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I shoot a lot of architectural stuff, and when I do, my practice used to be to shoot a facade or a scene without pedestrians in the scene. I mean after all, the subject is the architecture, right? Well, on one occasion I was shooting near the Plaza in Kansas City, where there's a lot of great architecture and I had driven past this area a couple times and I just noted that an early morning light would get some interesting side-lighting on the face of the architecture. So I was shooting this scene and during the shooting of it this little old lady comes walking by and it's kind of like my normal thinking is, okay, I wait till they are out of the scene and I'll take my shot, and then I just hit and it's like well, she is walking through there. I'll just shoot it just for variety.
I'm almost certainly not going to use it, but I'll try it, and here's what that shot looked like. Well, the second I reviewed the shots and I saw this it just struck me what a difference a person in the scene makes. I mean if you look at it without it there is a certain I guess loneliness or desolate kind of environment, but you add a person into this scene and all of a sudden there's a new level of interest about the image. Who is this woman, where is she coming from, where is she going, what's in her shopping bag? All of these things start to add a focal point for the scene and as I've talked about before actors in a stage, well it turns out that a lot of these architectural shots I've been doing I was merely shooting the stage without actors on it.
I was assuming that the stage was the actor and once I had this breakthrough and saw this image and realized you need an actor on was really a stage, it really changed for me how to shoot these kinds of images. Another thing it does is it just gives scale to the image. You start to get a sense of how large the buildings are and overall the addition of people really makes these images. And I've since used this little old lady in a number of images. Here's the finished image. I did do these long panoramas of a whole block, and there she is in the center.
The other thing that worked out, and I have to thank her for it, she happened to be in the perfect spot where that's a rest area. We talked about this earlier. And you put her in it, and all of a sudden her detail pops out against that area of non-activity. So when you look at this scene you almost focus right away on her. She is centrally located, she's got that bright red scarf, she's against a black background with the white or the very bright bag she's carrying, all come together for your eye. You want to go that. Even though there is a lot of other detail in this image, it's just a spot that you tend to go to.
So it becomes a focal point for the whole image. Here is she is in another image. Now I got to place her where I wanted to this time and I tried several different locations, but just like the earlier one with the window I had a perfect opportunity with this doorway that was shut and had no detail in it to add her to that location, and without her in this scene it's a nice architectural scene, it's another one of these early-morning shots, but it was dead without an actor on the stage. So the addition of that one person made a big difference in how I've photographed these kinds of scenes now.
The moral of the story is you don't want to be a slave to the original photograph. You always have to be thinking of how can I improve this, how can I add to this, how can I add a storytelling element, for example? And that's where the addition of these actors on the stage make a huge difference. Now another thing I want to mention while we're covering this subject is looking at illustration work is a great place to get a lot of ideas for this. And in the mid 50's maybe a little earlier and up to the 60's was an era called the golden age ofillustration. It's before photography took over, and in that earlier era illustrators or painters did all kinds of illustration work for magazines and books and novels.
Their ability to tell a story in a dramatic way is unparalleled, and so I recommend that you spend some time looking at that era of illustration and some of the names I can give you that are really big to look at is Norman Rockwell for sure, N.C. Wyeth is another one, Howard Pyle, Maxfield Parrish, J.C. Leyendecker, Bernie Fuchs, all these guys were masters at adding extra elements to an image to create a sense of drama.
Now let me just show you one other example of not being a slave to the original. This is the image we played with earlier where I corrected the perspective and this just happens to be my daughter's sorority house that she lived in when she was going to college. And we wanted to do something with this image and the idea was why not take this scene, which I had to shoot at towards the end of summer, and we used it for an auction item, a print, and we wanted to do a autumn scene.
So you can see here, I've done a lot of changes to this image. It's still based on the photograph, but I changed it quite a bit in order to add a sense of charm and illustration to it that wasn't in the original image. Now here's one case where I didn't add a person in the image and I could have, but we did really want to focus on the house itself. Then the next year we wanted, they said, can you do another one? And so I thought wouldn't it be interesting to do the same scene, different season? And so here yet again is another rendition of that same original scene, but now I've completely changed its character through adding snow and wintry sky and taking leaves off the trees, so all of this combines to take an original image and in many cases steer it very far off of what its original content was.
So the idea is, behind my whole little epistle here, is that you don't want to get stuck on the original image, and if you're a photographer that's especially hard. Besides destroying photographic detail, altering a photograph is very hard for photographers to do. Both of these are in direct opposition to the vocabulary of photography. They are however key elements in the language of painting. So don't be afraid to utilize these powerful elements in the service of expressive painting.
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