Uh-Peeling Layers

September 30, 2010 

Successful layering has been one of the biggest challenges in my photographic development. To pull it off, you have to somehow harness the often chaotic scene before your lens and place your subjects in an informative and compositionally sound arrangement without directing them.

When tasked with photographing Congregation Beth Sholom’s Sukkot preparations last week, I tried working clean lines and angles while the adults set up the structure of the sukkah,

and the children entertained themselves,

fully intending on working on my layering skills once it came time to decorate. As I looked through my take of one scene that felt successful at the time, one image stood out:

I liked the clean spacing and the colorful Star of David on the left, and while I didn’t care for relative inactivity of the girl on the ladder or the hand in the background coming out of Jessica Zuleta’s head on the left, it felt like the best frame. After printing a proof, however, something else in the frame stood up. If you didn’t notice even after my lame double entendre, congratulations. You are very mature.

While the unfortunate arrangement of fruit in the stiff life was captured somewhat accidentally by me, their knotted discovery was, coincidentally, a joke by Alan Schemer-Kohrn’s son during last year’s celebration. After seeing it again, I remembered an exchange in which Schemer-Kohrn, also not immediately realizing the form of the fruit, tried to hand the newly untangled clump to a woman who scoffed at the idea of grabbing it with an active camera on scene. Clearly, this shot wasn’t going to work. I went back through and searched for an alternative. While this frame almost suffers the same phallic shortcoming,

its distance from Schemer-Kohrn’s, uh, waist, makes its shape less apparent. I also like the more active posture of his daughter Cymi on the ladder, but Sarah Lewis, 8, is walking right behind the tangled mess, creating a similarly messy layer that kills the frame.

This one cleans up that layer a bit, but approaches dangerous territory again and loses the layer on the top of the frame:

And this shot ends up with some dead space, approaches the same junk problem and is missing the Star of David, which had been twirling and what I’ll blame for my lack of noticing the forbidden fruit:

I settled on this shot,

A step back and to the right about a second earlier would clean up the layers between the cluster of four background subjects in the middle and help close the space behind Sam Lewis, 11, who’s walking right, but it seemed like the best alternative. And while it wasn’t a huge let down because my original pick was far from perfect in its non-offensive aspects, it still stings to get bit by something I hadn’t noticed. Like all the other photo tricks in my bag, however, I’ll get better at taming this beast some day. Who knows? I might actually get good enough to nail a scene like Rich-Joseph Facun, whose opening shot in his Darshana Ganga series has served as a feat of layering engineering to aspire to.


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