A weekend in Israel / by Giacomo Cattaneo

Not long ago I was lucky enough to visit Israel - a country everybody knows the name of, but that few are able to really grasp in their minds. And it is indeed different than whatever I imagined before. Tel Aviv with its easy-going atmosphere with an embedded religiousness was a real surprise. Together with my girlfriend I visited a friend, so I would not say it was the most adventurous trip, rather a long weekend of relax. Hence, I did not go around with my camera often as I did when I was travelling the world - still, once we got to Jerusalem, it was very difficult to keep it in the bag! There are a few pictures from that day that I would like to share with you, and maybe tell you a bit more about how the shot came to be and what I was trying to achieve. 

Under David's Cross.

 Under David's Cross

Under David's Cross

This is probably my favourite picture of the trip, and a very lucky shot - we were simply wandering around the back alleys of Jerusalem, when I saw this little girl in a bright red dress that caught my attention. I liked the fact that she was on her dad's shoulders, and that there would be kind of a tunnel in which they would go in. Never would I have ever imagined, that there would even be a flag of Israel hanging there (I think I noticed it only later, and of course was enthusiastic about it!) - I had to be really quick, and consider myself really lucky that somehow I got the focus right. In the post processing I noticed that the shadows on the dad/kid were really strong, while I wanted the subject to really stand out. I started by brightening the shadows overall in Lightroom, and worked a bit more with the 50% grey layer method in photoshop for the dad/kid subject, as well as for the flag. Enough to bring them out, not too much so that they look surreal. Moreover, I used a bit of the high-pass filter on them to further bring them out. As a final retouch, I toned down the saturation overall of the surroundings, so that the subjects' colour would pop up even more. 

 

Gold and Dishes.

 Gold and Dishes

Gold and Dishes

I would call this a failed experiment. When walking on top of some rooftops (nothing crazy, just a different path that many people use instead of the alleys) I noticed the gold cupola of the temple mount amidst multiple satellite dishes - I though "there is something there!". I only took a few shots, but did not spend a lot of time thinking creatively - they were basically all from the same angle. Only later at home I noticed how cool the concept could have been, but also how the overall framing that I chose was bad as it did not bring out neither the cupola nor the dishes, as they are embedded in a chaotic background. I should have gotten closer and a bit below, to have the cupola stand out from the houses' horizon, and also used a larger aperture so to have the background more blurred. So what do you do when the composition fails you and cannot retake the shot? You try different things, like b/w or experimenting with colours, something that I usually never do as I do not like  when I get an picture that people would mistake for an instagram shot. Still, as most the instagram shots do, it looked better than the original... so what can I say. I am so disappointed with this shot that I was/am ready to accept such an unrealistic result. Too bad for me =)

 

Two Doors.

 Two Doors

Two Doors

Jerusalem's Temple Mount poses the usual dilemma to a travel photographer: you have a majestic and beautiful subject, that has been framed in every possible way and is displayed on posters and postcards all over the city. Still, you want to take a picture that will somehow be  different than all of those - or at least try. The rule would be to add something unique and unrepeatable to such a picture, either an event or a person. I don't really think I succeeded well in that regard, but let's say that I at least tried. When this schoolgirl passed in front of my camera with her pure white cloth, it caught my eye. Adding my passion for geometry and "windows" I got this sort of shot. Nothing really special I would say, but still, on some level different than the usual tourist picture. If I could change something, I would have taken the picture from a bit more distance, so to have more in the frame and be able afterwards to get the vertical lines of the temple straight in Lightroom. Moreover, if I had had a tripod with me, I could have taken a long exposure so to get the fix the subjects of the columns and the temple, but get some cloud movement and hopefully the people blurred as they walked around. With the risk of having the girl in white cloth blurred as well.

 

Shots at the Western Wall: a Holy Kiss and Generations

 Holy Kiss

Holy Kiss

 Generations

Generations

The Western Wall - a great place, where the religious atmosphere is stronger than many holy sites I have visited. It has maybe more meaning than a simple church, as this is the if not the only real holy place for Judaism. In italian the place is called "il muro del pianto", i.e. the wall of the crying (p.s. I found out later that there is also the name Wailing Wall). Not to sound disrespectful, I believe that overall, the place does not only display sad emotions related to the tragic history of the Jews, but also some more joyful ones represented for example by the fathers bringing their kids to discover a place which is the symbol of the long journey their people have experienced over three thousands of years. You can imagine then that is not an easy place to take pictures, as (and rightfully so) in no way should a tourist like me intrude. We could still debate if I should have taken pictures at all. But I did, my apologies if I involuntarily offended somebody.  So I kept my camera in my bag most of the time, and only when I noticed a shot where I knew I would not bother anybody, I took it out. The first case are the kids praying, reading from the Torah (or a simpler prayer book), and kissing the wall. I am a bit annoyed that I did not get the full hand, but the important thing was for me to capture the kiss (so again, I had to be quick!). Maybe it's not the best angle, but what I like about it is that there is action, there is a "moment". So if you want, similarly to the discussion I made before with the temple mount, it's unique. Of course everyday hundreds of people kiss the wall - but maybe this kid won't for another year before his uncles bring him back on his yearly trip from Tel Aviv. In the post-processing in Lightroom I did a few things, including bringing down the highlights, increasing the shadows, and increasing the clarity. For the colours I increased the vibrance, but compensated with decreasing the saturation. Additionally, I decreased the saturation of the reds and oranges, so to keep the warm tones but no reddish skin. Again, similarly as the first picture I used the 50% gray overlay burning/dodging method and high-pass filter to bring out the subject and his features a bit more. 

The second picture is this man that I knew I could quickly bother because... well, he seemed very much into his praying and totally disconnected from what was happening around him. I like the fact that you can really see his nose pressed against the wall, and the harsh features of his face being evidenced by the strong shadows. Once I turned the picture in b/w I strongly increased the clarity in Lightroom to bring out even more contrast, and used the 50% grey overlay method to burn/dodge the details even more. I hope I did not go too far - once you start, you get a bit anaesthetised toward the right amount and easily go overboard. I also like the two kids behind him, as they offer a second subject to the picture, maybe contrasting as they represent two generations (hence the title)... hopefully they don't take the focus away from the man. Noticed the small note inserted in the crack at the man's right? A friend suggested me I could have taken a super close-up on the man's face. That would have been an amazing shot... next time. 

 

 

Well, this is it for this time. It was not a trip were I felt very inspired in taking pictures, as I was more on the relaxing-side of things (especially in Tel Aviv). But I got this bunch of shots in Jerusalem that are at least worth discussing - would be nice to hear your comments and suggestions for next time! Which one do you like? What would you have tried / done differently? 

 

Cheers,

Giacomo