourist in Beijing while in China on business so for this exercise I choose to photograph tourists at the Great wall and the Forbidden City. These pictures were taken on successive days and I alternated between taking typical travel/tourist shots and trying the capture the expressions of people as they battled the crowds to get a view of the sites.

Over the two days I took several hundred shots but for this log I chose eighteen shown on the contact sheet below which I felt captured by growing confidence taking this type of shot. They start with pictures at the Great Wall where I started taking pictures of queues of people, then using people to show scale and then getting closer to people who were engrossed in their own activities like taking each other photograph. At the Forbidden City the next day I took more pictures of individuals filling the frame although my confidence had increased I think it was just easier to get in closer at the forbidden city because the crowds were so much larger.

Contact Sheet

Looking through these pictures again as I write this entry there are some that I really like. For example the one below of the woman who looks happy as she climbs the Great Wall (I never realised how steep it was until I was there). This was a snatched shot and it is a shame that the out of focused rusty white iron is in the foreground. This really shows that I really didn’t have the confidence to take my time and frame the shot.

Comfortable Situation-5

The other picture I like from the first day is the three ladies in cycling helmets that essential piece of equipment for climbing the Great Wall.

Comfortable Situation-10

From the Forbidden city pictures I really liked the girl below who is very purposfully striding away after buy her ticket. I always feel that she is thinking now I have wasted all that time queuing I want to get on with something interesting.

Comfortable Situation-12

While I found this exercise must more enjoyable that the portrait exercises in section 1 these are not the type of photographs I regularly take and I found it hard to frame the images as well as I would have liked. There were numerous occasions where I thought I saw a great picture only to be disappointed when looking at the pictures on the computer later in the day. In reality it was much hard to quickly grab shots in this sort of situation than I expected.