This morning, as I was shooting on the street with fellow friends, I intended to utilize my super wide angle lens, Olympus Zuiko 11-22mm F2.8-3.5, and I did all I can to make sure I have the best shots I could make in whatever situation I was thrown into.
Olympus E-5, Zuiko Digital 11-22mm F2.8-3.5 lens
11mm, 1/25sec, F9, ISO160
Shot with live view on the swivel screen
Pseudo-HDR processed in Photomatix.
I came across this incense coils scene at one of the Chinese Temples in the vicinity, and I framed it in a way that the image does not appear too straightforward, from low angle looking upwards with angled tilting, and shooting against the light coming heavy from one side (since it was morning). I was careful not to shoot directly against the light, and found the right angle to reveal the patterns of the smoke trails. To achieve this, the smoke trails must have a dark background. After finding the right composition frame that I wanted to use, I then set the camera to allow slow shutter speed, to capture the movement of the smoke trail. I stopped down the aperture to F9, shooting at ISO160, I can get away with 1/25 second shutter speed, which was just sufficient to introduce motion blur to the smoke trail for the smooth effect. In addition to that, knowing I was facing a very harsh lighting condition, I shot the image in RAW, hoping to recover the shadow details in the background wall using Photomatix Pseudo-HDR from a single RAW file technique, which I did. As I previewed this image on my computer screen, fine-tuning it toward the final outcome that I have originally pictured even before I clicked the shutter button, I thought to myself, not a bad shot.
That was until I saw the subsequent shot which I took by impulse, without giving much thought at all.
Olympus E-5, Zuiko Digital 11-22mm F2.8-3.5
14mm, 1/500s, F6.3, ISO160
It was the shadow of the same incense coils, but on the inner wall of the temple. As I approached the wall, I was fascinated by the shadows. I just snapped away without thinking, really. I usually would shoot things that caught my attention, without any reason why. No thoughts on composition, hence the slight accidentally tilted angle, which I purposely left it that way and not corrected in post-processing. Then I did not even remember what setting I used. I just, clicked. Even the shadow was not properly projected on the wall, appearing rather blur and seems like it was out of focus (the focus was correctly locked on the wall, as you can see the texture was sharp and clear). There really is nothing dramatic in this particular shadow photograph. There was no story to tell. No interesting foreground or background. No bokeh, no special effects like HDR.
But, why do I like the shadow photograph better?
I don't exactly know how to answer this, and I am being honest here. I am not going to cook up a story (or lie) to explain the logic behind my preference, if there is ever such a logic for it. Despite the imperfections and simplicity of this shadow of the incense coil shot, I really like it. Maybe that was just it, maybe it was the imperfection, and the simplicity that worked. The shot was imperfect, much like myself, and the shot was straight to the point, with nothing else to dance around with.
Perhaps, embracing imperfections and simplicity is not the easiest thing to do, when it comes to art and especially photography. We often struggle too hard, and do impossible things to accomplish what we want.
I then asked this question to myself, if I were to print this image large to be hung on my living room wall, which would I picked: 1) the original wide angle shot of the incense coils cooked in HDR goodness and garnished with the effects of smoke trail motion, or 2) the nothing special, blur and uninteresting shadow image of the incense coils?
I would print that shadow and blow it up large. No question.
What are your thoughts? Would you have picked the same as I have?