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Photographer of the Week: Caitlin Smith

Posted by Teresa Hanafin  March 12, 2009 11:56 AM

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Spring is a natural time to dream about summer vacation. But with the recession, many of us are unlikely to be planning trips very far from home. I don't mind living vicariously, so I asked RAW regular Caitlin Smith, an inveterate traveler, to assemble some of her travel photos and write about her thought process and technique when capturing her images.

Segolene, Paris, France
"Segolene, Paris, France"
Nikon D80, 1/400 second, f/5, ISO 400, focal length 70mm

By Caitlin Smith

I've been taking pictures since I was a little girl, when my dad gave me a gray square camera with a red plastic viewer. I remember watching him prowl around in our greenhouse, crouching down to photograph what looked to me like a bunch of dirt. But projected on the slide screen, his quirky shots turned out to be luminous images of tiny green shoots or intricate networks of roots. My dad also traveled extensively, bringing home photos that captured the colors and personalities of far-away cultures. I caught the travel bug, and the shutter bug, from him.

My favorite country to visit and photograph is France. Everything there deserves to be documented, from the food to the trees to the tablecloths hanging outside the shops. Like my dad, I look for unlikely subjects, framing what I see in my mind's eye as I go along. Or I try to approach something that's been photographed to death (like the Eiffel Tower) from an unusual angle.

I especially enjoy being able to capture a moment that’s rich in some aspect of local culture, a candid shot of daily life. That's why I often portray people from behind, absorbed in their activity rather than posing for the camera.

One of my favorite shots is of a woman and a hat shop. I was waiting for a friend in the pedestrian shopping zone of Avignon, France when I noticed this woman stepping back to check her work on an elegant façade, framed by her own ladder. I loved the contrast between the polished display and the practical materials on the ground, between the formal hats in the window and the painter's colorful turban. Before she turned around, I quickly composed the shot, hoped for the best, and clicked the shutter.

Chapeaux, Avignon, France
"Chapeaux, Avignon, France"
Canon PowerShot S410, 1/60 second, f/3.2, focal length 9.1mm

Another photo that I really like is the one of the men sitting on a bench, watching a game of pétanque in Arles, France. They appear to be good friends, enjoying a traditional pastime in the shade of some graceful plane trees. Time seems to stand still for these gentlemen, like the metal ball suspended in the air. It's a scene that may be harder and harder to come by as generations pass, so I'm glad I was able to capture it.

Petanque, Arles, France
"Pétanque, Arles, France"
Nikon D80, 1/1600 second, f/5.6, ISO 1600, focal length 200mm

Petanque Player
"Pétanque player, Arles, France"
Nikon D80, 1/4000 second, f/8, ISO 1600, focal length 200mm

I'm always looking for ways to break out of the standard tourist photos. To get a unique view of the Eiffel Tower, for example, I stood under it and looked up. For a fresh take on a popular castle, I backed off into a field of sunflowers. I tend to frame my pictures slightly left of center in order to add some energy to static subjects like architecture and landscapes.

Tour Eiffel
"Tour Eiffel, Paris, France"
Canon PowerShot S410, 1/800 second, f/8, focal length 10.8mm
Castle, Carcassonne, France
"Castle, Carcassonne, France"
Canon PowerShot S410, 1/160 second, f/4.9, focal length 22.2mm

I also keep an eye out for visual motifs that recur in my travels, making them a centerpiece of my photo narrative. For instance, once I noticed that Europe is full of spirals, I had fun photographing everything from snails to staircases. Later, I used these thematic pictures to create visually harmonious photo calendars as thank you gifts for the families I'd visited.

Snails, Emporda, Spain
"Snails, Emporda, Spain"
Canon PowerShot S410, 1/13 second, f/4.9, focal length 22.2mm
Spiral, Versailles, France
"Spiral, Versailles, France"
Canon PowerShot S410, 1/8 second, f/2.8, focal length 7.4mm
Notre Dame, Paris, France
"Notre Dame, Paris, France"
Nikon D80, 1/13 second, f/5.6, ISO 400, focal length 200mm

My husband gave me my first SLR for my birthday last year: a Nikon D80 with an 80-200mm VR lens. Up until then, I had used Canon Sureshots and Elphs, but when given the chance, I went for the Nikon because my dad always said its lenses were the best. I am in love with it, and bring it everywhere in my favorite Slingshot 100 camera bag.

The D80 has opened up a whole world of photographic potential for me. I feel that there is so much that this camera can do that I have only begun to discover. I'm looking forward to attending my first photography workshop this fall, to learn more about lighting, exposure, composition, and digital manipulation. In the meantime, I try to take my photos in such a way that I can skip the editing process, photographing my subjects as naturally as possible and deleting the awkward shots as I go along. This approach simplifies my life when I'm sorting the hundreds of images that I manage to take during any given trip.

Pastry market, Shanghai, China
"Pastry market, Shanghai, China"
Camel, Hurghada, Egypt
"Camel, Hurghada, Egypt"

I feel very lucky to be able to travel and take photos all over the world. As a French teacher, I get to visit France with my students at least once every other year, and I make the most of it by creating photo essays of our adventures. I especially appreciate being able to share photos with my dad, who is currently living in Albania. Thanks to photo sites like Flickr, he and I can compare our latest travels and stay connected overseas.

If you like my pictures, you should see his!


Caitlin Smith

About Caitlin
Caitlin Smith teaches French at Concord-Carlisle High School, and is planning a trip to Versailles with 16 students in April. She grew up in Lexington, now lives in Arlington, and has studied in France and England. She also has traveled to Canada, Egypt, China, and all over Europe. She loves to hike and take pictures on Monhegan Island in Maine. Her next project is to create some prints of island
nature scenes, in hopes of displaying them in Monhegan shops and cafés this summer. You can see more of her photos at her Flickr account or send her a Flickr email.

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