Lignum Draco is the pseudonym of a street photographer based in Sydney, Australia. You might recognize his candid portraits, guest photo challenges at The Daily Post, and images of the Sydney Opera House. We recently had the chance to ask Lignum about his inspiration, his favorite photographic techniques, and his pseudonym.
What draws you to photography as a medium of expression — how has your inspiration changed over time?
lignum (genitive lignī); n, second declension
I’ve long had an interest in photography, which I suspect stems from owning a (toy) camera since age five and imitating my father on family outings. To me, photography is a universal medium, something that anyone of any ability can indulge in and everyone can react to.
At first, my photography was limited to family events and travel — recording the usual memories of life we all do. I don’t think I saw it as a creative medium back then. It wasn’t until entering professional life after university that I began to see photography as a pleasurable leisure activity, a potential release from the stresses of life. I decided to learn about photographic technique and control from books and practiced when I could. Of course, this was back in the days of film, before digital cameras were invented. My attitude to photography significantly changed when my mother was diagnosed with dementia. I turned to photography again as a release. It was something familiar and reassuring.
My attitude to photography significantly changed when my mother was diagnosed with dementia. I turned to photography again as a release. It was something familiar and reassuring.
Not wanting to lug around my DSLR on a daily basis, I moved to a more portable mirrorless system. At this time, I bought my Leica Rangefinder camera. Whilst it was fun carrying it around and shooting flowers, trees, and beaches, it just didn’t seem enough. So I tried my hand at street photography, something the Leica camera is particularly suited to. To my initial surprise, I found this form of photography quite exciting and a wonderful creative outlet. Photographing people just being themselves, capturing facial expressions and scenes that might not otherwise be noticed, is enlivening. As a result, I have become a much more observant person, more aware of happenings around me when I’m out and about. Street photography is definitely a major part of my photography now.
Tell us a bit about the processes and techniques you use to inject creativity into your work.
Looking for further inspiration? Check out Perspectives on Street Photography, Five Ways to Break Out of a Photography Rut, and Documenting the Streets: Tips From Dominic Stafford.
The most important part of the process is to have the camera with me, in hand as I walk the streets. I preset the camera and have it turned on. Then it just becomes a matter of shooting whenever I see an interesting scene. In street photography, the inspiration is daily life and there are two main scenarios one will encounter.
First, a person looks interesting or they’re doing something interesting. In this situation I like to walk straight up to them and take their photo. These are spur-of-the-moment shots that can’t be planned for. On occasion if I’m not happy with the shot, I might turn around and give it a second go but the scene is never the same.
Second, I want a person or persons to enhance and add perspective to an interesting setting. This may involve standing and waiting for a decent shot to evolve, or finding the right angle and light. Sometimes I will deliberately return to get another shot on a different day with different conditions, if I think there is a better way to shoot it. Rarely do I go out wanting to photograph a particular scene. It just happens.
Having taken a nice photo, I like to think about how best to present it if it’s blog-worthy. This is another element to the creative process. Does the photo need a great title? Song lyrics and quotes work well. Or will it tell a great story if grouped with other photos? Rarely will I ever just post a single photo with no title.
You’re partial to your Leica — what it is about the camera that appeals to you? Any other pieces of gear that you’re fond of?
My Leica Rangefinder is a manual focus system and for me this is the single most important feature to my style of street photography. I tend to walk directly at my photographic subject and shoot from a set distance. Manual focus gives me a certainty of quick reliable focus that automatic focusing cannot. The camera is compact which makes it highly portable and I can carry it all day without getting fatigued. I don’t even need to have a camera bag. Additionally, people aren’t as put off by having a small camera pointed at them, compared to a DSLR, which makes my task easier.
Of course, there is also that “desire” factor, given the brand’s heritage. I always wanted to use one. I didn’t realize it would become part of me.
The next most important piece of equipment is the camera strap. I never use straps with brand names on them and advise my friends not to use them either. They draw too much attention. I like to have a three-stop neutral density filter available as the midday sun gets very harsh in the Australian summer. I’m also a fan of the Arca-Swiss style tripod ball head system.
Which apps do you use for enhancing images?
I do all my processing in Adobe Lightroom. I also use the Nik and Topaz suite of plugins (for Adobe Lightroom), but as I learn more about Lightroom, I find I use the plugins less and less. Lightroom is intuitive and simple to use and gives me everything I need. Mostly I just make adjustments to light, contrast, and structure. I tend to like a photo with nice contrast in it, so my processing reflects this.
You share your work under a pseudonym — can you share a little insight behind this choice?
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I converted Wood Dragon into Latin and became Lignum Draco. As it turned out, this has given me a certain uniqueness with respect to SEO, which I wouldn’t have had if I blogged under my real name.
This was a conscious decision. In my line of work, it’s common for people to Google your name. I wanted to completely separate my work profile from my photography and leisure profile. I didn’t perceive any benefit to my work or my personal life in mixing my two worlds online. I wanted the pseudonym to be in two parts like a normal name. It took me a few weeks to come up with the name Wood Dragon — which correlates to my birth year in the Chinese zodiac — but that was already being used by other people online. I converted Wood Dragon into Latin and became Lignum Draco. This has given me a certain uniqueness with respect to SEO, which I wouldn’t have had if I blogged under my real name. And the persona has worked out well for me, giving an extra element to my blog and allowing me some creative license. In a way, it’s a bit like being Bruce Wayne one day and Batman the next.