Our Nikon guru Michael Freeman focuses on the details
One well-tried and tested creative approach is to whittle down the number of things going on in a photograph. In other words, to reduce, and we already looked at the idea of graphically reducing an image in N-photo 73 as a technique of composition. The principle applies in other ways, beyond composition, and is more about the actual subject – there are times when a part of it may be more interesting and focused than the whole.
This means closing in on the subject in some way, and though it’s straightforward – and you might think almost too obvious to be worth mentioning – it can on occasion be very effective. It can even, as in the example here, be a solution to a shooting problem.
The situation was an assignment for the German magazine GEO to cover the annual Lord Mayor’s Show in the City of London. Apart from the usual problems of getting access, the shooting possibilities were rich. All the traditional dress, uniforms and ornaments were out on parade for the day, including the golden coach. The contrast between these and the normally dry efficiency of the City’s financial institutions promised juxtapositions.
Everyone loves a colourful parade, so as long as I made sure that at the centre of it all was a good close-up shot of the horse drawn Lord Mayor’s coach with the Lord Mayor visible in it, it should be plain sailing. However, the predictability of it was itself something of a problem, because it’s a well photographed event, and picture editors are always looking for something different that hasn’t been seen before in countless stock images. One golden rule of event photography of any kind is to prepare well in advance and get there a long time before the start. Get behind the scenes with a couple of hours running up to the parade. This gives you access to stuff that is much more strictly controlled later and gives you time to explore.
The smaller picture
Participants in parades assemble in various odd corners and start to get ready, and these can be the best situations for shooting, often better even than the parade itself. These are aldermen of the City of London, and as the sequence of smaller pictures shows, I started with some normal candid shots as they waited and chatted, hoping for perhaps some special or unusual gesture or whatever (which didn’t happen). Having exhausted that possibility, I had plenty of time to see if there was anything interesting at a smaller scale.
Details of things offer all kinds of reasons for shooting, including the ‘what’s that?’ style of abstraction, but the type I was interested in here was something that might be able to stand in for the bigger subject of the parade – in other words, something representative.
As a creative path, this one generally depends a little less on the skill of making an exciting composition, and much more on finding a good subject, one that might be a little unusual. As I moved in, my eye was caught by what one of the aldermen was holding. It was a silver mace. Better than that, it was a mace in the form of the Tower of London itself! At that point, I knew I had a good close-up shot. It was relevant, opulent, especially against the backdrop of the gold-braided cloaks, and reeked of traditional ceremony. Like any reportage photographer trained on magazines, I sensed the chance of a double-page spread and so framed for that, using a longer lens (180mm) and making sure there was a clean area in the centre for the page gutter. The magazine clearly thought the exact same way…
The sequence of shots leading up to the final close view, moving in step by step
The GEO magazine City of London feature opener The selected image of the Lord Mayor’s Show
Our globetrotting Contributor at Large, renowned photographer and prolific author Michael Freeman, presents a month-by-month masterclass that’s exclusive toN-photo, in which he explores his tried-and-tested paths to more creative photography. Michael has published dozens of books on photography, including the bestselling Perfect Exposure.
If you enjoy this article and want to learn more, there are 50 more paths to be discovered in Michael’s new book Fifty Paths to Creative Photography (NB: all 50 are different from those that will be featured here in the magazine)