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Phil Douglis | all galleries >> Galleries >> Gallery Seven: Making time count > On the Fa Ngum, Vientiane, Laos, 2005
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On the Fa Ngum, Vientiane, Laos, 2005

A Vientiane commuter roars past a display of umbrellas on the city's Fa Ngum, a road that runs along the Mekong River. I was able to blur the cyclist even at the very fast shutter speed of 1/500th of a second, because of the angle at which I made the picture. When a subject is moving very fast at right angles to the camera it will show blur in some way at even very fast shutter speeds. (Slower shutter speeds can show even more blur, but under these conditions, the camera I was using would not allow me to go much slower than 1/250th of a second, which probably would not have added a significant amount of additional blur to heighten the illusion of speed.) The key to the motion expressed in this image is the contrast in definition between the sharp umbrellas and blurred cyclist. I was fortunate that she was wearing a loose jacket that was blowing behind her, and that she picked up her hand to keep her hair out of her face at the moment of exposure. Both bring a sense of additional movement to this image, as does the flow of pattern in the two umbrellas behind the motorbike.

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Phil Douglis21-Oct-2005 20:06
Thank you, Denny, for being willing to so graciously accept my point of view. I appreciate it. You have also made me more aware of my own technical shortcomings, even though they may have no or little effect on what I am trying to express or teach. I have always regarded technique itself as secondary to meaning and content, and because of that, I do sometimes tend to overlook minor technical glitches. However, as you point out, my students are often "emulating" my examples, and I would certainly not them to regard such flaws as worthy of emulating.
Denny Crane 21-Oct-2005 12:48
I understand what your goals are now. And your lessons are undoubtedly helpful and hopefully inspiring to many. I jumped into critiquing your photos from the standpoint of how they could be improved without paying attention to the lesson points you were making. I think the best thing out of our exchange may be your agreeing to my suggestion to mention the weaknesses in your example photos that are not important to lesson point but may warn viewers not to accept everything in the photo as being perfect an emulatable (if that's a word).
Phil Douglis20-Oct-2005 21:49
I see what you mean. I might like to see a more blurred version as well, but the equipment I was using and the time I had available (I was on a tour) did not allow the luxury of experimentation. ((I might have also tried some panning shots to freeze passing cyclists yet blur the background into a colorful swirl of umbrellas.) Suffice it to say that this image demonstrates the points I was trying to make here quite effectively, and leave hypothetical pictures out of it.
Denny Crane 20-Oct-2005 20:10
But half of the spokes look like they're frozen, not moving at all. Especially the front wheels spokes at 3:30 and 7:30 position. I'd like to see the girl and bike either more blurred (for more motion) or just real sharp. As it is, the girl and bike just look sort of out-of-focus with only a slight motion.
Phil Douglis19-Oct-2005 23:54
The blur at 1/500th of a second is due to the fact that I am shooting at right angles to the subject. I do not see any sharp areas in either motorbike or the rider, including the jacket and the wheels. Blur implies motion. The bike and rider are blurred. The background fabric design, which is sharp, echoes this motion. The color is an accurate rendition of the umbrellas. The woman is holding her hair away from her eyes.
Denny Crane 19-Oct-2005 21:51
Your camera almost stopped all action here. The blur mostly comes from being out of focus. The focus is on the background, and the motorbike is out of focus. You can see this by the spokes of the wheel. Some are slightly blurred, others are not blurred at all. 1/500 of a second will freeze almost all human movement. But there's something strange looking in the different parts of the rider and the bike. Parts of her moving jacket is frozen while parts of herself is unsharp -- like her hand, but it's not unsharpness from movement blur. Something wierd is going on here. Could it also be the case that the spokes that look sharp are really moving so fast that they repeat their position as sometimes can be seen in reality?
Moving on..... The blur is not enough to imply motion, so I'd like to see the subject in sharp focus, and the background can be sharp or out of focus or blurred, whatever. If you want to imply motion, you got to get those wheel spokes really blurry, and certainly not frozen sharp as most of them are.
The picture needs stronger colors and/or more contrast.
Just out of curiosity, did the girl hide her face because she saw you were going to photograph her, or was she protecting her face from the wind?
Phil Douglis12-May-2005 20:55
What a wonderful interpretation, Clara! I never looked at the umbrellas spinning in counterpoint to the wheels, because in reality they are not. However there should be nothing to stop our imaginations from seeing them spin along with this motorbike in our own minds. What is suggesting this, of course, is the flow of patterns in two of the umbrellas -- the more I look at them now, the more they seem to move. Thanks for giving us a new take on this image, Clara.
Guest 12-May-2005 18:18
It is an interesting conjuction between the motorbike wheels and the umbrellas, signifying different kinds of spin, movement and turn. It's a conceptual photo. The umbrellas move within themselves due to its lines and patterns around its center. The lady moves forward as if trying to escape from the static implosive movement of the umbrellas. Now, the road moves upon an earth-ball that is itself moving around the sun and spinning around its poles. No escape!
Phil Douglis28-Feb-2005 23:52
You make a substantive point here, Mo. Not only SE Asia, but the entire world, is applying technology to make life easier and more productive. Motorbikes are replacing the bike, and in some countries small cars are now replacing the motorbikes. And so it goes. The patterns of the umbrellas here are sharp, but they seem to be spinning as fast at the wheels of the motorbike, so you right. I could have called this picture the blur.
monique jansen28-Feb-2005 12:24
You could have called this picture The Blur as well - umbrella patterns seem blurred, the motorbike is blurred. To me the picture evokes the crossroads at which so many societies in SE Asia are finding themselves, traditional with modern elements, which have to be mixed together, inevitably.
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