Mtaħleb Variations

I’ve been following Ted Forbes’ video channel “The Art of Photography” for some time, mostly on YouTube. This channel will probably be familiar to those of you who are into photography; for me it has been a regular inspiration, thought provoker, and source of knowledge on the subject of photography. Unfortunately, I don’t often interact on social media (of any kind), usually finding it difficult just to keep up. I also tend to think I don’t know enough about a subject to comment on it (this is often true), so I usually keep my thoughts to myself. My academic training is surely to blame for this, and while it’s a sensible way to behave, it’s very much at odds with the way the internet works in 2016.

Anyway, all this to introduce this post, where I present my attempt at completing the November photo assignment from The Art of Photography. The concept there was to create ten photo variations on a single subject, forcing us to think beyond the obvious. Now since my usual thing is landscapes, I decided to go with that, choosing the chapel at Mtaħleb as the principal subject. I knew from the start this would be very challenging, as with most subjects, in particular with architecture, there tends to be one very obvious point of view. In this case, one I had shot before, when out on a walk in the area. I am also not quite following the assignment to the letter, as I’m not keeping a journal. I do think it’s a great idea to keep a journal, in fact I do keep one for my research, but with photography the logistics work against me. I don’t have a colour printer, and printing photos at the lab gets in the way of the whole concept. So instead I’ll be writing this post as my journal entries on the subject. What follows is the series of images I took, with brief comments on each. As usual, you can click on each photo for a somewhat larger version.

Mtaħleb (3967)

The first photo is the one I took, last year, on a morning walk in the area. As I took this I remember thinking that this would be a great place to return for an evening shoot, when the sun would be coming from camera right, rather than behind the subject as in this case.

mtahleb-5207

I took the remaining photos in this post on a single outing. We went there in the late afternoon to spend some quiet time and catch the evening light later. When we got there I started with the telephoto lens in an attempt to look for details in the scene. I like how this view shows the vertical face of the cliffs just below the church. The (farm) building below to get a bit in the way though, and I really don’t like the garish blue plastic tanks. From this point of view it’s also not possible to isolate the church cupola against the sky – and since I was standing at the top of a cliff, the ideal point of view may be unattainable.

mtahleb-5208

I played with the wider side of the telephoto, which I think also works well. The sky provides more interest, and the line of the cliff leads to Dingli church in the distance, against the skyline. I waited until this church also had direct light, or it would fade to insignificance. This is perhaps where I would really like to have just sky behind the chapel.

mtahleb-5215

Next I swapped to a wide angle lens to work on what I think of as the “full view”. This turned out to be a slightly wider version to the first photo I had taken. I like the patchwork of fields in the valley, and judicious timing allowed me to separate the consecutive lines of hills with lighting. Patience and a slightly cloudy day help here.

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At this point I started trying to come up with possible variations. Starting with the obvious, I went with a long exposure. I find this tends to soften the light, an effect that can be very helpful in a sunny country such as ours.

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Beyond that, I really had to think on my feet. There was this “Private Property” sign near where we were sitting, so I found a way to integrate it into the composition. Getting enough depth of field and proper focusing were the main technical difficulties, but then digital cameras make this easy to verify. Much of the land in this area is privately owned, and much is used by hunters and trappers.

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Nearby there was also a 4×4 with a couple inside, enjoying the view (I suppose). We packed up and starting walking out towards Miġra l-Ferħa. I kept looking back to see if I can find a composition with the vehicle there.

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Our walk continued, and I took some more photos, one of which I shared already, and some others that will have to wait for another time. On the way back I kept trying to see if I can find any sufficiently different compositions to what I had done before. I like the light here, so had to take this regardless, but as it turned out, I also found a way to include the country road we were walking on.

mtahleb-5237

Finally, I also took a photo of my main subject – the chapel and its cliff line, in the late light. I like how this highlights and almost isolates the subject, but some part of me keeps wishing the same light to be on the valley floor as well! This concept of isolation is definitely something I need to work on more, until I become comfortable using it.

So as you see in the end I only made it to nine rather than ten variations. Rather than wait until the next time I go down there, I thought I’d put this up to share. Thanks, Ted, for a challenging exercise!

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