Postcard from Bologna, Italy: Trying to untangle a towering perspective challenge

Went to a talk this weekend in San Antonio at Blue Star Contemporary given by photographer Robert Langham, III, whose works are featured in “Hold Still.” The topic was “How to revolutionize your camera work,” and that was what I wanted to do. In one easy lesson, of course.

Langham focused on six things critical to photographic composition. He explained these clearly. But, as my version was 30 minutes instead of the full semester version of his course, I’m not sure he managed to truly revolutionize my awkward efforts to capture our travels.

But, attempting to apply the critical points from the lecture, I returned to the photos we took of the two most famous towers in Bologna. Bear in mind, these images are all of the same two towers. Which one should make it to the blog? Should the church behind be visible? Do we need to people the photo for perspective? Should signage be there to emphasize the contemporary urban intrusions?

The most straightforward shot of the taller of the two, Torre degli Asinelli, surely was taken by the Mister. I have issues with straightforward framing of my subjects because I don’t seem to look at things squarely. I want to stand at the bottom of a tower and capture the dizzying height I see when looking upward. That angled perspective rarely works for others.

Of course, this pair of medieval towers makes that even more of a challenge because they themselves do not stand up straight. They lean, possibly even more than their cousin in Pisa.

The Asinelli Tower soars 330 feet upward, and visitors still can climb up its claustrophobic stairwell to enjoy views of Bologna. I stayed with feet planted firmly at street level. The Garisenda Tower tilts more than twice as much as its taller neighbor. This shorter tower – 167 feet – used to be the taller of the two, but it was decapitated back in the 14th century for obvious safety reasons.

From a perspective point of view as captured by our camera, it’s hard to believe these photos are all of the same two towers. The Mister actually managed to take a photo showing both that makes them look as though they both still stand perfectly upright – correcting centuries of sinking.

I think I need the full semester version to even begin to attempt to understand the photographic challenges presented by these two towers.

View some of Langham’s fine black and white images for his current project, “100 Tylerites,” on his blog. Wonderful lessons in portraiture.

3 thoughts on “Postcard from Bologna, Italy: Trying to untangle a towering perspective challenge”

  1. My notes are not very precise, and Langham used images to illustrate his points. To loosely (unfairly) paraphrase my impression of the points:

    1. Every photo has a subject; try to present it in a fresh, engaging way.
    2. The important role of background; it can support or drain energy from your subject.
    3. Using framing, your viewfinder, as a visual knife controlling the whole space; establishing the right amount of tension within the space, pulling negative space taut.
    4.The power of the moment when you press the button. The camera stops motion; you are freezing a 60th of a second out of the era of time. That precise moment will not happen again.
    5 Photos are made out of light; take advantage of light and its interplay with your subject.
    6. Pick the viewpoint. Easiest example is squatting to take a photo of a child or pet.

    Maybe we’ll get lucky, and Langham will somehow stumble across this post and save his reputation by correcting or amplifying the above….


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