Tag Archives: Exercise

Exercise 43 Illustration by Juxtaposition

Fig. 1 the Wheelwright's Shop Front Cover

Fig. 1 the Wheelwright’s Shop Front Cover

This exercise offer two options, either to design a book cover using a still life or to juxtapose a person with the result of their labour. As can be seen in fig. 1 my choice is the book cover.

The Book

The Wheelwright’s Shop (1) is linked, although not central, to my research for assignment 5 which is partly based on the writings of George Sturt. Sturt lived in the village where I grew up and was writing in the late 19th and early 20th century about life in rural Surrey at a time of great and rapid change. He had inherited The Wheelwright’s Shop from his father but his real love was writing and he handed over the business in 1891 to his foreman, whom he made a partner, and retired to his cottage in Lower Bourne to write a series of books and journals and to contribute to magazines such as Country Life.

The Wheelwright’s Shop, which he wrote in the period between 1884 and 1891 is widely regarded as his finest and most important work describing, in great detail, the complex processes involved in building wheels, carts, wagons and carriages. Sturt’s importance as a historical documentarian lies in his respect and admiration for the tradesmen employed in his business whom he describes as his friends. This elevates this book beyond being a technical journal through his descriptions of attitudes and life styles that bring the reader into close contact with the working man of the late 19th century.

The Cover

For my subject I chose two exhibits from Farnham Museum, the first is one of Sturt’s wheels and the other is from the collection of his tools that are currently on display. I wanted to design a cover that created an impression of a wheel being manufactured, creating a sense of past-times and suggestive of a craftsman’s bench. The juxtaposition is the completed wheel on one hand and the tools that might have made it on the other with the wood shavings acting as a link between the two.

The Process

Fig. 2 The Wheel - Original Photograph - 1/60 at f/20 with flash

Fig. 2 The Wheel – Original Photograph – 1/60 at f/20 with flash

Fig. 3 The Tools - Original Photograph - 1/60 at f/20 with flash

Fig. 3 The Tools – Original Photograph – 1/60 at f/20 with flash

  1. I started with two images, the wheel (fig. 2) and the tools (fig.3)
  2. They were both taken with the same exposure settings and a small on-camera flash gun, I used the same 24 to 70mm lens using my distance from the subject to achieve the difference in scale.
  3. I introduced the two photographs into photoshop as separate layers.
  4. My initial idea was to have the tools on top at about 80% opacity so that the wheel shoed through the tools but the result lacked any real punch.
  5. I then removed all the background from the wheel photo to give me a clean cut out and laid that over the tools.
  6. I adjusted the size of the wheel and moved the layer to create a compositional relationship between the tool handles and the wheel rim.
  7. Because it was a book cover the whole canvas had to be orientated vertically.
  8. For the text I wanted to use a font that reflected the time of the original book’s publication in 1923 and although Times New Roman, my final choice, wasn’t invented until 1932 it felt right.
  9. I added the text and created a mild 3D effect by copying the text layers, expanding the copies by 5% and changing the text colour to black. This gives a fine black line around the original white text which helps the text stand out without using any too modern techniques.

Sources

Books

(1) Sturt, George (1923) The Wheelwright’s Shop, 1963 edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Exercise 42 Illustration by Symbols

White Vanitas - Colour - 1/60 at f/14 , ISO 100

White Vanitas – Colour – 1/60 at f/14 , ISO 100

Symbolism has been used throughout the history of both commercial and art photography. In art many symbols have been carried forward from religious painting, especially from the vanitas movement which flourished in the Netherlands in the early 17th century. During my research for assignment 4 I looked at the types of symbolism used by these Dutch painters and how photographers such as William Henry Fox Talbot and Roger Fenton brought that tradition into photography with it later becoming the basis for a lot of Irving Penn’s work and how vanitas symbols are regularly found in the work of contemporary still life photographers including conceptual artists such as Mat Collishaw. Many of the symbols used by contemporary artists have their roots in traditional religious, and especially Christian, art for the simple reason that they are readily understood by both religious and non religious audiences or because they have become so universal they have transcended their original religious meaning and become a common secular symbol so, for example, the Archangel Michael who was historically depicted holding scales as the warrior-guardian of righteousness and justice becomes Lady Justice on the top of the Old Bailey.

Advertising, and therefore commercial photography, is hugely dependent upon symbolism either by using commonly recognised symbols such as the sun to suggest health, vigour or goodness when advertising orange juice or breakfast cereals, shields, gates and castles for insurance and for security services or roses for valentine day products. All these uses of visual symbols rely on the concept of semiotics, which in simple terms is a sign that stands for something else *(1). The idea of semiotics was first described by Ferdinand de Saussure, a Swiss linguist, who explained that it involves a sign, word or object, the signifier and a concept, idea or thought that is to be communicated, the signified. Semiotics is a broad and complex subject that will no doubt be a subject for in-depth study at a later date but at its heart our ability to communicate an idea through the use of a symbol relies upon either, an obvious association between that thought and the symbol, or a common acceptance of the meaning of the signifier. There are many symbols that have instantly recognised meanings in Western society, a dove or an olive branch for peace, a red cross for medical care or a dollar sign for money or wealth (even in countries that use the pound or the euro). However, these symbols can be interpreted differently by different societies and cultures so a red cross might evoke a negative response in the Middle East where it is associated with the crusades.

In effect we all carry a mental register of codes that allow us to interpret these signs to understand their intended meaning, and although these codes might vary between cultures, we are often sophisticated enough to combine the code with its context to identify alternate meanings. These codes are constantly evolving, partly because the advertising industry sets out to design and introduce new signifier / signified relationships through the use of symbols in the shape of logos or by the repeated use of specific images in close association with a product.

Through this process we not only decode MacDonalds and everything it stands for from a large yellow “M” we come to associate meerkats with a consumer choice portal or, for those of a certain age, tigers with petrol. Once such strong brand identities are established the most sophisticated advertising can move beyond advertising a dull and unexciting product such as home insurance and provide short entertaining mini-dramas that become an end in themselves but subtly  promote the product by making the audience feel connected or just good about the family story in a series of gravy adverts, the students obsessed with the speed of their internet connection or the lives of Russian meerkats.

At a more sophisticated level charities are especially prone to leverage preconceptions and, arguably, prejudices, to attract our donations. A black child with a fly on their face is code for suffering, illness and deprivation even though many healthy children all over the world will have a fly land on their face in the course of a day, try visiting the Australian bush in summer, and using dogs and cats in an advert for an animal charity at Christmas is more effective that the same advert used in mid-summer because it is coded as “a dog is not just for Christmas”, “people are acting badly during the season of goodwill”.

Photographers can draw on all these sources and code their images to communicate a message by appropriating established signifiers or inventing new ones that leverage established ideas. In some of my test pieces for assignment 4 I tried to use contemporary items as modern day vanitas symbols. This led me to use lipstick and stiletto heals to signify the vanity of the fashion industry but I mixed in traditional vanitas symbols such as plentiful fruit and watches in an attempt to suggest to the audience that all of the items in a still life needed to be interpreted in the context of vanitas.

This exercise suggests that we avoid clichés but the de-coding system we carry in our heads is reliant on our ability to instantly recognise and interpret symbolism in art or advertising. As a result there is a very thin line between a symbol being able to communicate the idea intended and it becoming a cliché. In practise a cliché is just a matter of timing, so the 1914 Lord Kitchener “Wants You” recruitment poster or “Keep Calm and Carry On” only became clichéd when they became over copied.

Growth

Avoiding plants, charts, upward pointing arrows and other common ideas:

  • I might try to photograph the wall in a house where parents have marked off their children’s height over time. The more dilapidated the wall the better, indicating that it has been left undecorated as a family treasure. This could provide a underlying message of love and nurture and sense of time passing.
  • On a similar theme a heap of, obviously discarded shoes of varying sizes might work.

Excess

  • Without wishing to appear obsessed with the subject all the traditional vanitas symbols work here, over-laden tables and so forth but, if I was planning to work on this subject again I would build on Mat Collishaw‘s ideas with his studies of American junk food. The concept of over sized portions and what we throw away offers powerful imagery.
  • Skips behind supermarkets and, a subject dear to my heart, all the food we dump in land fills that used to be fed to pigs because we have allowed government to over legislate to stop pork products being fed to pigs and cow products being fed to cows. As ever, we introduce new, sweeping, ill thought through laws instead of policing existing and sensible regulations.

Crime

  • I would look to go beyond symbols of crime and look for images of social situations that inevitably nurture crime. Disproportionate unemployment in areas with large populations of  ethnic minorities could provide interesting subjects.
  • The other angle might be crime waiting to happen such as open windows, keys in locks or visible purses in handbags.

Silence

  • A wealth of religious symbolism comes to mind and although this might verge on being clichéd it would rely on the image being strong enough to lift itself above the cliché. A lone monk walking towards an abbey or a simple altar in an empty church, someone praying alone in a church. Something with an Eleanor Rigby feel from Yellow Submarine might work so that loneliness was linked to silence. Note the use of a Beatles’ film as a source of symbolism.
  • Nearly any rural landscape with a pond if it is photographed with a long exposure so the surface is misty and perfectly smooth. Even a fisherman by a river might work.

Poverty

  • Probably a cliché but my first instinct would be to look for a juxtaposition of unnecessary wealth and extreme poverty. I spent many years in Asia and the images that still leap into my mind are slums next to Chinese graveyards where the dead were “living” in marble mausoleums and the living languished in huts made from flattened oil cans and packing cases.
  • If, it was to be a project, I would probably focus on rural poverty which is over-shadowed by the more obvious urban equivalent. The regular car boot sale in Aldershot would provide plenty of opportunities.

Sources

Internet

(1) Moriarty, Sandra. An Interpretive Study of Visual Cues in Advertising. http://spot.colorado.edu/~moriarts/viscueing.html

Chandler, David. Semiotics for Beginners. http://visual-memory.co.uk/daniel/Documents/S4B/sem01.html

Exercise 38 Concentrating Light

This is an exercise in concentrating light. I tried two techniques.

Honeycomb Grid

Fig. 01 Peppers - honeycomb grid directly overhead through hole in colour box - 1/60 at f/16, ISO 100

Fig. 01 Peppers – honeycomb grid directly overhead through hole in colour box – 1/60 at f/16, ISO 100 – flash 1/2 power

This shot used the same “colour box” as described in exercise 37. I placed a flashgun on a thin plastic grid diffuser over a hole and directly above the subject.

Fig. 02 Yellow Pepper - honeycomb grid directly overhead through hole in colour box - 1/60 at f/16, ISO 100

Fig. 02 Yellow Pepper – honeycomb grid directly overhead through hole in colour box – 1/60 at f/16, ISO 100 – flash 1/2 power

In fig. 02 the only difference is the addition of a reflective black acrylic sheet beneath the subject which bounces a small amount of light into the shadows.

Fig. 03 Broken Egg - diffused flashgun directly overhead through hole in colour box at 1/64 power and honeycomb grid by camera at 1/4 power - 1/60 at f/16, ISO 100

Fig. 03 Broken Egg – diffused flashgun directly overhead through hole in colour box at 1/64 power and honeycomb grid by camera at 1/4 power – 1/60 at f/16, ISO 100

For the final example using a honeycomb grid I have moved the flash gun with the grid to a position by the camera and placed a diffused flash gun at lower power directly overhead.

Snoot

Fig. 04 Tomatoes - diffused flashgun directly overhead through hole in colour box at 1/16 power and flash gun with snoot to left of  camera at 1/2 power - 1/60 at f/16, ISO 100

Fig. 04 Tomatoes – diffused flashgun directly overhead through hole in colour box at 1/16 power and flash gun with snoot by camera at 1/2 power – 1/60 at f/16, ISO 100

In fig. 04 I have used a snoot on the flash gun by the camera. There is just enough light from above to show the tomato at the back but the snoot is concentrating the light on the front faces of the subjects.

Fig. 05 Tomato - flashgun with snoot by camera at 1/2 power - 1/60 at f/16, ISO 100

Fig. 05 Tomato – flashgun with snoot by camera at 1/2 power – 1/60 at f/16, ISO 100

In the final example there is only the one light, a flash gun with snoot to the left of the camera.

Conclusion

A useful exercise that made me think about how to use a snoot and a honeycomb grid. For these type of subjects they offer interesting effects. I particularly like the grid from above as this emphasises the colour of the fruit and brings out interesting shapes and forms by casting such strong shadows.

Exercise 37 Contrast and Shadow Fill

Exercise 37 is about contrast and shadow fill. We are asked to use a simple still life subject and take a series of shots with and without diffusers and with and without reflectors.

For this exercise and for some of the other still life exercises I build a “colour box” modelled on the one used by David C. Halliday in his Colour Box Series and selected peppers as my subject. The colour box is a simple wooden box open at one end and with a hole cut in one side. the subject is placed in the box and lit through the hole.

Series 1 – With Diffusers

Fig. 01 Series 1 - With Diffusers

Fig. 01 Series 1 – With Diffusers

All the photographs are taken with an off camera flash gun. I tried a few different solutions to soften the light. The single diffuser (top left) is a thin piece of translucent plastic, the flash gun is on 1/2 power. This did not give enough softness so I added a small soft box and a photographic diffuser to the flash gun on 1/1 power (top right) and finally I tried adding thin plastic netting between the soft box and the plastic sheet (middle left) with the flash gun on 1/1 power.

Using the 3 x diffuser set-up and the flash gun on 1/1 power I tried three variations of reflector.

Fig. 02 Three Diffusers, Silver Foil Reflector and Flash Gun on 1/1 Power - 1/160 at F16, ISO 100

Fig. 02 Three Diffusers, Silver Foil Reflector and Flash Gun on 1/1 Power – 1/160 at F16, ISO 100

Fig. 02 was the most successful shot, there is enough reflected light yo show form and colour on the dark side and the overall colour has stayed strong.

Series 2 – No Diffusers

Fig. 03 Series 2 - No Diffusers

Fig. 03 Series 2 – No Diffusers

In each case the single flash gun is on 1/2 power. The flash gun is further from the subject so that the hole stayed black.

Fig. 02 No Diffusers, and No Reflector and Flash Gun on 1/2 Power - 1/160 at F16, ISO 100

Fig. 02 No Diffusers, and No Reflector and Flash Gun on 1/2 Power – 1/160 at F16, ISO 100

From this series my preference is the image with no reflectors. Even with the flash gun on 1/2 power when there are no diffusers there is enough light entering the box to bounce back from the rough grey painted surface of the side of the box.

Conclussion

Contrast – Hard light and no reflectors (just the grey box side) creates the blackest shadows and the most contrast

Reflection – The white card reflected more light than silver foil or a silver photo reflector

Spread – Diffused lights spreads more than hard light

Colour – The hard light seemed to emphasise the colour

Texture – With the hard light the texture of the inside of the box is more pronounced.

 

Exercise 36 The Lighting Angle

Fig. 01 African Head - 1/60 at f/16, ISO 100 speed light in softbox above subject

Fig. 01 African Head – 1/60 at f/16, ISO 100 speed light in softbox above camera

Exercise 36 is a useful exercise and has created a useful reference chart for the effects of a single diffused light.

Fig. 02 Lighting Comparison chart

Fig. 02 Lighting Comparison chart

Beyond the obvious effects of moving the light fore and aft and up and down the most interesting differences have occurred with the colour of the subject. It shows that the most saturated colour occurs with the light just left of the camera and at the same level as the subject, at 45 degrees to the subject and 45 degrees above and when the light is above the camera so more than 45 degrees above the horizontal.

Fig. 3 Light above subject

Fig. 3 Light above subject

Above the subject reduces the texture and gives a flat light.

Fig. 04 Light 45 degrees left and 45 degrees above

Fig. 04 Light 45 degrees left and 45 degrees above

45 degrees above the subject strengthens the colours.

Fig. 05 Light 90 degrees left at same height as subject

Fig. 05 Light 90 degrees left at same height as subject

45 and 90 degrees gives the most depth but by comparing fig. 4 and fig. 5 it can be seen that there is much greater colour strength when the light is higher as it is in fig. 4.

Fig. 06 Light at 135 degrees left and 45 degree above

Fig. 06 Light at 135 degrees left and 45 degree above

Theoretically there should be more form and shape at 135 degrees and this might be try if the subject was also being lit by a fill light from 135 degrees right but the deep shadow reduces the sense of depth.