The story of ‘Periscope’

This photo is one of my all time favourites and one that gets a lot of likes on the photography sites I belong to. So I did an imaginary interview with myself to tell the story of this photograph.

* Where did you take this photo?
This was taken at a listed building in Grahamstown, South Africa. The building originally housed military prisoners in the late 1830’s. For many years it lay in a disheveled mess but it is now a fabulous coffee shop frequented by both students and staff. Built to a design adapted from Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon prison. This design is unique in the British Cape Colony. Designed to allow for constant surveillance of the prisoners. The prison is shaped as a quarter circle with eight cells, roughly 2m by 3m each, running along the curved arc of wall with the exercise area’s for each cell radiating out from the double story watch tower, which has portals looking into each exercise area. This is one of those portals.

In 1937 the Old Provost was declared a Heritage Site. In 1982 and 1983 the Old Provost underwent restoration and was put under control of the Albany Museum. During the restoration the remains of some of the exercise area walls were discovered and restored. (Facts from Wikipedia). I have taken many photographs of this building over the years. You can read Old Provost story here on my 365 project.

This was a completely unplanned shot. When I took this shot, I also took a wider angle shot of all four windows together which is the featured image for this post. I love stopping here for a cup of coffee, so over the years, I have taken many, many photographs of this building.

* Why did you call it “Periscope”?
The word periscope makes me think of a tubular optical instrument containing lenses and mirrors by which an observer obtains an otherwise obstructed field of view, normally in a submarine. I thought that the lily looked like a periscope coming out of the top of the bottle, surveying its world.

* What time of day was it?
My son and I had taken a stroll around the Botanical Gardens near the coffee shop and stopped in for an iced tea before heading home. It was early afternoon (perhaps between 1 and 2pm) when we sat down and I noticed that there were bottles and flowers in each window recesses. This one in particular caught my eye because the stark white lily contrasted so well with the dark window behind it.

* What about lighting?
We were at the coffee shop on a South African winter’s day, so the light was not too harsh. This building is surrounded by tall walls as it used to be a prison, so there is not a lot of direct or harsh light. I suppose you could say it is diffused or filtered light. There was enough light to use ISO 100 and an aperture of f/10.0 (with a shutter of 1/15). In fact, there can be too much shadow if you visit this spot much later in the afternoon, so the time we were there was ideal.

* What inspired you to take this photo?
I have to start by saying that I love taking pictures of windows as their shapes and details fascinate me.

All the other window recesses had similar bottles and flowers in them, but with this window, I was struck by the stark and simplistic beauty of the white lily, framed beautifully by the recess and offset by the darkened glass behind it. The reflections in the simple glass bottle were an added bonus because they contributed another level of interest to the shot. The soft pink colour of the wall also added delightfully muted tones to the lily. For me the lily conveyed a sense of being alone, but being strong at the same time. It’s a very emotive shot for me.

* Any advice for others trying to capture something similar?
My advice? Always have your camera with you. Always be ready to take the unexpected shot. When you see something that catches your eye, take plenty of shots of the same thing from different angles and view points. Take wider angle shots, take detail shots, change lenses, zoom in and zoom out. Look for reflections, contrasts and frames. You never know which shot will be the one you like the most. Then when you get home, find the ones that speak to you in some way and work on those.

* Did you do any post-processing?
I did a little post-processing in Lightroom. I decreased exposure a tad and increased clarity up to about 25. I also tidied up the edges with a tight crop to take out any evident curvature as I wanted the flower to be framed by the window.

* What equipment did you use?
This shot was handheld using a Canon 600D and the standard kit lens (18-55mm) at 23mm.

  • Image source: Author’s own (C) Deborah Ann Stott 2015
  • You can also see the image on Viewbug.

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