Category Archives: Part 1 – The Frame

Assignment 1 – Tutor Feedback and My Reflection

Fig 1 - The Dark Angel - 1/100 at f/9, ISO 100, 105mm prime lens

Fig 1 – The Dark Angel – 1/100 at f/9, ISO 100, 105mm prime lens

It was good to receive feedback on assignment 1 from my tutor. The feedback was generally positive, which is a relief, and has given me some excellent pointers to help with moving forward. I will combine extracts from the comments with my reactions and thoughts.

“This was an excellent first submission Steve, which was very enjoyable to look through and feedback on.”

“It was excellent to receive actual prints for a change, but I would suggest in order for you to cut your own costs, you needn’t do this for each submission.”

I have extracted this second point because I found it difficult to find out from the forums and from other students submissions whether prints were required or not. However, it was clear that the further one proceeds with the degree course the more important printing becomes. I spent a lot of time considering how to approach this because the Epson 2100 I had successfully used for many years had finally given up the ghost four years ago and I had switched to preparing my work for iPad. After some deliberation I decided to invest in a new printer for two main reasons:

a) I have always found the technology of printers and printer / screen calibration frustrating but I came to the conclusion that I was using the iPad approach as a way of avoiding confronting this challenge.

b) Even if I rise to new levels of image capture and post production my journey is incomplete if I outsource the printing and make no effort to build my skills in that area. I will not say that photographers who don’t print are in anyway lesser photographers. Ai Wei Wei appears to outsource nearly all his works of art* so it is not necessarily a valid measure of creativity. However, for me, it is the third key skill that I wish to master.

I have purchased an Epson R3000 which, despite the extortionate price for the ink, is a very satisfactory machine and is far more compatible with my iMac than the 2100 ever was with my old G5.

“What it does show me in advance though, is your clear ability to be able to professionally present your work, with very close attention to detail in a manner that not only looks very impressive, but gives a clear indication about how seriously you take your work.  This is very important, because if you don’t take it seriously, others will find it difficult to!”

This was probably the most pleasing statement from the feedback. Embarking on a degree course at my age when my life is already full and quite satisfyingly complex was a major decision and one that I did not take lightly. A lot of my thought processes were about having my work taken seriously. After 40 plus years of taking photos for no particular reason I had a strong desire to understand how to capture better images and, perhaps more importantly, to have a clear reason for taking them. That reason is not to complete the many tasks and assignments, those are just steps on the path, it is about finding a way to take photographs that reflect the way I see the world and, like anyone else, I want my view of the world to be taken seriously. OCA talk about students finding their voice and that would be a highly satisfactory outcome.

“As mentioned above Steve, in my opinion this was a very impressive first submission in terms of both your appreciation of theory and practice.  You have certainly set your stall out for future assignments to come now!”

Obviously I am delighted to receive some praise and take much heart from it but I also recognise that I need to maintain the standard of presentation but, most importantly, to improve my creative ability and technical skills and to show a developing appreciation of theory and practice as I move forward with the course.

“All the imagery looked well worked out and shot for purpose.”

I am glad that my tutor valued this. Distance learning is a funny thing, especially for someone who was never very good at non-distance learning. It requires a blend of discipline, motivation and management that can only come from one source. There is little point in cutting corners as   I am only answerable to myself. I wanted to treat each exercise and assignment as an opportunity to explore what interests me through the medium of photography and this means taking on board the objectives, researching where necessary, learning and applying new skills where possible and creating something that is new to me and better than before.

Fig 2 and 3 High and Low as Originally Submitted

Fig 2 and 3 High and Low as Originally Submitted

“Some of these contrasting sets worked really well in my opinion – I particularly liked the ‘High & Low’ pairing which was a clever interpretation.  I will always remain unconvinced about the monochrome / colour isolation used here though (or anywhere for that matter !), as I don’t really understand what purpose it has.  These two images are strong enough without applying any fancy footwork or gimics … my advice will always be to keep things as simple as possible”

Totally fair comment. Over processed and gimmicky. I was definitely trying to be “creative” rather than letting the images speak for themselves.

Fig 4. High (Re-worked) - 1/100 at f/3.2, ISO 100, 24 to 70mm zoom lens at 24mm

Fig 4. High (Re-worked) – 1/100 at f/3.2, ISO 100, 24 to 70mm zoom lens at 24mm

Fig 5. Low (Re-worked) - 1/100 at f/3.2, ISO 100, 24 to 70mm zoom lens at 24mm

Fig 5. Low (Re-worked) – 1/100 at f/3.2, ISO 100, 24 to 70mm zoom lens at 24mm

Figures 4 and 5 above are re-works of High and Low following my tutors suggestion that combining colour and black and white had not added anything to the originals. They certainly have not become weaker images through a quick re-work and there is now an argument that the digger has become a leading line into the demolition and is thereby adding to the image without being a dominant and inappropriate distraction.

Fig 6 and 7 many and Few as Originally Submitted

Fig 6 and 7 many and Few as Originally Submitted

“The other pairings I thought that worked well would be ‘Many & Few’, which was a very literal representation that simply defined the requirement. (I might have cropped in tighter with the ‘many’ shot though in order to have removed the wall in the bottom right corner.)”

Not being literal was my biggest challenge, I know that I am a literal sort of person and it will be difficult to break that mould. It was a challenge to come up with imaginative interpretations of the pairings without copying other people’s ideas so, in many cases, I settled for literal. It is interesting that my tutor homed in on the wall, I thought about taking it out but felt that there was more of a crowd with it in and it added some context.

Many - 1/200 at f/5.6, ISO 100, 24 - 70mm zoom lens at 65mm

Fig 8 Many (Re-Worked) – 1/200 at f/5.6, ISO 100, 24 – 70mm zoom lens at 65mm

Fig. 8 is a cropped, re-worked version of many. I know that the real answer was to have captured more people and less architecture with the camera so this is just about cropping. Even when I was re-working this I was thinking the tutor is entitled to his opinion but I prefer the original. Once I saw the crop I can see he was right – too much irrelevant architecture adding nothing to the image either in the context of the assignment or even just as an image. Which neatly leads to his comments about composition that I will come back to later.

Much and Little as Originally Submitted

Fig 9 and 10 Much and Little as Originally Submitted

“Also, the ‘Much & Little’ worked well for the same reason really.  It can also often be a good idea to try and keep the format of the images identical if at all possible.”

Good point. “Much” could have been a portrait frame and probably wouldn’t have lost its impact. There was not enough clean wall to the left and right of “Little” to have been a landscape frame and the scale was wrong as a landscape crop.

Light - 1/80 at f/14, ISO 6400, 16 to 35mm lens at 16mm

Fig 11 Light – 1/80 at f/14, ISO 6400, 16 to 35mm lens at 16mm

“I also really liked the ‘Light’ shot which was really nicely lit … looks like a great place to hang out !”

It is, I wish I could get there more often. One of the great aspects of modern DSLRs is their ability to deal with low light. On film or with an early DSLR I would not have had sufficient skill to get this shot. I love mixing natural light and artificial light and have used it extensively when photographing my grandchildren.

“Lastly, another additional positive point to make about your work is that in general, most of the images show very little ‘dead space’, which is so often found in the early stages of photographic practice – prior to any theoretical compositional considerations being either learnt or absorbed.  Remember that effective photography equals Technique + Composition.  Good or acceptable technique is arguably the first prerequisite for ‘good’ photography, but this alone will not make a ‘good’ image.  Image making must be complimented by composition, not just technique as mentioned before. We all use very similar technical equipment to make images, so composition is often one of the best ways in which a photographer can express their individuality and personal feeling in communicating their thoughts and ideas.”

“The term ‘composition’ has been mentioned in your feedback and I cannot emphasise its importance enough at this level of study and in particular at this stage of the programme.  In order to help and support you making appropriate compositional decisions [IE: what you choose to include and exclude from the frame, prior to taking the image] you must closely study the work of other practitioners.” (for follow up work see here)

Obviously the positive is pleasing, I usually crop quite tight and don’t like dead space in an image. I recognise that this sometimes means that I don’t use negative space to best effect. However, I want to take the tutor’s comments about composition on board and think more deeply about this. Looking at the submission images there is already the specific remark about “many” to consider in this context and looking back over the whole set I can see that I need to consider more carefully what should and should not be included in the frame. I’m of a generation that remembers the famous Bill Shankly quote about the off-side rule “If a player is not interfering with play or seeking to gain an advantage, then he should be.” I will take my tutor’s advice and more rigorously consider whether all the content of the frame is gaining an advantage for the composition. Study of the great masters is an advised and valid route to help me develop this skill. My tutor has pointed me towards Josef Koudelka as an additional inspirational source in this regard.

I was pleased that I received positive comments about this blog, I am not reproducing them here as they are not related to photography.

Overall my tutor thought that assignment 1 was an “impressive first submission in terms of both (my) appreciation of theory and practice” and that is just the motivation I need to try and maintain the standard and improve both generally and specifically in the next phase. All the criticism was highly constructive with clear guidance on what I need to work on and I will endeavour to carry that forward into assignment 2.


*Klayman, Alison. (2013) Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry, United Expression Media.

Assignment 1 – Self Assessment

Light at Stonehendge - 1/200 at f/7.1, ISO100, 24-70mm lens at 24mm

Light at Stonehendge – 1/200 at f/7.1, ISO100, 24-70mm lens at 24mm

Demonstration of Technical & Visual Skills

There are a few different techniques used to capture images using flash and other off-camera lights and in the case of rough and smooth the lighting has been used to create the image.

There are, perhaps, a disproportionate number of images that have relied on the ability of my cameras to work with very high ISO but this is an effect that I like and I believe works especially well with light and much. 

I would have liked to have included some landscape and portraits in the set but the opportunity did not arise and, as many of my existing images are landscape, I think I was sub-conciously keeping away from that genre. Overall there is a studio image, some street photography, some abstract and some action images so I feel there is a reasonable spread of techniques in use.

I think that straight and many show the ability to spot a potential subject which is not immediately obvious and I feel that overall the set shows some visual awareness.

In terms of composition, I have tried to improve my initial compositions as I have worked through the exercises and this assignment. I am consciously using two prime lenses (150mm and 50mm) to help me think about composition more and whilst no 50mm images made the cut there are several taken with the 150mm. Each image has been actively composed to create the image I wanted and I am happy with the results in that regard.

Quality of Outcome

This is a very difficult area to self judge. I am far from knowing everything I need to know to capture good images but I do feel that I have applied some of what I do know to this assignment and have consciously tried to build on the initial exercises. I am endeavouring to creatively think about depth of field, shutter speed, composition and framing and to produce technically strong images. I am not satisfied with the final processing of high and low but pushed myself to include black and white work as this is a specific area that I know needs improvement.

I believe that the assignment, both in the blog and in the pack I am sending to my tutor, is coherently presented and that I have expressed my ideas clearly.

Demonstration of Creativity

These are not imaginative images and I know that this is an area that I need to take to another level. I have set myself targets to seek out more inspiration from great photographers and to use that inspiration to fuel my own imagination.

On the other hand I have experimented with techniques that I have rarely used in the past such as the processing of high and low, the lighting in rough and smooth and the indoor shots in light and dark.

I am a long way from developing a personal voice but see that as the overall objective of this course. I do believe that I am beginning to see personal projects that interest me about subjects about which I feel strongly. This is something I did not have six weeks ago so perhaps I am taking the first step towards a voice.


I am comfortable researching subjects and see this is as a potential weakness as I did get bogged down in this assignment (see Assignment 1 Reflections). The challenge is that there is too much information available on the internet and I am going to more effectively focus my research in the next part of the course.

I am self critical by nature but the ability to critique a photograph is a skill that needs developing.

Assignment 1 – Reflection and Objectives Going Forward

I found Assignment 1 to be challenging partly because I am quite literal by nature and nurture, forty years in IT has to have some effect.

To try and overcome this limitation I spent a lot of time thinking about and planning this project. I found that slowly leafing through the work of several photographs helped. I have mentioned Camilo José Vergara as a specific inspiration for my pair of graffiti images and, although I did not use the images as part of the assignment, I took several photographs in Aldershot that were influenced by his work.

Sweet Shop - 1/100 at f/8, ISO 125, 24 - 70mm zoom lens at 56mm

Sweet Shop – 1/100 at f/8, ISO 125, 24 – 70mm zoom lens at 56mm

Sweet shop is one of those photographs and shows two Nepalis outside an Asian fast food shop in Aldershot.

One of my earliest ideas was to base many of the images around an industrial theme. This led me to seek out artists who had used this theme extensively and this took me to Lewis W. Hine. I found a copy of  “Women at Work” second hand but I’m still looking for an affordable copy of “Men at Work”.

Hine’s work is remarkable, in his introduction to Women at Work, Jonathan L. Doherty points out that Hine saw the American Worker as a heroic figure.  Many of his photographs focus on the skill and application of his female subjects even though he is known to have held strong views on poverty and exploitation. As a result his images are very positive, I do not believe that he intends us to feel sorry for the workers, he wants us to see them as people with ability and strength, to celebrate and admire them.

I sought out Hine to see how he photographed machines but came away more influenced by the way he portrayed people in a positive light even if their circumstances were clearly unsatisfactory. An example of this is “Italian Immigrant, East Side, New York City 1910” which is of a women in a run-down district, carrying a heavy load but instead of this being a depressing image it emphasises her strength and purpose. His ability to emphasise the positives has made me think more deeply about street photography and how important it is not to fall into the trap of type casting people by the way you photograph them.

Overall I spent a lot of time looking at black and white photos from great photographers but lacked the confidence to bring much black and white to the assignment. My trip to the military cemetery in Aldershot was to look for many and few or large and small contrasts. I thought the gravestones and the memorials might offer these comparisons. But, I also thought that the older sections would provide strong gothic images that would work well in black and white so I could include this technique in my final set.

I think I captured several images that fitted those criteria but in every case I preferred the colour version.

Grave of a Small Child - 1/100 at f/3.2, 105mm prime lens

Grave of a Small Child – 1/100 at f/3.2, 105mm prime lens

Grave of a Small Child - 1/100 at f/3.2, 105mm prime lens

Grave of a Small Child – 1/100 at f/3.2, 105mm prime lens

Little Angel - 1/100 at f/4.5, ISO 100, 105mm prime lens

Little Angel – 1/100 at f/4.5, ISO 100, 105mm prime lens

Little Angel - 1/100 at f/4.5, ISO 100, 105mm prime lens

Little Angel – 1/100 at f/4.5, ISO 100, 105mm prime lens

I found Michael Freeman’s Black and White Photography Field Guide immensely helpful and looking at the work of Henri Cartier Bresson, Lewis W. Hine and Ansel Adams is also a great help but I have to make major step up in terms of technique to produce even average results in black and white.

As a result only high and low had a monochrome element and I feel those images have several processing flaws. I have asked myself why I included them if I knew they were flawed but I like them as images and believe a “good” print is hidden in there but that I don’t have the black and white processing skills to extract it. It is therefore helpful to post them as a marker that I can look back on to measure whether I am improving these skills.

My first objective moving forward is to improve my ability to capture and print work in black and white so that I am confident to present it in an assignment.

I am very conscious that I lost momentum in the course of completing this assignment. I knew that my instinct would be to produce very literal representations of the contrasts and therefore spent a lot of time looking at the potential meanings of the words, brainstorming ideas, planning locations, taking and analysing test shots and selecting images. This all sounds very positive and it would be easy to spin it as a diligent and efficient process but it wasn’t.

I actually used very few of the dozens and dozens of ideas I had on my mind maps. I spent a second day at Milestones Museum to get one usable image and know that most of the unplanned “test” shots were better than the planned versions. In reality the process was flawed and it took at least three weeks of elapsed time before I changed tack. I was far more effective when I picked locations that might offer opportunity and just went out and took photographs or by just having my camera with me when I had to be in places for other reasons. Italy, MC Motors, Salisbury and The South Bank were all places I went to for work or social reasons; the three locations I used in Aldershot were more planned and the trampoline photos in our back garden were staged.

Overall I feel that I have been working on this assignment for far too long, I was defiantly bogged down and have my daughter, who teaches photography, to thank for getting me out of a lot of blind alleys and onto a clearer path. It is hard to define exactly what I need to do to address this going forward but I do not want to move steadily through the exercises and then stall when I reach the assignments.

My current thoughts are that I need to carefully manage the time spent planning and the amount of process and get out there with a camera more quickly. I feel that my best work was when I put myself in a good location, with the assignment objectives in my mind, and just took photographs that felt right. By doing this I took some photos that I liked but that didn’t fit the assignment but also found photos that did both.

The desk work that really did help was looking at top photographer’s work. Looking at the thousands of images that Google can find only helped to confuse the issue. I need to focus my attention on gaining inspiration from great photographers and to strive to learn from their skills. Although it didn’t directly impact the assignment I felt that reviewing Vergara’s work on a Saturday led to me taking better photos on Sunday morning.

My second objective is to focus my research on gaining inspiration as a creative fuel and to use this fuel by moving quickly to capturing images.


Hine, Lewis H. (1981) Women at Work. New York, Dover Publications

Exercise 13 – Finding Contrasts

Look Many - 1/250 f2 ISO 100

Look Many – 1/250 f2 ISO 100

In exercise 13 we are asked to look back through our existing photographs and identify pairs that represent contrasting subjects.

Pair 1 – Still and Moving

Fig. 1 - Still Waters - 1/160 at f/5.6 ISO 125

Fig. 1 – Still Waters Findhorn Scotland – 1/160 at f/5.6 ISO 125

Fig. 2 - Crashing Waves - 1/500 at f/8 ISO 125

Fig. 2 – Crashing Waves Queensland Australia – 1/500 at f/8 ISO 125

These two images exhibit, both of the sea, are strongly contrasting in many ways. Still as in calm versus wind blown, moving, crashing, surf. There is also a good contrast in light, a summer’s evening in  the north east of Britain and the backlit very early morning  light behind the waves and the surfer in Queensland Australia.

Pair 2 – Spring and Winter

Fig. 3 - Spring in Monti della Laga - 1/200 f/4.5 ISO 100

Fig. 3 – Spring in Monti della Laga – 1/200 f/4.5 ISO 100


Fig. 4 – Winter in Monti della Laga – 1/125 f/12 ISO 100

The contrast in fig. 3 and 4 is simply Spring and Winter at the same place in Abruzzo Italy. The large mountain in the background, Corno Grande, is crowned with fluffy white clouds on an otherwise clear spring day but stark against a cold winter sky in the second photograph.

Pair 3 Fake and Real

Fig. 5 - Fake Black & White Skin - 1/200 at f/2.8 ISO 110

Fig. 5 – Fake Black & White Skin – 1/200 at f/2.8 ISO 110

Fig. 6 - Real Black and White Skin - 1/180 at f/6.7 ISO 125

Fig. 6 – Real Black and White Skin – 1/180 at f/6.7 ISO 125

A contrast of real skin against fake animal print skin. The mysterious man in fig.5 is watching the dawn on the winter solstice at Stonehenge. The monitor lizard is waiting out the hot afternoon in a tree at Noosa in New South Wales.

Pair 4 – In and Out of Season

Fig. 7 - August in Pineto - 1/180 at f/8 ISO 125

Fig. 7 – August in Pineto – 1/180 at f/8 ISO 125

Fig. 8 - September in Positano - 1/15 at f18 ISO 100

Fig. 8 – September in Positano – 1/15 at f18 ISO 100

I am intrigued how the summer holiday season in Italy is defined primarily by the calendar. In August the beaches are packed with people, sun loungers and umbrellas. On the 1st of September, regardless of the weather, they are handed back to foreign tourists and dog walkers. In Positano it is still early enough in September for the umbrellas and sun loungers to be optimistically set out on the beach every morning and packed away, unused, at the end of the day.

Researching Assignment 1 – Remembrance Sunday

Fig. 1 - 1/100 at f/5 ISO 125

Fig. 1 – Proud Para – 1/100 at f/5 ISO 125

Continuing the process of researching and undertaking TAoP Assignment 1, Contrasts. Over the last few weeks I have slowly collected images for the contrasting pairs. My process has mostly been to map out ideas and then to identify locations that might work for those ideas.

When thinking about straight & curved I had thought of soldiers as a possibility for straight and with Remembrance Sunday falling last weekend I wanted to attend the service in Aldershot to further explore that idea.

Aldershot is a location that I see myself regularly returning to during this course, in reality it is already becoming more of a personal project. Aldershot is famous for a very small number of things.  First and foremost it is the Home of The British Army which is one of life’s great ironies as successive governments have reduced the military presence in the town as they have consolidated the Army in other places such as Colchester. Most of the army has left home.

The opening lines of Rudyard Kipling’s poem Gunga Din* immortalises the town:

You may talk o’ gin and beer, When you’re quartered safe out ‘ere, And you’re sent to penny fights an’ Aldershot it;

Penny fights was Victorian army slag for training battles and Aldershot was where they happened.

Fig. 2 Gurkha - 1/100 at f/5.6 ISO 100

Fig. 2 – Gurkha – 1/100 at f/5.6 ISO 100

It’s second claim to fame is more recent. Joanna Lumley, the daughter of a Gurkha officer, was the public face of a campaign to secure the right of ex-Gurhkas, the Nepalese mercenries who have been part of the British Army since the days of the Raj, to retire in Britain along with their families if they had served in the regiment for more than 4 years. This led to a influx of Nepalese to the UK and many settled in Aldershot which was the nearest town to their old barracks at Church Crookham. By 2011, 1 in 10 residents of Aldershot was Nepalese putting a significant strain on the infrastructure and creating much tension in the community. The so called “Battle of Aldershot” had begun and is still a topic of hot debate today.

I am interested in Aldershot at many levels. The Nepalese story is compelling, the tensions it has created, the strain on social services and infrastructure against the work ethic of the immigrants and the boost they have given to the local economy by creating successful businesses that might help regenerate the town.

At another level I am drawn to the history of a place that started as a tented training camp, around a small village, and grew into a town with no other purpose than to house and support the Army – a modern day vicus** and, I suspect, potentially quite unique in that regard in modern Britain. But a town that has nearly lost its reason for existing as the army has withdrawn and is trying to reinvent itself.

The rapid growth of the army in the Aldershot area led to the construction of barracks, stables, churches and a wide array of military buildings whilst civic and commercial buildings sprang up in the town centre. Sadly many of these buildings were demolished and their sites redeveloped in the 60s, an era of wanton vandalism by town planners, and, of course, many of those developments are now abandoned or already pulled down. However, dotted around the military town there still architectural gems that have survived and that deserve preservation.

Fig. Garrison Church Aldershot - 1/100 at f/5.6 ISO 100

Fig. 3 – Garrison Church Aldershot – 1/100 at f/5.6 ISO 100

So, on Sunday, I travelled to Aldershot and specifically to the Garrison Church on the edge of the military town.

In planning I thought that there was potentially a pair of images to represent straight and curved. I knew that the war memorial was likely to have straight lines, that there would be lines of wreaths on the memorial and soldiers at attention. There was also the connotation of straight for an upright uncool citizen such as a soldier (or am I showing my age?).

For curved there would be wreaths of poppies and musical instruments.

I was highly conscious that this was a subject that must be treated with respect. Aldershot is a town that has lost thousands of serving soldiers from it’s regiments since it was founded in 1854. Since the Crimean war soldiers have left Aldershot to serve in every conflict Britain has been involved in.

Some research told me that Civil and military dignitaries would first join each other at a remembrance service in the Garrison Church followed by wreath laying and a march past.

Arriving early I had the opportunity to meet and photograph some of the veterans that were gathering for the parade including the ex-paratroper, or “para” as they are known locally, in fig. 1. Breaking from any tradition of candid street photography I asked his permission to photograph him and he rewarded me by striking the marvellous pose shown in fig 1 and fig. 4.

Fig. 4 - Proud Para - 1/100 at f/5.6 ISO 100

Fig. 4 – Proud Para – 1/100 at f/5.6 ISO 100

I am especially pleased with fig. 4 as it includes the memorial in the background. This could be my “straight” image but I feel that this would not be respectful.

After a short while military policemen or “red caps” arrived with an officer or NCO from a Scottish regiment and began to arrange the wreaths ready for the official laying. This provided interesting images that I had not expected.

Fig. 5 - Memorial & Poppies - 1/160 at f/10 ISO 100

Fig. 5 – Memorial & Poppies – 1/160 at f/10 ISO 100

Fig. 6 - Memorial & Poppies - 1/320 at f/7.1 ISO 100

Fig. 6 – Memorial & Poppies – 1/320 at f/7.1 ISO 100

My expectation had been to capture the wreaths in lines after they had been laid but the MPs placed them in the long straight lines in fig. 5 and fig 6. ready to be picked up and placed on the memorial. I initially though that one of these would be my “straight” image but eventually choose a slight variation on this theme.

And, apparently in charge, or was he just in the best uniform ? The gentleman from Scotland, a Regimental Sergeant Major perhaps.

Fig 7 - Scottish RSM - 1/100 at f/8 ISO 180

Fig 7 – Scottish RSM – 1/100 at f/8 ISO 180

It was an interesting learning experience, I do not recall photographing anything quite like this before. In some ways it is similar to photographing the winter solstice last year. I felt a bit lost, not quite sure where to be at any given time and not certain what was acceptable and what was intrusive or disrespectful.

It was helpful that a local press photographer was there and happy to explain the programme. However, watching where he went was the real education as he was always one step ahead of the action. I would imagine he has covered this event many times and knew exactly where to stand for each phase of the ceremony. If I go again next year I will get into better positions and that might lead to better images.

The summary of the lesson is that research about an event can only get you so far, being there is the only way to know what to do next time. Hopefully, if I go to enough events, my senses will become better tuned to spotting the right place to be.

Fig 8. - 1/1250 at f/7.1 ISO 100

Fig 8. – Ready for the Ceremony – 1/1250 at f/7.1 ISO 100


*Kipling, Rudyard, (1990) The Complete Verse. Folkestone, Invicta

** A “vicus” was the civilian settlement that grew up outside the walls of a Roman Legionary camp or fort. Initially populated by camp followers many of these disorganised camps developed in towns and eclipsed the original military camp. See Salway, Peter, (1993) The Oxford Illustrated History of Roman Britain. Oxford University Press. Page 404

Exercise 12 – Cropping

Fig 1 - Druid Original Image 1/200 at f/2.8 ISO 100

Fig 1 – Druid Original Image – 1/200 at f/2.8 ISO 100

Exercise 12 requires the re-cropping of a selection of existing photographs.

I endeavoured to select a variety of different subject types and to to try one or two different crops on each one.

This is an interesting exercise as it  forced me to look again at a small selection of old images. I did not want to just look at recent photographs and as a result they range from 2000 to 2012.

I have mostly restricted myself to 3:2 or square proportions whether landscape or portrait. The exception are two faux panoramic crops. I am questioning whether using traditional proportions is a sign of a lack of creativity or force of habit. Rightly or wrongly I have always cropped to 3:2 or square. This might be a bit of OCD, or we used to have the cardboard cropping guides to mark up 35mm transparencies for printing and they only worked in these proportions.

At the end of the exercise I can see that there were better crops available for at least 2 of the 4 images so I am clearly looking at these photographs in a different way. More telling was that I found a different and previously un-edited original of the sardine chef that would have be a much better edited image back in 2000. I see this as as more fundamental shift in my ideas, I was always seeking perfections and would exclude things from the frame that spoilt the image I wanted to see. I now realise that the litter on the ground, or in the case of the sardine image, the chef having a cigarette in the background, are the imperfections that potentially make the image. Studying the work of Cartier-Bresson, Lewis Hine and Sebastiao Salgado has been a revelation in this regard and I am now looking at opportunities and my old images in a very different way that I hope, over time, will lift my work.

My first choice is a picture of a druid, not just any druid but Rollo Maughfling, Archdruid of Stonehenge & Britain. I photographed Mr. Maughfling at the Stonehenge winter solstice in 2012 and originally framed the image as seen in fig.1.

I wanted to include his hands which I found interesting, to hint that he was in a crowded place but to isolate him as he appeared to be deep in thought.

Fig 2 - Druid Crop 1 - 1/200 at f/2.8 ISO 100

Fig 2 – Druid Crop 1 – 1/200 at f/2.8 ISO 100

My first, alternative crop focusses attention on his face. I have positioned him to fill the frame from left to near the right hand edge.

Fig 3 - Druid Crop 2 - 1/200 at f/2.8 ISO 100

Fig 3 – Druid Crop 2 – 1/200 at f/2.8 ISO 100

In fig.3 I have stayed in close but cropped into a landscape frame. The intent is to have him looking into space.

Fig 4 - Druid Crop 3 - 1/200 at f/2.8 ISO 100

Fig 4 – Druid Crop 3 – 1/200 at f/2.8 ISO 100

The final crop is halfway between the original and the tight frame of fig.2. to show a little of his costume.

On balance I would be happy to use the original, or fig. 2, crop 1. The choice is between an interesting bearded face or a druid with an interesting face. I took the original as part of a study of people at the solstice so showing that he was a druid was important to that set. If I met him on the street I would probably prefer fig. 2, crop 1.

Fig. 5 Wreck at Anegada Original - 1/200 at f/7.1 ISO 200

Fig. 5 – Wreck at Anegada Original – 1/200 at f/7.1 ISO 200

The second image, Fig. 5, dates from 2000 and is of a wreck on the island of Anegada in the British Virgin Islands. My original image was probably framed to put the wreck into the context of the beach and to include the windswept tree to the right which gives a sense of how strong the winds can be and why wrecks happen in these beautiful islands.

Fig. 6 Wreck at Anegada Crop 1- 1/200 at f/7.1 ISO 200

Fig. 6 – Wreck at Anegada Crop 1- 1/200 at f/7.1 ISO 200

The first and most obvious crop was to try a portrait frame as in fig. 6. This focusses the viewer totally onto the wreck under a darkening sky.

Fig. 7 - Wreck at Anegada Crop 2- 1/200 at f/7.1 ISO 200

Fig. 7 – Wreck at Anegada Crop 2- 1/200 at f/7.1 ISO 200

Fig. 7 is tending towards a panoramic shape. I wanted to retain the sweep of the beach and to include the boat and the tree within the frame.

Fig. 8 - Wreck at Anegada Crop 4 - 1/200 at f/7.1 ISO 200

Fig. 8 – Wreck at Anegada Crop 4 – 1/200 at f/7.1 ISO 200

Seeing fig. 7 on the screen whilst writing up my notes made me realise that the wide expanse of beach was, in fact, un-balancing the image so I tried a tighter crop as shown in fig. 8 and I think this works much better than fig. 7. The boat and tree balance each other well and the sunlit portion of the beach still links the two. I did also try a square crop but this was uninteresting. I like fig.8 crop 4 as it feels a better balanced image than the original.

Fig. 10 - Sardines Original - 1/250 at f/8 ISO 200

Fig. 9 – Sardines Original – 1/250 at f/8 ISO 200

Sardines, fig. 9, also dates from 2000 and was taken in Portugal. The original image I found in my “portfolio” was cropped as a square. At that time I was still using a Bronica medium format film camera and although this image is taken with a Nikon D1 it is not unusual for me to crop images, especially portraits into square frames. I suspect my logic was to include all the sardines along with the chef and, as will be seen in fig.11, there was a distraction to the left. This is all about the chef and the fish.

Fig. 10 - Sardines Crop 1 - 1/250 at f/8 ISO 200

Fig. 10 – Sardines Crop 1 – 1/250 at f/8 ISO 200

In the interests of this project I tried a portrait crop as shown in fig. 10. It is workable but, of the two, I prefer the original. A few years ago I could have sounded very “grumpy old man” and said 1:1 was a very underused format and that it had a lot to offer as an alternative to 3:2. I do not, by the way, hold myself up as an expert in composing in that or any other format. However, since the advent of Instagram, there are now thousands of people successfully using the square format  everyday and there are companies printing Instagrams in the style of the old polaroid instant photos and sending them back boxed.

Fig. 11 - Sardines Alternative Original - 1/250 at f/8 ISO 200

Fig. 11 – Sardines Alternative Original – 1/250 at f/8 ISO 200

When I went back to my originals library to retrieve the exposure information for fig. 9 I noticed  this original image (fig. 11) that was never edited. I was obviously not interested in the chef’s assistant having a crafty smoke and took the next shot excluding him. Now I would choose fig.11 as the more interesting photo. I have used it here with no cropping and just the smallest tweak in photoshop. It might deserve a bit more effort to adjust the shadows and highlights.

Fig. 12 - Table Mountain Original - 1/100 at f/7.1 ISO 100

Fig. 12 – Table Mountain Original – 1/100 at f/7.1 ISO 100

My final choice is a photograph of Table Mountain behind Cape Town taken in 2008. The composition is framed to include the cloud pattern that adds some interest to the sky and the transparent sea inside the reef. I have framed this to create a nearly symmetrical balance.

Fig. 13 - Table Mountain Crop 1 - 1/100 at f/7.1 ISO 100

Fig. 13 – Table Mountain Crop 1 – 1/100 at f/7.1 ISO 100

Fig.13 is a much better crop, less sea and more sky brings a better overall balance to the image  and the viewer is led in to the photograph more effectively.

Fig. 13 - Table Mountain Crop 2 - 1/100 at f/7.1 ISO 100

Fig. 14 – Table Mountain Crop 2 – 1/100 at f/7.1 ISO 100

The panoramic crop in fig. 14 is also quite effective and would work well as an internet or blog header or a banner in a printed article. I cropped to try and make the breaking waves the key component.

Fig. 15 - Table Mountain Crop 3 - 1/100 at f/7.1 ISO 100

Fig. 15 – Table Mountain Crop 3 – 1/100 at f/7.1 ISO 100

In fig. 15 I wanted to try a square format again. I have cropped to include the breaking waves to the left as this gives some life to the image. this has broken up the semi-symmetrical pattern of the clouds and moved the mountain slightly off centre. I don’t dislike it but feel more comfortable with fig. 13 which I think is the best balanced of the set.

Researching Assignment 1 – A Visit to the Museum

1/100 at f/4 ISO 3200 with ring flash

1/100 at f/4 ISO 3200 with ring flash

Assignment 1, contrasts is based on an exercise created in the 1920s by Johanne Itten who ran the basic course at the Bauhaus School of art and design. Itten’s theory of composition was built on the concept of contrasts and as an early part of his teaching he asked his students to identify and illustrate contrasts selected from a list.

Michael Freeman, in The Photographers Eye (2007), says that Itten’s intent was to “awaken a vital feeling for the subject through observation”. He goes on to explain that the exercise involved three steps; firstly to gain a feeling for each contrast, then to list the ways of expressing this feeling and finally to make an image. Assignment 1 calls for these same three steps and my approach has been to try and follow a process towards each pair of images.

My first thought was to develop a theme through all 17 photographs as well as having a relationship, and a contrast, across the pairs. However, as I moved further into exploring ideas for the images the harder it became to stay within a single theme as it quickly became too restrictive, limiting subject matter, technique and creativity.

The challenge in this assignment has been to avoid the obvious and the cliché. Aaron Siskind said “We look at the world and see what we have learned to believe is there. We have been conditioned to expect… but, as photographers, we must learn to relax our beliefs.” This appeared to be an apt thought to remember on embarking upon this assignment.

My process began by creating a series of mind maps for most of the contrast pairs. This included using the Oxford Concise English Dictionary, not so much for definitions, but for the usage examples that it gives. For example “hard” offers dozens of linked words including hard problem, hard to suffer, hard life, hard frost, hard data, hard labour and so on. This helped to see the many nuances of a simple word, in fact I tended to find that the simpler the word the more widely it was used.

wrimg014The scanned page shown above is the mind map representing hard/soft. This has been a useful process and although I won’t be using most of the ideas it has helped spot potential images.

Having created these mind maps I began to home in on some potential pairs. I created an initial list of matched pairs and then began exploring locations that might provide images that fitted in with my ideas. I began to visualise some images and set out to search them out and in other cases I felt that a particular location or situation might work for certain pairs. Of course many of the visualised images were disappointing and some locations were fruitless but the process of planning, then seeking an image sometimes allowed me to develop a potentially better idea.

One useful visit was to an industrial museum where I hoped to find machinery that offered the opportunity to capture shapes that might work for example with rounded/diagonal, curved/straight, strong/weak and heavy/light. I expected that the most obvious contrasts available would be the physical ones such as size, texture and shape.

1/100 at f/1.8 ISO 2800

Fig. 2 – 1/100 at f/1.8 ISO 2800

As the museum was indoors with very limited natural light it was challenging to manage the light but this helped to focus on shapes. I captured a series of images that were processed and assesses. This gave me half a dozen ideas that might work which I printed as rough drafts, and noting ideas about angles, lighting and compositions.

For example in fig. 2, which might have worked for rounded, the wheels needed more light bottom left, perhaps a reflector, to bring the first wheel out of such deep shadow.

The wheels are old and highly textured so light across the surface will bring that out. It also needs enough depth of field to have all the layers of wheels in focus but not so much that the very angular background comes into focus.

1/100 at f/1.8 ISO 1000

Fig 3 – 1/100 at f/1.8 ISO 1000

Another idea for rounded was to find as many rounded objects as possible interacting with each other. Fig. 3 is one example of many. By getting in close I am trying to take the viewer away from seeing an old steam engine and just to see the shapes. I have noted to try this again with a more acute angle to see if it possible to show the rounded boiler more clearly.

Fig. 4 - 1/125 at f/2.8 ISO 8063

Fig. 4 – 1/125 at f/2.8 ISO 8063

Fig 4. is a different idea for rounded taken in the same location.

I took several shots of these very distinctively shaped stairs that sweep round about the exhibits. I liked the idea of the people rounding the corner as well as the rounded structure of the stair case. The light was difficult with a skylight above and the dark underneath of the stairs which I felt was essential to the image . I have used the HDR Toning function in Photoshop to balance out the shadows and highlights to show the structure of the staircase. This nearly works for me it is insipid.

I tried this technique after reading Michael Freemen’s blog post “HDR Revisted”  where he makes the point that HDR does not have to be extreme and is a way of dealing with the often impossible light conditions inside buildings where outside facing windows are essential to the composition. Obviously fig. 4 is not true HDR as it is based on a single image but it was interesting to try to balance of the light this way.

Fig. 5 – 1/125 at f/2.8 ISO 900

There was no shortage of diagonals on the old engines. Fig. 5 is one example, I liked the strong diagonal bottom left to top right and the lesser ones at the top.

I used a an on-camera flash hence the flash reflection to the right. My notes for this were to look for a framing that included the red junctions at top and bottom and to try working with natural light or a reflector. This and a number of other images also made me think about using off camera flash to bring light in from different angles.

Fig. 6 - 1/100 at f/5.6 ISO 18,000

Fig. 6 – 1/100 at f/5.6 ISO 18,000

One of the strongest images on that first visit was of a stone grinding wheel. I felt the key to a photograph of this wheel would be angled light to bring out the texture. It could work as an image for rough.

A second visit to the museum allowed me to test a focussed number of ideas.

Fig. 7 - 1/100 at f/5.6 ISO 400 with diffused off camera flash

Fig. 7 – 1/100 at f/5.6 ISO 400 with diffused off camera flash

Fig. 7 was a development of the ideas of the stairs and the iron wheels. Starting out as “rounded” it became “curved” with the inclusion of the stairs. At one level I like this image, the curves work well being on two planes, vertical and horizontal but there is also a lot of straight lines and I am still unhappy with the lighting. I used an off-camera flash gun with a small diffuser and tried it in a variety of positions but the very black surface of the wheel was a magnet for blown out highlights and this is distracting. The light did not bring out the texture of the iron. It did not make the cut and I have subsequently moved onto a different idea for both curved and rounded but I have learnt something about using flash on this sort of subject.

Fig. 8 - 1/60 at f/5.6 ISO 100 diffused off-camera flash

Fig. 8 – 1/60 at f/5.6 ISO 100 diffused off-camera flash

Fig. 8 is another image that went to the reject pile but that I enjoyed planning and working on. I had seen the hook with the tensioned cable on my first visit. It is about 3 metres off the ground and has the lights of the museum roof above it. The built in flash gun I used on my first visit has not allowed me to isolate the hook from the background so I wanted to try again with a much stronger light from the side and below. I think there is some merit in the result, the tension on the cable and the strong diagonal line through the whole subject was intended to give me “strong”. However, like most of the museum photos it is a too obvious interpretation.

Other ideas that seemed good on paper but week in practice include my hard and soft combination where I wanted the contrast of hard and soft wheels, or seats or suspension. I tried a variety of shots of steam rollers, vintage cars and iron clad cart wheels but have not found angles that offer anything beyond a photo of a wheel.

Fig 9. - 1/60 at f/5.6 ISO 100 off-camera flash

Fig 9. – 1/60 at f/5.6 ISO 100 off-camera flash

Fig. 9 is one of the better examples where I was trying to get tyres and suspension into the same composition. Unfortunately all of the shots says things like “vintage car” or “old” and not hard or soft.

The two trips to the museum have achieved a lot. I use off-camera flash, in a soft box, to bring out the texture when I photograph food and taking this technique on-the-road was a useful learning experience. I have one shot which I am planning to include in my final pieces that is all about texture and came as a direct result of planning, taking test shots and returning to the same location with a planned image in mind. The fact that most of the other ideas fell short of my expectations was also helpful as it showed the gap between the idea and its execution. On balance  by selection this location I saw too many unimaginative and limited interpretations of the word pairs.

My next phase would be to look at quite different subjects.


Michael Freemen’s blog post “HDR Revisted

Aaron Siskind quotation –

Exercise 11 Vertical and Horizontal Frames Part 2

1/100 at f/20 ISO 400

1/100 at f/20 ISO 400

This is the second half of my log for this exercise and starts with pair 9.

Pairs 1 to 8 are discussed in Exercise 11 Vertical and Horizontal frames Part 1.

As found with the first 8 pairs I was seeking vertical subjects so in most cases the vertical version is better than the horizontal. With this set there are, at least, two failures where I did not do justice to the subject in either format.

I enjoyed this exercise even though it is the most work of any exercise so far with a large amount of sorting, editing and summarising to complete. It was also a challenge, which of course I didn’t achieve, to capture 40 interesting shots in an afternoon.

It reminded me of an Ansel Adams quote ” Twelve significant photographs in any year is a good crop.”

Pair 9 The Towers

Fig 01 - 1/800 at f/4 ISO 100

Fig 01 – 1/800 at f/4 ISO 100

Chichester Cathedral has a separate Bell Tower to the North West side so it is possible to capture this, the North West Tower and the Central Tower in one wide angled shot.

These three tall buildings seemed a perfect subject for a vertical frame and fig. 01 does work reasonably well. The line to the right balancing the single tower to the left.

Fig. 02, the horizontal version, works better. The framing has allowed me to capture the bulk at the bases of the towers and this creates a feeling of great size and weight that is lacking from fig 01.

Vehicles were parked between the towers that I didn’t want in the shot without them there might have been a stronger composition available.

Fig 02 - 1/1000 at f/4 ISO 100

Fig 02 – 1/1000 at f/4 ISO 100

Pair 10 The Doors

Fig. 03 - 1/125 at f/7.1 ISO 3200

Fig. 03 – 1/125 at f/7.1 ISO 3200

The glass doors of the cathedral made an interesting composition with the vergers standing to greet visitors.

In fig. 03 I have intentionally stayed just off a silhouette  as I think the faint tone of the inner wall adds a little to the composition. The idea seems to work but the silhouettes of the two people are lifeless.

In Fig. 04 there is a more interesting scene developing in front of the doors and as a result it is a better photograph but the wide, dark expanses to the sides are unnecessary and apart from the lit stand add nothing.

To test whether the failure of fig. 03 was the subject rather than the frame I cropped fig. 04 into fig. 05.

Fig. 04 - 1/125 at f7.1 ISO 1600

Fig. 04 – 1/125 at f7.1 ISO 1600

Fig. 05 - 1/125 at f7.1 ISO 1600

Fig. 05 – 1/125 at f7.1 ISO 1600

Fig.05 is the best composition of the three.

It is tighter on the doors than fig. 03 and has none of the dark distractions in fig. 04. The two vergers are distinct and separated from the visitor and I like the word “donations” that is lit up to the right.

The chandelier works well both symmetrically and as a balance to the bright backlight on the doors.

Vertical therefore wins the day because it better fits the shape of the subject.

Pair 11 Pondering

The cathedral grounds were being used for a sleep-over to draw attention to the homeless and people were building their shelters. This pair of shots of a man pondering how to make his temporary shelter hold together are not strong images but they do show that using a horizontal frame on this subject caused a number of compositional challenges.

The subject has faded into obscurity against a dull background. Fig. 06 is not a great shot but at least the subject is obvious.

Fig. 06 - 1/100 at f20 ISO 1000

Fig. 06 – 1/100 at f20 ISO 1000

Fig. 07 - 1/100 at f20 ISO 1000

Fig. 07 – 1/100 at f20 ISO 1000

Pair 12 Blue Tent

Fig. 08 - 1/125 at f7.1 ISO 560

Fig. 08 – 1/125 at f7.1 ISO 560

Fig 09 - 1/125 at f7.1 ISO 450

Fig 09 – 1/125 at f7.1 ISO 450

Fig 10 - 1/125 at f7.1 ISO 450

Fig 10 – 1/125 at f7.1 ISO 450

I liked the blue tent images far more when I took them than I did when I reviewed them. The horizontal version is cluttered with no clear subject, the man is looking away and the baby has climbed in front of the women. The subject appears suited to a horizontal frame but it has not worked as an image.

The original vertical version at fig.09 is equally weak. The man is in a better position but it was difficult to frame this well. The grass and the building add nothing.

Fig. 10, which is the strongest of a week set is a crop of fig.09. The vertical frame is now working better and the man becomes a more interesting subject but it is still an untidy photograph with uncomfortable dynamics. The man wold be better to the left but then we would have the legs of the women in shot so it is at best a compromise.

Pair 13 Fast Food

Fig 11 - 1/100 at f/20 ISO 400

Fig 11 – 1/100 at f/20 ISO 400

I am very pleased with fig.11. I had already taken the landscape shot of the fast food wagon while these two tourists were buying their hotdogs and realised that there might be a shot of them walking away. I got into position just in time to catch this image. I have thought long and hard whether crop it in post production but have eventually decided to leave it exactly as captured. The man is very tight to the left but I like the sequence of him and the women looking at their food then the wagon to the left and the street disappearing into the distance. I think the balance has worked with the subjects right at the front with a deep, in focus, background. The initial shot was a little over exposed so I have adjusted the exposure by 1/2 a stop in Camera Raw and then by using a mask put different curves on the sky and the street. I think this image has a 3D feel.

The horizontal shot, shown at fig.12 below, is obviously from a quite different angle. the cart and the queue of customers were the right subject for a landscape frame whilst the two tourists with their hotdogs worked best in portrait. I think that these are a strong pair.

Fig. 12 - 1/100 at f/20 ISO 1600

Fig. 12 – 1/100 at f/20 ISO 1600

Pair 14 PC 559

Fig 13 - 1/125 at f/7.1 ISO 900

Fig 13 – 1/125 at f/7.1 ISO 900

Cheerful policeman obviously get assigned to manning the police tent and PC 554 was a jovial loooking character.

In fig. 13 he is framed effectively by the white tent and is smiling out of the picture. An adequate shot but not especially interesting.

In fig. 14 he is placed in context and we can see that he is sharing a joke with two others.

The horizontal image tells the more interesting story.

There is an intriguing balance in fig. 14 with two frames within frames. It takes two glances to realise that it is one, not two, photographs, It would have been good to have something linking the two frames.

Fig. 14 - 1/125 at f/7.1 ISO 500

Fig. 14 – 1/125 at f/7.1 ISO 500

Pair 15 Fracking

Fig 15 - 1/125 at f/7.1 ISO 1600

Fig 15 – 1/125 at f/7.1 ISO 1600

Fig 16 - 1/125 at f/7.1 ISO 900

Fig 16 – 1/125 at f/7.1 ISO 900

Fig. 15 and fig 16 are two alternative vertical framings of a protester by the old market.  Fig. 15 was more spontaneous as he had just spotted me with the camera and raised his placard to ensure it was in the shot. By the time I shot fig 16 he was posing and staring right into the lens. Fig 15 is well balanced with the three other people in shot but I included fig. 16 as it is a better study of the placard man.

However, fig 17 works better than either with the lady to the left and the man with his back to us engaged with the placard man and balancing him and the sign. In this instance the more interesting frame was horizontal.

Fig. 18 - 1/125 at f/7.1 ISO 450

Fig. 17 – 1/125 at f/7.1 ISO 450

Pair 16 Bench and Child

Fig. 18 - 1/125 at f/7.1 ISO 100

Fig. 18 – 1/125 at f/7.1 ISO 100

The man on the bench was watching the toddler make her way past. He is sitting in a patch of sunlight and this seems to emphasise his role in the image.

The problem here is that this is a horizontal photograph in a vertical frame and most of the information in the top half of the picture is irrelevant. More thoughtful use of DoF might have helped.

In fig. 19, even though the little girl has moved past the best spot, there is far less distracting detail and a good balance with the two subjects at either end of the bench.

Definitely a horizontal subject.

Fig. 19 - 1/160 at f/7.1 ISO 100

Fig. 19 – 1/160 at f/7.1 ISO 100

Pair 17 Two Men on Bench

Fig. 20 - 1/160 at f/7.1 ISO 100

Fig. 20 – 1/160 at f/7.1 ISO 100

A new character appeared on the bench, seemingly loaded with shopping and ready for a rest.

Fig. 20 is balanced and well lit but it suffers from the same problems as the previous vertical composition.

The man on the left has now become aware of my presence and this makes the shot a little more interesting.

In fig. 21 there is better composition but I find that this shot works less well that the photo with the little girl. This might just be the subtle balances of the background or the fact that in fig. 19 there appeared to be a connection between the man and the girl whereas in fig. 21 there are two independent subjects.

Fig. 21 - 1/160 at f/7.1 ISO 100

Fig. 21 – 1/160 at f/7.1 ISO 100

Pair 18 The Old Market

Fig. 21 - 1/1000 at f/4 ISO 400

Fig. 22 – 1/1000 at f/4 ISO 400

The old market at the junction of the four main streets is one of Chichester’s landmarks. This seemed to work better in monochrome. I processed it to create strong contrasts on the clock face and the small bust. the two towers balance each other and are well linked by the roof of the market.

I endeavoured to process fig. 23 to have similar contrasts but I find the vertical frame the stronger image.

Fig. 22 - 1/1000 at f/4 ISO 400

Fig. 23 – 1/1000 at f/4 ISO 400

Pair 19 Two

Fig. 24 - 1/1250 f/2.2 ISO 100

Fig. 24 – 1/1250 f/2.2 ISO 100

For the last photograph in Chichester I have chosen this couple on a bench. I initially thought that the police car would dominate the shot but I now feel that it does no harm and potentially creates a line to the subjects. They are deep in conversation and oblivious to the camera.

They moved immediately after this shot so I have selected fig. 25 as the counterpoint.

A very different couple on the next bench along the street. He is totally focussed on his phone and I could have stayed and photographed him for 15 minutes and I don’t think he would have noticed me. The dog is staring into the distance and creates a satisfying composition.

The background is messy but I found that cropping detracted from the line of the two benches so my compromise was to settle for this composition. I find that combining interesting subjects with non intrusive backgrounds is a challenge with street photography and probably why so many street images are tightly cropped. This sort of image, fig 25, appeals to me most with either a very busy or an empty street. Two or three stray people standing still often make the worst backgrounds.

I keep thinking that there is a potential collection of street images to be made exclusively featuring people interacting with their smart phones as that seems to be more common that interacting face to face with other people.

Fig 26 - 1/1250 at f/4 ISO 100

Fig 26 – 1/1250 at f/4 ISO 100

Pair 20 The Avenue

Fig 26 - 1/100 at f/14 ISO 2500

Fig 27 – 1/100 at f/14 ISO 2500

The last image was taken in Farnham Park the next morning. This avenue of trees made an interesting final test of vertical and horizontal.

The vertical composition is not without merit but I found that I needed to be quite a distance from this particular group of trees to create good shapes leading in from the top.

It is obviously another very symmetrical composition but I like the way the single bench breaks up the balance.

For fig 28 I stayed in much the same place but moved the path left of centre.

I prefer the horizontal composition which makes more of the lone bench.

Fig 28 - 1/100 at f/14 ISO 1250

Fig 28 – 1/100 at f/14 ISO 1250

Exercise 11 Vertical and Horizontal Frames Part 1

The Cathedral Choir at Practice 1/30 at f/7.1 ISO 12800

The Cathedral Choir at Practice 1/30 at f/7.1 ISO 12800

My log for this exercise is split across two posts – Part 1 and Part 2 as, after the 8th pair, it became too combersome to scroll up and down the blog editor.

For this exercise I visited Chichester, a beautiful small city near to the south coast in Sussex. Many of the images are taken in and around the medieval cathedral and the streets that lead off from it. I would like to express my thanks to the verger for giving me permission to photograph inside.

We were asked to take 20 vertically framed photographs and then to take the same scenes with a horizontal frame. I did not follow this exact sequence as I found that I wanted to capture the images vertically then horizontally or, on a few occasions the other way round. This worked better for me as I wanted to include some street photographs in my set.

To avoid changing lenses too often inside the cathedral I used two camera bodies. I kept a telephoto 55 – 200mm lens on a DX body and swapped between a 24 to 70mm mid-range zoom and a 50mm prime lens on a FX body. The DX images all tend to have far more grain partly because of the slower lens and partly because of the lower grade sensor.

I subsequently supplemented the collection with some images captured in Farnham Park the next morning and at a crossroads near my home. The variety of these locations, from cathedral interiors, to street scenes to a quiet park allowed me to explore the exercise in varied surroundings and with varied subjects. I was seeking subjects for a vertical composition so on balance it is the vertical frame that works better in nearly every case although a number of the horizontals are on a par.

Pair 1 – The Sign

1/1600 at f/1.8 ISO 100

Fig. 01 – 1/1600 at f/1.8 ISO 100

I will start with the last image I captured.

Whilst out watching the evening sky change colour and capturing some potential images for exercise 10, I looked the other way to see how the light was changing on the landscape. This very ordinary, old fashioned, road sign caught my eye and is an interesting study in a vertical frame, the light is perfect and I like the balance between the white, crossed sign and the dark foliage.

Overall I like the tight horizontal crop on the subject which allows the eye to see the little points of detail such as the rust but the sigh should have been a little lower in the frame.

Fig. 02 - 1/1250 at f/1.8 ISO 100

Fig. 02 – 1/1250 at f/1.8 ISO 100

I think the sign is less successful in a horizontal frame but there are positives. Less foliage beneath the sign than in fig. 01 is an improvement, probably because the featureless dark area is significantly reduced, and I am comfortable with the spacial balance between the light sign and the dark foliage and sky. The subject still seems to be the focal point but I am more drawn to its overall shape rather than the detail.

Pair 2 – High Street

Fig. 03 - 1/125 at f/7.1 ISO 2800

Fig. 03 – 1/125 at f/7.1 ISO 2800

Images of apparent loneliness in a busy place are always interesting. This man appeared to be deep in thought sitting in a quiet corner. The image is strengthened because the pavement was momentarily empty. I chose to process this in black and white as the colour in the original was playing no role, his jacket was black, the front of the shop was black and his face was better defined in monochrome. The vertical framing works well and is balanced and proportional to the subject. It also enabled me to isolate the subject which fitted the idea of loneliness. I see a balance between the man, the bollard to the left and the shop window. On the negative side the image is flat toned, I would have liked his face to be more prominent.

Fig. 05 - 1/125 at f/7.1 ISO 3600

Fig. 04 – 1/125 at f/7.1 ISO 3600

Moments later the pavement became busy again but he remains isolated. The horizontal frame adds nothing to the image and the overall balance has been lost.

I saw the seat as a lead to the subject but, as a result, I have positioned him too centrally. Poor framing and overall a disappointing image.

Fig. 05 - 1/125 at f/7.1 ISO 3600

Fig. 05 – 1/125 at f/7.1 ISO 3600

To see whether the image could be improved I cropped Fig. 04 into a square frame. It works better as it gives a balance between the man and the legs to the right but his face is too high in the frame. Although I prefer his expression in fig. 04 and fig. 05 the vertical frame works best.

Pair 3 – The Saint

Fig. 06 - 1/100 at f/2.2 ISO 3200

Fig. 06 – 1/100 at f/2.2 ISO 3200

Working inside buildings is always challenging but the potential to use very high ISO and to still get pleasing results is a real benefit of modern DSLR cameras. Initially the tomb appeared to be more suited to a horizontal frame but the stonework canopy is well linked to the reclining saint by the little upright statue above his head and overall the composition works well.

Fig. 07 - 1/100 at f/2.2 ISO 2800

Fig. 07 – 1/100 at f/2.2 ISO 2800

I wanted to use the gold strip and the body as a line through the composition with the hands, backlit by reflected light, as the focal point. It was not successful and the space above the saint has become a void. Stepping back might have included the stone canopy but the subject would have been lost in the frame.

This is an interesting pair and a good example of the need to consider vertical framing even when the subject is predominantly horizontal. I much prefer the vertical frame.

Fig. 08 - 1/100 at f/2.2 ISO 3200

Fig. 08 – 1/100 at f/2.2 ISO 3200

My first post production edit had slightly dull and flat tones which always seem worse when the image has been reduced for the web so I returned to look at increasing the vibrance and in the end just increased the brightness and contrast a little for fig. 06.

Fig. 08 is an alternative processing using the PS6 HDR Tonal adjustment. This has enhanced the shades and tones of the marble and added a glisten to the gold. It has, however, reduced the prominence of the saint’s hands and face.

Pair 4 Flags

Fig. 09 - 1/125 at f/7.1 ISO 2200

Fig. 09 – 1/125 at f/7.1 ISO 2200

Fig. 10 - 1/125 at f/7.1 ISO 1600

Fig. 10 – 1/125 at f/7.1 ISO 1600

The frayed old flags of Hampshire regiments hang in one of the side chapels of the cathedral and offered an contrast to the stained glass windows.

Neither framing is wholly convincing but the vertical option with the tighter crop on the flags creates less dark spaces.

Pair 5 Sculpture

Fig. 11 - 1/100 at f/2.8 ISO 2000

Fig. 11 – 1/100 at f/2.8 ISO 2000

An artist, Randy Klein, was exhibiting his sculptures in the North Transept and I caught this moment of conversation between the artist, standing right, and the owner of a sculpture park. It was a quickly taken shot to capture the two men without any other visitors in the background. A little more space to the left and below the large sculpture might have created a better frame as I find the left of the image too tight but overall this works reasonably well and I like the subjects’ body language which seems to show a buyer/seller relationship, or in a different setting it could be a teacher/pupil.

Fig. 12 - 1/100 at 7.1 ISO 12.800

Fig. 12 – 1/100 at 7.1 ISO 12.800

Fig. 12 is an alternative verticaly framed image taken with a different camera as I first entered the transept. I liked the display of small works leading to the two men but the statue to the left feels pushed into them and I would have liked some space at the centre of the frame.

At ISO 12,800 this is a very grainy image without the grain adding anything significant to the atmosphere of the photograph.

Fig 13 below is taken with the same camera and lens as fig 12 and again there is significant grain because of the high ISO but I like the effect it has on the image.

The composition is far better balanced and there is much more of a sense of an exhibition than was captured in either of the vertical frames. There is a good balance across the composition from cathedral sculptural detail to metal sculpture to the conversation with the visitor. Fig 11 and 13 both work.

Fig. 13 - 1/80 at f/7.1 12800 ISO

Fig. 13 – 1/80 at f/7.1 ISO 12800

Pairs 6, 7 & 8 The Choir

Fig. 14 - 1/100 f/2.8 ISO 5000

Fig. 14 – 1/100 f/2.8 ISO 2800

Fig. 15 - 1/100 at f/2.8 ISO 5000

Fig. 15 – 1/100 at f/2.8 ISO 5000

The choir was rehearsing and I took three pairs of photographs from various positions in the nave. In the first pair, fig. 14 and fig.15 I wanted to frame the choir and the brightly lit screen behind the altar with the stone work of the building. the vertical frame gives far greater prominence to the choir and the symmetrical framing is obvious but not unpleasant. I should have been brave enough to move the chair and the music stand but I already felt a little bit conspicuous photographing the choir.

The horizontal frame is much more a photograph of the building with the choir and the screen adding a little shape and colour. I wanted to retain the symmetrical design of the vertical image  and the effect is passable but it risks being a photograph of nothing in particular. Some post production processing to bring out the shapes of the stonework might help.

Fig. 16 - 1/40 at f/7/1 ISO 12800

Fig. 16 – 1/40 at f/7/1 ISO 12800

For fig. 16 I moved much closer and used a slower, telephoto lens on my second camera, hence the dramatic increase in ISO.

This was a difficult image to process as the bright lights threatened to burn out but I persevered and balanced out this result just because of the face of the boy to the left and the two mothers in the background.

It is probably still too dark to the lower right and the choir mistress’ dress might still benefit from a bit of dodging but I really like the line of light on the the faces along her left hand side.

Fig 17. is the partner to fig. 16 and to create this composition I moved slightly to my left and focussed on the group of boys and the adult to the right.

Fig. 17 - 1/40 at f/7.1 ISO 12800

Fig. 17 – 1/40 at f/7.1 ISO 12800

This shot is still about the various expressions of the boys and the watching adult. I like the balance and left the image intentionally dark as it seemed to be an appropriate atmosphere for the subject.

Fig 18 - 1/30 at f/7.1 ISO 12800

Fig 18 – 1/30 at f/7.1 ISO 12800

In Fig. 18 I wanted to capture as much of the brightly lit screen as possible to put the choir firmly in their setting. This is my favourite composition of the choir shots, the singing boys to the right looking into the frame, the choir mistress on her stool and the strong colours of the screen all work well. I reduced the highlights in PS6 to bring strong colour to the screen but keep the lighting subdued and catherdral-like on the overall image.

Fig. 19 - 1/50 at f7.1 ISO 12800

Fig. 19 – 1/50 at f7.1 ISO 12800

For Fig.19 I wanted to include the row of lights on the left going right back to the screen and to do this I had to include the ugly back of the unit to the bottom left, this is a distraction and spoils the composition. It might have worked better to crop tighter on the mistress and the choir.

Exercise 10 Positioning the Horizon

1/200 at f/4 ISO 100

1/200 at f/4 ISO 100

My efforts for this exercise had a few false starts as weather and poor choice of locations prevented me capturing useful images on two occasions. I arrived home earlier than normal yesterday evening and was welcomed by a beautiful evening and so was able to take an appropriate set of images locally.

The exercise asks for a clear and unbroken horizon which is hard to find so I have selected a horizon which is clear and only broken by the undulation of the hills and a few trees, a typical scene on the Surrey and Hampshire borders.

Within the constraints of the exercise I endeavoured to capture four images that were as interesting as possible. Simply moving the horizon and the declaring the result to be poor seemed unhelpful. I always work in RAW to allow the greatest scope for post production work and, with these four images, that was important. In each case I created an inverted “S” curve on the foreground and then, with the exception of fig. 4 I used a mask to set a curve on the sky to darken the blues and to minimise burnt out highlights. There was also a bit of dodge and burn. I spent enough time on this to create images for display on a monitor or the web but it would take a little longer to do this really well and I do not believe the images are good enough to warrant that much effort.

1/1000 at f/3.5 ISO 100

Fig. 1 – 1/1000 at f/3.5 ISO 100

Fig.1. In this shot I have retained enough foreground to give some depth to the photograph. The sky is the best feature but I failed to get a good colour into the blues and overall it is a poor composition. This sky does not justify this amount of the frame.

Fig 2 1/1000 at f/3.3 ISO 100

Fig 2 – 1/1000 at f/3.3 ISO 100

Fig. 2. This is a better balance, although the immediate foreground is plain there is a nice light on the grass and the hedge to the left. The sky has some tonal variation and the pylon is starkly graphic against the clouds.

Fig. 3 - 1/400 at f3.5 ISO 100

Fig. 3 – 1/400 at f3.5 ISO 100

Fig. 3. The first point to get out the way is that this is a careless exposure. I had been using a wide aperture to take unrelated photos in the other direction whilst waiting for the light to fall in the way I wanted across the foreground. I should have significantly increased the depth of field to ensure that the foreground was sharply in focus. I find the blur distracting.

In terms of the horizon I find this a well balanced shot. It is probably just about 1/3 v 2/3 and the pylon neatly fits the sky. something more interesting in the foreground would have helped the composition and I had been hopeful that the sun would reach some part of the oast houses.

As mentioned previously, Thomas Smith (1797), the person credited with coining the phrase “the rule of thirds”  said that, in the paintings of the old masters, the sky often occupied a third and the land two thirds, and he found this ratio of two thirds to one third more pleasing that the precise formal half or any other proportion. In this case I agree.

Fig. 4 - 1/160 at f/3.5 ISO 100

Fig. 4 – 1/160 at f/3.5 ISO 100

Fig. 4. The sky is irrecoverably burnt out and an interesting foreground and light on the oast houses would have made this image work better. The position of the horizon would work for the right shot as there is real depth to the image. I like the way the shapes of the hills which are topped with sunlight, the strips of sun and shade and the converging lines all emphasise that the buildings have been tucked into a fold of the hills. The texture in the foreground is helpful as a counter point to the smooth textures of the more distant hills.

Each of the framing exercises have underlined good principles about selection. It is clearly vital to instinctively select the right framing especially when the light is changing quickly and the best shot might only be available for a few seconds.

I like to think that, in the past, I have regularly used the position of the horizon creatively and the sky is an exciting subject if there is just enough foreground to provide a sense of place or an appropriate balance. I also like low angled shots using a deep foreground to lead into the subject and have found this especially useful when photographing hills and mountains.