Couple, Arles

This is not the sharpest picture I have ever taken, but it is one of the most evocative. It's about communication: literally, about reaching out and touching someone. That's why I chose it for the home page.

Admittedly I'd be happier if the top of the bollard wasn't so fuzzy and messy (I cloned out the messiest bit), but I like the way it stands between them. She's nearer to it than he is, as if she is drawing closer to him. Take the bollard away and the picture is much weaker. This is often a good way to analyze a picture: imagine removing the "faults" and see if the picture is stronger or weaker without them.This is why I'm not sure about the graffiti in the background, but I think they add to the picture. The same is true of what I imagine is a ventilation grille. Imagine the background as plain, clean yellow and it takes away the urban "edge" that overcomes the technical shortcomings of the picture.

The picture above (and on the home page) is cropped from the picture on the right, which I grabbed very quickly with a Leica M9 and a 50/1.5 Zeiss Sonnar. They were in this pose for maybe half a second, but because I've been using Leicas for a very long time, both film and digital, all the controls are where I expect to find them: I can focus faster manually (there is no auto option) than I can change the focus point on my Nikon Df.

You may be, and probably are, used to some other kind of camera. The important thing, though, is getting to know your camera so that you can use it almost instinctively. Keep chopping and changing,and you will never know your camera well enough for it to become an extension of your hand and eye.

Books, lay hand and Space Outlaw ray gun

Frances and I were trying so think of a still life that summarized the site. This was Frances's idea. There's a lot of information on the site, symbolized by the books: there are 55-60 books in the picture, of which we wrote over 20. The ray gun held in the wooden lay hand is to put you on notice that you may also find things you don't expect.

We set it up on the dining-room table and shot with a Nikon Df and its standard 50/1.8 lens. When I find one at the right price I'll replace that lens with a Micro Nikkor: you can see slight barrel distortion here, and besides, it doesn't focus very close. The light is a single photo-quality fluorescent in a deep (10 inch/25 cm) Paterson reflector, 16 inches (40 cm) in diameter, with a nylon diffuser stretched over the reflector. Look at the direction and softness of the shadows, and the highlight on the red window, to see where the light was.

The camera was of course on a tripod (Redged) and the light was on a Paterson lighting stand. The biggest difficulties were lining up all the books and putting them away again. The Space Outlaw was 3 euros (a couple of quid, four bucks) at a vide-grenier; the articulated lay hand, which art students use to practice drawing, was two euros.

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