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Photography

Saturday, May 24, 2008 Photographing Paris: Not Every Saturday Night

Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, on cameras, flash units, night photography, and his Saturday night in Paris


Not Every Saturday Night

Rue des Abbesses, Montmartre, Paris

Paris - Saturday, May 23 - Not every Saturday night is a winner. Sometimes your own birthday is not a winner. Everybody knows about those New Year Eves' that weren't winners. Let's face it - you can put on a clean shirt and comb your hair and pull yourself together and put on your best whistle, head out for the highlife with your toes ready to tango, and come back with yellow pictures that look like curdled pastis.

There's a thing about digital photos. In the old days with film you shot your stuff and gave the cartridge to the drug store. If the photos came back all yellow you could scream and bang on the pill counter, and they would give you your money back, and you could buy a six-pack of aspirins to get over that wonderful once-in-a-lifetime event that you turned yellow. It was the drug store's fault.

These days the whole caboodle is different. First, if you are lazy, you just set everything to 'auto.' If they come out a bit yellow nobody will notice because everybody's are a bit yellow and maybe they are supposed to be that way. But if you aren't lazy and you think that the yellow is overdoing it - like the dreaded redeye! - you can fiddle with software, and a lot of it has the 'auto' too. Oooops, the yellow's gone and so has the red. Most people don't care.

If I hadn't started with this in '95 with a Brownie-type push-the-button and hope-for-the-best, I wouldn't be where I am now. With the most intelligent camera I ever owned. It can see in the dark, it compensates for my age jitters and you can turn the bell and whistle off. Pretty snazzy!

It doesn't hurt that I started with that one-button full-auto Brownie. The contortions I had to go through to get usable photos! You don't want to know. Those were the darkroom years. Fix, fix, fix. My second digital camera was a lot better. Better? It was a Cadillac of a camera. I was married to it. I ran it five years until I had the moola for the next best thing.

Each of these upgrades has increased the intelligence of the camera, and when I put it in a situation that it can't quite handle, then I can fall back on that fix, fix, fix, I learned. But the whole idea is to avoid that and use the time I used to spend in the digital darkroom for something useful, like watching five euro DVDs on my super TV.

Everybody knows white men are stupid. My new camera is very intelligent, can see in the dark, etc. But I haven't been too happy with that, so I thought a little flash, a little speedlight - a blitz! - could help out. You know, like one of those paparazzis, like shooting Amy Winehouse from a safe distance when she feels like socking the world in an eye. Those hand-held midnight photos without a flash may be wonderful but they are a bit cruddy. So I got a flash.

Partly because Grace Teshima had one of her soirees tonight, to boost young artist Matthew Grabelsky who has spent a couple of years in Florence learning how to flourish a brush like one of those 16th century dudes who used to call the Pope and the Medici's boss.

For something a little different, paintings that look like something. A China teacup with its gilding glittering and you can almost see the teabag, and the roses above are so rosy and their thorns are so sharp. A guy whose white-balance comes out of a paint tube. For that kind of style, for that kind of detail, I decided to get a flash.

First off I was surprised it worked. I test-shot a lampshade. I read the user manual. It said, read the camera's user manual. I even read a user manual written in French. I adjusted the camera. What could go wrong?

At first nothing went wrong. There was the new blitz bouncing off the ceiling and lighting up my targets. Nobody getting it right in the eyes. Flash, flash, flash. Of course my technique might not be perfect; there's a difference between using next-to-no light and having all you want, need.

Then I met the jazz lady from Chicago. Look up Liz Mandeville if you want. [See http://www.lizmandeville.com/] She was wearing a dark dress of petits pois and when she was getting ready to leave she put on a very red hat. Liz was with another jazz lady, Sophie Kay, a blond from Paris, also with the petits pois. How could I resist?

Then I met the jazz lady from Chicago. Look up Liz Mandeville if you want. She was wearing a dark dress of petits pois and when she was getting ready to leave she put on a very red hat. Liz was with another jazz lady, Sophie Kay, a blond from Paris, also with the petits pois. How could I resist?

Six shots, all yellow. Where, oh where, did that yellow come from? It was like the camera was full of egg yolk. Ugh. Other photos, uncorrected, had yellow too but I could throttle it back. With Liz and Sophie it just wasn't possible. What a deception. What a loser I am. What a bummer of a Saturday night.

When I left I shot a couple of cafes. The camera was still set for the flash but it was turned off, so it just did its regular job of seeing in the dark. I got Grace's red shoes too. I guess I should keep them in mind. If all else fails Grace always has her red shoes, lots of orange juice, some pretty classy painters and a lot a real interesting folks to swap tales with.

Cafe des 2 Moulins, Pairs
Lux Bar, Paris
I got Grace's red shoes too. I guess I should keep them in mind.

But before I go back I'm going to shoot the old lampshade a few more times.

~ Ric

Text and Photos Copyright © 2008 - Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis

[Photographing Paris]

All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 - Alan M. Pavlik