Author: Birgit Mantek

Working the scene

Working the scene

My best friend and favourite model binequ and I love to do photography projects. So we try to get together as often as possible for some fun time. Usually we begin with some basic photographs and then our creative juices start flowing and we come up with lots of ideas

This time we wanted to do portraits including the surrounding area as important part of composition. I chose a 23 mm fixed focal length. The idea was to work on different locations and to get inspired by whatever we would find on sight . We started with colours and patterns by using graffiti as background. At the next stop we included nature. Then we worked with architecture and also an old East German car. For our final round we found some metal vents that were wrapped with blue foil that made fore some nice effects that we worked into the composition.  

As you can see the results were all very different. 

This is where we meet

This is where we meet

One day, while I was riding on the tram, I noticed the graffiti on the walls of buildings and bridges. I had seen it before but never paid much attention to it. Since I had just moved to Zurich/ Switzerland a couple of months ago I was still mainly focused on the picturesque cityscape and the beautiful nature that surrounds the city. But once I started noticing Street Art and Graffiti, I discovered it all over town. That’s why I decided to use graffiti for my final  Capstone Project for the Coursera Course Photography Basics and Beyond: From Smartphone to DSLR that I finished last month.

It made me think about the early beginnings of Street Art and how it was a way for the Youth to criticise and provoke society. I did some research and was especially in

spired by Martha Cooper, a photographer who started photographing graffiti in the 80’s. She followed the sprayers on their outings to document what they were doing and to put it in a social and historical context. Street Art  has definitely changed from being an underground subculture into being an established Art Form. For my project I wanted to explore the role of Street Art and Graffiti today by putting it in context with people and the surrounding area. I was especially interested in places with unusual lighting situations and interesting surroundings. 

While exploring different places I noticed that the people I found at the scene were usually unaffected by the Street Art around them. They were going about their business, just passing by or sitting there eating their lunch. Graffiti has become an expected part of cityscapes.

For me this appears almost surreal, as if two different worlds are existing side by side, one of them unaware of the other and the other one screaming to be noticed. But every once in a while a connection is formed and both worlds come together. 

For more photos click here.


Seeing through photographs – Review

Seeing through photographs – Review

I am a big fan of learning new things, so every once in a while I take some classes to broaden my horizon. This time I enrolled in a class called “Seeing through photographs” that I found on the online platform Coursera

“Seeing through photographs” was created by The Museum of Modern Art, better known as MoMA and taught by curator Sarah Meister. Being a photographer myself I was interested in getting some historic background about photography and changing role of it over time. I decided to go for the certificate to get access to the complete learning material. It takes six weeks to finish all the modules in the class. Each module focusses on a different aspect with the goal to make the learner a more critically viewer of photographs. This is achieved by looking at different time periods to see how photography was used and why. The learning material is provided in form of videos (each just a few minutes long) with interviews with curators and photographers that provide inside into their work.  In addition there is a reading list each week with articles and extracts of books as well as references to websites related to the subject. Sometimes it is a lot to read, but you only have to read the marked material to succeed in the  graded quiz at the end of each week. But it does not hurt to look at the other stuff, too. You are allowed to retake the quiz three times every eight hours. If you have done your reading and video watching, you will be fine.

In the end the learner has to write a peer-graded essay to reflect on the course content and to describe how his/ her understanding of photography has changed. He/ she also has to grade the essay of other learners.

Summary: The learning material is diverse, the videos are professionally done and very informative, the reading list is extensive. I have understood the content well enough for my purposes. I even look at my own photographs more critically now to see if I am transporting the content I want to. I enjoyed this class but I would not take the certificate class again. I think the free material would have provided me with the same insights.

More on Coursera: Coursera provides all kinds of classes of various topics including Arts, Personal development, Science, Management, Languages and more. If you are not keen on receiving a certificate in the end you get limited access to the learning material for free. This way you can try it out and see if the subject is something you would be interested in and you will learn something new even without the certificate.

Just look at that

Just look at that

When I visit a town I have not been to before, I visit the “must see sights” like most people do. But I usually do not like to take photographs of them since these are the places that everybody knows. There are probably hundreds of thousands of pictures of the same attraction out there. Made from the same spot I would stand in.

and a lot of them will be nicer than mine would be. So either I try to find an unusual angle but most of the time I find the surrounding area much more appealing. The little walkways, details and sometimes even my fellow tourists.

Picture perfect Posing – Book Review

Picture perfect Posing – Book Review

Picture Perfect Posing: Practicing the Art of Posing for Photographers and ModelsPicture Perfect Posing: Practicing the Art of Posing for Photographers and Models by Roberto Valenzuela
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just started getting more serious about Portrait Photography. The technical side is the one I am finally getting but I had a really hard time posing people. This book provides the photographer with a system that helps finding the reasons why a pose does or doesn’t work. This is especially helpful when working with non professional models. Since I have read the book I have already made much better portraits, because now I can see what makes a pose awkward and change it so that I get better results. The rest now is practise, practise, practise. I can absolutely recommend this book for anyone who needs help on that subject.

Toy model photography

Toy model photography

How to do toy model photography by getting creative without a lot of fancy equipment. 

First thing was to create a proper setting. I needed a surface to put my model on and some kind of background. I tried my kitchen table first but I had difficulties with the background. I looked around and found one of my brown leather kitchen chairs the better choice and placed it in front of the window with the light coming from the left. I put the model on the chair and I was off to a good start. But I still was not happy with the surface. I wanted something more special.

Click on the images to enlarge

None of the options had the result I was hoping for. And then I had an idea, why not try using water to make it appear as if the motorcycle is parked on a wet street. Hopefully the water would also provide some reflections. Very eager I dribbled some water on my chair, completely forgetting the slanted seating area. So the first effect I produced was a wet floor. After some mild cursing and cleaning I tried it again, this time with less water and a cloth to prevent a mess. I tried different water patterns until I found one I liked and I even used some water on the back of the chair. Then I had to place the model quickly since the water kept running down the chair and drying up in the front. That was the tricky part, because the thing kept falling because of the tiny stand that was holding it.

With the camera mounted on a tripod I took my first picture. The lighting needed some improving, so I went for my flash and faced it above the chair on a low setting. That still turned out to be to much, so I turned the flash towards the ceiling and turned the camera in self timer mode (10sec). That way I could use a reflector to redirect the light from the flash the way I wanted. It took a long time to get it right, I had to reapply the water a couple of times and get the model in the right position again. In the last step I transformed the photograph into a monochrome with a sepia tone to make the motorcycle appear even less like a toy.

  Here is a list of all the materials I used for the final shot:

  • my brown leather kitchen chair as surface and background

  • the model of a Ducati Motorcycle as my subject

  • camera (ISO 200, 1 sec, ƒ5.6, 104 mm)

  • a tripod 

  • a reflector

  • shoe mount flash

The final Image


How this blog came to life:

I have written a blog in the past about all kind of topics, which was fine for a while. But now, a year later I think I need to focus more. So I did some soul searching and had a serious talk with my muse. I finally figured out that I want to leave the colourful potpourri of topics behind and concentrate on my photography. I am very excited about my decision and I am going to start fresh.