Blur in the Urbanscape
Hustle and bustle, chaos and cacophony. A sea of stories enclosed within ugly mazes of concrete structures. The metropolis is a fascinating subject – a muse whose portraits Raj Lalwani sets out to shoot, through blurs.
- Description: An exploration of the vibrancy and chaos in urban spaces, through the use of motion blurs.
- Duration: Shooting while travelling around the city for a couple of weeks.
- Notes: Carry your camera with you, wherever you go. You never know when you may be presented with a photo opportunity. Blurs, when juxtaposed against a sharp, still background, imply passage of time.
My aim in this assignment was to use blurs to project a portrait of the city. I decided to look out for compositions that best defined my city, that is, Mumbai – a place that is identifiable, or a scene that is characteristic and representative of the city. For example, rush hour in the local trains is a scene that effectively portrays Mumbai. On the other hand, a Metro train rushing past represents a city like Delhi. Since urban spaces are always in a state of flux, I decided to use motion blurs to portray the city.
Urban spaces are in a constant state of flux. Whether it is traffic, people or lives, life in a city always seems to rush past. Blurs are an ideal tool to depict this.
In my quest to explore urban spaces, I decided to use leading lines and diagonals as compositional techniques. While they add dynamism to the photograph, lines, in themselves, are urban in character – imagine a cityscape and all you will see would be lines – bridges, buildings, skylines, wires, malls, and more.
I travelled within the city, exploring different areas. Slowly, I started getting a clearer picture of how I wanted my images to look. I decided to use a combination of motion blurs of people, and modes of transport.
I used the Manual Mode of my camera – I could choose ISO, aperture, and most importantly, shutter speed. For those who are not too comfortable using the Manual mode, use the Shutter Priority mode.
Ideally, you would want to use a tripod. But, there might be cases wherein it is not possible to use one. In such cases, concentrate on keeping your hands steady. Use the support of a wall, or the bonnet of a car while shooting. If the light is really low, you can boost up the ISO. If the required shutter speed is really low, another option would be to use the continuous shooting mode – one out of the 4-5 pictures you click will turn out to be sharp.
My Equipment: Ideally, one must use a DSLR to explore blurs. The amount of control offered by a DSLR is invaluable since the use of blurs needs slow shutter speeds. However, using an DSLR may not always be convenient. It is not easy to carry around your camera kit wherever you go. Moreover, they easily attract attention. Since we are concentrating on shooting in busy, urban environments like railway stations, traffic junctions and so on, there may be times when you, as a photographer, would want to be as discrete as possible. In such a case, a compact camera that allows you manual control over the aperture and shutter speed is invaluable.
Tips To Get You Started
- Walk, walk and walk. And then travel some more. Knowing the city is the first step towards portraying the city through a technique like motion blurs.
- Knowledge of the city will also help you anticipate powerful compositions. An idea of when a particular train may pass a particular bridge, or when the traffic may form a particular pattern, are all useful nuggets of information that one can always use to frame effective images.
- Be aware of the law – there may be places in the cityscape where photography may not be allowed. Other places may require prior permission.
- Learn to keep your hands steady. You will need slow shutter speeds of 1/20sec or lesser to register blurs. It is not always possible to lug around a tripod, especially if you go shooting in areas that are crowded or are under intense security.
- Look for subjects that effectively split the frame into two halves. Strive for compositions that have a distinct foreground and background. This adds depth to the photograph and also allows you to create a contrast of ‘moving’ and ‘still’.
This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of Better Photography.