Thursday, February 16, 2012

Windows and Reflections

Recently, within the past six months, I became interested in photographing people through windows. The problem of getting the focus and exposure correct is nothing compared to seeing and capturing the right balance of reflections of the street scene with the subject of the shot on the other side of the window. The resulting image can be a confusing mixture  - of glare, people walking by on the sidewalk, cars parked at the curb, and the photographer's own shadow or reflection on the outside of the glass -  with the objects and people that come through the transparency. 

Capturing the shot correctly is only a small part of the procedure. How it's processed can make the image compelling or make it total chaos. The challenge is to decide what's important and lead the observer's eye through the traps and false paths that imbue the image with depth, to the subject of the picture. The viewer needs to be engaged in digging through the reflections of what is outside the window through to the other side of the glass. What is outside the window, shown in the reflections, should funnel the viewer's attention through the partition to the interior space. What is inside the window needs to define the space in a way that draws the eye and makes the main subject primary. 

The title of this image, Look Look Look, heightens the viewer's awareness of the three prominent faces in the image: the reflection of the person on the far left - looking at the back of the photographer (me), the reflection of photographer looking in the window at the subject, and the subject, the only face that is not a reflection, looking back out of the window at the photographer. The reflections in the window of the buildings and cars across the street create an unreal sense of depth and space on the other side of the glass. The reflections of the two people in the glass meld together with the real image of the waiter in the white shirt behind the subject to create a middle distance. And the subjects face in the foreground, framed by the window pane make it the center of focus for the image. The heavy dark vertical lines on the left and right side of the frame reinforce the framing of the window pane. 

I wish I could say that all of this came into play when I made the shot, that I planned it all. The truth is, I didn't see any of it - consciously, that is. These kinds of thought processes must happen intuitively. If I had to think through all this stuff before I ever took a shot, I'd never have time to press the shutter button. Street action happens too fast to have to think through every shot.