In Focus Friday - Catching the sun

10 August 2018

SIG: Documentary

After gracing the cover of June’s Decisive Moment and scoring a commendation from the judges in our regular bi-monthly competition, we invite Rolf Kraehenbuehl to talk us through this peaceful shot from the centre of London. 

Hi, Rolf. Can you give us a little background about the shot?
Frankly speaking, this photo is a snap shot, completely unplanned, and unforeseen. On this particular occasion, I was taking a break after visiting a photography exhibition in the Barbican. I sat down on a chair in the outdoor area, enjoying the sunshine, the camera switched off, and in the bag resting on my lap. From the corner of my eye, I then noticed this gentleman who was about to walk across the yard, carrying two blue dustpans. He suddenly stopped, turned towards the sun, looked up, stood motionless with eyes closed for a short while, enjoying the sun and the warmth on his face, before continuing with his chores. I had to be quick, and managed to take two frames before the moment was over. One reason why I like this photo a lot is because it’s a bit untypical for me, as most of my pictures are monochrome. I did initially convert it to black and white, but wasn’t happy with it as the colour accents of the green leaves and the blue of the one visible dustpan were gone.

What was your plan for the day?
My plan for the day was to visit two exhibitions, and just walking around in London. I often adopt the ‘flaneur’ approach: wandering around, sometimes knowing where I’m going, sometimes rather aimlessly, just meandering and trying to spot an interesting scene or subject. I rarely hover on a particular spot, waiting for suitable characters to appear in the frame - I just don’t have the patience for it, and perpetually move around, until I need a break.

What’s your routine just before heading out with your camera?
I decide which places or areas I want to visit, and download the map on my phone, in case I get lost (which regularly happens). That’s it. At the destination, I just start walking.

While you’re out what makes you press the shutter release?
When I spot a scene which is unusual for me (although I have to bear in mind that what’s unusual for me might not be unusual per se), or offers a visually interesting arrangement of the elements in the frame, like a (lone) human figure in the right place in a vast expanse of buildings.

What do you think photographers don’t do but should?
When commenting on other people’s pictures: Be clear and upfront (but respectful and fair); ‘hmm-ing’ and being vague doesn’t help anybody. When your pictures are scrutinised: don’t be offended if the critique is not to your taste.

What essential piece of advice would give your novice self?
When out and about, shoot a lot in order to improve the way you see a scene and train your ability to pre-visualise an image (and on a technical side to become completely familiar with your camera). At home, spend time not only looking at your images, but pondering over them, in order to separate the wheat from the chaff, and be prepared to make uncomfortable editing decisions.

Which camera has been your all time favourite and why?
For the last five years I’ve mainly worked with Micro Four Third cameras and lenses. They’re small, lightweight, and the optical capabilities are astounding. The main camera body I use is the Olympus M1 (Mk I). The main drawback of earlier Micro Four Third models is their limited dynamic range and lots of digital noise at high ISO levels. I love to photograph in buildings, especially in museums (where this is allowed), and often find myself in low-light situations, frequently paired with high contrast. That’s why I bought a Sony A7R MkII with a 35mm/f2.8 lens two years ago. It’s compact, the super sharp lens and the high resolution sensor give great image quality with incredible detail, and thanks to the increased dynamic range and high ISO capabilities I get away in lighting situations which are not manageable for my M1.

What’s the best purchase you’ve made for less than £100?
Two years back I bought an Olympus body cap fish eye lens for £75. It’s a simple design with a fixed f8 aperture (not always ideal…), but the lens is tiny and good fun. It makes me experiment, and use a different photographic approach. The distortion doesn’t always suit the subject, and rigorous picture editing (meaning discarding) is required, but the few keepers can be quite exciting.

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