Tag Archives: Contrast

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

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 – http://photography.about.com