iPhone 5s, photographers thoughts and compositions around Taipei, Taiwan.

Ok, so it has been a month since leaving London to hang out in Taiwan. I am looking down the barrel of starting Mandarin lessons at college, I'll be travelling into Taipei on a daily bases for 2 hours of class. I am going to give it all I have and hopefully the awkward silence in the kitchen with my Mother in-law will start to become a thing of the past.

It might sound strange, and I am really keen to start to be able to properly communicate and understand more of what I hear and try to read, but I will somehow miss the bubble I have been in. Those that know me, know that I am a chatty fellow, they probably wondered how I would get on in a non English speaking world. It has been a very good experience, I have become far more philosophical and contemplative. I have been given a chance to really think about how I see the world around me, how it influences my photography and the direction I want to move in. I hope that I can keep a hold of the almost childlike view I have of the world around me here. Whilst listening to Grayson Perry's Reith lectures the other evening, he told a story of a group of school children being asked, "what does a contemporary artist do?". At first, one precocious young girl replied "hang out in Starbucks looking at their iMacs". Quite a witty observation, and maybe some who claim to be "artists" do just that in the hip parts of town. However after a guided visit of The Whitechapel Gallery, the same question was asked. This time the girl replied "they notice things".

I have never felt comfortable calling myself and artist. I, like one of my photographic heroes Ansel Adams, prefer to think of myself as a craftsman. However over the years and from an early age I have come to realise that maybe I do notice things others may not. Going for walks with my wife regularly offers examples of this. I do believe this is something that I have practised and trained myself to do, I try hard to switch my brain on to my surroundings, slow down my pace and observe the world around me. Everyone is always in such a rush, they miss the beauty in the small things all around them.

I went to see the lovely people at Expoimaging (http://www.expoimaging.com) who have supplied me with a Rogue Lightbender to play with (I have shot something already and will discuss later, so far though I really like it). After the meeting I wanted to head across town and get some good speakers for my PC. My two great loves are photography and music, having spent a month listening via a Wowee gel speaker (which is a great little thing, but not forever), it was time for something better. I am never one for the underground if I have time to walk, so off I set. It wasn't far until I saw a lovely red door and took out the X100 from my bag. Bollocks, I had left the memory card in my card reader, what a massive schoolboy error!

A problem is actually and opportunity right? Haha.

Actually, yes. As I mentioned in my last blog I recently got the iPhone 5s, this is all I had to work with now so, switch on brain and think. Instagram is so popular that iOS7 has added a square format option to the camera. So lets think about composition, just because it is so easy for us all to take thousands of images of our world it should not make us lazy. I actually really enjoy working in a square format, my ongoing portrait project "the Collectors" is shot in a square format. So I set myself the challenge of shooting in that format, it is representative of all the photographs popping up on facebook straight from instagram. Personally my preference is snapseed and google+ but I cover all the bases anyway. Lets get started with the shots I made on that 2km (ish) walk through Taipei from Section 2, Rén'ài Road, to Bó'ài Road, Zhongzheng District, Taiwan. Bó'ài Road is where most of the photographic shops are located in Taipei and I was looking for some flash kit prior to heading to the electronics tower near Taipei Main Station for the speakers.

Well enough waffle, lets get on with the shots and look at making a little effort with what you have can make a difference....

This is the red door that bore witness to my profanity, it seems like a simple shot, and it is but I thought about what I was doing and how I could tell a story and invite the viewer to look around the frame. The shape of the door lends itself to a square format but there is more to it. The door being open invites you to look through it and then question where the steps lead. The white plant stand is bright and draws your eye but by placing the door and the plant stand on the thirds lines they balance. The ironwork on the door sections it into quarters and frame the letterboxes stuffed with junkmail which add to the story behind the door and adds both intrigue and texture. I took a little time and made what could have been a snap into a photograph.

The same subject but different angles. It was the Lemmy sticker that caught my eye, a familiar face perhaps. I apply the rule of thirds all over this shot. The Lemmy sticker is on a thirds convergence point. The metal roller shutter takes one third of the image and the blue wall the other two thirds. The lower right two thirds has the odd circles and line which are in the concrete used to construct the building. The question is, does the piece of wood add or subtract from the shot. I kept it central and was careful to try and make it reach as close to the centre as possible. The wood is an extra layer of contrast and texture but it competes, perhaps a little burning in and toning down would help balance that.

I then moved to the side, switched the proportions of thirds between the roller shutter and wall. I used the depth of field and horizontal lines on the roller shutter to bring the eye back to the foreground. Our eyes are naturally drawn to bright areas and also sharp areas in photographs, both are important compositional aspects. I feel there is a bit of a battle between the weathered texture of the wood and the sticker. It is natural for us to recognise faces and we look at them but the texture of the wood and compositional balance, for me anyway distracts me from the sticker. There also appears to be some barrel distortion from the iPhone 5s. 

  I was attracted to this shot by the light falling on the building with the interesting iron work, and the tree. Although a photograph is a 2 dimensional object as a photographer I am responsible not only for the vertical and horizontal rule of thirds but also for the foreground, middle and background of the photograph. I liked the tree and building so wandered around a bit to compose this shot. I wanted to try and use the balconies of the apartments on the right to lead you into the shot, the triangle created with the cables was also intentional to lead the eye to the tree. This is an example of leading lines to move your eye around the shot. In the background are a group of men walking up the street, I waited for them to reach the pool of light to add just a little depth and further interest. I think perhaps the buildings in the background are too bright, distracting attention away from the tree. This can easily be adjusted using post processing techniques in Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop.

Just keeping it very simple always works. Texture and the rule of thirds makes this shot.

This is the same place as the shot above but I have looked at it in a different way. Symmetry is also something to look for whilst thinking about composition. With all the strong leading lines of the bars, and texture in the rusty metal, this shot was calling to me. I could have snapped and walked but I took a minute, tried to level everything up and get that symmetry as well as looking at the subject beyond the bars and incorporating the middle and background into the composition.

In these two shots of a sink at a temple where visitors can wash their offerings you can see my working progress. In the first shot I was looking at the positive negative space ratio of the plain cupboard front in the lower third and the sink and then colourful red trays in the middle and upper thirds. I wasn't happy with this and looked again. I am much happier with the second shot. The taps are interesting and almost monochrome, they are framed in the aluminium splash guard which guides the eye up to the red trays. Behind the trays is a tiled image of a Deity (as I mentioned before we are naturally attracted to faces). The tiles surrounding this image lead up, breaking out of the frame created by the sink and allow you a glimpse of what lies beyond. For me this is a much stronger photograph than the first effort.

There are more shots that I made during my walk but I don't want to go on too long. All the shots are straight off the iPhone 5s, I have to say I am pretty impressed with how it handles contrast and tone. There is a little distortion from the lens but it is a phone and not a n SLR or Mirrorless micro 3/4 camera. My error of not having a memory card was silly, it did throw me a challenge, one that I enjoyed. Next time you are out try and limit yourself to one lens it is a good exercise to help you think about your photography and how to see the shots around you.

As ever spread the word, follow my blog and if you need a photographer or just want a chat about photography and I can help, get in touch....