Get closer!

Our Nikon guru Michael Free­man fo­cuses on the de­tails

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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)

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