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What Goes Into The Making Of A Single Image? - Michael Levin shares his tips on deciding on photographic locations and making decisions on what to shoot.
It’s a challenge to look at the obvious and see something more. Not every common object will rise up off the page just because you take its picture. I sometimes think that I have to feel the rhythm of a scene before I think to take the shot. Something sparks me and all of a sudden I can see the place and the photograph together. I see it whole in my mind before I see it in my camera frame. But I’m never sure when and where things will come together, and it happens less often than I might like. I appreciate all the opportunities that I’m allowed in taking photographs. I relish everything that I get to witness, but I’m not out there as a tourist, and I have definite goals in searching for suitable photographic subjects.Maps and tourist brochures rarely help me as they are only useful if you know what you are looking for, and I never do. Most of my favourite photographs come from random places. So I end up logging a lot of miles in my rental car. Even if I spend a few weeks in a country, I often only return with a couple of photographs that I will further develop. When I find a location and I feel a strong connection to the subject, I might stay there for a couple of days with the purpose of getting the right shot. With long-exposure imagery, there are a number of variables that can dramatically alter the negative. Although I prefer to photograph at sunrise, I do shoot throughout the day and often use a variety of neutral-density filters, depending upon the light. Part of the pleasure in photographing with long exposures are the unanticipated outcomes. Although I’m very selective when I shoot and I have a fairly good idea of how I want the final print to look, one of the benefits of long exposures comes from how fleeting and dramatic weather can be. With a long exposure, you get to include all those shifts, all that unexpected possibility that you can’t plan for.
Along the Amalfi coast in Italy there are countless narrow turn-offs, narrow roads that trail down to the ocean. I kept thinking that there might be something worthwhile to see at the end one of these twisted roads but every effort was a waste of time. It’s frustrating when that happens but I think of it as an occupational hazard. I remember the light was starting to weaken but I thought I’d give one more of these turn-offs a try. Once I pushed through the narrow path of trees at the bottom, I could see the pier in full. It felt perfectly plain against the evening sky. Simple and blunt. I knew the photograph that I wanted almost immediately and only varied the degree of my position once. For all the others, I set my large-format camera at the head of the pier and then waited for the clouds and the light to do something special. I was also hoping that the groupings of Italian fishermen on the pier would wander away but they stayed put almost until dark. I took several shots anyways and then decided to sleep in my rental car so that I could get up early before any of the fishermen came back. It was like a race and, of course, the Italians won. By the next morning there were even more people out there on the pier which was too much of a crowd for me. Only later, back at home in my studio, did I realise that I was better off with the photograph of the lone ‘pescatore’ keeping faith with his fishing rod.
The story behind the image:
To take a look at more of Michael's work or to find out about his upcoming UK workshop, take a look at his website - www.michaellevin.ca