Photographing Melbourne Lane Ways

A steep staircase leads the visitor through a narrow alleyway in the City of Melbourne, Australia.

Are you prone to claustrophobia? Have you ever felt like the walls were closing in about you?

Most cities include lane ways and alleys that the average person remains oblivious to. One of the great things about photography is that it encourages us to explore the world around us and a visit to the city can allow you to discover all manner of hidden gems.

I love exploring such spaces. Clearly, you have to keep your wits about you, particularly when exploring a city with which you’re unfamiliar. Whether it’s the narrow cobbled streets of Brugge (i.e., Bruges), the Barkhor of Lhasa or the backstreets of Kolkata, there’s plenty of vibrant local culture and photographic opportunity to explore.

Moving Through Color and Space

The above photo was made in a very narrow lane way in the city of Melbourne. I love the color contrast between the warm yellow/orange of the incandescent interior, evidenced in the window on the left of the frame, with the cool bluish tones of the shaded staircase and walls. You might also notice how the yellow emitted from the dominant foreground window is referenced in two other places throughout the frame. This helps link the foreground with areas further back in the image.

Other than the vivid yellow color within the window, perhaps the most obvious thing about this photo is the distortion of that same window. This is a consequence of using a wide-angle lens, up close. And, as you can see, this effect is more noticeable towards the edges of the frame.

The distortion came about through the use of my magnificent Nikon 14-24 mm f/2.8 lens on my full-frame Nikon D800e camera. This is the widest lens I’ve ever owned and it’s a hoot to use. Actually, while I rarely use it as wide as 14 mm, I simply could not have arrived at the same composition without it. I wouldn’t want all my photos to so boldly proclaim the use of such a very wide angle focal length. But once in a while, for drama as much as for practical purposes, I think it’s okay.

Controversy Alert

By the way the extreme 14 mm focal length provided me with a sufficiently large depth of field (DOF) at the relatively modest aperture of f/5.6. This allowed me to make the above photograph, from a series of 5 exposures ranging from 1/125 second down to ⅛ second, hand held at ISO 1600. With practice, despite what you may have read, it is possible to produce sharp photos, of inanimate objects, at ⅛ second without a tripod. I’ve been doing it for years and, even on the high megapixel (i.e., 36MP) Nikon D800e it’s possible. 

Moving Beyond Composition

Next time you’re out and about, whether on holidays or just wandering around your own town or city, consider spending some time exploring some of its hidden gems. From one point of view you’ll likely find walls, windows, graffiti and, perhaps, puddles. But with careful composition you’ll create a photograph that explores color, shape, texture and space.

In some cases you’ll have the opportunity to explore metaphor or to present your view on a range of social or environmental issues. After all, they’re your photographs. Why wouldn’t you express a view or an opinion?

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru