I’ve always liked this photograph, and I’ll try to figure out why here. Both the composition of the frame itself and how I’ve modified it using Adobe Camera Raw.
Firstly, there’s such a simplicity to the whole thing. I saw those buildings every day (see previous post), right outside of my dorm window in Shanghai, but they never looked like this to the eye in the larger context of the surrounding cityscape. Each building is, at first glance, assumed to be identical I think to the others. But once the eye starts absorbing the details of the image, you notice they’re all a little different. So they’re these great uniform structures at a distance, but finely detailed studies up close. The fact that they don’t even come halfway up the frame makes them all look very small against the infinite sky above. The eye has no real reason to wander upwards, so you’re locked looking at the bottom of the frame – if you try to discover anything above… well there’s just nothing there.
There’s two things I really modified here. The first, most obviously, is the greening of the sky (which also affected the building color, but not to a very noticeable extent), which gives the whole scene a strangeness. The second is the reverse lens vignetting which is easily noted from a distance, but less obvious up close since the eyes are locked on the buildings. Cameras wouldn’t ever do this mechanically – the traditional vignetting causes darkened corners of the frame due to the circular nature of the lens.
Why did I make these edits? Because I was sick of performing my (well-honed) routine of boosting contrast, adding normal vignetting, and other modifications that make the images really pop out and look dramatic and sexy. So I was just doing the opposite of my impulses here. I pulled up the vignetting controls and threw them the other way. It’s quite bad for the image really because it makes this big dark area in the center while the corners just look weirdly light. But it’s off-kilter, and I like that. Secondly, that green-ness. I usually warm up images, making them more appealing to the human eye (even on a subconscious level). So here I kind of made the whole thing look contaminated and … that’s the best word I can think of for it.
Breaking habits is ever so refreshing.