Tag Archives: Michael Freeman

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 31(a) Variety with a Low Sun

Most of the exercises in this part of the course are a challenge, not because of the subject matter or the exercise but because of the vagaries of the British weather and having the right conditions coinciding with the time available to undertake the exercise. It doesn’t help trying to undertake them in mid-June when dawn and dusk are so far apart and at pretty unsociable times of the day.

This exercise is designed to show the advantages of shooting when the sun is low. We are asked to collect a set of pictures that exhibit front, side, back and edge lighting.

I am dividing my results across two posts. This post focusses on back, front and side lit subjects in a single landscape, Waverley Abbey in Surrey.

The title of the exercise includes the word “variety” so I have taken a number of field trips on different evenings and experimented with different subjects. I am keeping my options open on assignment 4 and might work with natural light so I want to use this exercise to try out techniques.

Fig. 01 Pond at Waverley - HDR processed using HDR Efex Pro 2 from 5 images. 1/160 at f/16 (-1 stop to + 1 stop)

Fig. 01 Pond at Waverley – HDR processed using HDR Efex Pro 2 from 5 images. 1/160 at f/16 (-1 stop to + 1 stop)

Fig. 01 is a HDR image. I have been reading Michael Freeman’s helpful book, Capturing Light *(1) and have also read his blog posts on the subject of HDR. (For some reason Safari cannot find The Freeman View blog today but I found an article by Freeman on the Manfrotto site here)* (2).  I subscribe to his view that this is a technique that should not be ignored solely on the grounds that it is often seen in its most extreme forms. I am quite relaxed about using HDR when working with an image that contains a very wide tonal range but, before reading Freeman’s advice I either used HDR Efex Pro 2 which is the software I used for Fig . 01 or processed PSD files in Photoshop Merge to HDR Pro.

Fig. 02 Pond at Waverley - HDR processed using Merge to HDR pro and ACR from 5 images. 1/160 at f/16 (-1 stop to + 1 stop)

Fig. 02 Pond at Waverley – HDR processed using Merge to HDR pro and ACR from 5 images. 1/160 at f/16 (-1 stop to + 1 stop)

Freeman, in Capturing light recommends a different approach which can be summarised as using TIFF files, merged using HDR Pro, converted to 32bit and then post processed in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). I have tried this approach in Fig. 02. In both images the intent is to avoid the “HDR look” which Freeman calls an “illustration” and to maintain a more photographic look.

I think Freeman’s technique gave me slightly more control over the contrast and I was able to recover more vibrant shadows. As part of understanding light I have been collecting books of impressionist paintings from our local charity shops. Within pretending be to be an art connoisseur it appears to me that the impressionists had a particular way of introducing highlights into their paintings that glister and shimmer. I was originally considering basing assignment 4 on this idea and so have some of these paintings in my mind. In fig 2 the way the light is reflecting off the pond and the water lilies reminds me of some of Pissarro’s paintings and is an effect I would like to explore more deeply.

Fig. 01 and 02 are one approach to dealing with the challenges of backlit subjects. the sun is behind the trees in the background to the right.

The next set included below are of the same subject, a tree in the same location.

Fig. 01 Front Lit - 1/90 at f/13, -1/5 stop, ISO 100

Fig. 03 Front Lit – 1/90 at f/13, -1/5 stop, ISO 100

Fig. 02  Front Lit - 1/90 at f/13, -1/5 stop, ISO 100

Fig. 04 Front Lit – 1/90 at f/13, -1/5 stop, ISO 100

Fig. 3 and 4 are both front lit. The sun is approximately behind me. I have under exposed by 1/2 a stop to increase the saturation and made minor adjustments to the contrast with a slight “S” curve in photoshop. The light works well in both these images and fig. 4 is helped by the dark clouds that had begun to build.

Fig. 03 Side Lit - 1/90 at f/13, -1/5 stop, ISO 100

Fig. 05 Side Lit – 1/90 at f/13, -1/5 stop, ISO 100

Fig. 04 Side Lit - 1/60 at f/13, -1/5 stop, ISO 110

Fig. 06 Side Lit – 1/60 at f/13, -1/5 stop, ISO 110

Figs 5 and 6 are both side lit but from slightly different angles. Like 3 & 4 they are 1/2 stop underexposed and with a slight “S” curve applied in Photoshop.

The back lit images of the lone tree were failures.

I had set out to find a lone tree and recalling this one at Waverley thought it might make a good subject. However, I was working too early in the evening to get a soft evening light for the backlit versions and as the sun started to get into the right position there was too much cloud. I need to try this again on another evening.

Whilst researching something quite unrelated I came across a series of photos taken by Simon Norfolk *(3) who is better known for his work in war zones. On his website there is a small set of photos taken at Blenheim Palace of oaks in the park.

Fig. 07 Blenheim Palace by Simon Norfolk

Fig. 07 Blenheim Palace by Simon Norfolk

These appear to be taken at dawn rather than dusk as there is mist in the background; he has obviously used artificial light on the trees.

I am not sure what type of lighting he would have used but I am very taken by these images and want to attempt this technique.

The only equipment that I can use are two hot-shoe soft boxes along with 3 flash guns and it will be interesting to see whether they cast enough light. I will have to use trial and error to get the exposure right as he may have stopped down the exposure and boosted up the lights to get this effect. Joe McNally *(4) uses this technique a lot for outdoor portraits.

It is possible that I might need to try the technique with smaller trees but this would be a great technique to master and used for still life and portraits as well as landscape.



(1) Freeman, Michael (2013) Capturing Light: The Heart of Photography. Lewes: Ilex.

(4) McNally, Joe. (2009) The Hot Shoe Diaries: Big Light from Small Flashes. Berkeley: New Riders.


(2) Manfrotto School of Excellence. Michael Freeman article on HDR processing. http://www.manfrottoschoolofxcellence.com/2011/06/michael-freeman-night-time-hdr-and-definitely-a-tripod/#.U6MYVhbv5Gw

(3) Norfolk, Simon. Official Website http://www.simonnorfolk.com

The Nature of Colour

Hot Air Balloon 2004 - 1/160 at f/6.3, ISO 125

Hot Air Balloon 2004 – 1/160 at f/6.3, ISO 125

As part of the process of understanding colour I am taking a moment between exercises to look a little more deeply how its properties impacts photography. Stephen Shore in his book The Nature of Photographs * (1) says that colour expands a photographer’s palette and adds a new level of descriptive information to the image. He puts forward the view that the viewer is “less stopped” by the surface of a colour photograph than a black and white one because it is how we normally see.

Shore is one of the earliest masters of colour photography so that fact, combined with his profession as a photography professor makes this a good place to start but I want to take a step back and ask what is colour?

Colour is one of the most obvious properties of an object. When we describe something we will often mention its colour and we do this to such a degree that many objects have a colour associated with them that might not be strictly accurate but is accepted as its normal description so we have yellow bananas, green grass, blue sky, green or red apples, red tomatoes and so forth.

However, colour is also a property of light, without light there is no colour and the intensity and thereby the temperature of light will directly effect the colour of an object.

Thirdly, colour is also something that is created by the viewer, our eyes and our brain determine what we see. People with colour blindness are still looking at a red apple but might see it as green and we know that many animals see different ranges of colours than we do.

In summary there are therefore always three factors that influence or create a colour:

  • light,
  • the object and,
  • the viewer.


I am not making any attempt to study light from the perspective of a physicist but to understand colour in photography I need to understand some relevant properties of light.

In simple terms, (probably too simplistic), wavelengths of light from a light source fall on an object, the object modifies the light and it is reflected. If we are there when this is happening we receive the reflected light and “see” the object.

Nature provided us with two useful light sources, the sun which is the most powerful light source a photographer can have at their disposal, and fire which varies in intensity and in its colour. I am discounting starlight and glow worms as non functional in this context.

Fire was harnessed by photographers as early as 1839 when, according to Tuts * (4), L. Ibbetson used oxy-hydrogen light (also known as limelight, discovered by Goldsworthy Gurney) when photographing microscopic objects. Limelight was produced by heating a ball of calcium carbonate in an oxygen flame until it became incandescent. This was the first of many ideas that eventually led to magnesium based flash powder, then flash bulbs and finally to flash guns.

In the 21st century we have a wide range of light sources available to the photographer but each light source interacts differently with a subject and those differences fundamentally effect the reflected light and thereby the colour that the camera sees. This variation is described by the “colour temperature” of the light source which is measured in Kelvin degrees. Bright daylight is 5,400 degrees Kelvin and at this temperature white paper is seen as white, any light source that is rated higher than 5,400 will give a blue cast, anything rated lower will give a yellow, through orange to red cast depending on its temperature. At the extremes a candle is rated as 1,500 degrees K and will give a red cast whereas a fluorescent strip light in an office is around 3,700 degrees K and will give a yellow tint. Flash guns and studio lights are designed to be as near to 5,400 degrees as possible so they mimic sunlight.

The human brain automatically adjusts some of these colour casts so we will still see a white sheet of paper as white under a domestic light bulb whilst photographic film would see a strong orange tint in the same scene. Modern DSLRs have sophisticated colour temperature balancing systems so on automatic white balance they will usually adjust for these colour casts. However, I know from experience that even the best cameras will generally adjust based on the dominant light source and will often ignore secondary light sources that can still tint an image.

Out of doors the impact of colour temperature is more obvious because our brain expects it to be there and makes less adjustment. The warm glow cast by a deep sunset will look orange to us and to our camera. Landscape photographers see early morning and late afternoon light the most desirable partly because of this warming effect.

The Object

The second part of the equation is the object or subject we are photographing. Other than by being whatever colour it is the object has less impact on colour than either the light source or the viewer. A red pepper is a red pepper even with the lights off but how we and the camera see that red is partly determined by the object itself; a pepper is generally a polished surface and therefore reflects light better than a red piece of felt. The surface of the object and its reflective properties and the angle we view it at will all impact the intensity of the colour we see. If we shine an equal amount of light onto a reflective surface and a non reflective surface that are both the same colour and look at each from the same angle the non reflective surface will appear to be the stronger colour. *(5)

Fig. 1 - Red Pepper shwoing how different levels of reflection impact the colour of the object - 1/100 at f/13, ISO 8,000

Fig. 1 – Red Pepper shwoing how different levels of reflection impact the colour of the object – 1/100 at f/13, ISO 8,000

The physics of this effect are complicated but the practical consequence is that a red pepper in direct or bright sunlight or under a flash gun will not appear to be as red as a piece of red felt under the same light. I know from my food photography that it is important to use diffused light and to avoid direct reflections. A direct light source bouncing off a shiny surface straight at the camera is, in effect, a picture of the light source via a reflector and the colour of the object will be lost or reduced in strength.

In fig. 1 I used natural light from a window to light these two peppers. The nearest pepper has about the same amount of light falling on all of its front face but the angle of the light and camera mean that there are burnt out highlights where we cannot see that the pepper is red. Where the light is not reflecting directly into the camera the fruit is more red. The shiny surface of the object combined with the light source have impacted how we see its colour.

The Viewer

Colour has one other property that appears less to do with physics and more with psychology. We are programmed to react to colours in different ways, some of this reaction is probably biological and some cultural so the reaction to particular colours is not necessarily universal.

ND8_7520c2Of the primary colours yellow is viewed as a cheerful colour, the colour of sunlight and summer; it is a bright and dominant colour and is therefore insistent in a photograph.

In nature, along with yellow-green, it one of the colours of spring, gardeners will tell us that white flowers come first each year closely followed by yellow. Add a tint of red and it becomes one of the dominant colours of Autumn.



Red is strong, hot, masculine and powerful and because of its strength it appears closer to the viewer than other colours in a picture and can therefore create a sense of depth in a picture.

It is a colour of warning, many animals use red as a warning colour, and we associate it with traffic lights, road signs and any other sign that seeks to grab our attention.

A walk down any high street in the “sales” season will verify this point.

NK0_2692Angela Wright of Colour Affects a company that specialises in consulting with people and companies who are choosing colours. * (3) argues that our reaction to red is physical whereas our reaction to blue is intellectual.

Blue is cool and calm, the colour of the sky and the sea and unlike red it tends to recede into a picture.

Soft blues are recognised as being particularly serene and calming but can be cool to the point of unemotional or unfriendly according to Wright * (3).

NK0_0757-green-leaves-with-snailMichael Freeman explains that, to the painter, green is a secondary colour but in the world of colour film , computer monitors and digital cameras it is a primary, and hence we have RGB. * (2)

Green has more of the psychological attributes of its neighbour blue than its other neighbour yellow and is generally another calm colour, but it is also the colour of nature and spring and can appear fresh and vigorous. Wright argues that, because it is in the centre of the spectrum it is the colour of balance and she believes that we associate green with well-being on a very primitive level, green vegetation means that there is no danger of going without food.

The Earth is known as the blue planet because of the scale of her oceans but for most humans the predominant colour around us is green and it is the first colour that city planner bring into urban areas to comfort the inhabitants. One of the remarkable attributes of green is it’s variety of hues, a walk through woodland will reveal a seemingly endless array of greens.

These are obviously generalisations but when composing a picture we should be conscious that the colours we include will affect the viewers reaction and potentially create the “mood” of a photograph. Colour associations mean that we can emphasise a point or change the meaning of a picture by building certain colours into the scene.



* (1) Shore, Stephen. (2007) The Nature of Photographs: A Primer. Second Edition. London: Phaidon Press.

* (2) Freeman, Michael, (2007) The Photographer’s Eye. Lewes: The Ilex Press.


* (3) Wright, Angela, (2008) Colour Affects. www.colour-affects.co.uk/psychological-properties-of-colours

* (4) TUTS : Tutorials, inspiration and videos to help you learn. photography.tutsplus.com/articles/a-brief-history-of-photographic-flash–photo-4249

* (5) Konica Minolta Sensing. www2.konicaminolta.eu/eu/Measuring/pcc/en/part3/02.html

Black and White Caribbean

I set myself the objective at the end of assignment 1 to improve my black and white processing skills. Whilst in Turks and Caicos I endeavoured to “see” in black and white which, as might be expected, is challenging in a place where colours are typically strong. There are a few obvious characteristics of a landscape that impact whether a black and white shot will work, the most obvious being the sky. A single coloured flat sky is even less dramatic, if dramatic is the aim, in black and white than in colour, this is even more true of pale skies. My single Ansel Adams reference book is a collection of his portfolios *(1) that I purchased in the Philippines over twenty years ago and has moved around with me ever since. It is noticeable that most of his skies are either deep blue, rendered as nearly black, or, when cloudy, often rendered in more subtle tones of grey.

The second characteristic is that the shot needs strong contrasts to work. I have found that I can’t force this contrast. It is either there and can be used to good effect or it isn’t and I achieve a flat looking image. I am not suggesting that this is rule for black and white photography just that I do not achieve a result that is satisfactory to my eyes unless I start with a contrasting scene. Using Adams as a benchmark tends to push me towards seeking a high contrast result and I think it is fair to say that Koudelka’s *(2) and Cartier-Bresson’s *(4) images, whilst very different in subject matter, also lean towards high contrast. I also find Koudelka’s images dark in tone (and content) and so far I have not been brave enough to process towards such dark tones but this may change if I start to shoot grittier subjects.

On my trip to Turks and Caicos I took very few books but one that did travel was Michael Freeman’s Black and White Photography Field Guide *(3) which I referred to frequently when trying to think in black and white. I have generally found this little book helpful as it is a very practical guide and quite appropriate reading for a beginner.

I had considered using a small number of black and white prints as part of assignment 2 but having asked about mixing media on the OCA forum the advice was to not mix black and white and colour in the same assignment. In the same vein I have been advised by both my tutor and some answers on the same forum to avoid mixing vertical and horizontal frames. I understand and accept the reasoning but this leaves me slightly disappointed as I feel I have made some progress in black and white processing and using some in an assignment would have given me the chance to hear my tutors views. I did consider submitting a complete black and white assignment but I felt that, whilst this might help me focus on the elements of design, it would be a perverse decision when attempting to document a place with so much colour.

This post is therefore an opportunity to record that progress and the thought processes I have gone through so I can refer back here when I next attempt a collection of monochrome images.

Sky at Chalk Sound - 1/125 at F/11, ISO 100

Fig 1 Stormy Sky at Chalk Sound – 1/125 at F/11, ISO 100

Fig 1 was taken on a perfect day when there were rain clouds blowing across the islands at some speed. I have an emotional attachment to this view as it is a familiar sight for any sailor sailing in bright sunshine whilst watching squalls only a short distance away. I have processed to maximise the contrast between the white boat on the right and the dark landmass in the distance. It was important to leave some sense of the rainbow in the image as this is an important curve linking the two boats. The sky is the real subject so I have framed it to dominate the composition.

Fig 2 Beach Bar - 1/125 at f/16, ISO 100

Fig 2 Beach Bar – 1/125 at f/16, ISO 100

In complete contrast to fig. 1 The Beach Bar in fig. 2  is an interior to exterior shot and as such quite challenging to process. I have used HDR Toning in photoshop to get detail into the shadows and to preserve the definition of the woman on the veranda. I am pleased with this shot which was taken in a locals’ bar well away from the tourist areas. The women was very interested in something that was happening out of my view and I was taken by her pose and the fact that she continued to eat whilst looking out of shot. The old-fashoned wall paper and the advertising on the drinks cooler seem at odds with one another and add some tension to the scene.

Fig 3 - Sapodilla Bay - 1/125 at f/11, ISO 100.

Fig 3 Sapodilla Bay – 1/125 at f/11, ISO 100.

Fig 4 Sapodilla Bay - 1/125 at f/16, ISO 160

Fig 4 Sapodilla Bay – 1/125 at f/16, ISO 160

Fig 5 Sapodilla Bay - 1/250 at f/8, ISO 100

Fig 5 Sapodilla Bay – 1/250 at f/8, ISO 100

With the three images of Sapodilla Bay I wanted to test whether I could create strong images from sea, sky and beach scenes. Before starting TAoP I would not have looked for a black and white answer to the question of how to make a beach scene more interesting but I reached a point that I was comfortable with after quite a lot of experimentation with the multitude of variables offered by Silver Efex Pro 2, which I purchased after reading about its possibilities in Michael Freeman’s Black and White Field Guide *(3). It appears to offer more creative control that the black and white layer in Photoshop but it is tempting to go too far and drift towards a HDR look which is not what I wanted.

It was quite hard to find a benchmark for this type of shot, I wanted to make the sky the dominant feature because it is the shape of the clouds and the varied tones within them that lift the image beyond “yet another” beach photo. I looked at the sky in Ansel Adams’ “Pinnacles”, Alabama Hills, Owens valley, California 1945 and the sea in “Dunes”, Oceano California and used his processing as a loose guide. I recognise that he would have looked for greater contrast between the foreground objects and the sky and I might have made more of the beaches in Fig. 4 and 5.

Old Timber Taylor Bay - 1/125 at f/16, ISO 160

Fig 6 Old Timber Taylor Bay – 1/125 at f/16, ISO 160

Broken Screen Taylor Bay - 1/125 at f/16, ISO 720

Fig 7 Broken Screen Taylor Bay – 1/125 at f/16, ISO 720

Post and Rope - 1/125 at f/f11, ISO 100

fig 8 Post and Rope – 1/125 at f/f11, ISO 100

Old Timber Taylor Bay - 1/125 at f/16, ISO 100

Fig 9 Old Timber Taylor Bay – 1/125 at f/16, ISO 100

Ruined Roof Emerald Point - 1/500 at f/8, ISO 100

Fig 10 Ruined Roof Emerald Point – 1/500 at f/8, ISO 100

The last images, figs. 6 to 10 are all part of a study of decay. Turks and Caicos is in the hurricane zone and even when the weather is more peaceful it is still an environment of harsh sunlight, frequent rain and strong winds. Ruined houses, weathered timbers, washed up wreckage and a few sunken boats were evidence of nature’s fight-back.

Fig 6 and fig 9 are the remains of a washed-up door and frame from something large, I am not sure whether it is from a ship or something like a barn door. It was weathered and sea rolled before ending up at the back of the beach at Taylor Bay.

Fig 7 and fig 8 are details from a large, abandoned house overlooking an idyllic beach. It appeared to have been deserted quite recently as the main fabric of the building was still sound but I was intrigued by the weathering on the details such as the fly screen and the posts that lined the path to the beach. These might be the first signs of the eventual demise of the whole structure.

Fig 10 is more dramatic showing the sky through the roof of another large abandoned house at the other end of the island. I think this was probably first damaged in a hurricane and is now well on the way to collapse so, in some ways is a natural progression from 7 & 8.

Overall I have found these exercises in black and white useful. I feel that I have learnt a little about what works in black and white and I am more confident in using this medium. My tutor suggested that I needed to have a position on the black and white versus colour debate but I am not ready in my own mind to take a position. I have enjoyed my forays into black and white processing and am very interested in the work of the many masters of the art, I see it as a valid medium in the 21st century and would respect anyone who chose to work entirely in this way. If I had to choose I would stay with colour but I would prefer not to choose and to use both. I am increasingly finding situations where I find black and white works best but the majority of the time I want to capture the colour of both the natural and the man-made world.



* (1) Adams, Ansel, with an Introduction by John Szarkowski. (1981) The Portfolios of Ansel Adams, New York, New York Graphic Society, Little, Brown and Company.

* (4) Cartier-Bresson, Henri (1999), The Mind’s Eye, Writings on Photography and Photographers. Aperture Foundation, New York

* (3) Freeman, Michael. (2013) Black and White Photography Field Guide, The art of creating digital monochrome, Lewes, The Ilex Press Limited.

* (2) Koudelka, Josef. (2007) Josef Koudelka: Thames & Hudson Photofile with an introduction by Bernard Cuau. London: Thanks and Hudson.

* (5) Eggleston, William, (1976) The Guide with an introduction by John Szarkowski, New York, The Museum of Modern Art

Exercise 21 Rhythm and Pattern

Fig 1 Red and White Tin Hut - 1/500 at f/8, ISO 100. 24mm - 70mm lens at 34mm

Fig 1 Red and White Tin Hut – 1/500 at f/8, ISO 100. 24mm – 70mm lens at 34mm

One of my key tasks when in the Turks and Caicos islands was to complete exercise 21 where we are asked to seek our images that use either rhythm or pattern. As discussed earlier in my blog I was seeking to adopt a documentary approach to TCI and endeavour to capture the sprit of the place without resorting to too many clichéd Caribbean travel photographs. The rhythm and pattern exercise was an excellent additional idea to have in my head.

Pattern, as Freeman* tells us, is repetition within an area whilst pattern is directional repetition. Both design elements are used to engage the view by encouraging them to look at an image in a particular way. Rhythm will lead the eye in a prescribed way across the forms and spaces that flow across, or up and down, the composition. Pattern is less prescriptive and suggests that the eye roams around the frame exploring the repetition.  Both are powerful tools to draw the viewer into an image and, for many of us, both pattern and rhythm are reassuring elements as they suggest organisation and structure even when neither really exist. Because rhythm is the directional repetition of pattern there will always be pattern within an image that is relying on rhythm.

Fig 2 Birds Over Salt Pond Grand Turk - 1/250 at f/8, ISO 100. 70mm - 300mm lens at 300mm

Fig 2 Birds Over Salt Pond Grand Turk – 1/250 at f/8, ISO 100. 70mm – 300mm lens at 300mm

Fig 2, in my mind, is rhythmic. The lines of birds were startled by me when I tried to photograph the group at rest in an old salt pond in Grand Turk. I had time for one shot as they moved to another part of the pond and as a result this was taken with a comparatively slow shutter speed which has not frozen the movement of all the wings. This slight blur has meant that each element of the pattern flows into the next and the top line have formed a rhythm across the image. I processed this with a green filter to reduce the definition in the background and then I emphasised the contrast of the birds to make the pattern and rhythm more distinct.

Fig 3 Mangrove Shoots - 1/125 at f/5.6, ISO 100. 105mm prime lens

Fig 3 Mangrove Shoots – 1/125 at f/5.6, ISO 100. 105mm prime lens

Fig 3 Mangrove Shoots - 1/125 at f/5.6, ISO 100. 105mm prime lens

Fig 4 Mangrove Shoots – 1/125 at f/5.6, ISO 100. 105mm prime lens

Fig 3 and fig 4 are examples of pattern. Near to where we were staying there was a large shallow pond with a narrow band of mangroves on one bank. I was intrigued by hundreds of mangrove shoots that were emerging from the mud which was covered in a crust of mossy growth. Both these angles enable us to see patterns in the mud, the shoots and the shadows.

Fig 5. Yellow Tin Wall - 1/125 at f/16, ISO 200. 24mm - 70mm lens at 35mm

Fig 5. Yellow Tin Wall – 1/125 at f/16, ISO 200. 24mm – 70mm lens at 35mm


Fig 6 – Ugly Pink Wall – 1/125 at f/16, ISO 100. 24mm – 70mm lens at 35mm

Fig 5, 6 (and fig 1) are part of a series of images where I used a similar composition on different walls. I was interested in the different textures, colours amount of weathering and liked the composition with part of a window to the right. Fig 5 has a rhythmic flow across the image with the rhythm partially broken by the window shutter. In contrast the strange pink cement in fig. 6 forms a pattern with the stone of the wall.


Fig 7 White Lattice – 1/1000 at f/8, ISO 100. 105mm prime lens

Fig 7 White Lattice - 1/1000 at f/8, ISO 100. 105mm prime lens

Fig 8 White Lattice – 1/1000 at f/8, ISO 100. 105mm prime lens

Fig. 7 and 8 are very simple patterns with little or no variation. Fig 8 being a tight crop of fig 7. I like the straight forward graphic design of these images. The tight crop appeals a little more than the original because the strange piece of metal comes more into the image and breaks up the pattern.

Fig 9 Fence - 1/1000 at f/8, ISO 100. 105mm prime lens.

Fig 9 Fence – 1/1000 at f/8, ISO 100. 105mm prime lens.

Fig 9 is a detail from the same historic house in Grand Turk as figures 7 and 8. the pattern of the fence posts repeats across the image and thereby becomes a rhythm. As well as the rhythm I like the three strong shapes formed by the sky, the tree and the fence. A simple composition but that captures the place for me quite well.

Fig 10 Tacky Tourist Tiles - 1/250 at f/8, ISO 100. 105mm prime lens.

Fig 10 Tacky Tourist Tiles – 1/250 at f/8, ISO 100. 105mm prime lens.

Fig 10 is an example of pattern. The shadow at the bottom left spoils this image but I am keeping it here because it is a straight forward pattern.

Fig 11 Cruise Ship off Grand Turk - 1/125 at f/8, ISO 100. 24mm - 70mm lens at 24mm

Fig 11 Cruise Ship off Grand Turk – 1/125 at f/8, ISO 100. 24mm – 70mm lens at 24mm

In fig 11 there is pattern in the detail of the contrasting sunlight and shadows and rhythm in the spaces through which we can see the sea and the ship. This ruin was one of many that I found in Turks and Caicos and they became a recurring theme of my photos. I especially liked this image as the classic caribbean view is from inside a ruined building. The huge cruise shop which I followed down the coast and photographed at anchor makes an additional contrasting point against the storm damaged shell.

Fig 12 Front Street Grand Turk - 1/250 at f/8, ISO 100. 24mm - 70mm lens at 70mm

Fig 12 Front Street Grand Turk – 1/250 at f/8, ISO 100. 24mm – 70mm lens at 70mm

My final rhythm image is of Front Street on Grand Turk where the local men were resting in the shade of a few small trees. There is a rhythmic flow across the different height trees and the men sitting beneath them.


*Freeman, Michael (2007), The Photographer’s Eye. Lewes, The Ilex Press.

Exercise 20 Real and Implied Triangles

Fig 1 Olive Green Railway Truck Bristol Docks - 1/125 at f/22, iSO 20,000. 24mm-70mm lens at 40mm

Fig 1 Olive Green Railway Truck Bristol Docks – 1/125 at f/22, iSO 20,000. 24mm – 70mm lens at 40mm

In this exercise we are asked to find and photograph a series of real and implied triangles. The first shoot I undertook with this objective in mind was in Bristol. I was accompanying a group of A Level photography students on a photographic day out and, when not helping the students, looked for subjects that would fulfil the exercise. I cannot remember ever taking photos in such awful weather, torrential rain, dark skies, and cold winds. As a result the day also became an exercise in low light photography.

Fig 1 is the first of my real triangles. We found a collection of abandoned railway trucks in the old dock area. They were old, notice the War Department stamp on this truck, and were in varying states of decay. I am always drawn to the way nature relentlessly attacks and eventually destroys everything that humans make so these trucks made a great subject. There are several strong triangles formed by the structure of this particular tanker.

Fig 2 1/100 at f/22, ISO 1800. 24mm - 70mm lens at 55mm

Fig 2 1/100 at f/22, ISO 1800. 24mm – 70mm lens at 55mm

An alternative triangle is included in fig.2. I wanted to capture the tourist between the two verticals but mistimed the shot. The main triangle is obviously the central frame but there are several incomplete triangles formed by the various parts of the bike.

Fig 3 Cooper Jack Marina TCI - 1/250 at f/5.6, ISO 100. 24mm - 70mm lens at 24mm

Fig 3 Cooper Jack Marina TCI – 1/250 at f/5.6, ISO 100. 24mm – 70mm lens at 24mm

Switching to the other side of the Atlantic fig. 3 is a zoned but unbuilt marina in the Turks and Caicos islands (TCI). I captured this huge triangle but am still unsure as to whether it is a real triangle (the marina basin is rectangular and only appears triangular when viewed from this angle) or an implied triangle with converging lines towards the bottom of the frame so I will include it in both or either category.

Fig 4 Broken Shutter - 1/125 at f/16, ISO 5000. 24mm - 70mm lens at 55mm

Fig 4 Broken Shutter – 1/125 at f/16, ISO 5000. 24mm – 70mm lens at 55mm

Staying in TCI for a moment I liked this shot (fig 4) of a broken shutter taken from inside an abandoned mansion at Taylor’s Bay. It is arguably an inverse photograph as the triangle is formed by the absence of the shutter.

Fig 1/1000 at f/5.6, ISO 100. 70mm-300mm lens at 95mm

Fig 5 Blue Triangle TCI – 1/1000 at f/5.6, ISO 100. 70mm-300mm lens at 95mm

Fig Downtown Church TCI 1/250 @f/8, ISO 100. 24mm - 70mm lens at 70mm

Fig 6 Downtown Church TCI 1/250 @f/8, ISO 100. 24mm – 70mm lens at 70mm

Figs 5 and 6 are further triangles that I liked in Turks and Caicos. I enjoy the strong contrast between sky and architecture and in the case of the church the local television transmission mast made a great combination with the Faith Tabernacle Church of God.

Fig 5 Cranes at Bristol Dock - 1/100 at f/10. ISO 320. 24mm - 70mm lens at 36mm

Fig 7 Cranes at Bristol Dock – 1/100 at f/10. ISO 320. 24mm – 70mm lens at 36mm


Fig 8 Cranes at Bristol Dock – 1/100 at f/10. ISO 320. 24mm – 70mm lens at 36mm

Returning to the old docks in Bristol and the rain. The old dock cranes have been left in place as part of City’s industrial history and judging by Flickr are popular photographic subjects.

There are at least three implied triangles in fig. 7. They all converge towards the centre of the frame.

The largest triangle neatly frames the reflection of the crane in the large puddle.

In this image many lines converge at the base of the crane. The triangles lend structure to the, otherwise empty, space in the foreground and act as lead lines to the crane and the ship along-side it.

I decided to crop this quite narrowly as the area to the right was dead space, I normally try to keep within 3:2 proportions and avoid non-standard frames as I feel this is a weak solution to correct initial poor framing. However, in this instance, where the photograph will only be displayed here on-line I think it was justified.

Fig 8 Bristol Docks - 1/250 at f/6.3, ISO 100. 24mm - 70mm lens at 24mm

Fig 9 Bristol Docks – 1/250 at f/6.3, ISO 100. 24mm – 70mm lens at 24mm

Fig 8 Bristol Docks - 1/250 at f/6.3, ISO 100. 24mm - 70mm lens at 24mm

Fig 10 Bristol Docks – 1/250 at f/6.3, ISO 100. 24mm – 70mm lens at 24mm

Fig 9 is a view of the open plaza on the City side of the river in Bristol.

There is a large implied triangle defined by the railings to the right and the line of lamps to the left. A colour change in the paving forms the base of the triangle.

Harder to draw onto the picture but easily seen there is a much larger triangular shape formed by the houses to the right and either the line of lamps to the left or even the paving slabs further left. As a result the whole image has a triangular feel.

Fig 10 Statue and Max - 1/100 at f/6.3, ISO 400. 24mm - 70mm lens at 70mm

Fig 11 Statue and Max – 1/100 at f/6.3, ISO 400. 24mm – 70mm lens at 70mm

The student photographing a statue in fig. 11 created an implied triangle with the apex at the base.

Fig 10 Shopping Centre - 1/100 at f/14, ISO 5000. 50mm prime lens

Fig 12 Shopping Centre – 1/100 at f/14, ISO 5000. 50mm prime lens

Fig 12 was as near as I could get to finding an inverted triangle that converges towards the bottom of the frame. I was looking for a long shopping centre corridor or two lines of street lights but did not see any.

Fig 10 Shopping Centre - 1/100 at f/14, ISO 5000. 50mm prime lens

Fig 13 Shopping Centre – 1/100 at f/14, ISO 5000. 50mm prime lens

So, for the record, this uninspiring photo of the inside of a shopping mall is one one way of photographing this effect.

Fig 14 and fig 15 below are my still life with triangles. I had a few tries arranging items on the beach but in the end decided to look for things that had been washed up as implied triangles. Of course any three items form a triangle unless they are placed in a straight line so, for the purposes of this exercise I looked for three items that formed something near to a equilateral triangle.

In doing this I remembered a quotation by Fredrick Sommer that is reproduced in Michael Freeman’s Photographer’s Eye*, apparently Sommer had been asked whether he had arranged the subjects in a photograph and, in essence he replied that things we come across are arranged in more complex patterns than we could arrange. He closes his remark with “The forces in nature are constantly at work for us.” I chose to let the forces of nature arrange my still life images.

Fig 11 Conch - 1/500 at f/8, ISO 100. 105mm prime lens

Fig 14 Conch – Apex of Triangle at Top – 1/500 at f/8, ISO 100. 105mm prime lens

Fig 11 - Claws - 1/125 at f/16, ISO 110. 105mm prime lens

Fig 15 – Claws – Apex of Triangle at Bottom – 1/125 at f/16, ISO 110. 105mm prime lens

The final part of this exercise is to arrange people into a triangle. Fig 12 is using a general triangular shape to arrange two children and their grandmother.

Fig 13 Three People - 1/100 at f/2.8, ISO 1000. 50mm prime lens

Fig 16 Three People – 1/100 at f/2.8, ISO 1000. 50mm prime lens

As an alternative Fig 17 is a candid shot on a beach in TCI where the three boys form a neat triangle.

Fig Three Boys - 1/500 at f/8, ISO 100. 70mm - 300mm lens at 70mm

Fig 17 Three Boys – 1/500 at f/8, ISO 100. 70mm – 300mm lens at 70mm


*Freeman, Michael (2007), The Photographer’s Eye. Lewes, The Ilex Press.

Exercise 16 Horizontal Lines


Exercise 16 has two parts, horizontal lines and vertical lines. I will post my thoughts and results in separate posts.

Horizontal lines are a strong design element with the capability of communicating diverse and sometimes opposing qualities. Because an image frame is usually comprised of two horizontal lines and two vertical lines any use of a horizontal line will automatically and directly relate to the top and bottom of the frame. The most obvious example being the horizon. However, there are a number of both obvious and subtle horizontals in the landscape and in potential images in general.

As a simple exercise I cut and pasted the words used in a number of web articles about horizontal lines into a word cloud generator and came up with the diagram shown above. It is a crude analysis of the characteristics of this element but it is still interesting to see the word groups that writers have used when describing the effect of horizontals in an image.

There are a significant number of words that are associated with stability. Base, static, stable, stability, anchor, permanency, solid and stand. This group all help describe the use of a horizontal as a stable division of the frame creating something solid, reliable and potentially calming, if I take this idea a little further we can also include the natural elements that might create this effect such as the horizon itself, a shoreline, a road, a fallen tree or someone lying down. Our eyes follow lines in an image and as photographers we use this to create a sense of movement, however, compared with a vertical or a diagonal lines, a horizontal creates the weakest sense of movement and this plays to the calming and stable effect it creates.

Fig.1 Southsea Pier - 1/160 at f/10, ISO100, 70-300mm lens at 116mm

Fig.1 Southsea Pier – 1/160 at f/10, ISO100, 70-300mm lens at 116mm

With fig.1 I was trying to capture this sense of stability and calm by composing the structure of the pier in the vertical centre of the photograph and running for nearly the full width. I have cropped in a panoramic style to increase this effect. I wanted to experiment with this form of composition having seen Michael Freeman’s photograph of the Bayuda desert (pg 106 of The Photographer’s Mind*) where he explains how he positioned the horizon at the centre of the image to “deaden the image rather than inject graphic energy”. I wanted to create a completely  peaceful scene, with the small group of friends enjoying the winter’s sun on a still day on an empty beach.

The exercise asks that we make the graphic element the dominant feature of the image. I made the decision to endeavour to create images dominated by a horizontal line or lines  rather than to photograph a line in isolation. I quickly realised that this was easier said than done. In fig. 1 the pier is sharply in focus and dominant but is it the horizontal that is the dominant feature ? I believe it is partly because I have let it fall short of the frame on the right and therefore the viewer’s eye is immediately drawn to it and follows it from left to right and thereby starts with a complex structure and ends with a simple horizontal.

Fig. 3 Men on Beach - 1/400 at f/5, ISO 100, 70-300mm lens at 175mm

Fig. 2 Men on Beach – 1/400 at f/5, ISO 100, 70-300mm lens at 175mm

Fig. 2 is an alternative image of the same scene (not a crop of fig.1). It still has the pier at the vertical centre but by being out of focus and, perhaps because the sea creates a strong triangle, it is less dominant. I think it continues to provide stability to the image and there is still a sense of calmness in the overall scene.

Fig. 3 - Winchester Cathedral - 1/100 at f/6.3, ISO 25,600, 50mm prime lens

Fig. 3 – Winchester Cathedral – 1/100 at f/6.3, ISO 25,600, 50mm prime lens

For my second image using horizontals I want to look at multiple lines as a graphic element. In fig. 3, which was taken inside Winchester Cathedral, I was attracted to the rows of empty pews and the depth that is created by choosing such a low angle. I captured this image as an example of horizontals and am keeping it in this section but in reality it underlines the point that the horizontal line is weaker than a diagonal because I feel quickly drawn into the background of the photograph by the converging verticals of the chair backs. This effect is more dominant than the stability of all the horizontals.

Fig. 4 Rusty Steps - 1/100 at f/22, ISO 560, 24-70mm lens at 24mm

Fig. 4 Rusty Steps – 1/100 at f/22, ISO 560, 24-70mm lens at 24mm

Fig. 4 is another example of multiple horizontals but where more impact is achieved by far fewer converging verticals . These old steps just outside Southsea are on the wall of a short pier and probably date back to a time when there were more small fishing boats operating from the town. I was attracted to the decay and the bright colours of the rust but the horizontals created by the rungs and the wall are an important compositional feature.

Fig. 5 Ship at Portsmouth - 1/250 at f/10, ISO 100, 24-70mm lens at 24mm

Fig. 5 Ship at Portsmouth – 1/250 at f/10, ISO 100, 24-70mm lens at 24mm

My penultimate horizontal is perhaps too complex a composition to meet the requirements of the exercise with the small boat on a diagonal to the large naval vessel. I took a number of shots of ships in Portsmouth harbour and although some were simpler they were also rather dull. I feel that the dominant feature here is the relationship between the sky and the sea and therefore the horizontal created by the horizon which is hardly broken by the ship and the port buildings.  The yacht adds some foreground interest and balance.

Fig. 6 Dawn Sky - 1/1250 at f/5.6, ISO 100, 70-300mm at 200mm

Fig. 6 Dawn Sky – 1/1250 at f/5.6, ISO 100, 70-300mm at 200mm

The interesting part of this exercise was to actively look at the landscape for lines and to recognise them as design elements. I saw the image in fig. 6 on a Tuesday morning whilst driving to work but had no time to stop. Luckily the banded clouds were repeated on the following saturday morning and I captured the shot. As with most, if not all, of my images for this exercise there are more than just horizontal lines in this picture but I see the horizontals before the verticals and the soft diagonal. There is a strong base in the horizon which is low in the frame. I am wondering whether this position makes it more solid and more of a foundation for the image. Then there are two bands of cloud creating two horizontals and a shallow diagonal and the top of the trees which is another near horizontal. I think the distance from the camera and the dark cloud leaves the impression of horizontal lines even when they are slightly diagonal. I have processed the image to keep everything in silhouette to create a strong graphic design and added a warm filter to bring a hint of sepia to the scene.

A small landmark for me is resisting the temptation to clone away the telegraph pole on the right. Leaving it creates a sense of scale which is probably a little exaggerated as part of the pole is below the horizon. Anyway I think it should be there.

Having set myself the challenge of not just photographing straight things but to find horizontals in the landscape and for each image to have some value I found this exercise quite difficult. However that difficulty led me to gain a better understanding of the relationship between graphic elements. The most significant horizontal was usually the horizon, whether that was the natural horizon or a horizon created by a dominant structure such as the pier but other elements were needed to create a satisfying image. The horizontal on its own was uninspiring.

I have selected black and white where I believe it helps to emphasise the graphic elements.


* Freeman, Michael. (2010) The Photographer’s Mind, Lewes, Ilex Press

Researching Black and White and Some Thoughts on Digital Capture

The Maiella from Roccacalacsio October 2010 - 1/125 at f/6 ISO 100

The Maiella from Roccacalacsio October 2010 – 1/125 at f/6 ISO 100

I sense that this is a subject that I will return to time and time again during this course. For me, black and white images have always had a strong effect, I respond to the qualities of tonal breadth and graphic design that are often present in landscape and architectural photography; the gritty, timelessness of old Life magazines or the frighteningly, brilliant and moving war photography of Don McCullin; the intimacy of the best contemporary street photography or the work of the great masters of the art that crosses many genres.

However, it has never been my forte and it is a key objective of my learning journey to start to “see” in black and white and to produce well thought through, technically strong black and white images that work. Lofty ambitions indeed. To this end, and over the last few weeks, I have been starting to read more of the thoughts of people who have mastered monochrome and to spend time just looking at great black and white photographs. On-line, second hand book shops are a great source of material and that combined with a couple of books I already own and a visit to the local bookstore has given me a starting point for research.

For many years my interests lay with Landscape so the first book from my own shelf is The Portfolios of Ansel Adams, a book I purchased in a Manilla bookshop that recycled books from American libraries. As the title suggests this is primarily a collection of Adams’ photographs, in fact seven portfolios selected by Adams himself to show his work across many different subjects. There is a preface written by Adams where he makes the intriguing comment that he has worked with much the same approach and the same general techniques for forty five years.

Ansel Adams lived from 1902 to 1984, and I wonder whether he would have said the same if he had been born 50 or 60 years later? In the very late 20th and early 21st Centuries we have seen photography turned on its head by the “perfect storm” the need for digital image capture, transmission and storage created by, amongst others, the space race, the rapid development of that technology converging with a quantum leap in computer processing power for the home user and the coming of the ubiquitous smart phone.

The first commercial digital camera was patented as early as 1972 by Texas Instruments but I would argue that few professionals or serious amateurs would have considered a full or partial switch to digital until Nikon launched their first digital SLR in 1999, the D1, and Canon quickly followed with the EOS D30 in 2000. The Nikon D1 boasted 2.7 megapixels and the Canon D30 3.25 megapixels. This compares with the 36 megapixels offered by the Nikon D800 launched last year. I am not technically qualified to answer whether Ansel Adams could have created the subtle tones of his masterpieces with 36 megapixels, Photoshop CS6 and modern papers and printers but I am certain that he would not have been able to do so as recently as 2000.

It is not for me to say what Adams would or would not have done but many, most (?) or a sizeable proportion (?) of working photographers and a high percentage of amateurs born in the 50’s and 60’s discarded a significant amount of the technology they grew up with sometime after 1999. For some, such as press photographers, it might initially have been an enforced change and for others an act of faith to climb onboard the digital revolution and to explore the possibilities. I wonder if, in the year 2030, when like Adams they are 79 or 80 and publishing a portfolio of their life’s work, that any of this generation of photographers will write that they have worked with much the same techniques and the same approach for the whole of their career.

But, that is all about technology. Adams chose to use black and white, long after colour processing became available. Initially his reservations could have been analogous to using the limited ability of a D1 in 1999. According to Richard B. Woodward writing in the on-line Smithsonian Magazine (2009) Adams wanted to control the whole process from capture to final print and the complexities of colour processing from the 1930’s to the 1950’s meant that processing occurred in laboratories and the results were, in Woodward’s words, a “crapshoot”. However, Adams this icon of black and white photography, did use colour and captured many Kodachromes in the 40’s and consulted to Eastman Kodak and Polaroid in their quest to create accurate colour film so he was obviously no Luddite. We know that Adams continued to predominantly use black and white long after colour was available and, indeed practical, so this was clearly an artistic choice.

The answer to why he made this choice lies in his work. His famous American Western landscapes are more about tone than shape. The range of light captured, for example, in Lower Yosemite Fall where the highlights on the leaves leap from the page, defined and textured above the dark waters of the river with its glistening reflections and sense of deep waters. The towering peaks subtly receding into the clouds above the pine valley in Winter Storm includes a tonal range as broad as the valley he photographed.

My research this week has helped me understand that his technique of processing the minute detail of his prints, selectively managing every tone to create the desired effect would have been impossible in colour then and is still impossible now. To reach this understanding I needed two key pieces of input, one was obviously to look at the work of a master of his art but the driver to take me to that point was my local book store purchase; Michael Freeman’s Field Guide to Black and White Photography is a compact and informative introduction to the subject. His practical comparison of the broad limits of post production processing of black and white versus the narrow limits of processing colour and how detail filled highlights and deep textured shadows can more easily coexist in a black and white world begin to explain why, for the right subject, managing tonal range can provide a more compelling image than the best processed colour original. Freeman (2013) explains that monochrome is not what we normally see, it is “distanced from what we take in through our eyes”  and that allows us to manipulate it in post processing in more extreme ways without breaching any norms of acceptability.  Understanding this is an important step for me to have taken on the road to understanding when and why to create black and white images and hopefully to discovering how to create compelling monochrome images.


Adams, Ansel, with an Introduction by John Szarkowski. (1981) The Portfolios of Ansel Adams, New York, New York Graphic Society, Little, Brown and Company.

Freeman, Michael. (2013) Black and White Photography Field Guide, The art of creating digital monochrome, Lewes, The Ilex Press Limited.

Nikon DSLR History – www.kenrockwell.com/nikon/dslr.htm

Canon DSLR History – www.canon.com/camera-museum/history/canon_story/2001_2004/2001_2004.html

Texas Instruments – inventors.about.com/library/inventors/bldigitalcamera.htm

Ansel Adams and Colour Photography – www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/Shades-of-Ansel-Adams.html

Exercise 09 Balance

Symmetrical Roman Balconies

Symmetrical Roman Balconies

This exercise involves selecting 6 of my own photographs and deciding how the balance works in each one. For each photograph it was necessary to identify the main points of balance, which could be shape, colour, tone, lines or any other elements. Then to draw a sketch of these parts and show how they relate to each other with a balance scale.

Having studied the course text and Michael Freeman’s (2007) ideas in The Photographer’s Eye and having spent a considerable time just looking at other photographers’ images I still found this a challenging task.

At one level I understand the concept of balance whereby a dominant large feature to the left can be balanced by a smaller feature to the right regardless of whether this is achieved by shape, colour, texture or tone but I feel I still need to better understand how this works when there is also depth to the image.  Here I have selected some images where the answer is simple and some where it appears harder to determine.

Fig. 1 Tractor

Fig. 1 Tractor


To start with Fig. 1 and a simple image of three men with a vintage tractor and harvester. I see a clear balance between the group of men on the left and the two large machines on the right which can be seen as one object or two. In addition the machinery forms a dominant triangle from bottom left to top right and the men and hazy background are in a balancing triangle on the left.

There is also a curve formed by the feet of the men, the tractor and the harvester which runs from front to back in the image.

Fig. 2 Dog in Rome

Fig. 2 Dog in Rome

dog-in-Rome-with-shapes-&-fulcrum_D2X8214The dog in Rome photograph in fig.2 appears relatively straight forward. There are 4 shapes left to right, the dog, the couple and the two flower salesman. This gives a balance across the image. There is a strong line, the wall, running front to back and connecting the groups. This may be an over-complication as I can also see the image as just two groups, the couple with their dog as one group and the two salesman as the other.

I see the white shirt of the salesman as a balance to the nearly white dog and because all the other tones are much darker my eye moves back and forth from left to right between these two areas of brightness.

Fig. 3 Doorway

Fig. 3 Doorway

doorway-with-shapes-&-fulcrum_D2X6644In fig. 3 I specifically wanted to explore balance in a portrait frame. I sense that with many vertical compositions there are balances working both horizontally and vertically. In this example it is mostly horizontal with three strong groups left, centre and right but I also see the green window at the top as a counter balance to all the shapes in the bottom of the frame.

There are many textures in play here with a decaying stucco wall, the hard, dull, metal lamp post and the trunks and leaves on the trees. Complimentary colours also have a role with three shades of green left, right and top centre but overall I think it is the nearly symmetrical layout that is the most powerful feature.

Fig. 4 Chillies

Fig. 4 Chillies

chillies-with-shapes-&-fulcrum_D2X6628Fig. 4 is another vertical frame but seemingly simpler. There are two large blocks of colour and contrasting texture with the chillies at the top and the stone seat at the bottom. The man-made seat is nearly positioned in the horizontal centre but the chillies are off centre and a less regular shape so there is some tension between the solid/regular and the irregular pattern that is natural and less solid.

Fig 5. Sheep Dog

Fig 5. Sheep Dog

sheep-dog-with-shapes-&-fulcrum_D2X6264With Fig. 5 I have moved to an image that I found harder to analyse. To my eye there are two clear shapes – the dog and the sheep to the left as one and the sheep to the right as the other but because dog is distinctly  whiter I think he stands alone as an element and thereby making three elements in total. The dog is looking out of the frame whilst the sheep are intent on quenching their thirst and this strengthens his role as the dominant feature.

Fig. 6 The Shepherd

Fig. 6 The Shepherd

Shephard-&-Flock-with-shapes-&-fulcrum_D2X5761Fig. 6 is harder still. There is one long shape formed by the shepherd and his flock and a second, smaller shape made by the left hand dog. This seems to be the main shape balance even though the long shape fills 70% of the horizontal plane.

However, I am more drawn to the direction the dog on the right is moving and the perception of direction that is formed by the receding flock. The dog to the left and the flock form a curve that flows away from the bottom right. This movement might be strengthened by the triangular mountain top right. I think this is an image that is balanced mostly by lines.


Fig. 7 Roccacalacsio

roccacalascio-with-shapes_D2X7552I found fig 7. the hardest to analyse. There are 4 strong shapes. The sky, the triangular rock and sheep to the left, the mountain ahead with its ruined castle and the white road complete with yet another shepherd. (If you photograph in the Abruzzi mountains you tend to have sheep and shepherds in many of your shots whether you wish to or not). I found it difficult to draw a balance scale and think that the balance comes from the two blocks of mountain and rocks divided by the white road which leads into the image and perhaps to the castle.

This was an excellent exercise that made me think long and hard about shape balance. I looked through a number of books and found that Freeman (2007) was the only author to hand who had anything to say on the subject. Internet research added little to my sources.

However, looking at photographs was far more useful and it is interesting to see how accomplished photographers instinctively seek and find shape balance. It is obviously clearer in black and white prints where shape and tone are dominant and the distraction of colour is removed. Cecil Beaton’s photograph of Quintin Hogg has a very clear and simple balance of the subject in a left hand frame and his smaller hat in a, more narrow, right hand frame.

Frederick Evans, On Sussex Downs, has divided the frame horizontally with the white road making a small dark area to the left and a large dark area to the right. His sky line is placed higher than the centre so we have three differing sized blocks divided by the road and the horizon. the trees break this skyline and stop the photograph being purely geometrical.

Robert Adams’ The Farmyard, has many elements spaced across the frame with a large building partly included to the left, then a telegraph pole, a tree and a silo. The last three are quite evenly spaced and the pole is linked into the tree with a white cylinder. Behind all of this the horizon is placed 2/3 down into the frame and everything is knitted together with the telephone lines. There are a lot of elements but the overall effect is very simple and restful, it is a tranquil scene.

Research on Positions in the Frame

Fig. 01- 1/100 at f/13 ISO 100

Fig. 1- 1/100 at f/13 ISO 100

Having completed the image capture and preparation for the exercise of positioning an object in different places in the frame, but before logging the results, I want to spend some time researching the basic principles of composition.

The Mind’s Eye, Henri Cartier-Bresson (1999), includes an essay on composition in which he makes some fundamental points of principle, the first being that composition must be one of our constant preoccupations and that it can only stem from intuition. He goes on to say that application of the golden rule is made by the photographer’s eye and not by geometric tools. This is the key, we survey a scene, point, compose and shoot using our instincts, yes, we do now have the option of dividing the view finder into the rule of thirds, a day that Cartier-Bresson hoped he would never see, but it is still our eye and our instinct that sees the shot.

I am only now discovering Cartier-Bresson’s work beyond the most recognisable and iconic images. I am intrigued that image after image follows a pattern of composition where the golden rule or golden section has been applied and, no doubt, applied instinctively. I understand that he did not crop and thereby re-compose his photographs in the dark room so what we see is what he saw in his viewfinder. Sir Ernst Gombrich (1978), the eminent art historian, wrote in his introduction to the Victoria and Albert Museum archive of Cartier-Bresson’s work that nearly all his photographs exhibit the visual balance and the secret geometry of a formal composition. We know he trained as an artist and Gombrich (1978) tells us that, in his older age, he painted and sketched more than he used a camera.

It comes as something of a relief that Michael Freeman (2007) reassures us that the photographer does not need to be concerned with the exact proportions calculated by the ancient Greeks and the painters of the renaissance, the golden rule. The important point is that each of the ways, generally devised by painters, to divide the frame recognises that we respond positively to certain proportions in a picture, a harmonious division. The photographer seeks a balance in composition, a balance between the space occupied by the subject or subjects and the space not occupied by the same.

The easily understood basis of the golden rule is that it is what nature appeared to have intended we use, it is apparently repeated time and again in natural design but, perhaps, the most telling fact is that the human face is divided into sections that follow the rule. Regardless of the mathematics it seems obvious that the human brain will be geared to recognising the human face and that we feel comfortable looking at something that mimics those proportions.

Fig. 01- 1/100 at f/13 ISO 100

Fig. 2- 1/100 at f/13 ISO 100

Fig. 1 is a picture I took in 2006 and shows my original crop of a photo of a neighbour in the middle of his field which had become an ocean of poppies. As a reference point I have re-cropped the image in Fig. 2 to place Pepe on the intersection of golden sections.

The rule of thirds is sometimes described as a simplified version of the golden section. It was apparently named much more recently, most sources I found cite John Thomas Smith (1797) in his book Remarks on Rural Scenery quoting a previous work by Sir Joshua Reynolds. It appears that Smith (1797) was making an observation that great painters tended to divide their canvas into thirds both horizontally and vertically. The sky often occupied a third and the land two thirds, he continues to say that he found that the ratio of two thirds to one third more pleasing that the precise formal half or any other proportion. For the none mathematician this is instantly more understandable and I am drawn to the idea that it was an observation on existing work rather than the application of a formula.

Fig. 3- 1/100 at f/13 ISO 100

Fig. 3- 1/100 at f/13 ISO 100

In Fig. 3 I have moved Pepe to the vertical intersections created by the rule of thirds.

My summary of this short piece of research is that the golden rule and the rule of thirds have more similarities than differences. Both say that we respond positively to visual balance and that we can divide a composition into proportions that are harmonious and satisfying. However, neither can be a rigid rule of composition, and neither will direct us to a single perfect point to position the subject. In a scene where there is a single subject within an even background there are many potential points of position that follow the rules.

To bring this back to the exercise in hand Michael Freeman (2007) says that when we are photographing a single and “obvious subject” and where we have made the decision to allow free space around the subject, we have to decide where to place that object within the frame.  Assuming that the subject is going to take up a reasonably small part of the frame we are left with many choices. The golden section and the rule of thirds are useful tools to help make these choices but we are reminded by Cartier-Bresson (1999) that the camera is an instrument of intuition and spontaneity. The message must be to hone our instincts to find the harmonious balance so we point, compose and shoot without tedious calculation and delay.

Fig. 4- 1/100 at f/13 ISO 100

Fig. 4- 1/100 at f/13 ISO 100

This little research project has given me a reason to revisit my original photo of Pepe and his poppy field and I have concluded that the most pleasing crop is the one in Fig. 4. Although as Freeman (2007) points out, free placement is never guaranteed, I wish I had included more poppies to the left as I would like to see a crop with Pepe even further to the right with the red poppies stretching further out behind him in two directions. However, I am pleased I was reminded of this image and came back to it and maybe even improved the composition.

A a small piece of non photographic information. The amazing display of poppies proved to be a once off event. Pepe had ploughed this field in preparation for planting young oak trees whose root balls had been impregnated with truffle spores. He must have ploughed at the perfect moment for poppy seeds as early next summer this wonderful display appeared. Soon after the photograph was taken he turned the soil again and planted his young oak trees. I am not sure whether the truffles have arrived yet, they say it takes seven to ten years, so maybe soon.