Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Hungry Mother Shot: Behind the Scenes

I thought it would be nice to talk about what happened behind some of the images that I have shared on this blog, especially how I get the shot, whether it was about some camera settings that I used or how I pre-visualized and planned to make the photograph happen. One of my favourite images from my recent shutter therapy sessions is the "hungry mother" from the previous blog entry, which was taken at Pudu, Kuala Lumpur. 

The following image was taken in a series of four frames, sequentially, as numbered.





From the four successive frames, I chose the third frame for my final selection of photographs to be used for my series of street photographs.

So what happened behind the image?

1) I was walking along a sheltered walkway and I saw a mother carrying her child on "sarong". This is not a rare sight, but what caught my attention was her holding a slice of guava in her hand.

2) My camera, Olympus DSLR E-5 had the Zuiko Digital 50mm F2 macro lens mounted on it, ready for action even before I saw this scene. The ISO was set to 250 (a mistake, I wanted ISO200, but it made no difference anyway) and aperture set to the widest opening at F2. I stopped walking, peeped through the viewfinder, and framed the approaching mother and child slightly to the right of the frame. The reason for this composition was to show a little bit of background which consisted of shoplots and a road with parked vehicles. The background was crucial to add sense of location. I chose to use the widest aperture to create shallow depth of field, to avoid the background from being too distracting. Just my preference, nothing more to it.

3) As I was composing, my fingers were busy operating the camera buttons to move the focus point to the head of the mother. I am efficient enough to change these settings by feel even without taking the camera away from my eyes.




4) I fired an initial shot, just to bring the focusing as close as possible to the subject. We all know how slow the focusing on the 50mm F2 macro can be at times, so to work around this limitation, I fired an initial shot which I knew I won't use, just to make sure the lens focuses first before I execute my shot. Well, with the newer micro 4/3 cameras and lenses, this is not necessary, because the focusing is blazingly fast and almost instantaneous with no lag. I got to do what I got to do to work around the weaknesses of my current system. 

5) The 50mm focal length (100mm equivalent in 35mm format) helped a great deal in maintaining good enough working distance between me and my subject. The mother was still quite a distance away and I did not intrude into her personal space, hence the comfortable distance did not stop her from putting the guava slice into her mouth. Since I was not attacking from a close distance, she did not feel the need to avoid me, or perhaps she thought i was shooting the road as I actually pointed the lens towards her right direction (I composed her to the right of my frame). Either way, I managed to shoot her without polluting the natural state of the scene by much. 

6) I half pressed the shutter button, focused and the fully pressed the shutter button immediately after I heard the "teet-teet" confirmation. No, the continuous focusing was not reliable for this lens either. I need to "manually follow the subject" with my autofocus. And the single autofocus was reliable enough, I got away with all four frames perfectly in focus. 100% hit rate here, on a moving subject, not too bad at all. 

7) I find the image to work much better in black and white. Perhaps the only reason why the color would work better is to show the color of the food the mother was putting into her mouth. But black and white takes away the distraction of colors in the background and draws your attention straight to the facial expression of the mother and child. I think that worked much better !!

I think the important thing that made this shot work was probably me appearing to be not "threatening". I looked neutral, and safe, somehow, because in the second frame you can clearly see that she noticed my presence. If I have gotten any closer, I think the reaction might have been more severe, and she could be moving herself away from my line of sight deliberately. 

For a more natural outtake, I say the last frame (no.4) turned out better, as if I was not even there. True enough that being invisible is important (many street photographers strive to stay discreet and blend in the crowd), and the image seemed like she did not notice me shooting her (and you would not have known if I did not show the earlier 3 frames). Why did I not choose this image? I did not like how the mother was looking away from the frame, and the child also looked at the same direction. The attention was drawn away from the main subjects, and we do not even know what they were looking !! 

What say you? How would you have approached this scene differently? Share your thoughts !!

25 comments:

  1. No doubt pic number 3 is the keeper!

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  2. Donald W Leitzel4/16/2013 02:23:00 AM

    Robin

    You certainly know your gear and how to capture the moment.

    Keep up the good work.

    Don

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    1. Thanks Don ! Sometimes, it was all luck !

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    2. Donald W Leitzel4/16/2013 02:50:00 AM

      Robin

      Sometime we make our own luck!

      Don

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  3. Robin,

    I totally agree with you, ...nr.3..., that is the moment, and I admire your experience, you are my teacher. I am just beginning to shoot street photography with a longer lens, OMD + 75mm.

    pt
    Netherland

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    1. Hello pt,
      Thank you for the kind words. I am glad you are shooting street with the 75mm lens, it is one heck of a lens !!

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  4. Completely agree. Number 3 was the best. The partially opened mouth as she's not yet eating but eager to do so, her eyes focused completely on the lens giving her more character as she makes a connection with the viewer, and of course the baby look off in a different direction being so innocent. Love this shot! I always admire your ability to capture complete strangers. I'm wanting to get into street photography with my OMD EM-5 and 45mm f1.8 lens, but sometimes to timid to do so.

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    1. Thanks Chris for the compliments ! I have to agree, the eye contact actually made this shot more compelling. Do not worry, the first part is to get pass your fear of shooting strangers. Everything else will come later !

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  5. I like #3 as well. And look at her eyes! She's a tiger! Anyone who would harm that child better think twice!

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    1. Hello Dwaine,
      Indeed, the mother has protective, loving eyes !

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  6. Nice piece Robin! I love hearing about the process behind the shot. Keep up the good work!!

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  7. Thanks for this behind-the-scenes blogpost!
    I'm quite new to street photography (and photography in general) and knowing the decisions and circumstances you consider for taking a photograph helps me to learn what can be relevant to taking a good photo. :)

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    1. Glad that I have shared, and hope you find it useful, Faldrian ! It was my pleasure to tell stories.

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  8. I think number 2&3 are the strong contender... I like her expression on #2, but #3 has more story. I guess, in the end, I agree with you that #3 wins.
    I disagree with the B/W conversion though. I think the color version is better.

    Cheers!

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  9. Hey Robin,
    Thank you for sharing your behind scene activities for this great shot. In accounting, you have a very healthy accrual and you are REALLY safe as you also have the choices to choose out of your multiple shots of one subject matter to get the best shot. Now I see I am screwed as I always shoot only once per subkect matter and if it's not good enough I am gone. So far I am good but I believe if I follow your way of multiple shots, I can get better expression from the character involve. Maybe I am abit stingy of my memory card space but I will give it a try.
    May you have a great and peaceful evening.
    John Ragai

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  10. Very nice shot, Robin. Thanks for explaining your process, this is exactly how I shoot streets with the 50 (a shot to pre-focus near the desired focal point, then repeatedly focusing, firing and refocusing). I definitely think the 3rd shot is the best as well. Cheers!

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  11. Agree entirely with choice #3 for all the reasons you and others have given. What I don't understand is why you haven't cropped the lefthand side to get rid of the highlights on the car windscreens. I think that I'd have cropped along the dark railing - although it makes the edge closer to the mum, the fact that the child is looking to our right and the girl on the right travelling in the opposite direction gives it balance!
    But we all see things differently, don't we?

    Mike

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  12. I think she's telling you something carnal in #3 ;)

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  13. Without a doubt #3 is the best. #1 is too far (and the passer by on the right too prominent and distracting). #2 is better (the passer by is further away, too) but she's looking a bit worried, suspicious. Not a natural expression. Number 3 is perfect, her expression is natural. She's looking straight into the lens - almost slightly provocative. #3 is certainly "the decisive moment". B/W certainly works lovely for this image, also for the reasons mentioned, although I do like the skin tones in the color version.

    Thanks for sharing this! Very interesting.

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  14. Love the third shot. Great moment.

    Robin, will you be adding an Amazon associates link? I use them quite a bit so would be able to support the site by making purchases through your link.

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  15. Peter Sands, Hobart, Tasmania4/18/2013 05:35:00 PM

    Hi Robin,

    A very nice image, and great explanation. I fully agree with your choice and methodology. In fact, it was fascinating to read your process, and to see how it would have compared to mine. Pretty similar I think. I find the narrow depth of field of my 45mm/f1.8 irresistable.

    Enjoy/hope you enjoyed Perth ... but a long way from Hobart!

    Go well,
    Peter

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  16. thanks for share...

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