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.

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