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Having A Baby I regularly get asked how I achieve the look in my photography.

I start with incredibly flexible, albeit low contrast, monochrome RAW files from my Leica Monochrom. London is saturated with brick, tarmac and concrete, so my post processing will frequently separate foreground objects from the scene. The reason is the structure slider in Silver Efex Pro. Pushing structure in faces and fluid objects works well, but not so for concrete. Example below.

HiLoStructure

And this brings me to Photoshop. I work in layers and whilst I believe Lightroom will allow me to find the same end result, it’s not easy to ‘stand back’ and appraise the current image of stacked layers and tweak their individual opacities until I’m happy with the composite image.

What now follows, is a layer by layer build up of this image. All processing is achieved in Silver Efex Pro 2, because I’m lazy, and Photoshop CS6. So this is essentially the low contrast image from my camera. In the Adobe Camera Raw dialogue I’ve dialled down the highlights a little and brightened the blacks.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.27You can click on these images to see a larger version.

I’ll place myself to shoot with the best light I can, but it’s infrequent a ‘moment’ occurs that I can get into position for, if there’s a better position at all. This being the case, I will often have to process subjects specifically to boost their light.

First, for this shot, I’m concerned about getting the sidewalk and building correct. I like to make London’s concrete look cleaner than it usually is. See below.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.33

I chose a lowish structure filter from the Modern section and increased the soft contrast, boosted contrast whites and decreased structure. You can still see the bubblegum, but the scene is lighter, less cracks and stains.

The guy is not doing well with this filter and this is often the case where filters are great for one portion of the scene, but not elsewhere.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.37

Again, from SEP2’s Modern section – the first high structure filter I think – I increased the soft contrast a little. I’ve applied a mask to the man. He’s brighter and with a nice texture in his clothes.

I duplicated this layer, adding a mask, for the window panes. I bang up the contrast and structure on any reflective surface. There’s nothing worse than dull lifeless surfaces that should shine and reflect the world. High contrast!

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.40

Tell me those windows don’t look better?!

Still not happy about his face and arms, so I’m going for even more structure and slight increase in exposure.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.45

Same filter, higher structure, boosted fine structure and overall brightness a little and a layer mask for his face and arms. This layer is not 100% opacity though. The effect should be subtle and Photoshop allows me to view the compound image and adjust opacities for each and every layer concurrently.

I know some would stop here, but I prefer my photography high contrast and, on a wall, it has greater impact. This means additional contrast layers.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.48

The guy’s exposure is pretty low compared to the scene, so the first contrast layer is masked for everywhere but him. I use a low contrast Modern filter usually, boosting the whites and softening the shadows. negative structure. Then set the layer’s blend mode to hard light.

He does need contrast and I’d like to focus the viewer on him, so I’ll employ another contrast layer on the entire scene. Using SEP2’s Vintage Pinhole filter, grain off, brightness down and increased soft contrast to change the light in the centre of the scene. Layer blend mode to hard light again.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.51

This is the effect I was after. Slightly de-emphasising the edges, even whiter walls and a controlled level of contrast on the guy.

Never trusting monitors, I always perform a Image>Adjustments>Levels (Auto) check. It slightly brightened the scene, which I’m happy with. I also sharpen the image in preparation for print.

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 09.22.54

Flatten the image and duplicate the image twice. The first additional layer, perform a High Pass filter of 4.0 and set the layer blend mode to overlay and opacity to 20%.

To the second addition layer, perform a High Pass filter of 2.0 and set the layer blend mode to overlay and opacity to 20% again.

And flatten the image. I keep the PSD for print runs, but create a smaller jpeg for the internet.

How this image ended up is not to everyone’s taste, but the take home is that I could process what I wanted and subsequently tweak the opacity of individual effect layers.

Sorry about the whacky histogram; my cat walked over the keyboard and I need to set that back.

Good luck processing!

Wandering through Gerrard Street only to pause at this chap who was staring intently at one end of the street. Who knows why, but his brolly could not have been more useless under the searing sun.

Zero Chance Of Rain

I don’t stumble through Lancaster Gate’s turnstiles by chance. When I join Ian Brumpton for spritely street photo walks I have ended up here. The one other reason is to visit the Serpentine Gallery and their new Pavilion each year. Here’s a shot from my 2013 visit.

It’s a fast 10 minute walk through the well tended gardens to the Pavilion so, in this 30 degree weather, drink plenty of water!

Serpentine Gallery Pavillion, 2014, by Smiljan Radić

Smiljan Radić is the fourteenth architect to accept the invitation to design a temporary Pavilion outside the entrance to the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens.

Occupying a footprint of some 514 square metres on the lawn of the Serpentine Gallery, plans depict a semi-translucent, cylindrical structure of fibreglass, designed to resemble a shell, which rests on large quarry stones. This work has its roots in the architect’s earlier work, particularly The Castle of the Selfish Giant, inspired by the Oscar Wilde story and the Restaurant Mestizo – part of which is supported by large boulders.

The 2014 Pavilion is designed as a flexible, multi-purpose social space with a café sited inside. Visitors will be encouraged to enter and interact with the Pavilion in different ways throughout its four month tenure in the Park.

 

I’ve developed this habit, I’ve yet to decide whether it’s good or not, where I hold and point and shoot without stopping or literally stopping for a step-pause-click-continue. It has yielded a few shots I wouldn’t have got had I stopped, focused, framed and shot.

When did I get this impatient to see whether the scene would last 5 more seconds for me to take the picture properly?! Yes, these ‘new’ shots are blurrier, but the gamble for composition sometimes pays off.

The great value from this shooting on the run style is that the subject does not have time to react. I’m a well practised Ninja on the streets, but for those who feel more conspicuous this is a good trade off.

Here’s an example where I was keen to make progress to the Tour de France finish line on the Mall and I saw this guy from the back. Without pausing, I set focus to 4 metres, f/5. As I passed him I saw the magnifying glass and knew there was a good shot here. Still not pausing I held my camera portrait under my right arm, lens pointing backwards, and pressed the shutter.

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I knew I’d get something, but would the composition be slightly off or blurry… well a bit of both.

I’ve no idea why, but I can shoot a straight horizontal and vertical shot just holding the camera up. To within a degree. Not sure if it’s rangefinder ergonomics, but I’m an uncannily straight shooter with this Monochrom.

I challenge you all to try this and post links to these photos in the comments below.

 

The Walls Have Eyes [Explored]
The Walls Have Eyes, #34 on Flickr’s Explore as at June 26, 2014

The majority of photographers whose work I have stumbled across keep a glossy but impractical portfolio page; mine resides at michaeltoye.com. For those photos that are pretty good, but fail to make the portfolio grade, we make use of sites like Flickr and Google+.

Personally, I gravitated towards Flickr because of the community photographer spirit it engenders. In addition to following ‘friends’ whose photos and style you appreciate, you can build a catalogue of your favourite images from others. There are groups you can join to share your images with like minded shooters, for instance, I am subscribed to street photography and Leica groups.

I have been active on Flick for years now, but I do remember it didn’t take long to discover Flickr’s Explore page. Each photo that is uploaded to Flickr is assigned an ‘interestingness’ factor. How ‘interesting’ your photo is depends on numerous factors like visits to your photo and from where, how many and how frequently others comment and favourite your image, etc. Each day the 500 most ‘interesting’ photos are collated and presented as Flickr’s Explore page. I don’t think it’s just ‘interestingness’ that gets you selected for this coveted set as I do know adding your photo to numerous groups actually reduces your chances of making the cut!

Flickr guards the algorithmic secret of interestingness and Explore selection closely, but I can comment on my experiences.

I can be fairly optimistic of Explore selection if I…

  • Upload a photo relatively late in Flickr’s day. I uploaded ‘The Walls Have Eyes’ about 9:30pm GMT, giving Flickr enough time to see some nice statistics on my photo before the new Flickr day starts at Midnight GMT.
  • Don’t add to any groups
  • Get about 15+ favourites and a few comments over the course of the first hour after upload. ‘The Walls Have Eyes’ received 100 views, 20 favourites and 2 comments before the end of the Flickr day.

Obviously the third point is the biggest variable and the principal requisite is that you take a good photograph. If it’s also processed well, it will pop off your contacts’ page for new images from friends.

Time is a factor in your photo’s ‘interestingness’, so remaining on the Explore page requires some beefy stats to roll in. At 9am, ‘The Walls Have Eyes’ is at 5000+ views and 112 favourites and is still at #34. I expect it to drop before lunch, but this can be slowed by adding to numerous groups.

I also know Flickr Explore selection ignores you after a while. At the beginning of the year I managed to get 5 images in 5 consecutive days into Flickr’s Explore. Bear in mind there are only 500 spots between the millions of daily uploads, so it seems only reasonable to ‘ban’ people for a period of time.

Does anyone else have a similar or dissimilar proven pattern for Flickr’s Explore?

 

Tangents
Tangents

 

These were all taken last week. I love how London just shines through in these small frames… actually I have walked past New York streets similar to image no.1…

It’s probably useful to note, from a street photography tip point of view, I had a mind to capture these images before I left my own house. Of course the people, their expressions and placement in scenes is random, but I sought out the photography that was already in my head.

Do you plan your street photography like this?

There are always shots you couldn’t conceive of running into however, with this planning, I never return with an empty card.

I’m offline for a few weeks now with a special travel project so please subscribe for emails, if you haven’t already, and you can forget about me until I pop up in your mail box!

Happy street shooting all!

Michael

Morning Ritual

Please Open

Cycling Blind

Journeyman

Three Amigos

A Break In The Rain