Brighton, Street Art

I live not far from Brighton in East Sussex, and it’s a place I have a long affiliation with. I went to university there many years ago, and it’s a great place to live – if you have deep pockets. When I studied in Brighton it was more or less affordable to live and eat there, but I’ve seen it emerge over the years as one of the costliest places to set up home. Brighton has a lot to offer, the Royal Pavilion was of course the home of the flamboyant Prince Regent, and since then Brighton has been known as a colourful and slightly hedonistic place.

Aside from the nightlife and the excellent restaurants and bars, Brighton is a city of culture and hotspot for the arts. On the day I set out to capture these images, I was particularly interested in documenting the incredible street art which some areas of the city are known for. These works of art cover entire buildings, and they really are extraordinary and incredibly beautiful. The weather was very flat, with a heavy sea mist cloaking the city, enveloping its inhabitants in a chilly grip which persisted throughout the day. ┬áBut flat light can be very useful to the photographer, and it was perfect for bathing the pieces of wall art in soft and even illumination. After photographing the decorated buildings, we set off around the pier and seafront. I knew it would be interesting taking some similar shots to those I’d captured a few days earlier – light is the single most important determiner of how an image will look, and the same image captured on a misty day will appear very different when photographed in rich sunlight. The mist gave the city a darker, bleaker outlook, and there were few people exploring the pier or the promenade.

The ruins of Brighton’s second pier still stand – charred remains of a massive fire which destroyed this historic structure many years ago. For some time afterwards it was regarded as unsightly, but now its blackened form resembles a sculpture, yet another piece of Brighton art, and a motif which I have captured from so many angles.

The sombre weather conditions invited a slightly acidic urban cross process on some of the images.

Lastly, I am invariably asked “what camera do you use”. My answer is “any”. A camera is simply a tool, and a tool is only as good as the person operating it. I have some very nice highly specc’d tennis rackets but that doesn’t make me a county level tennis player. No, I had to learn from the beginning, taking a good couple of years to learn technique, timing, and the psychology of the game combined with endless practice. Photography is the same, the quality of the photograph depends on many things and the photographer will need to develop an understanding of the following:

  • technical elements such as the interrelationship of aperture, shutter, film speed or ISO, light temperature, metering, focal point and depth of field
  • creative elements such as composition; framing, balance, the use of colour, shape and form, pattern and viewpoint
  • light; this will determine how your subject is rendered, and using light creatively will bring form and dimension to your work, as well as ensuring adequate density in the pictures and a pleasing tonality
  • narrative; what are you trying to say in the photograph, what is the story or the point of the shot?
I have even been told that high-quality images could not have been taken on some of the cameras that I use, so it seems the tendency for the inexperienced user to blame their tools continues. As an ex-film shooter I am extremely careful when I set up and compose every photograph, I will often expose for the highlights, and on other occasions I may need to expose for the shadows – and I am always, always riding the exposure compensation dial and the aperture so that the most important elements of the scene lie within the field of critical focus. Understanding the tonality of the scene is crucial, since that will determine whether the correct exposure for the subject will require plus or minus EV. Shooting in any fully automatic mode will hand those decisions to the camera, and the camera cannot possibly know what the photographer is trying to achieve.


The same locations can look very different in brighter weather conditions. In a very sunny or contrast scenes I’ll expose for the highlights, but when the weather is dull and flat I’ll often expose for the shadows.

 

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