About Michael Kowalczyk
Michael is the creator of the streetPHOTOtip Project. He enjoys exploring new locations and making photography in public since 2003. His multilayered, decisive moment image entitled “Medellin Mirror” was nominated as finalist during the Italian Street Photography Festival and the Urban Photo Awards Single Image Contests in 2019. In this self applied interview Michael asks himself his own questions and reflects how he made this shot.
Making Of Medellin Mirror Interview
Where and when did you make the photo, was it a familiar or new location to you?
I made the photo during a my first visit to the City Center of Medellin in Colombia on Saturday 29th September 2018. The location was new to me. It was a shopping promenade, somewhere nearby Plaza Botero where those famous bronze sculptures of inflated looking people are located.
What was going on and why did you photograph the scene?
It was a rather hot day in the city. The thermometer showed 29 degrees Celsius and the air was filled with loud conversations between people, who were strolling and buying stuff in shops and from countless street vendors. Suddenly a guy carrying a big mirror on his shoulder passed by me. He was walking fast and navigating swiftly through the dense human traffic. Immediately after realizing the backward facing mirror I decided to switch to hot pursuit mode and started making as many photographs, as my almost empty (one bar left) battery would allow. My main interest was the walking mirror. It acted as a frame inside the photographed frame. Its reflection filled each photograph with completely new and unpredicted contests. The quality of something being static and changing at the same time captured my photographic attention immediately.
Was it spontaneous or did you prepare the shot?
Kind of both. I started out making spontaneous shots while walking behind the guy. During the 6 minute long mirror walk I made 55 shots from different positions and with different exposure settings.
In case you made more that one exposure, could you please share some images and/or describe what was important to get it right?
My challenge was to jongleur a couple of things at the same time. I had to make sure not to bump into somebody, keep the camera out of being reflected, adjust the photo framing and press the shutter in an interesting moment. In between the shots I quickly glimpsed at the last one and get an idea how the next could be improved.
Above is the first image I made of the mirror
I got closer to the mirror, tried to half the image and shot when someone walked into the frame.
After switching sides from right to left I noticed that my raised arm and camera became visible in the mirror. The only solution for me was to shoot upwards
Shooting the mirror from up close became boring and I distanced myself before making a wide shot
After reviewing the wider shot I chose to include more small people in the mirror and get the carriers whole arm in the frame. With the right amount of distance and timing I captured the final “Medellin Mirror” image.
Did the photo came out as you planned or did something unexpected added to it?
I like how it turned out. Only after making the shot I noticed the lucky coincidence of capturing two guys wearing blue shirts.
What camera, lens, and settings did you choose?
All images are shot using the Ricoh GR II with a 28mm equiv. lens. Usually I start shooting street with my GR set to Av Mode with Auto ISO (100-1600) and a Minimum Shutter Speed of 1/250th. For “Medellin Mirror” The Shutter Speed was set to 1/400th sec. Aperture f/5.6 and ISO 1600.
What post processing did you apply to the out of camera image, if any?
The image was originally darker because the metering exposed for the highlights in the center of the frame. Using Lightroom I brightened the dark areas and increased the level of brightness and saturation for the vivid colors, especially yellow and blue. I used the geometric transformation tool to straighten a slight downward tilt. Using the adjustment brush I added clarity to the yellow ornaments of the mirror. Finally I added contrast, sharpness and reduced some of the visible ISO 1600 chromatic noise.
What makes this photo a good choice for submitting it to a street photography competition?
I think it is competitive because it includes several key elements that judges look for when judging a street photo competition. It is technically ok, sharp and not showing much ISO noise. It offers a unique perspective on something ordinary, a mirror. The photo includes three interacting elements, the two guys and the mirror. The mirror image acts as frame in the frame and invites the viewer to explore its spiel between the foreground and mirrored background elements. Coincidentally the viewer is also invited to wonder about both guys sharing two attributes. Their faces are both not visible and they appear to wear the same type of blue shirt. From my experience images showing repeating and interacting elements have a good chance to be rated well by contemporary street photography competition judges.
Is there anything you took away / learned from making this picture?
Sticking more often to one subject and trying different approaches is one thing that comes to my mind. Spending time and knowing several options made me more sensitive for adding and excluding meaningful elements.