Thursday, 1 September 2011

Assignment 1: Contrasts

Assignment 1 calls for 8 pairs of images showing contrast. These can be literal or implied and I hope I have selected a number of interesting subjects with a range of techniques. I have selected images I have not used in any previous exercises which has proved very time consuming and I'm pretty sure I won't be using this method again!

This pair of images was taken on holiday in Greece. The first was taken at the end of the day after beach staff had put all the resort sailing boats up on to the beach. The photo may have been improved by taking it later in the day with more golden light, but I took advantage of the clear beach which was a rare occurrence. I cloned out some distractions in the sea behind the masts and I used Aperture to clone out some small distractions and improve colour saturation and levels (something common to most images in this assignment). I felt this image really suited a panoramic crop to keep the focus on the boats and also remove unnecessary sky and beach, which added nothing to the scene.

To keep the sailing theme going, I chose the image below to represent 'few'. I tried a similar panoramic crop of the single sailboat but the large amount of sky and sea add to the isolation the image is trying to convey. The mountains in the background add to the drama I think. Again, I used Aperture to clone some small distractions and improve colour saturation and levels.

The images I have chosen for this category are very different. The 'diagonal' image is one I took at Widemouth Bay in Cornwall, which has some really interesting cliffs at the edge of the beach. It wasn't the most photogenic day so I kept the sky out of the image as much as possible while trying to keep the cliffs in context to show the diagonal path of the rocks. The cliff itself and rocks in the foreground also run on a diagonal path from left to right. Colours, levels, highlights and shadows have been boosted quite strongly giving an 'HDR' type of feel to the image which I really like but some might find too artificial.

The image I chose for 'rounded' was one I took for an exercise but didn't use. I actually don't like the dull background but I do like the reflections of our kitchen, especially the window which has been distorted by the rounded shape of the spoon. If I had time, I'd recreate this image with a better background and more symmetry in the reflection.

The first image was taken at Snowshill Lavender Farm just before harvest in July. Unfortunately, when I got there it was a pretty dull day with no interest in the sky so I had to work hard to get some good pictures. The long rows of beautiful lavender make some really interesting lines, some straight, some curved but I've picked this image to represent 'straight'. I boosted colour to counteract the very dull light and boosted shadows and highlights to get detail back in the sky.

The image I have chosen to represent 'curved' is technically a pretty poor photograph! I was passing a local park when I saw some power kites in the sky and liked the shapes they were making. I took my camera out quickly and started shooting, making the cardinal mistake of not checking my settings first. When I got home I realised my camera was set up for some low light pictures I was taking the night before so they were taken at ISO 1000, hence the noise. However, I actually liked the content of the images so after some exposure rectification and colour boost I decided to use this one. The image was also cropped to remove unnecessary sky.

I raided my shed and turned to my 60mm macro lens for this pair of images representing Pointed and Blunt. Because I took these in natural diffused light in my conservatory against a makeshift background, lighting control was fairly limited. I converted to black and white to counter some colour cast and sharpened them both slightly.

Imagining and photographing 'Smooth' presented a real challenge to me. I tried many different scenarios but just didn't get the photo that I felt conveyed the subject well. By it's very nature, something very smooth should be featureless and therefore difficult to photograph! In the end, I selected this seaside landscape I took a while ago. I used a tripod to get a sharp image in low light and the long shutter speed smoothed out the lagoon water reflecting the sunset light.

The image I have chosen to represent 'rough' is a macro shot of Basil our beagle's nose. Their sense of smell is fifty times greater than ours and beagle owners will know the trouble it can get them into! I felt the image wasn't working in a standard crop so cropped it square and converted it to black and white. Square crops are notoriously difficult to get right but I felt it worked for this image. I love the textures this close-up shows and it's a very unusual dog portrait.

I have chosen this particular 'continuous' image because of it's content over any technical skill. It was a shot taken in Cirencester Park with my iPhone using the Hipstamatic App, which I am completely addicted to. The App simulates Lomography images which adds colour saturation, flare, vignetting, square crop, film scratches and just about every other effect we spend our entire lives trying to avoid in today's digital world! Although the sky was featureless (something I seem to bring on as soon as I strap on my camera), I really like the seemingly never ending path and the scratchy effect of the Lomo app. I tried to balance the image by centring the path and I like the way the trees in the distance almost mirror the perspective of the path.

I have represented intermittent using a close-up of my ukulele fret board. There's a lot going on when you really look at stringed instruments; curves, long lines, short lines, movement and stillness. I could have used similar images for quite a few of these contrasts! This was taken in natural light with my trusty 60mm macro lens. Again, I'm not that happy with the grey background but it's all I have at the moment.

The image for 'dark' was taken at Trebarwith Strand, a lovely beach in Cornwall that we often visit. It is one of the most photographed beaches in the country because of picturesque Gull Rock in the background, plus there is a river running dramatically through old slate mining channels as you walk to the sands. I took this in early March and really liked the contrast of the storm at sea with the shafts of light coming through the clouds. The eye is drawn to the surfers in the sea; impressive that they were there at all considering I was well wrapped up and still freezing! I did my best to get some foreground interest in the shot while still having the sky as the main feature and have placed the horizon along the bottom 'third' line.

The image used for 'light' was taken during the heavy snows we had in the Cotswolds earlier in the year. Our dogs, a constant source of inspiration, had the most fantastic time jumping through the 3 foot drifts and I took this as Rosie the Springer emerged with a stick that had been buried. The bright snow is a metering challenge for even the best digital cameras and I dialled in +1ev exposure compensation to emphasise the very bright conditions and stop the snow appearing grey.

I had a few choices for an image that represents 'high' given that I do a lot of walking along the South West Coastal Path but decided to choose this fairly obvious one. Nothing says 'high' like a warning sign showing a man falling off a cliff! I tries to keep this sign obvious but not the whole focal point of the image as the backdrop of Bedruthan Steps is just stunning. There are better view points of the stepped rocks on the beach themselves, but I wanted to get the sign in the frame. The image was processed in Aperture with some colour saturation adjustments but I have not corrected the fairly obvious lens distortion which has caused the horizon to bow.

Low is represented by another, more conventional portrait of Basil, our Beagle. A low viewpoint makes for an interesting study of pets because we normally look down on them and rarely see them from this angle. The diffused light looks nice on his fur and I liked the low perspective and catchlight in his eye in this image. I deliberately put the grass in the foreground but left it out of focus - I think it frames the image nicely and is a technique a lot of modern lifestyle photographers are using at the moment. I'm not overly happy with the busy background but that's the way our garden looks so other than use maximum aperture, there's not much more I could have done about it!

Single image showing contrast
I decided to return to a subject close to my heart for this image. I have quite a few guitars and love not only the sounds they make but find them aesthetically pleasing too. This image of my ukulele shows the curves of the body leading to straight lines of the strings contrasting with the intermittent frets too. This is not the last time you'll see pictures of stringed instruments in this blog! I'm not very happy with the grey background of this picture but I had no other lighting options with me at the time and I feel it does get the point across.

About this Assignment
During the course of this first module and assignment, I have been through some real highs and lows. I just couldn't find the time to get going on it and nearly quit the whole course several times in despair. Now it's finished, I have learned some really valuable lessons about planning and time management - probably more useful to me than the actual content of the module. I have renewed interest in the course and will continue with a new mindset. I will not give myself ridiculous deadlines that I can't hope to meet but will instead enjoy the journey as well as the destination. Exercises will get done when they're done and my new tutor has really helped me with planning advice and a new attitude. Bring on Assignment 2!

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Dividing the Frame Ex 1 - Balance

Balance is important but not always obvious when framing or looking at images. It can be made up of elements such as colour, tones, shapes and placement of objects amongst other things. I have selected some existing images and will show where the balance lies in each.

The first image is fairly simple. The larger group of rowing boats are balanced by the blue door, which is closer to the centre of the frame.

The second image is slightly more complex. The horse and foal are divided by the vertical centre line but the foal is obviously smaller than it's mother. The rocks in background add another element above them. This image is not a very well balanced one in theory but there are other shapes involved (curves are made by the horses necks and body shape) which will be discussed in a later exercise.

This image is another example of the smaller element balancing because it is closer to the centre line.

The larger elements of this image probably couldn't be more symmetrical! The smaller elements within the window add interest but are still reasonably balanced despite their different shapes.

The larger static landscape elements of this image are well balanced by the movement of the Springer Spaniel which is again closer to the centre line.

This was an interesting exercise because the majority of these images naturally show balance, even if I wasn't deliberately framing them to show this at the time. I believe an element of the photographers 'eye' for a good image taps into our natural liking for a balanced image.

Dividing the frame Ex 2 - Positioning the horizon

The following pictures show a local field near my home. I have positioned the horizon in various places from low to high in the image.

This low horizon would be a very boring image if the sky were not interesting. However, there is just enough interest in the cloud formations to make the image work reasonably well.

The second image has just a small amount more land. I was actually aiming to get the horizon about a third up the frame but clearly missed!  This would have been the optimum shot due to the interesting clouds.

 The horizon is roughly at halfway in this image. This is normally to be avoided in landscapes as it makes for a static image. However, the slight incline of the hill and the clouds again rescue the image from complete failure I think.

This image has the horizon around the 3/4 mark. The lack of foreground interest makes this the least successful image in my opinion. The image below has approximately the same proportions but a lower perspective brings slightly more foreground interest and makes for a better image.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Frame - Focal Lengths and different viewpoints

This exercise is used to show the changing perspectives seen when viewing the same scene with different focal lengths. I chose to photograph a simple still life using some interesting stones found at Widemouth Bay in Cornwall. The first image was taken at 18mm, f/11 and shows a reasonably square grouping of stones.

The second image was taken at 200mm and the differences are clear to see. The longer focal length has compressed the distances between the stones making the grouping much more rectangular in shape. The shapes of some of the stones also appears changed as well as their relationship with each other.

Photographers can use this 'compression' for creative effect, for example making a portrait more flattering of making a subject stand out from a background.

The Frame - Focal Lengths

The idea of this exercise is to use a telephoto lens to show the effect of changing focal length for which I used my trusty Nikon 18-200mm lens. While not as good optically as some of my other lenses, it's a cracking lightweight 'travel' lens and with such a wide range of focal length, it was perfect for this exercise.

I travel frequently to North Cornwall and the scene in these images is typical of the coastline in this part of the world.

Image 1 was taken at 18mm with a polariser filter and shows the wider scene of the fields leading to the cliffs. The vingetting on the LHS is pretty obvious but I decided to leave it alone.
ISO 200 18mm f/11 1/100
 The second image was taken at 35mm, which starts to bring the island in the background into the picture.
ISO 200 35mm f/11 1/80
 Image 3 taken at 70mm starts to show the detail of Long Island (looking like the Matterhorn?) with Saddle Rocks before it. The stone in the field in the near foreground is an ancient marker stone that the local cows use as a scratching post!
ISO 200 70mm f/11 1/80

I jumped to 200mm for image 4 because I felt the views in between added nothing to the scene. The detail of Long Island is the obvious focus of the image and the GCHQ radar station at Morwenstow can be clearly seen in the distance.
ISO 200 200mm f/11 1/80
Learning outcomes
I frequently use telephoto lenses because they give the photographer a really wide choice of framing options very quickly. I find I have to plan and think more about my position when using a fixed focal length lens - not a bad thing sometimes!

The Frame Ex 3 - A sequence of compostion

I learned a few practical lessons on this exercise. I decided to take my camera to Cirencester on a rather overcast Market day to try to get some interesting sequences and thought I'd use my 70-200mm long lens to avoid getting in people's faces. Practical lesson 1 was that people are instantly suspicious of a long lens. I certainly got to know some of the traders quite well but first impressions weren't good as they were all very hostile to me taking pictures of them. I have my theories on why this is but won't discuss them here. Anyway, here are my efforts at a sequence of compositions.

The first sequence is based around the hat stall. The owner of this was happy to let me take photos but the stall was a bit messy. I got a sequence of a chap buying a cap to keep his (rather hair free) head warm then closed in on some detail of the hats for sale.

Next came the seafood stall which was rather lacking in produce but again, tight images with shallow depth of field produced some interesting images.  

The fruit and veg stall was quite colourful despite the dull day. I have to say the owner was particularly hostile when he first saw me but relented when I said I was a photography student rather than with the Revenue. The wider shots were too busy and uninteresting, but as with the other sequences, got better when I focussed in on the produce. Overall, I think this is my best sequence although there are better individual images elsewhere. The spelling on the description boards make these images more interesting!

My final sequence was of a stall selling local produce and ends with my favourite image of the day. The rest of the sequence was pretty uninteresting to be honest, but I like the final image of the stall holder, who was a very friendly local farmer and having spoken to him at length I think the image captures his personality well.

Learning outcomes
This was my first try at 'reportage' style photography and I did learn some valuable lessons about taking photos of people here. Next time I do this I will definitely NOT take my large professional 70-200mmm f/2.8 lens as this really seemed to upset people. A smaller 'travel' lens would have been more subtle even if the image quality isn't as good in theory. I would also engage with the people I am photographing much earlier. Once they knew what I was doing, most people were very friendly and willing to let me take images of them but there was initial hostility and I should have done more to dispel people's fears earlier. With lots going on, wide images tend to look very messy so I felt the more detailed images worked better here. However, the wider images in the sequence give context and tell more of the story so they are still important. A very interesting exercise!