Friday, 17 December 2010

People & Place

I received my study pack for the People and Place course with the OCA. Initially it seemed a little light because it only has half as many pages as Art of Photography. However on closer inspection, it is much wordier and the projects are more involved and difficult to set up because they involve people in different settings.

I can see that I'm going to have to rope my friends into posing for me in order to complete some of the exercises, but hopefully they will end up with good quality photographs so it will be mutually beneficial.

I have jotted down the requirements of all of the projects for part 1 so that I can start planning them. My aim to is to complete them as opportunities arise, so they won't necessarily be completed in the correct order.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Formal Assessment - AOP

The postman has just delivered the result of my assessment for Art of Photography. I got 60% overall, which is equivalent to a 2:1. There are individual marks for skills, knowledge, invention, communication, and judgement.

The written feedback made references to my experimentation, inventiveness, and developing technical and communications skills. My work was described as 'visually engaging and showing emerging personal identity'.

What have I learned?
The detailed marks give an indication of areas that I can improve upon. This is something that I will bear in mind as I progress to the next module. It's not just about fulfilling the brief and taking interesting photographs, it's also about developing and demonstrating a specific skillset.

I'm very happy!

Friday, 26 November 2010

Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL)

I received the results of my application today. I applied for exemption from the remaining two level 1 units of my photography degree and  was granted exemption from Digital Photographic Practice but not People and Place.

I have enjoyed working my way through Art of Photography. My pictures have definitely improved and I was forced to tackle subjects that I wouldn't normally photograph, but I wanted a more demanding level of study.

I'm a little disappointed that I can't start level 2 immediately, but think People and Place will be interesting, particularly in view of my new role with the casting agency. My enrolment form has been submitted and I look forward to receiving my new study materials.

Thursday, 25 November 2010


I spent the weekend in Manchester at the third annual Great British Salsa Experience Congress. This is by far the UK's best salsa weekender and an opportunity to catch up with friends from all over the country as well as overseas.

This was also a very important event for Dos-Seis Dance Company who were able to showcase their current routine to an international audience for the first time. I captured the girls preparing for their congress début in Manchester Town Hall and converted the images to black and white in Lightroom.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Dos-Seis Dance Company

My friend manages a dance group and asked me to take some publicity shots of them last Saturday. Their début performance is this Sunday and the images have been posted on Facebook, included in a promotional video and will be uploaded to their website.

I bought a background support and some black muslin recently. I have played with this set up at home, but this was my first opportunity to use it with live models. We were in a large studio as the group had planned to rehearse after the photoshoot so there was plenty of room and plenty of light. I used a couple of the studio's built-in spotlights as continuous light sources rather than use my speedlights.

What have I learned?
These dancers all had poses worked out in advance and in view of the purpose of the photographs, they are highly stylised. However, I still think their individual personalities shine through.
I had to darken the background in Photoshop so, in future I need to try and underexpose the background at the time of capture. In some instances, a bit of back/rim lighting would have been useful to lift the subjects from the background.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Family Photoshoot

My friend booked me to take some pictures of herself and her children on Monday 25 October. She wanted pictures taken at her home, but I told her beforehand that I would like to also use her garden depending on the weather. As it turned out, the weather was perfect - bright but overcast for most of the time though the sun did make an appearance once or twice.

This is a very small selection of the images:

I wanted to make use of the strong backlight coming through the living room window. I used a silver reflector as the subjects are all young and ISO 400. The image was a little underexposed but this was rectified in Lightroom.

This was lit by combining natural light and ISO 1000. I added a little bit of fill light in post-processing as the girl was in shadow. I like the effect of the lens distortion on the boy's legs. His mother commented that she liked this too.

I bounced the flash off the ceiling to my left (ISO 1000) and applied a cream tone in Lightroom. I think the shadow adds form to the image, but I diffused the light because I didn't want the shadow to have hard edges.

I used the bounced flash technique again (ISO 400) and applied a black and white vignette in post-processing. This is my favourite shot of the day as it conveys the relationship between mother and daughter.

What have I learned? 
I'm very pleased with the quality and impact of light in all of the images. For the first time, I felt confident about placing the subjects and making decisions about using my reflector and/or speedlight.
I am also happy that the pictures look natural and not posed. I was fortunate to have subjects happy to have their pictures taken and quite relaxed in front of the camera.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Streamlining my Workflow

I am just about to finish an online course called Adobe Lightroom - A Comprehensive Look.

At the moment, I am using Bridge, Adobe Camera RAW (where appropriate) and then Photoshop. I tinkered with Lightroom back in 2008 but didn't really understand it and felt that Photoshop was a better option for me as I wasn't batch processing at that time.

Now that the number of images I am taking has increased and many of them are in RAW, my current workflow is proving to be a little too slow. I'd really like to batch process my images and avoid using Photoshop unless I absolutely have to.

Lightroom 3 has just about all of the features I use on a regular basis and the online course was spread over 4 weeks covering all of the main features in a lot of detail. I'm looking forward to seeing what difference it makes to my post-processing.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The British Face

I just watched this DVD which I bought from the National Portrait Gallery in August. It follows the actress Fiona Shaw as she examines the concept of portraiture and is divided into 2 sections.

1. Portraits & the Artist
This is about the relationship between the artist and the sitter. It concentrates on the intent of the artist, and there is a general consensus that the artist is trying to capture the 'character' or 'essence' of the subject. It is suggested that this is perhaps why passport photographs are not usually referred to as portraits.

The artist Stuart Pearson Wright talks about the intimacy between artist and subject who often do not exchange words. I thought this was an interesting idea because, on the one hand not speaking to someone you are spending time with can be difficult unless you are very comfortable with each other (assuming that the silence is not because you have fallen out!). But I have found that taking photographs of people without giving them immediate feedback can sometimes unnerve them. I suppose it depends on how comfortable they are about having their picture taken, and their expectations of the end result.

Stuart Pearson Wright discusses the tension between flattery and the truth. He avoids the former because this might imply that the subject is defective in some way. This differs from the approach taken when photographing celebrities where true likenesses are often cast aside in favour of what a film company or product manufacturer might want.

Francis Bacon took an expressionist approach and painted friends and lovers in their absence as he remembered them. These were not always well received, in fact Cecil Beaton destroyed Bacon's painting of him, such was his dissatisfaction.

The photographer Rankin said that photography was about creating 'visual lies' and his objective was to try and get to the truth. In order to do so, he would have a character or narrative in mind while taking the photograph.

2. Portraits & the Nation
This puts portraiture in a wider context and starts with the history of it. It was suggested that originally, portraiture had 3 main purposes: commemoration of the dead, representation of an icon and the celebration of an individual.

The subject of symbolism is introduced by Gerald Scarfe who uses this in his caricatures, and again the notion of 'the truth' and what it constitutes, is mentioned.

I personally think the idea of truth is both subjective and contextual. Everyone has their own interpretation of the truth and this can be affected by external influences.

The final part of the DVD is about the history of the National Portrait Gallery. It was founded to celebrate the achievements of notables who had been deceased for at least 10 years. Therefore, it was focussed on the past, and careful consideration was given as to who was considered worthy enough to have their portraits displayed in the gallery. In the case of scientists and some writers, their portraits served to illuminate their biographies in the case of those who were not immediately recognisable.

Over time, the range of exhibits has widened to include sculpture and photography, and the trustees have allowed the admission of living sitters since the 1960's. During the 1980's the gallery began to commission works of art so they are now creating it as opposed to simply collecting it.

What have I learned?
Portrait photography is a relatively new venture for me and I really like the idea of trying to capture the character of the subject. I read a comment from a wedding photographer once, who said that their aim was to try not to make the subject look like someone having their photograph taken.

I have been asked to do a photoshoot for a friend and her children next week, and in the first week of November I am doing a shoot for a dance group. Two very different types of image but in many ways very similar. Building a rapport with a subject is certainly important and the DVD has given me some ideas on what my psychological approach could be.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Sunday, 3 October 2010

The National Wedding Show

I went to the National Wedding Show at Earl's Court this morning. Having photographed my second wedding on Friday, I was looking for inspiration from more experienced photographers and ideas on how to present my work. I'm also considering having a presence at next year's exhibition.

All of the exhibitors displayed a range of albums, photo books and parent books and they all had large scale examples of their work hanging up. The lowest price quoted was £650 which gave me an insight into what people are prepared to pay for their wedding photography.

I was surprised to see some poor quality images from the more expensive photographers - clear evidence of the use of flash, lack of fill light and distracting backgrounds. It just goes to show that the non-discerning public can be taken in by glossy albums. It also showed me that there is still a gap in the market for high quality imagery.

I treated myself to an iPad yesterday and the plan is to use it to show friends and potential clients my best work in order to secure more bookings. I'm impressed with the size and quality of the screen, and once I become familiar with it and download some suitable apps, I think it could be a very useful marketing tool.

I have just downloaded a free application called Guardian Eyewitness which gives access to the 100 most recent images taken from the Guardian Newspaper daily centre spread. These images cover a range of  global events and include a 'pro tip' which is a couple of sentences from the photographer on how the shot was composed and/or camera settings used to achieve the end result.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

London Marathon 2011

The postman has just delivered the magazine and acceptance letter confirming that I have a place in the London Marathon 2011!

I have failed to get a place via the ballot for the last four years, so I'm particularly pleased.

I ran the London Marathon in 2008 for WRVS simply because they needed a runner and I was keen having just been turned down for a place. However, it's not a charity that I would have chosen to run for as I have no connection with them whatsoever, and they set me a ridiculous fund raising target, but I was happy to participate nonetheless.

This time around, I have chosen to run for The Sickle Cell Society. This charity is closer to my heart as I have friends and family who have been affected by sickle cell.

This will be my sixth marathon and I have been thinking of ways to document my progress. I'm currently toying with the idea of a video diary supplemented with photographs.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Assignment 5 - Tutor Feedback

The set of images submitted for Narrative Illustration, and the technical and reflective notes posted in your Blog, are of the same high standard of the previous assignments.

You reveal, through the twelve images, a carefully considered approach to what might have been a fairly generic and stereotyped project. Once again, you demonstrate a strong technical knowledge with an individual eye, to produce an alternative take on both iconic NYC images, and those less obvious, but equally engaging.

Cover Shot
With OG in the background, the detail of the George Washington bronze statue is immediately recognisable. The reduced saturation of the background helps lift and enhance the texture and colour of the dark metal, and the angle of light – three quarter back – brings out the form. I might have been tempted to shift the position to the right a touch, to bring the statue detail to the right of frame, and capture the flag in its entirety, just to tighten up the frame.

Central Park
There is some lovely detail in this shot, which works particularly well for the composition, with the grain in the decking bringing an extra dimension to the vanishing point effect. Similarly, the cross shadows and the dappled light on the bridge draws the eye forward curving towards the small group of visitors in the background. It’s an image that speaks of place. There’s also a great balance of colour, light, and shade across the dynamic range.

Bethesda Terrace in Central Park
This is a difficult image to expose correctly, with what must be a six-stop variation between the interior and the exterior. Here, you’ve managed to get a good balance with a bit of over exposure outside, but a nice feel to the light in the foreground. The reflected light on the ceiling and the floor provides a good graduation, and a partial silhouette of the mid-ground figures. Of the possibilities that I would consider for composition, the movement of passing figures is one, and the other would be, as in the previous image, to focus on the details of the building. This works well.

This shot of the Asian sculpture in the Met, provides a complementary feel to the previous image, with a flat, natural light creating a spacious feel and, with the comparatively small figure of your friend, the monumental size of the figure. This shot works well to create a feeling of space and light; an alternative might be to look for some interesting (close) foreground detail, or perhaps get low an behind your friend to exaggerate the towering figure in front of her – all technical challenges.

Street Art
This following image of the bright Pop Art street sculpture is the perfect cultural complement of the formal Met exhibit. It shouts NYC, big, bright with saturated colour. It’s good that you managed to get a clear shot of the piece, and spent some time looking around I, and the background to get the feel that you wanted. I like the fact that you captured the buildings on the corner, with the diagonals running back and to the edges of the frame to give the whole mage a clear perspective.

I think you’re right about the aperture; a more distinct brand logo would help sell the city here. While the detail on the cake, texture, colour form is very good, you do just crop the slice a bit, and the centred composition leaves (for me) too much negative space to the left of the frame. Maybe a piece out of it, and a fork across the frame would balance the shot?

I like the balance of the composition here, the figure to the left checking out the goods, with the display of bags on the wall behind, and the way you’ve captured the natural action. The auto WB works well enough here – fluorescents can be horrible in mixed light situations. What it needs – and hard to do in a location, with an impromptu shot – is a bit of reflected light from low in front of the camera, just to lift the face, and get a bit more light onto the bag she is holding.

New York Bay
Interesting shot of the container ferry making its way across the bay. Maybe it needs a bit of a more recognisable skyline to speak ‘city’, docks, or a partial glimpse of the Statue of Liberty? I think the flat light helps with the complex internal structure of the vessel, with the sky and water nicely captured and providing regular textural surroundings for the rigid grid-like patterns on the boat.

Empire State
I like this shot very much. Both concept and execution are strong. The deco interior is beautifully captured with the model, flag, memorial, clerk and vase of sunflowers providing an interesting variation in subject. I think maybe either it needs to be a touch wider to capture the sign to the right of frame, or tighter to eliminate it. The top light gives it an almost otherworldly feel, an austerity or formality and gravity. Very nice.

Times Square
While it appears at first that there is no particular point to which the eye is drawn, and it does indeed reflect the movement and chaos of Times Square, eventually the eye does fall on the flag, and the young person standing to the left, and the group of people around her. There’s a good exposure balance here, with the street signs nicely exposed, and enough attention to foreground reflected light to see the detail of the people. I also find myself looking towards the right of frame, and what appears to be a group of musicians silhouetted against a white background – might be an electronic image…

New York Characters
Classic bit of street photography with the Naked Cowboy defined against the backdrop of daytime TSq – the use of the long lens softens the background and the strong(er) midday light helps define the figure’s anatomy. I’d be tempted to do a bit of a subtle mask job on this and throw the background out even more – or maybe experiment with a graduated blur. My enduring street character memory was the roller skating guitar playing Jimi Hendrix impersonator, amp strapped to his back.

Along with the Empire State image, this shot of the giant policeman giving directions to the diminutive woman is my pick of the set. The body language speaks of lost in the metropolis, and as you say, the architectural lines enhance this, while the background masonry confirms the cultural heritage of an old city. The light adds a kind of ‘annunciation’ effect, like an old master painting, compressing and focussing the composition.

So, strong and well considered images, avoiding the cliché of the world’s most famous city, and offering a different vision. Technically, the exploration of and determination to deal with different and challenging lighting and environmental situations shows how much you’ve taken on board (and mastered) on this course.

Very well done.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

HDR Workshop with Trey Ratcliff

I spent all day Saturday and Sunday with the legendary Trey Ratcliff learning about HDR photography. He is by far the best exponent of this type of photography that I have seen, so it was a unique opportunity as spaces on the course were limited to 20.

We were based in a lovely building in  Goodenough College, off Grays Inn Road and saw many examples of Trey's work. He worked on some images in real time and talked us through his thought processess as he worked.

On Saturday we took pictures in the courtyard of the college and worked on them on our laptops while Trey came around helping us individually. On Sunday we went to the British Museum for our images which again Trey helped us with individually.

He also gave us a truckload of stuff to take away - the premium version of his Austin, Texas HDR worshop on 4 DVDs and a USB stick with several sample images and tutorials.

What have I learned?
I have dabbled in HDR photography on and off for the last two years, and although I have books by Trey and others on the subject, none of them really tell you how to use Photomatix Pro. HDR photography seems to be fairly subjective so there is no definitive way to process images.

The most important thing I've learned is that Photomatix is only part of the process, and images will not be perfect at that stage. I have a better understanding of the work that needs to be done in Photoshop - particularly when it comes to correcting ghosting.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Assignment 5 - Narrative and Illustration

Imagine that you are about to illustrate a story for a magazine. You have a cover to illustrate and several pages inside (between 6 and 12). Write captions to explain and link each picture.

My chosen theme for this assignment is 'New York' as I recently visited the city for the very first time. I decided  that my 'magazine' would highlight things to see and do for anyone visiting the city, but I didn't want to simply replicate the numerous tourist guides that are already available.
In addition to scenery and architecture, I wanted my images to capture the quirkiness and uniqueness of the city and the people who live and work there.

Magazine Cover - New York

This is a statue of George Washington on the steps of Federal Hall, opposite the New York Stock Exchange. I originally took a picture of the Stock Exchange building by itself, and spotted this composition while walking around the statue.

I wanted something iconic for the magazine cover, and they don't come much more iconic than George Washington and 'Old Glory'! This is also an example of juxtaposition.
I have given prominence to the statue by boosting the tonal contrast, which gives it form. I have also reduced the saturation of the Stock Exchange in the background which, together with a large aperture, helps it to recede and gives the image perspective.

Page 1 - Central Park

Most people associate New York with hustle and bustle, and even in a beautiful green space like Central Park people still travel at speed, running, cycling or roller-blading. Fortunately, the people on this bridge were strolling which allowed me enough time to set up the shot.

I like the converging the lines in this image and opted for a low perspective in order to exaggerate them. Hard light is not always a pleasant feature in a photograph, but I like the way that the shadows bisect the bridge, and the people have conveniently lined up at the point of interest.

Page 2 - Bethesda Terrace, Central Park

I stumbled upon this amazing terrace by accident and then struggled for ages with the lighting! It was impossible to correctly expose for the brightly light exterior and the dim interior, even using matrix metering. Ideally, I would have liked to have used bracketing, but I didn't know how to cope with the 'ghosting' that arises from moving subjects. I do now, so I'll be ready next time.
I experimented with various white balance settings, and finally chose the shade setting which I had to tone down as it was a little too warm. The ISO was set to 3200 and shutter speed was 1/40 to give the suggestion of movement.

Page 3 - Museums

This is a shot of my friend Janini in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The lighting in the larger rooms was perfect - lots of large white surfaces and minimal artificial lighting. In this image, I was trying to show contrast between the relative sizes of Janini and this impressive exhibit.

Page 4 - Street Art

In addition to museums and galleries, there are several examples of sculptures and paintings around the streets of New York. This was one of the more popular sculptures, and I had to get up early to get this shot. Not just to avoid hard light, but also the numerous tourists who were always crowded around it to have their pictures taken in front of it.
The subject had a reflective surface so I used an oblique angle to show some texture. I also tried the shot from the left of the sculpture, but the buildings and streets on the right made a more pleasing image.

Page 5 - Food

I took the opportunity to set up a still life shot of a slice of carrot cake that I bought from the Magnolia Bakery. This famous bakery is credited with starting the craze for cupcakes.

I set this up in diffused window light in my hotel room during late afternoon. I placed the cake box just behind, with the name of the bakery visible. I used a small aperture to give maximum attention to the cake, but looking at the final image, I would have liked a slightly larger aperture to make the name of the bakery more legible.

Page 6 - Shopping

This is my friend Janini browsing in the Fendi store. I took this shot without looking through the viewfinder - the camera was around my neck and I used a spirit level mounted on the hot shoe to keep the camera straight. Consequently I managed to capture a very natural looking pose.

I used an auto white balance setting because there was a mixture of fluorescent lighting and natural light, and a slight colour cast had to be removed in post-processing.

Page 7 - New York Bay

I took this on the Staten Island Ferry. According to my New York city guide, "this 20-minute trip offers excellent views of the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan skyline".  The boats, yachts and other ferries sailing in the bay were therefore an unexpected photographic opportunity.

This cargo ship was an interesting mix of contrasting colours and I chose to shoot two planes instead of a side or rear view, to give it form. The lighting was generally quite flat, but the shadow cast by the underside provides depth.

Page 8 - Empire State Building

Most of the information about this building concentrates on its external features - the Art Deco design and its enormous height. I thought the internal features were far more impressive though challenging to photograph. There were reflective surfaces everywhere and the pop-up flashes of my fellow tourists increased the number of potential hotspots. I seized the opportunity to get my shot while there was a lull in photographic activity - several people were having their pictures taken in front of the replica on the left.
I had to push the ISO up to 3200 and shot wide open at f/2.8 to get a decent exposure. This was also taken without looking through the viewfinder so as not to distract the desk clerk.
The artificial light combined with an auto white balance setting gave the image a yellow cast that I removed in post-processing.

Page 9 - Times Square

I chose Times Square as a location for some night photography. This reminded me of the 'Outdoors at Night' exercise in the Lighting Techniques section of the course.
There isn't anywhere for the eye to settle in this image, but this is quite deliberate because that's exactly what being there was like. There are numerous sources of artificial light in Times Square, but I also wanted to get in amongst the people hanging around the place as they are just as important as the advertising billboards. 
This was also taken without looking through the viewfinder which allowed me to work relatively unnoticed.

Page 10 - New York Characters

This is the 'Naked Cowboy' who I encountered in Times Square. I think this is an illustrative shot representing the madcap characters who frequent Times Square and keep the public amused.

My original intention was to take shots of Times Square during the daytime, so as to compare with the atmosphere in the evenings. The Naked Cowboy provided  me with some some foreground interest and I chose an aperture of f/4.0 to lessen the impact of the advertising hoardings.

Page 11 - NYPD

New York is a place in which me and friends all felt very safe. I think this was mainly due to a strong police presence on just about every street.

This is the only shot I have of the police interacting with the public so it stands out from the others. I took this on Wall Street and particularly liked the lines created by the fence and the wall. When the police officer pointed in the same direction, this was an added bonus!

I also like the spotlight effect that the light has in lifting the subjects out of the shade.

What have I learned?
This assignment turned out to be trickier than it first appeared. As suggested by the study guide, I tried to incorporate everything that I have learned on the course so far. This was no mean feat with only 12 shots to play with.
I packed quite alot into my 10-day visit to New York and it was also difficult to narrow down the focus of the assignment. I toyed with the idea of concentrating on a specific part of the city, e.g. Central Park. I then thought about documenting an excursion, e.g. visiting Staten Island. I didn't think either of these were particularly interesting in themselves and there was so much more about this vibrant city that I wanted to get across.
I also wanted to experiment with different types of lighting and I could only do this by incorporating multiple locations.

Overall, this course has taught me that there is much planning involved in achieving good photography. I have started to pre-visualise, which increases the number of shots that I will eventually keep, and saves me time when processing the image since I have a fair idea about what I am going to do with it from the moment it is taken.

I have a much better appreciation of the quality of light, and I'm prepared to walk away from a location if the light is not right. I am also better at selecting and using appropriate light modifiers.

I am more confident in my approach and willing to experiment. I can see a distinct improvement in the quality of my images and I think I am starting to develop my own style.

Monday, 13 September 2010

New York

I got back to the UK last Friday, after spending 10 amazing days in New York. I went there for the 10th annual salsa congress and spent some time afterwards sightseeing and (of course) taking photographs.

I visited the International Center of Photography, which was initiated by Cornell Capa (Robert Capa's brother) and is the world's largest photo museum and photography school.

I was particularly interested in the sections about black people in the media. There were several photographs covering the activities of the Civil Rights Movements and the ways in which they used photography to inform and educate their followers. There were some very powerful images of Martin Luther King at his rallies and the infamous picture by James Louw of Marting Luther King lying fatally wounded on his motel balcony.

It was stated that Malcolm X staged scenarios in which he would be photographed to spread the message of the Nation of Islam.

The mother of Emmet Till used photographs of Emmet's battered corpse to show the realities of racism in America in 1955. The men accused of his murder were acquitted, and the case would probably have been forgotten had it not been for the graphic photographs. In fact his murder was one of the catalysts for the inception of the Civil Rights Movement, no doubt the photograph had much to do with that as well.

What have I learned?
The nature of some of the images really highlighted the impact of photography. Many were photojournalistic in nature, and although they were not necessarily taken for publication, many ended up on the covers of magazines.
The images told stories in ways that words probably could not have done at that time, since members of the target audience may not have had the prerequisite reading skills. These photographs really highlighted the use of photography as a means of communication as well as recording historic events.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Assignment 4 - Tutor Feedback

You chose a good object for this study, in some aspects simple, but in others quite challenging to photograph. Anything, which is reflective and/or transparent, is going to require quite a bit of thought and preparation. Looking at this submission as a set of thumbnails, you have really explored the glass bowl; looking at angles and height, in addition to and to complement the individual approach to each image. In addition, looking through the other exercises in your blog, you have spent some considerable time exploring the idea of light – natural and artificial – and the way that can impact on any image. Lighting plays such a vital role in the way an image can be captured, and it is no easy thing to control or master.

The use of a backlight, a black background, and that nicely controlled crescent of light on the ‘ground’ helps to define the shape of this glass bowl. The outline (rim) is well defined, although the glass is quite difficult to light in this way. I particularly like the inconsistency and variation in the light around the rim. As you say in your reflection, the act that the object is transparent means that the entire shape is rendered, rather than just the silhouette, bringing some sense of depth and multi-layered textures to the image.

The second, closer detail shot is very nice, capturing a real sense of the texture and feel of the piece. The use of a longer lens to create a greater depth of field and throw the background into soft focus complements and enhances the object. There is a lovely clarity about the colour and texture here, it looks, exactly I imagine, as the artist hoped, like something fluid and molten captured in time. I think you’re right about the square format, it really helps the composition.

Interestingly, because of the nature of the substance, and the way it has been cast/blown, the use of fill is probably redundant because the light from the key is captured and reflected in the glass. There is a good sense of the form of the object in both images, and while I’m not a great fan of monochrome conversions in digital work, the second image works well in establishing and defining the volume of the object. I might have favoured a slightly higher and oblique angle in the first (colour) image to get a three-dimensional feel of the bowl, but you have managed to capture the curving rim very well here. In the second image, the oblique positioning of the piece helps, although it needs to be either further away from the backdrop, or shot with a longer lens and lower stop to reduce the DOF and eliminate the creases in the cloth.

The textbooks are right about capturing texture, lights placed at acute angles will capture any roughness or blemishes and produce shadows, but this is tricky with glass because of the smooth surface. The texture in the bowl is mostly inside the material, although with the second image, there is a good sense of the ridges and waves. However, the material is nicely captured here, and there is a good sense of the feel of the object, its smoothness, the flowing surface. The shadows cast by the bowl are worth exploring – I like the pattern cast onto the ground in the second shot, it too, helps to define the nature of the object.

The use of a black and a white backdrop to explore the colour of the object is a good approach in these two images. The first, from above, is a strong and unusual angle, which makes the (already exotic) piece, look like some strange sea creature captured in shallow water. The colour here is good as the shadow level, and thus contrast is quite low and this renders the greens bright and clear. In the second image, your idea of backdrop and ground in black to crate a floating effect is very good; all elements of the object, shape, form, texture and colour are present here.

So, this is another well-considered and produced assignment, demonstrating both a high level of commitment to exploring lighting technique, and an excellent practical outcome. I think books about lighting techniques have their place, but there is no substitute for exploration and experimentation. But what I do know, is once we understand how to begin to control and manipulate light (and shade), both interior and exterior, then we really begin to understand the nature of photography. Always carry a reflector...

Friday, 27 August 2010


Imagine a magazine cover on one subject: rain. Produce a single, strong, attractive photograph that leaves no one in any doubt about the subject.

In order to avoid a really obvious image of falling rain, I thought about the things I normally associate rain with. I came up with dark clouds, puddles, and people with wet clothes or wet hair.

I decided to produce a strong image of dark clouds with an interesting foreground. I've always admired the design of the Lloyd's Building, but have never photographed it. I had to make a few return visits to get this shot as the weather kept changing, but my perseverance eventually paid off.
I took 5 bracketed shots to ensure that I retained detail in the building and captured the gloominess of the clouds. I have tweaked the contrast in the sky to make the clouds appear even more ominous than they actually were.

What have I learned?
This is an example of symbolism with more than one possible meaning. As a magazine cover, with the benefit of a suitable title or caption, the meaning is clear, but by itself it could symbolise many other concepts such as industry or architecture.


Photograph someone with a possession, or the results of their work or hobby.

This was taken during a demonstration on 5 June. I came across this scene while walking down Whitehall, just outside Downing Street. The protest is in support of the emancipation of Gaza. I thought that the contrast between the noisy protesters and police officers sharing a joke was interesting.

What have I learned?
With hindsight, I should have taken a wider shot with a more shallow depth of field to emphasise the enormity of the demonstration and show greater contrast between impassioned protesters and this light-hearted moment, which was fleeting but significant in my opinion.


List more than one symbol for the following subjects saying how you might use them in a photograph.

I might represent this by taking a double exposure, having zoomed in before taking the second shot to show a relative increase in size. Another idea I had was to take a photograph of something small (eg a child) and produce a composite of it next to say a large building, but show the child etc as either equal in size or maybe even larger than the building.

For this one, I thought about showing someone surrounded by a huge quantity of food. The idea of excess would come across quite strongly if the food consisted of cakes and biscuits or something similar.
My second idea would be a shot taken from one end of a long bar in a pub, of someone at the other end with their head on the bar, surrounded by empty beer bottles.

I was walking through the East End of London recently, and someone had taped around the outline of the shadow of a street sign on the pavement as a joke. This reminded me of the crime serials from the 1970s, in particular the chalk outlines that used to be drawn around corpses at crime scenes. A photograph of such an outline would be a good representation of crime.
I also thought about getting a shot of police barrier tape, using depth of field to make the tape and background fade progressively.

I would represent this using a wide shot of a large group of people kneeling in prayer in a church or a mosque.  Another way to depict silence is using a Photoshop composite of someone's mouth either zipped or stitched closed.

Again, using depth of field, a picture of someone holding a copy of the big issue. Taken with a wide angle lens so that it appears large in the frame, but the arm and features of the person holding it would be blurred.
The other idea I had was to get a shot of some coins in a cap on the pavement, using a slow shutter speed to blur passers by.

What have I learned?
Symbolism is an interesting topic, and not one that I'd really associated with photography until now, but I can see the relevance. One of the problems with symbols is that they can be ambiguous to those who aren't in the know.
The study material raises the point that symbols may be open to interpretation and this is something to consider in modern photography which is conducted more globally nowadays.

Evidence of Action

Produce one photograph in which it can be seen something has happened.

I was on my way to photograph a salsa event on Sunday 11 July when I got held up in a queue of traffic. Just as I got out of the car, an air ambulance landed and everyone got their 'phone cameras out and started taking pictures. I went back to my car for my camera and took a few shots with this exercise in mind.

A bystander told me that a young man aged 19 had been stabbed by a gang of youths who had chased him from a bus. A local newspaper later reported that he was airlifted to hospital but, fortunately his injuries were not life threatening.

What have I learned?
The study material suggested taking a photograph including something that has either been broken or emptied.  In these examples, it is clear what has happened, but I prefer images which generate questions such as "what has happened?" or "how did that happen?"

A Narrative Picture Essay

This is the final part of my current course (Art of Photography) with the OCA.

This project requires you to set yourself an assignment and then photograph it. Tell a story of any kind, in a set of pictures numbering between 5 and 15.

These pictures were taken on 10 July at the T-Mobile Big World Dance 2010 in Central London which was the finale of Big Dance, a biennial event. The Big World Dance was organised so that different parts of London represented the 5 continents, and a dance routine was posted on You Tube for each continent so that participants could learn and practice them in advance. Some of my friends were taking part and I went along to support them and document the day.

The morning began with practise sessions along the Southbank, led by a designated 'dance captain' for each of the continents. This was the West London group who were representing Australasia and was the group that my friends were in:

After the rehearsals, we made our way to Trafalgar Square where the choreographer (Luca Silvestrini), musicians and dance captains were introduced:

The dance captains get the crowd fired up and lead the dance groups through their individual routines:

I was lucky enough to be standing in a position where I got a good view of all of the individual groups, but I was closest to the west London section who were representing Europe. There was a group of Asian girls in this group who made a real effort to co-ordinate their outfits and looked really good performing their routine:

All of the groups were then encouraged to mix, and the event ended with a free-for-all:

What have I learned?
This exercise was very similar to the 'Sequence of Composition' images I took (see blog post dated 13 December 2009), so it feels as though I've come full circle.
There is a clear distinction between narrative and illustration but there is some overlap because a picture which forms part of a narrative can also tell a story all by itself.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Assignment 4 - Lighting Techniques

Choose any subject that you can move around and take about eight photographs of it, each in a different kind of lighting. You can use any light at all, from daylight to available artificial light, to photographic lighting.

You should aim to show the following qualities of your subject, one at a time by means of lighting:

  • Shape - This quality has to do with the outline of an object
  • Form - This another way of describing the volume of an object
  • Texture - This is quality of the surface detail
  • Colour - Choose a kind of lighting and exposure setting that shows the subject's colour as strongly as possible.

The images for this assignment were taken on August 7, 8, 11, yesterday and today. As well as experimenting with different backgrounds, I also wanted to test the light at various times of day, both indoors and outdoors. I also referred to this book:


Though very technical, it helped me to think about lighting set-ups to achieve the desired results. I couldn't really digest all of the contents at this time, so I will definitely revisit it from time to time.


The subject for this assignment was an ornamental glass dish belonging to my mother. This picture was taken in my kitchen using a black backdrop and velvet 'tablecloth'. The curtains were drawn to eliminate any incidental light.
For this set-up, the camera was on a tripod and a video light, with diffuser was directly behind the object. Due to the thickness of the dish and the relatively small size of the light source, I was able to place the video light very close to it.
A solid object would have resulted in a silhouette with rim lighting, but in this instance the dish has been illuminated, which separates it from the background and (literally) highlights the shape.

This was taken outdoors, holding the dish up to the sky. I tried this shot using all of the white balance settings on my camera and finally settled on this one, which uses the shade setting.
I like the cool green against the warm background - a combination I encountered during the last (colour) assignment. The other white balance settings produced pleasing results, but I felt that those colour combinations were a little overwhelming and detracted from the shape of the dish, which was my primary focus.
I cropped the final image to a square because I think this enhances the curves and diagonals and makes for a more dynamic shot.


My main objective for this category was to show uneven lighting and contrast, which is what I would expect from a three-dimensional object. I have placed the video light on the left (just out of shot) with no fill-light, to make the contrast as stark as possible. I also took this shot with the light on the right, and the results were pretty much the same. The video light was diffused to limit the number of blown highlights.

This was shot indoors using an infrared camera. Light came from a window on the left, diffused by net curtains. I was trying to show the form of the object in an abstract way by eliminating the colour. I tilted the dish by placing it one a roll of sellotape under the velvet 'tablecloth' to change the viewpoint.


I read that in order to show texture, I would need a small light source at a low angle so that was the set up I used for this image. A video light was placed just out of shot, angled towards the dish. I also used barndoors to restrict the spread of light so that it would be concentrated on the dish.

I was trying to show the characteristics of the dish in this image, ie that it was made from glass and therefore transparent. For that reason, I decided to light it from directly above using a diffused video light. Ordinarily this type of non-directional lighting is not particularly flattering, but it served a useful purpose in this exercise.


I wanted a clean background to accentuate the colour of the object, so I opted for a white 'tablecloth' for this particular set-up. The camera was directly above the dish, on a tripod whilst light was provided by off camera flash from the top left corner. I underexposed by one third of a stop to enhance the colour of the dish, so the background is not as white as it should be but still contrasts with the dish. 


Again, I was trying to make the colour of the dish contrast from the background. This time around, I used a video light as the main light source and underexposed. As a result, the backdrop is indistinguishable from the cloth on which the dish was placed, but I think this helps make the dish stand out.

What have I learned?
Some knowledge and understanding of lighting techniques provides a useful starting point, and it's handy to know that certain results may be replicated when required, but there are no hard and fast rules for lighting a subject because there are so many variables involved.