Andy Herbon is a relatively new member to the Shutter Photo @ Flickr Group. In his short time with us, he’s already contributed some great photos, including this one: Clock in the Musee D’orsay, Paris. Landmarks are incredibly difficult to capture effectively. The purpose is of course important. If you’re trying to capture a shot of the Eiffel Tower to remember a trip where you saw it in person, you may capture it differently than if you were to create something to hang on your wall. When shooting landmarks, we often get taken up by what has already been done, and we might feel shame in doing so. But that shouldn’t be the case.
There is a legend among photographers, particularly American landscape photographers, that there are actually divots at points where Ansel Adams took his photographs around Yosemite National Park (USA). While that clearly isn’t the case, we find an awful lot of photos that resemble Adams’s, at least in composition. We learn by mimicking the works of others. So long as we don’t claim it as our own original idea, there’s nothing wrong with that.
I am not personally familiar with the Musée d’Orsay, but I am aware of the natural draw to the clock face. I’ve been around a long time in this world of photography, and even before there was a Flickr, there existed photos of this clock with any number of people positioned in front of it. Some kissing, some holding hands, some contemplating what they’ll do next. Yet I still find each and every one of them unique and interesting. Why? Because each is a slightly different interpretation of a classic.
Andy’s interpretation is a tighter crop than the norm. The exposure is long enough so that there is very little context in the foreground – there is absolutely no definition in the figures, we only see silhouettes. What is particularly interesting to me is the position of the sun relative to the clock. Sure, you can’t really see the sun, but there are some clues. Note that the two-and-a-half minute dividers start to lose definition the closer they get to vertical. This means the sun is high and the brightest objects will have an angle similar to the direction of to the sunlight. This softens the focus around the more vertical components. But it also shaves off some of the definition of the back of the hour hand. It’s a delicate balance between the softer elements and losing definition. If Andy had exposed longer, the clock hands may have started to dissolve. A shorter exposure would have lost contrast. This is one situation where you have your best luck by letting your camera do the work.
The crop is, in my opinion, a weak point in this photo. Square crops have their uses, but can create problems compositionally. A portrait (vertical) crop would help to provide a better idea of the overall scale of the clock. A landscape (horizontal) crop, with the clock and it’s observers following the rule of thirds, would add some negative space to the photo which would offer more scale without losing the interest of the upper-edge’s crop. But I wouldn’t want to see the entire face of the clock. I am a fan of cutting off circles, so I love that Andy cut the edges and, especially, the top out of the photo. By cutting the clock’s perfect radius, the focus is now centered on the two people, and the clock itself is merely a backdrop. Try to envision this photograph with the full face visible, and you’ll understand why it’s important to crop out the edges of the clock on at least one side. The subject is not the clock, it is the people. Andy did right by this aspect of the crop. But again, square and nearly-square crops are overrated except in specific cases.
Overall, I think that Andy’s shot is an excellent reinterpretation of a classic landmark theme. This photograph now serves two purposes for Andy: A memory of being there in person, and it can be hung on a wall. So if you’re ever in the Musée d’Orsay, I challenge you to consider creating your own interpretation of the clock. Great job, Andy, and thanks for sharing.