Tag Archives: Sussex

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

Sources

(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.

Internet

(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

 

 

 

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Exercise 11 Vertical and Horizontal Frames Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pair 1 – The Sign

1/1600 at f/1.8 ISO 100

Fig. 01 – 1/1600 at f/1.8 ISO 100

I will start with the last image I captured.

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

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

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

Fig. 02 – 1/1250 at f/1.8 ISO 100

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

Pair 2 – High Street

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

Fig. 03 – 1/125 at f/7.1 ISO 2800

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

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

Fig. 04 – 1/125 at f/7.1 ISO 3600

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

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

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

Fig. 05 – 1/125 at f/7.1 ISO 3600

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

Pair 3 – The Saint

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

Fig. 06 – 1/100 at f/2.2 ISO 3200

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

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

Fig. 07 – 1/100 at f/2.2 ISO 2800

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

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

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

Fig. 08 – 1/100 at f/2.2 ISO 3200

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

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

Pair 4 Flags

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

Fig. 09 – 1/125 at f/7.1 ISO 2200

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

Fig. 10 – 1/125 at f/7.1 ISO 1600

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

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

Pair 5 Sculpture

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

Fig. 11 – 1/100 at f/2.8 ISO 2000

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

Fig. 12 - 1/100 at 7.1 ISO 12.800

Fig. 12 – 1/100 at 7.1 ISO 12.800

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

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

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

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

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

Fig. 13 – 1/80 at f/7.1 ISO 12800

Pairs 6, 7 & 8 The Choir

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

Fig. 14 – 1/100 f/2.8 ISO 2800

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

Fig. 15 – 1/100 at f/2.8 ISO 5000

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

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

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

Fig. 16 – 1/40 at f/7/1 ISO 12800

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

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

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

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

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

Fig. 17 – 1/40 at f/7.1 ISO 12800

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

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

Fig 18 – 1/30 at f/7.1 ISO 12800

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

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

Fig. 19 – 1/50 at f7.1 ISO 12800

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

Exercise 07 Focal lengths

Fishmonger Littlehampton 1/100 at f/4 ISO 560

Fishmonger Littlehampton 1/100 at f/4 ISO 560

On a very wet morning I visted Littlehampton, a small port on the South coast near Chichester to take a series of photographs using lens of different focal lengths. The mission was compromised by driving rain that made changing lenses hazardous so I restricted myself to only using 2 lenses, a 16mm – 35mm wide angle and a 70mm to 300mm telephoto, all taken from the same viewpoint. A selection of the images are included below and show that, whilst the subject (the union flag) becomes closer the relationship between the flag and other items in the frame remains constant.

Fig. 1 16mm lens 1/400 at f/4 - ISO 100

Fig. 1 16mm lens 1/400 at f/4 – ISO 100

Fig. 2 70mm lens 1/250 at f/4 - ISO 100

Fig. 2 70mm lens 1/250 at f/4 – ISO 100

Fig. 3 125mm lens 1/250 at f/4.5 - ISO 100

Fig. 3 125mm lens 1/250 at f/4.5 – ISO 100

Fig. 4 135mm lens 1/250 at f/4.5 - ISO 100

Fig. 4 135mm lens 1/250 at f/4.5 – ISO 100

Fig. 5 300mm lens 1/160 at f/4.5 - ISO 100

Fig. 5 300mm lens 1/160 at f/4.5 – ISO 100

Fig. 6 16mm lens 1/400 at f/4 - ISO 100

Fig. 6 16mm lens 1/400 at f/4 – ISO 100

Fig. 6 is a crop from the initial 16mm photograph (Fig. 1) showing that the captured image is identical to to the 300mm photograph in terms of the relationship between objects in the frame.