This is the blog of Steve Burkett of Italy, Our Italy

Serendipity, Stakeouts & Targeting - Part 2


Last week's post introduced the ways we typically go about capturing a photo.  I suggested that those ways were serendipity, stakeouts and targeting, and in that post, I provided my definitions for each.  If you didn't read that post, or if you need a refresher before continuing, please read it here.

The Challenge

In that Part 1 post, I invited you to guess which of those 3 processes were used for the 'Procession'. And, I left you as I played the theme music for the Final Jeopardy question.

Once again, here is the image.

So, here's the question, again. Was this image a result of:

1.       stakeout, where I waited and waited at this location until the two gondole were just perfectly aligned in a ‘Procession’?

2.       Serendipity, where I happened upon a location and without having to wait hardly at all, one gondola passed by just as another was coming down the canal to create ‘Procession’? Perfect timing! What a surprise! I love it when that happens! Yes!

3.       Targeting, where my goal was to get an image that I envisioned, and which I would call ‘Procession’, and then I went out to make it happen – whatever it took?


And the Answer Is...

Actually, this photo was completely targeted.  There was neither stakeout involved, nor was there anything remotely resembling serendipity happening as far as "Procession" is concerned. Here’s what happened. 

Before leaving Colorado to go to Venice, I had the idea for ‘Procession’ in my mind. While in Venice, I gathered all of the elements that I would need to come up with the final image. I didn't spend any time at all between those two bridges waiting for those gondole to pass, because those two bridges don’t even exist.

Here are the elements that make up the final image for ‘Procession’.

First, as I walked by gondole, I took photos of the ‘risso’ at their rear…

…and the ‘ferro’ at their front.

Strolling Venice, I was always conscious of the bridges I would use in my image.  As there are 409 bridges in Venice, crossing over the 177 canals that divide Venice into 117 islands, I had a lot from which to choose.

I never found just the right pair of close-together bridges, though.  But no worry – that’s why we have Photoshop.  So, I set my target to a bridge with a nice curve with no distracting railings and with some other elements of interest, like the window. The bridge below suited my purposes, so I moved to just the right spot and took this photo.



My targeted work in Venice was complete.  Now my work back home would begin when I returned.

Final Assembly

My job was to clean up the water a bit, create a duplicate of the actual bridge on the left and move it to the right --, not so much a duplicate that it looks too obvious -- and then do some blending for a seamless construct, just as if the Venetian craftsmen hundreds of years ago had done the job themselves.

Here what I had at this point.



What remained was to composite in the gondole with ferro and risso I had captured on my strolls, and to create their reflections in the water as they passed by me in a ‘Procession’.



And finally, I converted the image to black and white, as the color was not really a particularly integral element of the final image, which is about balance, symmetry and timing.


So, there you have it.  

I think that the targeting, and many times the stakeout, are what defines fine-art photography. I have to admit that most of what I would call fine-art photos are the result of targeting.  It is more than just a snapshot, and it often involves several elements (separate photos) that are brought together in an image-editing program (like Photoshop), that make for successful images.

Some might think that a program like Photoshop is cheating, saying things like, "That image was obviously Photoshop'd!".  And some are so whimsical, outrageous or hilarious that it's pretty obvious. But, creating an image that fits into the realm of art often requires some sort of manipulation to be successful.

You know that an artist working with paints, woodblock, or any other medium, doesn't always put every element seen before them into their art work, even when they work from a photograph, paint still-life indoors, or en plein air. They are often working strictly from their mind's eye and they are not even documenting something that exists in this world - we've all seen paintings of unicorns, yet we know they don't exist -- right?.

Any artist does what they need to do to get the image they envision onto the medium that they use - it's called 'artistic license', and that's a license that an artist needs to issue to themselves - for me, using my artistic license is what defines fine-art photography.

I hope you enjoyed this treatise on capturing images, and I hope you don't mind seeing what goes on behind the scenes. If you do, just ignore the man behind the curtain.


Ciao, for now!


Serendipity, Stakeouts & Targeting - Part 1

You’ve taken photos – we all have. Think about your most satisfying images and how they were captured. By ‘how’, I mean how you set about capturing that image, and whether you set out to capture that image at all.

There are typically three ways that we go about the capture of our photographic images.

Serendipity: This is the fortuitous circumstance where things seem to just magically work out for you when you have your camera. Call it chance, fate, providence, coincidence, luck or just good fortune; it was your destiny to get that shot.  A rainbow appears but for a few moments, and you are there to capture it.  The newborn yawns for the first time and you say ‘hold it!’ as you click your camera shutter. Your 5-year-old catches an 18” rainbow trout and you pull out your camera for that once-in-a-lifetime event. Many of our photos are caught serendipitously, but in fine-art photography, serendipity is rare.

A Stakeout:  This involves surveillance, observation and just hanging out at a particular spot waiting for just the right moment to come along.  Whether it’s a bird alighting on a pre-focused branch, stars aligning with the moon, your child screaming on the slide just before they reach the bottom, a salmon jumping upstream right into the mouth of an awaiting bear (he, too was on a stakeout), getting a wave frozen in time as it crashed against the rocks, two gondole arriving at precisely the right time, or whatever – it’s the situation where you need things to be just perfectly aligned for the shot to work. One must set up a vigil and wait, wait, wait for it…

Targeting: I will define targeting as planning and then going after the image, doing whatever it takes to get the image that was envisioned. You have a goal in mind, an objective, and an intention to capture a certain final image. All wedding photographers work from a shot list that targets their trademark shots. The portrait photographer targets a certain look as they have you drop your right shoulder, raise your chin and look to the left to capture that ‘un-posed’ portrait. And targeting can involve having several photos on your shot list that will later be combined into that one final image that you were targeting. When we travel to Italy, I often have a shot list, and several final images in mind, as I go about photographing - and I have to check my shot list often. 

Combinations:  Often, getting the targeted image that you envision requires a stakeout, so a combination is often needed. I’ve taken photos where I envisioned the final image, and then I had to set up a vigil to accomplish the final photograph.

Here are a couple of examples of what I mean by these terms.

The photo below was a result of a Stakeout and Targeting

I knew exactly what I wanted the finished photo to look like even before leaving home. I targeted the location that I knew was integral to the shot (in this case the Rialto Bridge in Venice).  And, I knew that I was going to have to be staked-out for about an hour to accomplish what I had envisioned (I took over 80 photos in an hour’s time of boats on the Grand Canal, all from the same location and perspective). Certain boats from each photo were combined into a image that was selected by National Geographic senior editor Kurt Mutchler for a gallery showing called 'The Art of Travel Photography'.

So, that image was a combination of targeting and then a stakeout.


You be the Judge

For this next image, you decide how the photo below was accomplished. This image, titled ‘Procession’ was part of a four-page portfolio of my Venice images published in ‘Black & White Magazine’ in 2013.

Was this image a result of:

1.       A stakeout, where I waited and waited at this location until the two gondole were just perfectly aligned in a ‘Procession’?

2.       Serendipity, where I happened upon a location and without having to wait hardly at all, one gondola passed by just as another was coming down the canal to create ‘Procession’? Perfect timing! What a surprise! I love it when that happens! Yes!

3.       Targeting, where my goal was to get an image that I envisioned, and which I would call ‘Procession’, and then I went out to make it happen – whatever it took?

I’m now playing the music for the Final-Jeopardy question as you work on your answer - you have it in your head now, right? And I will keep playing it until next week's blog.

Feel free to put your answer in the Comments box below.



Ciao, for now!