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"Metro Moments"

These shots were taken within a few seconds of each other, during a run-of-the-mill Paris metro journey.

You'll notice that none of the subjects were aware that they were destined to become stars of the famous Paris Set Me Free blog, and will probably remain blissfully unaware that their orange bags, cuddly teds and, indeed, shapely backsides are now part of photo-folks' folklore.

People we will never know, living moments we will never be part of, except that now they have become part of our moments, albeit unwittingly. Such is the wonder and the wistfulness of the wandering weblogger...

Key points

The Metro

The metro is a humanistic photographer's wet dream. That buzz of emotions, tiredness, frustration, snogging, wretchedness, fashion parade, insecurity... it's somewhere anything could happen, and everyone is on public display, whether they like it or not.

The danger is omnipresent, both technically and ethically speaking.

Although lighting conditions are often low, the creative photographer should almost always switch the damn flash OFF when shooting in a dimly lit public place. Apart from turning people into ghosts against a pitch black background, what better way to attract attention to yourself with a nice big burst of light telling everyone, hey, I'm taking your photo without your permission: wanna break my camera? Exaggerated? Don't you believe it.

(of course there is such a thing as fill-in flash or the 'night' setting on some cameras, and other such devices, but that's for a lesson on cute night portraits in front of gaudily-lit tourist attractions like the Eiffel Tower, so we won't go into that here ;-)

Back to the metro: taking shots of people you don't know, and haven't asked, can be dodgy. So why not do what I did here? The last thing most people who are hurrying home tired and hungry after a long day's work are going to suddenly do is twirl round in case there's some weirdo taking shots of their bottoms. At least that's the theory.

Personally, I love these shots: the bright orange bag and muscular calf; the tough muscular guy with the giant ted; and of course my greatest weakness and source of some of my saddest moments: the perfect butt endlessly undulating and heartlessly heading away from my lustful lens...


A picture is a beautiful thing. But in some situations there is strength in numbers, especially if you are trying to convey the atmosphere of a specific place or event.

The trick is in making each image tell it's own story of the same event. They must be different and yet the same. Uniqueness and unity. I guess you see what I'm trying to say!

A theme is particularly important for exhibitions or other public displays, be they of photos or art or any kind of artistic endeavour.

Although the subject matter of each photo may be dissimilar, if my Parisian audience can't perceive a certain unity running through the whole thing they will simply dismiss the whole exhibition, in their inimitable way, as n'importe quoi.

This marvellously concise and contemptuous French expression, for which I still haven't found a satisfactory English version, roughly translates as 'any old thing' (but with much more bite!), and is to be avoided like the plague!

Here I have attempted to convey the theme, the unity, in two or three ways.

First of all, they are all shot in the Parisian metro, and I've told you so, so this is hovering somewhere in your mind to hopefully link the whole thing together.

Secondly, I told you that they were all taken within seconds of each other. Although this isn't dramatically different from point one, it does add a certain 'oh!' factor to the experience.

Thirdly, there is an honesty in the style in the shots. I didn't crop any of them in the slightest, and knowing that fact should help you not to admire my enviable snapping skills, but rather to feel that you are truly entering into the same experience as I had as I took these pics. Which as far more important in the end.

And finally, the effects I applied afterwards are more or less identical (see the next section), so there isn't a clash of styles as you look at them. Thus lives the theme.


In order to emphasise the unity of these three shots, all taken together during a single Parisian metro trip, I processed them identically.

I made the blacks black and the whites white. I didn't go nuts on the saturation, as that can interfere with the integrity of the image. In other words, too much in-yer-face colour can get in the way of the power of the image itself.

I did add a bit of grain and other stuff, as I love this gritty dirty effect in combination with the sweeping whirling colours of life, but to all of them, and in moderation.

(Click on any of the images on this page to see a bigger version of the shots.)


A final quick point. As we're talking about themes and displays, don't forget to look for 'the bigger picture' as you put your show together.

Look at the following displays of the same three shots. Which do you prefer? No.1? No.2? No.3? You decide!









Have you decided?

Personally, I prefer the third option, although each has its merits, and the context can change everything.

Classically speaking, Display 3 is coherent, because within the mini-universe of these three shots, the guy on the left is moving towards the middle, the woman on the right also, and the middle pic has a woman heading straight into the picture, which is a very stabilising image.

Of course, the direction in which the various people are heading in the shots is only one balancing factor. If you want two lighter shots to frame a darker one, then Display 2 is more satisfactory.

If alienation and people moving away from each other is your thing, then Display 2 also fits the bill, although another possibility would be as shown below:



Display 1 is just an incoherent disaster. Enough said!


Photo Ideas

  • get in the metro or any train station and walk around, behind people, shooting away with your camera at waist-height. If someone turns around just look straight ahead and keep on walking!

  • decide on a theme and see how many different ways you can use it to add coherence (a common theme) to your work

  • display your work as a whole, several pictures contributing to a single entity, and see the added power that gives

  • ask your audience what they think when they see several different pics on the same topic - did they spot the link?

Then comment on this lesson in the Photo Blog with a link to your best result - we all want to see them!


  • the metro - there are wonders and dangers alike, but whatever you do, don't miss out on this wondrous microcosm of human existence

  • theme - one of the best ways of 'honing' your efforts is to shoot to a theme. Mine's Paris, but within that I have many sub-themes, the Paris metro being one. You can find or invent themes wherever you are, and the direction they will give you can only add to the power of your images

  • processing - whatever effects you are using, if you want unity in your work or a display for a specific occasion, try to stick to the same look: people will remember you if you have your own recognisable style

  • display - don't stop your creativity once you've produced your individual images: don't forget that visitors to your exhibition will be seeing the whole, and the larger reality of your photography will be the overall impression of the exhibition. Be daring... are you an artist, or what?!





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