July 23, 2008

Photo of the Week: July 22, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: A couple of years ago, the Jerusalem Post ran a picture of Arab children having a snowball fight. The photo stuck in my mind as a fantasy of what life in Israel ought to be like more often. I shot this photo on the beach at Achziv, a coastal park only a few kilometers south of the Lebanese border. It offers a glimpse of the carefree, whimsical side of life in the Holy Land. On a hot and lazy summer afternoon, children play and wait out the sunset without a hint of worry. All too often, images of Israel generalize life here as both a physical and political battleground. It's important to see the mundane, the ordinary, the familiar, and yes, the unencumbered moments of innocence that are still possible. To create the silhouette, you have to ratchet up your courage and point the camera directly at a bright light source, in this case, the setting sun. It's a tricky business trying to balance bright light and shadows, so I bracketed a few exposures above and below what my meter indicated. This shot emerged as the favorite, because the human forms – albeit a very tiny component of the composition – were caught in the best posture to deliver the photo's emotional impact. I've never been a conformist, so why start with the camera, especially when the results are often so fantastic!

Photo of the Week: July 15, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: One of the best ways to improve your photography skills is by studying pictures, including your own. Years ago I made a similar image of hay bales in California and hung a print on my wall. I was proud of it, enjoyed it, but most of all, I looked at it often enough to eventually see its faults and how I could have improved it. Today I instruct my students to choose one of their photos to hang in their homes, not simply to help them strengthen their identities as photographers, but also knowing that a lesson will emerge for them at some future time.

This image was taken spontaneously as I drove through Emek HaEla, about 30 minutes from my home. Agricultural scenes are not difficult to find in Israel, so this is not the kind of subject that ordinarily captivates me, because, frankly, these images remind me more of Iowa than Israel. Nevertheless, the pleasant morning light falling on the freshly baled hay compelled me to finally stop and practice my art. Because the bales are identical in color to the surrounding ground from which they were cut, lighting was crucial to make them stand out. Notice how the top and left side of the nearest bale blend in perfectly with the adjacent background. Fortunately, the sun's position to the left and behind the bales creates shadow on the front side, giving strong definition to each bale, much as a portrait photographer sculpts the face of his subject with light to emphasize facial features. The dark rectangles also form an interesting, staggered pattern that meanders through the image and injects a welcome dynamic into an inanimate and static subject. Hey, is this Iowa? No, it's the Holy Land.

Photo of the Week: July 8, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: The Kotel is the western supporting wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the holiest site at which Jews may pray. (The holiest site would be the Holy of Holies, situated somewhere on the Temple Mount itself, but whose exact location is not known.) Probably the most visited and photographed site in Israel, the Kotel reverberates – for many of us – with a mystical and spiritual energy that inspires awe and reverence. All along the wall, thousands of tiny notes, containing prayers to God scribbled in every language known to man, are jammed into cracks and crannies, some surviving there for years.

I have made dozens of pictures of these notes, and admire their colors and patterns every time I am at the Wall. This is one of my favorite shots because, unlike most of the other smooth stones making up the wall, this section is rough and jagged. I like the way the dark shadows of the crevices contrast with the brighter areas of the stone and how the colored notes – including the many white ones - provide visual relief from the dominant brown of the stone. I made one minor change while preparing this image for presentation: I cropped the bottom, moving the edge upward to cut off the small, white note. Because the image is vertically oriented to conform to the cracks running from top to bottom, cropping at this point gives the base of the photo an anchor, albeit subtle, which keeps the eye from sliding down and off the image.

Photo of the Week: July 1, 2008

HOW I GOT THE SHOT: Many years ago, I photographed a sunset at the Grand Canyon. There was an observation point along the road where about 25 tourists had gathered, but as soon as the sun dipped below the horizon, all but three of us went on our way. One of the other photographers quipped to me, "This is where you separate the amateurs from the pros!" Why? Because the best light from a sunset often occurs about 15-20 minutes after the sun disappears. He was right, as the best shots of the evening came a short while after the crowd had vanished.
Despite being among the most commonly photographed subjects, sunsets frequently yield disappointing results. After all, how can you take a wide expanse of sky, the unique mood of twilight and a process that often lasts more than an hour and reduce it to the blink of an eye? Well, you can't really. Although I've taken many very satisfying sunset photos, I still find myself chasing after a good one and studying the sky in the late afternoon to see if clouds and weather patterns will combine for a good celestial show.

This shot was taken near the city of Sderot, on the way back from a trip to Gush Katif two years ago. I was traveling with friends when we noticed the colors forming in the sky with only a few minutes to spare before the sun disappeared. We jumped out of the car and looked for some high ground. Often with sunsets, I'll look for some interesting terrain to add to the composition, but in this case the horizon was just a straight line over flat ground, which didn't add any interest to the photo. Choosing to include only sky, I then focused on forming the best possible composition. Placing the fireball at the bottom of the frame was a bit unconventional, but it seemed to fit nicely at the tip of the downward spiral formed by the clouds and colors. Finally, the narrow, vertical format accentuates the patterns in the sky and the downward motion of the setting sun. In retrospect, this was the right cropping decision, but I still hedged my bets by taking a few horizontals as well, and sticking around for another 10 minutes.