I was attracted to photograph this staircase when leaving a party on the third floor of a Haussmann period apartment on Avenue Niel. This building is from the second, 1860’s phase of the great Baron’s reconstruction of Paris.
The rules imposed a certain homogeneity to new residential construction, which contributes to the beautiful proportions of Paris’ streets to this day, but I never cease to be amazed and pleased by the variety and artistry visible in the individual buildings. They are a tribute to both the designs of architects and the skills of many artisans, such as the ironworkers, stonemasons, woodworkers and plasterers who provided the embellishments and finish to the main structure.
Almost every Haussmannian building seems to have a spiral staircase, although they are mainly hidden by the construction of lifts/elevators in the stairwell. These often-miniscule appliances are a joy to discover and I like to think that their forced intimacy is one of the reasons for Paris’ well-deserved reputation for romance.
Fractals, Fibonacci Sequences and Spirals
“Fractals are repeating geometric patterns that combine to form a whole” says Leona Henryson in a fascinating article I recommend you to read at: http://www.creativebloq.com/design/math-every-designer-needs-know-91517049
This structure interested me for three reasons: the shape created by one flattened side of the spiral, the soft light suffusing the top floor and gradation of the soft creamy-brown tones of wood, varnish and paint.
Not being a Da Vinci, using the math of aesthetics is a subconscious endeavour for me. I am however, most sensitive to it when working with the crop tools in post-processing. Just as moving a few inches can change the impact of a potential photograph in the viewfinder prior to shooting, so infinitely small adjustments to how an image is “cut” and how it is proportioned (aspect ratio) create satisfaction or irritation. This is “felt” and is extremely difficult to explain in words.
I am struggling with back pain at the moment, which is probably caused by my habit of carrying a photographic backpack and monopod most of the time! Consequently, I was under-equipped during this outing, limiting my carry to the D800 and an f2.8, 24-70mm zoom.
While the relatively wide angle and wide aperture available from the zoom were just what the doctor ordered in order to squeeze the staircase into the frame, I had no stabilisation device, which I could use to take a long exposure or to poke out into the centre of the airspace. I therefore used myself as the camera platform, painfully leaning over the balcony and twisting to point the camera upwards.
As far as the exposure was concerned, given low light and the need for some speed to minimise camera shake, I had to maximise the speed of the film and the speed of the shutter. A setting 6,400 ISO offered a speed of 1/125s, which I thought a reasonable compromise.
The insoluble problem then became depth of field. At f2.8, the bulk of the image was going to be in soft focus. I was in pain, uncomfortable and unsure, so I chose to take multiple images at differing focus points from near to medium distance to farthest away. Most of these turned out to be unattractive, but I found that this one provided a moderately satisfying compromise, with the psychologically important area of focus nearest the eye.
Camera: Nikon D800
Lens: 24-70mm f2.8G Zoom
Focal Length: 58 mm
Focus Mode: AF-C
Autofocus Area Mode: Single
Shutter Speed: 1/125s
Exposure Mode: Aperture Priority
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
ISO Sensitivity: 6,400
I hope that you are in the habit of looking around you as you go through life, seeing how Creation and human creativity provides these shapes and light effects for you to savour. Maybe you can whip out your 12 megapixel Smartphone and capture it in a photograph?
Copyright Paul Grayson 2016