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.