How I Shoot is a series where we ask Instagrammers to tell us about their photo-taking process.
Pei Ketron (@pketron) is a San Francisco-based photographer whose symmetrical compositions of everything from escalators to tombstones have caught our eye. We wanted to find out what’s involved in shooting photos that are so perfectly centered, and Pei was kind enough to share some of her tips with us.
Hey Pei! It seems like you’re able to find the symmetry in any space. How did you develop an interest in composing symmetrical shots in the first place?
Since reading about it in one of my dad’s art books as kid, I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of a vanishing point and find that I look for these lines and perspectives everywhere I go. In any big city, most of the lines you’ll see are present in the architecture that surrounds you. Once you start seeing those lines, you can’t help but to see all the symmetry that accompanies them. A perfectly aligned and symmetrical image just feels balanced and right to me, like there’s no other way this particular scene should be looked at.
I know you live and work in the Bay Area. Where do you end up shooting most of your photos?
I live, work, and play all around San Francisco and the East Bay, so I ride public transit a lot and often find that BART trains and stations are the only things I’ve shot that day. I challenge myself during those long BART commutes to find unique and beautiful perspectives on the trains and in the stations that so many people perceive to be mundane.
What’s the trick to aligning your shots just right? Do you use photo-straightening apps, or do you just have really steady hands?
In order to capture the symmetry in a scene, you have to center yourself, make sure all your lines are straight, and be a perfectionist when it comes to your square crop. I’m practiced enough as a photographer to have pretty steady hands when it comes to taking photos, but sometimes I’m in a hurry or I just don’t get it quite straight and I need to use an app like PS Express or PhotoForge2 to straighten the images. In my quest for as-symmetrical-as-possible shots, I end up with many throwaway images that can’t be fixed with simple straightening.
How many photos of a subject do you usually take before you get one you’re happy with?
The number of photos I take of any one particular subject varies depending on the circumstances under which I’m taking the photo. Most often, I see the shots I want while I’m doing something else and just grab one quick shot before going back to what I was doing. There are times, though, when I either want to try a variety of different angles or when I actually set shots up and in those situations, I may take up to 5 or 10 shots. Once I get an image into Instagram, I have been known to crop and re-crop a dozen or more times until I get the image exactly centered or symmetrical within that square crop.
How long have you been interested in photography? has Instagram changed your photography in any way?
I’ve been taking photos since 2001 and I used to refuse to go anywhere without my DSLR. Since Instagram came along, however, my primary camera for daily outings has become my iPhone, even when I’m hauling around a DSLR and a medium format film camera. The iPhone is the perfect camera because it’s small and no one suspects that you’re doing serious photography with it. I shoot places and things that I would never feel comfortable shooting with my DSLR, so Instagram has really expanded and diversified my subject matter. I no longer have an excuse not to shoot everything that catches my eye because I always have my camera in my hand. In addition, Instagram has connected me with a vast network of hugely talented photographers whose images inspire, motivate, and teach me.
I was walking through my favorite corridor at Chicago’s O’Hare airport and stopped in my tracks when I saw this. It was perfect because not only was it left-right symmetrical, but the reflection helped it to be top-bottom symmetrical.
When I took this shot at Golden Gate National Cemetery, I wanted to convey that feeling of never-ending, perfectly-spaced headstones.
I had a long wait at North Berkeley BART station one night and loved the perfect vanishing point created by the lines in the station.
The mausoleums at Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland are full of leading lines and nicely polished stone that reflect beautifully. Sometimes, a non-symmetrical scene can be made symmetrical by something as simple as a reflection.
This part of the Westfield San Francisco Centre is one of my favorite places in the city. Whenever I take BART and need to get off at the Powell Street station, I make sure I emerge out of the exit that will allow me to walk through this space.
Sometimes, you don’t need all of the elements of your image to be symmetrical for it to work. The trick to all these symmetrical shots is to just make sure you are perfectly centered when you shoot them.
The photo of Pei at the top of this post is from her Flickr stream.