Sharp And Wide Or Soft And Close?
A last blast of winter in March 2013 provided many snow-clad opportunities to capture familiar scenes in an unfamiliar setting. The Pont Alexandre III was densely and most beautifully decorated by its architects and a bevy of other artists and includes several salamanders peeking round the base of some of its columns. Part of the decoration evokes medieval France and I presume that these are a reference to Francois I, whose emblem they were.
Capturing snow is always a challenge, particularly under “snowy”, grey skies, but my personal challenge was to find the best choice of composition. I discuss two of these below and include the differentiation between the camera settings in each case.
Sharp And Wide
This Salamander seems to be crawling out from a snow cave on the edge of turbulent water represented by the curls on the base of the column. He wears his cold mantle lightly, being a “fire animal” in terms of its mythology. His powerful legs seem poised to leap on the prey on which his intent stare is concentrated.
These reflections flow from an image which is in-focus from front to back of the column on which the salamander is perched, while the distant right bank of the Seine is blurred with a soft “bokeh” effect. (I love that word!)
The animal’s face seems to be in soft focus, but this is an effect of the softness of the final treatment of the cast. The scene moves visually back along the creature until its rear leg creates a sharp, right-hand profile with the column. Overall the view is dynamic, full of detail and comprehensive.
Soft and Close
This is an “intimate” option. The decreasing sharpness from front to back places a strong emphasis on the face of the subject, which makes me, at least, change my focus to what is on the creature’s mind, rather that what it looks like it is going to do. I am riveted on its head and not drawn out of that area due to the blurring of the back of the animal. Given this emphasis I am drawn further in to focus on the facial expression and its eye. This is a small piece of the decoration on this marvellous bridge, but it is no less a masterpiece, evoking the power, mystery and style that Francois I sought to convey.
I personally prefer this version, given that the size of the subject is exaggerated, when the sight of the whole column is taken away and a key visual reference is lost. Similarly, the severe loss of definition gives a sense of distance that adds to the illusion.
Small changes can make for great effects
Thus, a small twist of the zoom ring from 116mm to 130mm, a short step forward, closer to the subject, and a switch of aperture from F/8 to F/2.8 created a whole new composition and emotional response to the scene. Here are the settings for each image:
Camera: Nikon D800
Lens: VR 70-200mm zoom f/2.8G
Focus Mode: AF-C
Auto Focus-Area Mode: Single
Exposure Mode: Aperture Priority
Exposure Compensation: +0.3 EV
ISO Sensitivity: 800
Stabilised on Monopod
Settings Specific to “Wide” Image
Focal Length: 116mm
Shutter Speed: 1/1600s
Settings Specific to “Close” Image
Focal Length: 130mm
Shutter Speed: 1/8000s
I both enjoyed the excitement of thinking about the technical choices needed to to capture the scene at the time, as well as the after effect of enjoying the different emotions evoked by both versions. What’s your view?
Copyright Paul Grayson 2015