Trying to Get the Picture Right, 18 October 2013


Good Evening:

Last Saturday I walked through San Francisco’s SOMA District (South Of MArket) during the course of my chores, and happened past an alley with both an unusual light and an unusual scene.

Homeless Man in Alley, San Francsico, CA, 12 October 2013, Original Shot

Homeless Man in Alley, San Francsico, CA, 12 October 2013, Original Shot

This homeless man seemed to have a fight with his own clothing, a kind of wrestling match, perhaps it felt uncomfortable. Notice the light on the building next to him. The sun’s light bounced off the windows of an office building on the other side of the alley and bounced off the bricks of the building you can see, yielding those bright patches of light. When I studied the picture at home, it reminded me of the paintings of the Futurist School of the 1920s with their emphasis on machines, skyscrapers and other mechanized marvels of the era.

In simple English, another opportunity to try and get a picture right. For this exercise, I used only iPhoto to edit copies of the original shot, which I took with my Nikon CoolPix S9100 point-and-shoot.

Since photography of the 1920s was black-and-white, I tried a straightforward conversion and adjusted the bright areas and the shadows.


You can probably spot two major flaws in both pictures so far. You probably spotted the excessive foreground with too much shadow, and the building at the right edge of the shot doesn’t belong (at least to my eyes). So I tried a simple crop.


DSCN9349_3Except it isn’t so simple. Both required further tweaks to sharpen focus, slightly different adjustments to the shadowed and bright areas, and I decided that I cropped too much. Also, the shot needs a B&W treatment, no matter what else I do. So another try:


Better, except for two new problems. The man somehow feels just a little too centered in the composition. Second, I decided that my initial judgment was correct–I need to crop out the building on the right edge. So back to the drawing board, I mean the darkroom, I mean the digital darkroom:


As my editing skills improve and I learn to use more sophisticated tools such as Photoshop, I might go back and get this shot really right, but this will do for now. The shadow belongs, suggesting approaching darkness threatening the solitary figure. The protruding pseudo-columns of the building seem to shove him to the side and loom over him like a giant fence, giant wall, or giant jail cell bars suggesting that the man is trapped and has no escape from his environment. I even like the lack of detail in his face, emphasizing an anonymous, faceless soul with no place to go.

Unfortunately, that really is his life.

But enough of my yammering, chattering, pseudo-learned critical discourse. I know that many of my readers include some of the best photographers, amateur or professional, on all of WordPress. What sort of reactions to you have to the piece and my attempts to improve it?

Vonn Scott Bair


6 responses »

  1. I liked the original – the vastness of the city looming over the small individual. But I haven’t studied photography at all. I also like the truth of original shots minus the retouching – unless it’s my headshot 🙂

    • cynthiamc1: You bring up a good point; the sheer overwhelming proportions of the original. Also, I agree that many photos, esp. street photography and war photography (such as Capa’s Magnificent Eleven), sometimes benefit from their sheer rawness. Vonn Scott Bair

    • Wandering Voiceless: Thank you for writing. This is part of an ongoing series in which I don’t try to teach others how to photograph (me, an expert?! Uh, no), but instead where I explain as best as I can how I try to study, improve, teach myself. Vonn Scott Bair

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