Tag Archives: Daylight Flash

Exercise 40 – A Narrative Picture Essay

Fig. 01 The Full Loxwood Joust Five Page Spread

Fig. 01 The Full Loxwood Joust Five Page Spread

Exercise 40 calls for a picture essay of an event. I chose to cover the Loxwood Joust, a battle reenactment, medieval fair and joust held in the village of Loxwood, Sussex in August 2014. This event offered a variety of subjects but, for the photo essay, I concentrated on the first of two re-enactments and the joust as these offered the most colour and action. It would have been possible to add another page of store holders and perhaps a page of spectators but I decided to keep to an opening page and two double page spreads.

Fig 1 shows the layout of the spreads as if displayed in a magazine. I have not added any text other than the opening title which is arguably an unrealistic presentation but I was more concerned with practicing editing, selecting and displaying a story in a disciplined manner that writing about the event.

I am still researching the subject of narrative but, even at this early stage I am struck by the plethora of different terms used by various writers and the variety of interpretations of those terms. Harold Evans, in Pictures on a Page *(1), notes that the phrase photo story and photo essay are “used interchangeably in newspapers and magazines” but that an “essay [is] preferred by photographers who want to give themselves artistic airs”. He offers the following definitions:

The Picture Story: is essentially narrative, the record of a single event or aspect of it, or a simple chronology. It may imply a comment but it is descriptive rather than declarative.

The Picture Essay: is not confined by time or event. The essay will argue and analyse rather than narrate: it will make points.

Michael Freeman, in The Photographer’s Story *(2), says that the photo essay was a term coined by Life Magazine in 1937 to promote the “photographic story as an advanced form that went beyond a collection of pictures”. His definitions, which seem to conflict, at least in part, with Evans, are:

The Picture Story: photographs can be harvested from many sources.

The Picture Essay: implies a single vision and the work of one photographer shooting in a consistent style.

Putting this confusion to one side for later discussion it is perhaps more important to focus on the word narrative which seems to be more universally understood to mean the telling of a story. David Campbell, in his talk on narrative *(3), is very clear that “narrative is an account of connected events” so whether we wish to give ourselves “airs” and call this an essay or settle for it being a story is neither here nor there.

Loxwood Joust is the story of a day in a rather pretty corner of the Sussex countryside, it is not the whole day because all narrative is about inclusion and exclusion; Ian Fleming might have been less successful if each of Bond’s love scenes was preambled by a detailed description of the bedroom wallpaper and the exact dimensions of the bed. I have selected the best bits of the story that could be fitted into five pages. The twenty four photos are not necessarily the best I took on the day but they appear to tell the story; however, as Evans points out the photographer is potentially the least qualified person to make the selection. He refers to Michael Rand who was once the Art Director at The Sunday Times Magazine who believed that photographer’s do not know their best pictures, “they get too involved with them. They try and tell you what the picture is saying…. if I can’t see it I don’t want it explained.”

So, Loxwood Joust is my selection of photographs laid out in picture story style but without text or context. They attempt to tell a story by:

  • Introducing the cast and thereby giving the story a face;
  • showing two mock conflicts for the sake of dramatic effect.
  • suggesting a chronological sequence that closes with the participants leaving the field.

Technique and Thoughts for the Future

Most of the portraits were taken with daylight flash, a technique I have been practicing ever since reviewing Martin Parr’s Last Resort. This technique is tricky, the flash gun needs to be constantly adjusted to increase and decrease its power as the light and the distance form the subject changes. However. it gives me more control when working against the clock, at an event like the Joust most of the characters are happy to be photographed but there is still limited opportunity for stage management to move people into the right light so being able to get fairly predictable and quick results regardless of the position of the sun is a real bonus. I also like the slightly 3D effect that the flash gun sometimes imparts.

The long range shots were taken with a 70 to 300mm lens. I sacrificed depth of field for speed but the left the ISO on auto so the camera was selecting exposures based on 100 ISO whenever it could. I now realise that I would have been better to set the ISO at 400 and gain a extra couple of stops of aperture and thereby have more often captured the nearest and furthest horse in focus. I was side on which was not ideal and a 45 degree angle would have probably reduced the need for depth of field and captured the moments of impact more effectively.

I researched the event as much as was possible but a site visit would have been useful and, in hindsight, I should have tried to get some sort of accreditation that would have allowed me better access to the arenas. For the battle I was able to get a prime spot but I was late arriving at the Joust arena and most of the ideal spots were taken.

This was only the second re-enactment I have been to and it is worth remembering that the participants are only too happy to be photographed. If you are willing to dress in medieval armour and fight a mock battle you are happy to have your picture taken. I enjoyed the close-up studies more than the battles and enjoyed the interaction with some colourful characters.

The Spreads

Fig. 02 The Opener

Fig. 02 The Opener

Fig. 03 Introducing the Cast and the Battle of Loxwood

Fig. 03 Introducing the Cast and the Battle of Loxwood

Fig. 04 The Joust Through to Close

Fig. 04 The Joust Through to Close

The Individual Pages

Fig. 02 The Opener

Fig. 05 The Opener

Fig. 05 Some of the Cast

Fig. 06 Some of the Cast

Fig. 06 The Battle of Loxwood

Fig. 07 The Battle of Loxwood

Fig. 08 The Joust

Fig. 08 The Joust

Fig. 09 Close

Fig. 09 Close


(1) Evans, Harold. (1979) Pictures on a Page: Photo-journalism, Graphics and Picture Editing. London: Book Club Associates.

(2) Freeman, (2012) The Photographer’s Story: The Art of Visual Narrative (Kindle Edition). Lewes: Ilex Press.


(3) Campbell, David. (2010) Photography and narrative: What is involved in telling a story? – http://www.david-campbell.org/2010/11/18/photography-and-narrative/

Campbell, David. Official Website – http://www.david-campbell.org

(3) Soundcloud, recorded by Matt Johnston. David Campbell – Narrative, Power and Responsibility – https://soundcloud.com/mattjohnston/david-campbell





Exercise 26 Measuring Exposure

Fig. 01 1/125 at f/9.5, ISO 140, with daylight flash

Fig. 01 1/125 at f/9.5, ISO 140, with daylight flash

Part  1 – Four to Six Phoptographs Which are Deliberately Lighter or Darker than Average

Fig. 01 is deliberately lighter. I have used a small flashgun on camera to fill in the shadows and to make the subject stand out from the background. The subject has his back to fairly early morning sun so his face would have been in shadow without the flash. To achieve this with artificial light I would have needed to expose for his face and this would have blown out the highlights in his hair. I have been experimenting with this technique after studying Martin Parr’s work (here). I am still a long way from finding the right background and foreground balance but overall I like the technique.

Fig. 02 Lion and Lamb Yard - 1/180 at f/8, -0.1 stop adjustment, ISO 100

Fig. 02 Lion and Lamb Yard – 1/180 at f/8, -0.1 stop adjustment, ISO 100

Fig. 02 is deliberately darker. I have underexposed by 1 stop to increase the colour saturation and to leave as much as detail as possible in the lighter areas of the pavement. I have sacrificed detail in the climbing plant on the right back wall but this could easily be brought back in Photoshop. The picture was taken in bright afternoon sun and, in my opinion, the automatic settings on the camera would have over-exposed the shot. When conditions are bright I will often, maybe even usually, under-expose by 1/3 or 1/2 a stop to increase saturation. This also has the benefit of capturing detail in the highlights so, if I want to adjust back to an average or over-exposed shot I have plenty of data to work with.

Fig. 03 Field in Crondall - 1/125 at f/16, ISO 100

Fig. 03 Field in Crondall – 1/125 at f/16, ISO 100

Fig. 03 is deliberately darker. I wanted the detail in the clouds to be retained and for the young crop to be spring green. I prefer a picture like this to be saturated and on the darker side of “average”. This highlights the fundamental problem with this exercise as there is obviously no possible definition of “average” in this context. There is a strong element of personal preference involved.

Fig. 04 Green Box - 1/125 at f11, ISO 1,100

Fig. 04 Green Box – 1/125 at f11, ISO 1,100

Different type of subject but fig. 04 is the same approach as fig. 03. It is deliberately darker with the intent of increasing saturation and to get the effect I was looking for with the strong colour of the red bricks and the green box.

Fig. 05 Fish Supper - 1/60 at f/16, ISO 100

Fig. 05 Fish Supper – 1/60 at f/16, ISO 100

Fig. 05 is deliberately lighter than average. It was taken using a flashgun in a cold-shoe soft box to the top left and two sets of small LEd light to the right to fill in some shadow. I have set out to blow out the plate to the left but to leave the food strongly coloured. It is in effect over lit and over exposed to get this effect.

Part 2 – Five Different Subjects x Five Exposures at 1/2 Stop Intervals

Fig. 06 Differing Exposures

Fig. 06 Differing Exposures

The above five subjects have all been bracketed at 1/2 stop intervals starting with -1 and ending with +1. There are no significant surprises. In full size I would prefer the -1/5 a stop to the +1/5 a stop and the “average” is generally acceptable. I have noticed that images prepared for the web are often better when slightly over exposed and I think this is the case with the flower and the letter box above although +1/3 of a stop would probably have been about right.



Experimenting With Daylight Flash

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Following my research into Martin Parr and Anna Fox I have been wanted to experiment with daylight flash. I am interested in how it give a three dimensional feel to an image by increasing the brightness of the foreground subject. I believe that Martin Parr also uses the technique to partially take natural light out of the equation which gives the photographer more flexibility to shoot the subject without too much concern over how they are naturally lit.

I have found a full sized flashgun and a diffuser (I use a Nikon SB-910 and a Rogue Flashbender reflector) too cumbersome to use when photographing in the street or in a casual setting. It is such a large rig that it also attracts too much attention. After reading a number of reviews I have purchased a Nikon SB-400 which is a fraction of the size, has head tilt and comes with a small plastic diffuser. This set-up is so small it is quite reasonable to leave it on the camera when out on a shoot and just switching the flashgun on when needed. Unlike the SB-910 the SB-400 has no controls but the amount of flash can be controlled on the camera.

1/125 at f/13, ISO 160

Fig. 01 1/125 at f/13, ISO 160

1/125 at f/11, ISO 110

Fig. 02 1/125 at f/11, ISO 110

In fig. 2 there is a noticeable increase in saturation although it also highlight the problem of including near and medium distance foreground. My grandson is reasonably well lit by the flash, his grandmother is not.

In fig. 1, with a single subject the lighting is far better.

1/125 at f/8, ISO 800

Fig. 03 1/125 at f/8, ISO 800

In fig.3 a different potential problem is highlighted. Because of the comparatively slow shutter speed any significant movement will be blurred. In this particular photo that adds to the picture but that will not always be the case.

1/125 at f/11, ISO 100

Fig. 04 1/125 at f/11, ISO 100

Fig. 4 is one of the best examples of the technique as it is not obvious that flash has been used but the subject stands out strongly from the background.

1/125 at f/8, ISO 100

Fig. 05 1/125 at f/8, ISO 100

Fig. 5 is the opposite effect with it being quite obvious that flash has been used but it is still effective as all initial attention is focussed on the subject.

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This second set is slightly different. They were all take behind the scenes at Trashion 2014, Sarum Academy’s annual fashion show of clothes made from re-cycled materials. Apart form one supervisor the hairdressers are all students undertaking a BTEC in hairdressing. There was still some natural light in the hairdressing room but, even with flash, I was using high ISOs to get a result.

1/125 at f11, ISO 1,800

Fig. 06 1/125 at f11, ISO 1,800

Fig. 6 is a good example where the foreground subjects stand out very effectively from the background.

1/125 at f11, ISO 1,250

Fig. 07 1/125 at f11, ISO 1,250

I like like the saturated colours and the subject in Fig. 7

Overall I am quite pleased with the results of both shoots, the small flashgun has just enough effect to focus attention on the subject and capture saturated colours but the best results were achieved on the sunny day outside.