I’m going to spend some time on the soap box, again, preaching about how rules are too restrictive. I’m not going to dwell on the topic too much, but I do feel that sometimes we become confined by the so-called rules that it hinders our abilities to think creatively. This time, I’m going to attack the widely misconceived notion that glare can ruin your photo. Shooting into the sun has, to many, become Faux Pas; thanks in part to the misuse of the sun-flare effect that entered into the photoshop world so many years ago. While I agree that fake glare is bad, I am of the opinion that glare – used responsively – can really add depth to a photo. Of course this is the debate that rears its ugly head in my mind when I look upon a fantastic photo like this one, Inter Alisos, produced by street photographer Adrian Saker. My first thought when I first set eyes on Adrian’s photo was not about the glare. My mind did not stray to the alleged technical flaw, nor did I feel for any second that the glare ruined the shot. No, my friends, my first thought was: “What a beautiful street capture?!”
Art is of course subjective and I’m sure many will disagree with my opinions of this, or any, photograph. But I would challenge any person to come up with a technical or aesthetic reason as to why this photo fails. I does not. The glare, in this case, contributes a lot of depth to the photo. With the sun low in the sky, it gives us a time frame: Either early morning or early evening. As a sidecar to the time frame, it also gives us a sense of the mood of the passers-by. A destination is a the forefront of our subjects’ minds, be it on their way to work or on their way home. In turn, it yeilds the juxtaposition of their body language…if they truly are dead set on getting to a destination, why do they all look like they’re out for what appears to be a casual stroll? Even more interesting is how the sun glare affects the pedestrians. Note, for example that the two pedestrians walking away from the sun are clearly on the left as their shadows are cast long, while the one pedestrian walking into the sun seems to be sheltering himself under the cover of the awnings. As street photography is concerned, there is an importance in displaying the emotions of your subjects. And to display emotion from subjects that don’t have faces, this photograph is spot on thanks to the information garnered as a direct result of the glare’s presence.
But the shallow, glare inducing light lends much more to the aesthetic of Adrian’s photograph than one might discern on the surface. Take, for example, the texture of the brick. Textures require grazing light – light cast at a shallow angle relative to the surface of the texture, which the sun clearly provides in this case. We also have the long shadows stretching towards the camera cast by the signs and the people. And we have the brightly lit shiny surfaces (the pavement and the edges of the awnings). The contrast between the darkest shadows and the brightest reflections – and everything in between – gives us a wide dynamic range in which your eye can play. But the feature of the glare that I love the most is the effects of back-lighting: The left edge of each person and object in the photo is brightly outlined by the light just barely wrapping itself around to the dark side. The line between the shadow and the light is so drastic that it really sets our street hikers apart from everything surrounding it. Inter Alios would not be possible with side light or in-line light if only because the subjects would blend too much into their surroundings.
Once again I would challenge the box dwellers into developing an argument as to why Inter Alios by Adrian Saker could potentially fail as a direct result of the glare. Are we that restricted by our rules that we cannot overlook such a blatant disregard for this so-called rule in the effort to create such a fantastic photo? Would this photo be nearly as strong if the glare were not present? I think not, and I highly doubt that anyone will come up with a viable case against the glare in this instance.
Adrian Saker is a fantastic street photographer that shoots mostly in black and white, as can be exhibited by his inspiring Flickr Photostream. His use of light, dynamic range and contrast sets him apart from many street photographers. I should point out that Inter Alios is the name of a great number of photographs in his portfolio. The title is a Latin term that means “among other people”, which is very suitable for street photographs. For that matter, many street photographers don’t even title their works. But I would like to see a bit more variety if only so writers, like myself, could distinguish between photos from the same photographer. Even so, you would be hard pressed to find a better body of street photography from any single photographer than you will find in Adrian’s Photostream. So be sure to check out his works, and let him know we sent you.