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Theory n Technique, What Makes a Photograph

What Makes a Photograph #8

It’s been a while since I did one of these posts, hasn’t it? Yes it has! This What Makes a Photograph series initially started out as a weekly thing before becoming a sort of monthly feature before finally becoming something that I do whenever I feel like, and that’s what it is now. If you’ve been following this series with interest, apologies for not keeping it up – I guess the demand for reviews and more reviews has got to me – but I’ll try my best to keep this series going and produce this sort of post more often. Alright, then

Ok, today’s picture is one I took recently on my Sony RX100 compact camera in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Shots like these really show how good compact cameras have become lately – if I saw a picture like this, I would’ve guessed it was taken on a mirrorless camera or DSLR – and you will find it even more impressive when you read more as you go on; however, this sort of post isn’t meant to describe the qualities of the camera but instead aims to dissect the various elements that make up the actual image and why all these elements combine to form a pleasing picture. Right? Indeed. So let’s look at the picture itself then…and without bragging, I think you’d agree with me that the following image is rather pleasing:

Petronas Towers By Night - Yeah, I'm still not great with titles!

Petronas Towers By Night – Yeah, I’m still not great with titles!

And now to the details. First of all, let me talk about the basic exposure settings. As always, I shot in Aperture Priority mode, and in RAW. Generally, for such a shot, I’d use a narrow aperture (around f8.0 or so) to get a nice, deep depth of field, to easily get everything in focus. However, as things were dark, and I was caught without a tripod – this wasn’t a planned shoot at all – I was forced to open up the aperture to help get a faster shutter speed. To ensure I got everything looking sharp, I focused right at the very end of the building, which, if you remember from my night photography post (and others), helps maintain a fairly deep depth of field even at wide apertures. My camera was able to go up to f1.8, but I didn’t want to push it, so I set it to f3.5 and focused as far away as I could

The buildings were giving out quite a bit of light, so it wasn’t as dark as you would imagine, but even at f3.5 I was going to struggle at low ISO settings to get a handhold-able shutter speed, so I bumped the ISO up to 800, which gave me a shutter speed of 1/25 sec – pretty comfortable with modern image stabilization systems – and that worked just fine. So yeah, final exposure settings: ISO 800, f3.5, 1/25 sec shutter speed 

Next up, the composition. If you’ve seen my post on composition, you may remember me talking about perspective and point of view. That’s something I used here; and I think it worked to good effect. What do I mean? Well, if you’ve seen a picture postcard or any sort of popular image of the Petronas Towers, the odds are the picture was taken from a distance – far away from the location – which gives you a nice look at the architectural side of things, and probably a good view of the entire skyline as well, but thanks to the multitude of similarly composed images, this sort of composition has started to look a bit common, and boring; and is something you almost expect to see when you think of the Petronas Towers. They make these majestic buildings look almost ordinary

Bring yourself up close to the towers and suddenly they start to look different. Large. Imposing. Magnificent. Ok, I’m not saying that I was the only one taking pictures from up close – but while I noticed a lot of people shooting from fairly close to the entrance of the towers, they were staying far enough to capture most of the building to get a more ‘normal’ look to things. I, however, found that shooting from close to the very base of the towers best portrayed the sheer magnitude of these buildings; while remaining (at least slightly) original!

So yeah, I got right up close and gave the shot an upward point of view. The sort of view you’d get only if you’re right there. The way you’d see things only when you’re right at the foot of this landmark with your neck twisted upwards, soaking in their magnificence! Oh yes

Apart from the perspective, the rest of the composition is pretty simple, right? Just a centered, symmetrical composition, the kind that often goes with architectural shots. No need to re-invent the wheel here – symmetry goes well with buildings. So yeah: simple, symmetric, with a fairly unique perspective. That’s what did it for me

The composition aside, there’s one other element that really made this shot special – something I mentioned in my post on night photography. Can you spot it? The blue sky! Yeah

As I didn’t plan for this shoot, I guess I got lucky with the timing, but I ended up at the location right at what people call the Blue Hour – the little period (of much less than an hour) right after sunset and right before complete darkness, on a clear day. This blue sky creates a lovely, rich background to night photographs, and does wonders to this particular shot too. The contrast of blue sky and the white lights of the buildings looks spectacular, and thanks to that, this image looks far better than anything I was able to capture less than ten minutes later with a pure black sky. This is one of the first – or THE first – shot I that I took that night, and it remained the best, purely because of the timing, the timing that resulted in that lovely blue sky

And that’s about it, really. A simple composition with a bit of a twist in terms of perspective, a bit of luck with my Blue Hour timing – although you can skip the necessity for luck with a bit of planning – and nothing more

Oh, and while I always recommend a tripod for this sort of night shot, in this case it turned out to be a bit of a good thing. You see, if I had a tripod set up, I would’ve not been able to get this composition that easily. Without a flip-out LCD, getting these upward angles would’ve been tough, and would’ve caused a lot of shooting, previewing, re-shooting, and that sort of trial-and-error composition. And that, plus the time it takes to set up a tripod, would’ve probably made me miss the glorious Blue Hour. Ok, by no means am I telling you not to use a tripod, but there are occasions where going handheld is best – so think about that – it could work out really well

Alright, hope you enjoyed that, my return to the What Makes a Photograph series. For more on night photography, check out my not-too-lengthy post on the topic – and for more on composition, check out my rather lengthy post on that topic – and I’ll leave you at that. Thanks for reading. Until next time

By Heshan Jayakody
All content in this post is my own
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2 Responses to “What Makes a Photograph #8”

  1. As for me, photography is composed of substantial elements. One is ought know the fundamentals of photo shooting in order to accomplish striking pictures. Modernised photo applications assist us all throughout the way, and we are just required to go with the flow. Keep on exploring!

    Posted by HughTfall | May 16, 2013, 13:38

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