What inspires us – what speaks to us – is inevitably rooted in who we are. It’s safe to assume that many of us don’t live, breath and dream of only photography. We have lives outside the world of photography that inevitably contributes to who we are and what appeals to us photographically. Sometimes a photo speaks to me for reasons that have less to do with my photographic experiences. This photo, River Walk by Jonathan Goforth, was one such photo.
Identifying why a photo speaks to you is just as important at understanding the composition or the technical aspects behind the photo. As a photographer, you often need to understand why a photo you took might speak to someone else. The photo is telling a story. Unfortunately, its not always easy to control the story as heard by a given observer. What you do have control over is the theme. With a theme, you can persuade an observer into hearing your story. Maybe the details won’t match up, but the overall concept will be the same. The theme of River Walk: Light meets water.
Water is a feature that is often best shot at night when light can play on its surface. I love how light sources elongate when they reflect off of anything but completely motionless water. The reflections in the water frame the empty void that is the river itself – a veritable no-man’s land at the heart of this oasis. All would be lost, however, if it weren’t for the coolly lit pedestrian overpass, a top to the container that holds our eyes within the frame. You will also note that the back wall serves well to cut off the vanishing point, which is made quite apparent by the array of lights and the edges of the water feature. Instead, the terminus is a topiary on a wall, a reminder that vanishing points can be implied. I lament only the fact that we could not see the fountain illuminated in some way to make it pop as the fountain would serve well as a focal point.
The colors in this photo are also worth discussing. I love the two different colors of the lights (more on that in a moment ) it’s a nice contrast between the two sides of the water feature:. The warm, well-lit haven on the left; the unwelcoming dark and creepy space on the right. The pedestrian overpass exhibits an eerie greenish glow that serves to bridge the two zones. My absolute favorite color in this shot is the sky. It’s rare to see a sky exactly that color. Maybe this is a result of post-processing, or a result of a long exposure, but I doubt it. After all, the colors on the left appear spot on. This is just a case where Jonathan captured a fantastic sunset filled with this unusual color. To me, the sky defines the shot.
Now I want to take advantage of this photo to illustrate some things that you should know about nighttime light sources. Here we have two different types of light sources – Metal Halide (MH) on the left, High Pressure Sodium (HPS) on the right. MH actually has a slightly bluish cast, but is generally pretty close to sunlight – which many people consider “white light”. The color rendering of MH light sources is fairly dependable as compared to sunlight. HPS, on the other hand, has a very warm (yellow) cast. More importantly, HPS is very poor at rendering colors on the low end of the spectrum – the blues, greens and magentas. These colors will appear much darker than normal under such light, as you can plainly see in the trellis plantings on the right. In outdoor lighting, these are the two most common light sources these day. Though, LED is quickly gaining in popularity (and it’s possible that the source on the left may very well be LED which can act like MH). Knowing your light sources will help you understand how to compensate and adapt. In the case of River Walk, compensation isn’t necessary as the light is the subject. But if we wanted to make an eloquently dressed model the subject of the photo, you would want her to stand on the left as opposed to the right. On the other hand, if you wanted more of a macabre feel and your subject was a creepy night stalker, you’d place him on the right where some of his clothing would literally disappear into the night.
I would like to thank Jonathan for sharing his work with our Shutter Photo @ Flickr Group. We certainly learned a lot and were inspired greatly. Be sure to check out the photo, River Walk, on Flickr. And of course, don’t forget to browse Jonathans photostream.