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Thursday, 29 April 2010

Robin Preston - Photographer

I attended a presentation the other day where the main speaker was professional photographer Robin Preston, who was giving a presentation on a recent 'shoot'  that he has been working on in Las Vegas; a project entitled "The Last Supper"; a 50’s styled project.

Although Robin is a professional photographer he describes himself more as a digital artist, or to use his words, "an image maker". A lot of his work centres around image manipulation, retouching, montages and anything involving creative work using Adobe Photoshop. He has been in the industry around to 28 years and has a lot client’s in the motor industry as well as many others.

Although the presentation was about the project in Las Vegas, he went onto explain the similarities of the 50’s style project  with his own private art project called ‘laboratorium’, where he is exploring sub cultures in Europe, such as the rockabilly movement; and their lifestyle, clothing tattoos and sub cultures within those.

“The Last Supper'” project was the idea of creating “Leonardo da Vinci’s” painting of “The last Supper” but using 13 50’s style pin-up girls in a classical American Diner and shot on good Friday (although technically the last supper would be a Thursday?). Anyway Robin started off the presentation by explaining the business side of photography; how he was able to secure equipment and how he marketed the project to prospective sponsors, by creating a short video detailing the concept.

Once the sponsorship had been secured and the project confirmed Robin talked about the logistics of completing a location shoot in Vegas. Finding the location, securing models, accommodation, equipment , assistants and so on, it made me think of how different jumping on the train to the coast with my SLR and some spare batteries seem so insignificant!

As he was talking he had created a ‘visual narrative’ of slides in an editorial style documenting the timeline of the project, explaining the stages of the shoot. Robin explained that all of the models used were from all over the world and were 50’s and rockabilly enthusiasts and most of them wore their own clothes in the shoot, and not just clothes they dress up for fun, but the clothes they wear in their daily lives!

The presentation continued and he explained about the harsh sunlight in Vegas and the problems that this caused, even inside the diner; creating hard shadows and making it difficult to expose. He explained that it was a ‘tough’ shoot with a lot of models, assistants, equipment, as well as the people who owned the location; and not forgetting the actual taking of the photo and all to be done in one day, as that was the only time he had to do the shoot. Although he didn’t go into specifics of the cost of this project, he explained for many projects he has been involved in could well be into the 10’s of thousands of pounds…just to create 1 photo!

The rest of the presentation was about the following days after this shoot where he attended the “Viva Las Vegas” Rockabilly weekend festival where he continued his study into this fascinating sub culture. There were some really interesting images, I especially liked a lot of the photographs of people’s tattoos; they were a big part of the culture and the art in some of them were so detailed. Another big part of the culture was these amazing custom cars that reminded me of the film “American Graffiti” What I liked about this, was how the cars were framed from unusual angles, but still recognisable as cars. For robin though, his highlight was being able to photograph Chuck Berry who played at the festival.

To conclude, Robin explained that the final image for “The last supper” was going to be printed on a large scale printer and going to be at least 30meters!  Pretty amazing considering that it was from a DSLR!

Anyway I was very fortunate to have seen his presentation and some of his work and I found Robin to be very interesting to listen to. I will no doubt keep an eye on Robin Preston’s blog to watch the progress of his last supper project.

Robin Preston’s work can also be seen at there is some really interesting ‘advertisement’ work some of which you may recognise.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Positioning a point

This exercise expands the ‘Points’ project by experimenting with the point in different positions within the frame. The course text and The Photographer’s eye book indicate that there are generally 3 classes of position

  • Middle: Normally associated as being Static and dull
  • Little off-centre: more dynamic than being central
  • Close to the edge: can be extreme and considered eccentric 

The exercise requires 3 shots with the single point placed in a different part of the frame, with justification for the placement in the frame for each image.


The 3 images, although to make a ‘point’ I have 4 images (pun intended), were taken on different times and locations, so rather than explain the setup overall I will just note for each image with the usual camera settings. To concentrate the idea of design elements I have also added a mono version of each image to show the divisions of the frame in relation to the point and take away the impact of colour.


This was taken on a recent trip into London and I caught sight of HEMS flying over so  didn’t have a great deal of time to adjust any camera settings. I was shooting in Aperture priority mode (I set the aperture and camera sets shutter speed for exposure) I always try to shoot in the lowest ISO to reduce noise in the image
250mm f/6.70 1/750 sec ISO 100

As noted I didn’t have a great deal of time to prepare for the shot (matter of a few seconds). I initially focused onto the helicopter in centre of viewfinder (to allow for the camera to focus) I then adjusted the view very slightly so that it was off centre, with the aim of getting it to a loose ‘golden ration’ / ‘Rule of thirds’ position within the frame.

Although the helicopter is not quite in the position I was aiming for (just a little more height and to the left); it’s not central enough to be static and not so close to the right edge to be too off-balance, I also wanted to it to have space to move into, with more space to the left (further away from the left side of the frame) to imply direction and movement into the space, away from the right side of the frame.


This was taken the same day as the first shot but different time and location; I was taking advantage of the nicest weather we have had for some time. I was out looking for subjects to shoot in relation to the exercise and was just thinking that there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, then I noticed this spoiling the view. Kidding.

55mm f/19 1/60 sec ISO 100

I framed this in camera (no cropping) putting the cloud in the lower left corner. I will be honest, I don’t know if I can justify exactly why I placed the cloud in that position, other than I didn’t want a static ‘bulls-eye’ image and I didn’t want it falling out of the bottom of frame by being so close to the edge. Subjectively I just liked it placed there, a loose golden ratio / rule of thirds maybe?


This was taken on another sunny day, (loving the weather recently). I was out with camera and again  looking for potential subjects for the assignment. I noticed how Sophie’s (my dog) white fur was so bright in the sunlight and contrasted great against the darker grass.

36mm f/5.6 1/250 sec ISO 100

This was framed in camera again, but it was tough, she was running towards me and it was difficult to keep focus and make her off-centre to avoid a ‘bulls-eye’ image. I think it works well in this case her eye line implies a line towards me and there is space for her to move into. The slight blurring and position of her legs also implies motion and movement towards us along the line. Her position is pretty much spot on to a rule of thirds,  whereby not to close to the edge of the frame and not in the centre.


I know the exercise didn’t call for it but I’ve added a 4th image. I realised that from the first three images, I tended naturally to make the subject off centre, perhaps this is something developing from part1: objects in different positions in the frame of the course; anyway during the same ‘walk’ that image3 was taken I took this one.

55mm f/5.6 1/180 sec ISO 100

Framed in the camera, my daughter is along the middle line of the frame and quite close to the top edge of the frame. I wanted the image to be a bit more different that the previous 3. Despite those factors I think it still works. Her position in the frame and position of limbs implies that she is moving away from us (from bottom of frame to top) and I think being so close to the edge implies the running away and out of the frame. Her size in the frame too, implies some distance; we can see leaves in the grass that are larger (closer) whereas she in comparison is small (diminishing perspective). Finally I used a vertical orientation, again to add emphasis on the feeling of distance and pulling the eyes upwards to the subject.

Interestingly when I was going through older images to look for single points, as well as through the exercise, I noticed that I would naturally try to frame the subject off centre. Although not always the case, for example in the Vertical and Horizontal frames exercise there are quite a few that are centre framed. However I’m not going to get to hung up on this subject; I will just keep in mind how I position points in relation to the frame and the message I’m trying to convey or imply.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Open University Results

Although this is not part of the OCA course, I felt that this is still relevant to include in my learning log, being as it’s part of my photography experience.

The OU course was a 10 week introduction to photography. The final assessment was to submit a 10 image panel that would would bee looked at for visual awareness and, technical quality; a written component was submitted as part of the panel, as well as a multiple choice exam (10% of the overall mark) to text knowledge of terminology and basic principles) was completed during the course.

I’ve included all parts to the assessment below apart from the multiple choice exam, but have included my overall mark and the assessment feedback.

Panel of 10 images

Snow Patrol  

1000 Yard Stare




Cheeky Girl




Witch is it?


Tea; 1 sugar


Tripping the light fantastic (but only at 50mph!)



Spin the Colour Wheel

Written Element

The idea was to select 3 questions from a set, each regarding a different aspect of the panel; I chose the following:

Question 2

Select one image from your ECA panel that you are pleased with and explain how it demonstrates your visual awareness. As appropriate, refer to composition, visual creativity, viewpoint, decisive moment (if relevant), use of camera, image editing and overall visual impact.

Cheeky girl (4)

I positioned my view to create an off centre portrait applying the rule of thirds composition as closely as possible, with one cross section focused on the centre of eyes. I also left space to the left of her creating mystery to what she might be looking at. To reduce camera shake and motion blur of a constantly moving child, I used a shutter speed of 1/500 and combined this with a high position using a wide aperture (f/2.0) setting on the camera; I wanted to create a soft depth of field to draw interest to the girls face, eyes and her expression. I also wanted to create a familiar viewpoint of the child, looking down towards her. Subjectively I felt it was a little more unusual than a classical eye level portrait, adding more interest to the overall visual impact.

Originally taken in colour; however I felt that the contrasts between highlights & shadows of the black and white uniform, balanced with the dominant mid tones of the background and face, I decided a conversion to a monotone (Black & White) could work well.

Another reason why I chose a Black and White Portrait was I felt that there was no added interest from colour and that the main visual impact of the image comes from the girl’s expression and what emotion it evokes from the viewer.

Question 3

Select one image from your ECA panel that you are pleased with and explain how it demonstrates your ability to use the camera and/or image editing to control the technical qualities of an image. As appropriate, refer to exposure, colour/tone, focus and sharpness, depth of field, digital manipulation and technical creativity.

Snap!? (9)

I do not have twins. This is two shots merged into one.

To line up the image so that background and table were identical in each shot; thereby reducing the risk of seeing any joins created by the merge, I used a tripod to maintain position and stability, setup the lights (household tungsten bulb) and external flash in the same position and power output to maintain consistent light effect and shadows and finally I laid out the table and props, all prior to making any shots.

I used the table as my focus point, turned off auto focusing and set the exposure controls to manual; again to maintain consistent conditions across the individual shots. I used a shutter speed of 1/200 to reduce any motion blur (from a moving child) and set a small aperture of f/13 to maximise the depth of field on a wide angle focal length of 27mm.

Then it was just the matter of taking a number of individual shots of the girl in different poses, selecting 2 images, then using Photoshop Elements tools (PhotoMerge) to create the resulting image.

As it is not ‘real’ I deliberately left a slight blur to create a dreamier feel to the image, and adjusted the lighting and colour levels only slightly, leaving emphasis of the tonal range towards the shadows, which all suited the visual impact I wanted to achieve.

Question 6

Looking at your panel, identify and briefly discuss three characteristics that identify this work as yours. Consider, for example, originality, personal style, mood, humour.

Mise-en-scène; one characteristic of my images is of being staged. I tend to have in my mind’s eye what I want to achieve before I start the shoot. I then set the scene as appropriate; using existing environments and placing the model to where I want them in the frame such as in Snow patrol (1) or use of props and staging an environment for the subject such as Bluebottle (3), Tea; 1 sugar (7) and Spin the wheel (10).

Another characteristic of my work is that my images tend to concentrate on a specific or single object with less emphasis on the wider image. They tend to be closer framed to concentrate the viewer to what I want them to see; 1000 Yard Stare (2) is an example of where I framed a big close up to give the image a more dominate impact. Tripping the Light Fantastic (8) which was actually a much wider image showing both sides of the road was cropped down to emphasis the 50mph part of the image.

It’s subjective to whether my images evoke a sense of fun, but this is my hobby and I like to inject some humour into my work. This would be a play on words from the title, for example Witch is it? (6), having fun experimenting with exposure techniques as in making Blue Moon (5) or manipulating an image with irony as in Tripping the light fantastic (8) an illusion of speed but with a speed limit. Or having 2 of the same child when there is only 1 in snap!? (10).

Marks & Feedback


Visual Awareness – Your panel of images shows variety in the subject matter, and freshness of treatment. Each of the four portraits, for example, demonstrates a different style. In addition you have used images from some of the activities specified on the course (Bluebottle and Tripping the light fantastic) which proves that you are continuing to learn and to strive to improve your photography. And it was good to see that you have avoided traditional landscapes by concentrating, as you described it in Q6, on “a specific or single object with less emphasis on the wider image”

Technical Quality – All your images are very good technically, demonstrating good control of different types of lighting, and subtle manipulations in Photoshop Elements. Your written component gave a very coherent account of your approach to image making.


Multiple Choice Paper - 100% (10% of overall mark)

Performance graded on particular aspects

  • Visual awareness – Excellent
  • Technical quality – Excellent
  • Written component – Excellent

Scale: Outstanding, Excellent, Well achieved, Achieved, Just achieved, Not quite achieved, Not achieved

Overall assessment – 94%

Obviously I was quite please with the marks and feedback, however I don’t want to let this lead me to a false sense of security. I know there is still a lot to learn and practice, and many aspects were only touched on compared to the depth of the OCA course. However I thought of it as a milestone in my photography Journey that was worth recording in my log.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010


“one element within significant shape, and a single background”

The Photographer’s Eye – Michael Freeman

The course text explains that ‘points’ are a fundamental design element. A point should:

  • Be small in the frame
  • Contrast with its surrounding
  • draw your eye to it – focus attention to it

As part of this section, I was asked note some situations where I could make a clear photograph of a point.

  • A small dark subject contrasted against a light background & vice versa. For example an aeroplane in a bright sky or the bright moon in the dark sky
  • Small subject contrasted against plain background.
  • Something distinct within a pattern
  • a point of light on an object. For example, a car headlights lighting up an animals eyes in dark wood

Another part of this section was to look back at past photographs and note those with obvious points. I found a mixture of examples some better than others and have shown them below'.

Although a bit large I think it maintains the criteria and I quite liked the placement of this too. It’s not central and has space to move into within the confines of the frame making it more dynamic. The smoke trail also adds to the implied line, direction, speed and movement away from the closer left sided edge.

Although not the strongest of points, the colourful boat has just enough contrast with the water and dark background. The implied direction comes from the water trail/wake (implied Line?). Subjectively I like the image and it’s dynamic balance, however it could be argued that the boat is very close to the right edge of the frame and therefore no ‘space’ to move into, a danger of just disappearing out of view.

This was taken coming back from Everest Base camp. The dark figure in the foreground contrasts against the grey rocks. This was taken quite a few years ago so I didn’t really have any idea of frames and composition! Having said that the figure (point) is placed off-centre and avoids the static nature of centre framed; The smaller ‘point just off centre left against the white snow are actually 2 people walking towards us. Now that’s some scale! plane shot. This works better as a point than the first plane shot. The dark contrasted against the sky draws the eye to it straight away and the placement within the frame allows space in front with implied direction; there is also an implied line of the blue sky sandwiched between the clouds. Based on rule of thirds idea. point like due to the size, well at least the centre of the flower would. Placement is a bit low to the bottom of the frame too.

You may recognise this was one of my ‘contrast assignment’ images. I like the orange points placement being off centre and the contrast of it drawing the eye to it as well as the spiralling rope leaving the frame.

I shot this a while ago on my 250mm lens. it has been cropped to increase the size of the moon in the frame and move it off centre, the original was with the moon dead centre and smaller (probably a better example of a point but static in composition)

I really enjoy creating light trails and panning shots and the kind of effects I can get, I think this qualifies as a point. Static in composition and technically flawed, but  I think made more dynamic by the horizontal lines and feeling of movement. I think this could be improved with some cropping though and placing the ‘point’ closer to the left side of the frame, or  a sort of panoramic shot.

The Vulcan Bomber. I know there are already aeroplane shots I’ve used, but I couldn’t leave this out… it’s the Vulcan Bomber and a point!!

Monday, 19 April 2010

Elements of Design

The next section of the course is to consider the design elements of a photograph as a whole. Objective:

“to be able to identify the graphic elements in any photograph, to assess how important a role they play, and to be able to use them for structure and movement in a composition”

The section is divided into a number of projects and exercises, including; Points, Lines, Using lines in composition, Shapes, Rhythm & Pattern and concludes with an assignment that practices elements from the course. The idea is to not just identify the graphical elements in a picture, but to consider how these elements act on our eyes in interpreting the image, then using this analysis to help improve technique and composition.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Assignment1 – Feedback & Thoughts

I didn't think I would get my feedback so soon, however I was very grateful for the speedy reply!

I was really pleased with the feedback, it was pretty positive and had some really good constructive points that I need to think about going forward. It was a nice feeling to think that I’m at least going in the right direction with my photography and the course! Below are some extracts from my tutors comments and my thoughts on them. Now I can’t share all of the comments, I don’t want to give away tips for those of you looking for hints for your own assignments!

I had some nice comments about my project and exercise updates on the learning log (blog) and particularly my write-up after the Irving Penn Exhibition had some positive points with added encouragement to visit other exhibitions and write about them, which I’ve already planned to do.

There were nice comments about my assignment notes and conclusions too, and some interesting feedback about how I like to work.

“You sound slightly self-conscious about enjoying setting up photographs rather than ‘finding’ them. I wouldn’t worry about this — ‘making’ photographs is just as good, if not better than ‘taking’ them, and a good way to think about how your work as a photographer”

This is true, I was a bit worried that I wasn’t finding the subjects as much, I tend to(but not in all cases) imagine the idea then create it from the mind’s eye. Maybe this is something to think about more in the future as a developing style / way of working, certainly I enjoy the control and setting up of the shots. That’s not to say I won’t push myself and explore as many aspects as I can; I would quite like to take more ‘people’  photographs too for example.

I feel that the most constructive learning points, to come out of my feedback was on the ‘relationships’ of the images together and as pairs.

“I think on the whole, your images make good visual contrasts and you have chosen some appropriate subjects. Others seem slightly more random in their correlation as subjects, although, as I said, they ‘work’ on a purely visual level”

It was one of those ‘I kind of knew something was missing, but wasn’t sure what’ kind of moments. I knew that the contrasts were fundamental to the exercise, as were the relationship between the contrasts, however I think I didn’t consider how the images relate to each other as a pair as much as I could/should have done. Granted the contrasts are there visually, but what ‘relates’ the pair together was missed in some.

Now I have the ‘oh yeah I see what you mean now!’ feeling. It is definitely something to take on board and I’m grateful for these comments. In the feedback, some of the pairs were used to illustrate this idea in more depth by my tutor, however I’m not going to post the comments of these to the blog, they will remain with the printed assignment and prints. So for anyone who follows my log you will have to work out what you think for yourselves! 

“I think there is plenty of good work here. Your images are very strong and you obviously take a lot of care with your work. I think you just need to think a little more carefully about how subjects relate to one another. I suppose that also, if you’re more interested in creating scenes to photograph, one has to think even more carefully about how the message is to be constructed and how it will be conveyed to the viewer”

Can’t say fairer that that. I’m quite happy with my photographs for the assignment and  with what I’ve done  on the projects so far; I have plenty to think about going forward, both taking my own observations and what I’ve taken on board from the feedback.

Overall pretty pleased with myself and now going to have a beer…

Friday, 16 April 2010



The idea was to identify subjects that best express the extremes of different qualities and take pairs of photographs to bring out those differences.

It took me a long time to get started with this assignment. I had some ideas in my minds eye on what I wanted to create but kept putting it at the back of my priorities. Eventually I got myself into gear and the results of which are below.


(Contrast in one image)

50mm f/22 1/125 sec ISO 100 struggled to be original with the contrasts in one ‘picture, so I kept the idea basic; even so I still struggled to find something that fit the bill for one of the contrasts. Maybe I should have left this or chose another contrast pair, but I still like the picture so went with it in the end. I put my bike next to some reflective white card and using a strong light above the front wheel took this image. I chose this due to the thick curved red and black wheel against the think straight lines of the spokes in the wheel. There is also the contrast with the hard bright light background with the dark tyre and straight lines of the spokes. I did show the picture to a few people prior to submission and it was suggested that this could have fit diagonal and rounded too; I can see where they were coming from however for me the straight/curved was more instinctive; maybe if the whole wheel was in the shot and the ‘round’ of the wheel was seen fully it would be different. I still like it though!



55mm f/5.60 1/180 sec ISO 800‘Rough’ was taken in some woods close to where I live. Maybe not the most original of shots but I think it covered the contrast title quite well. The light was fairly flat onto the tree trunk and in hindsight maybe it would have looked better with a direction of light from the side to create a more 3 dimensional feel, however the deep lines/cracks in the tree back have given it a rough texture and I liked the colours.


50mm f/22 6 sec ISO 100‘Smooth’ is another sort of high key shot. I wanted something artificial to contrast the rough natural wood from ‘Rough’ and after a few failed attempts of items around the house I found some CD’s and decided to use the smooth surface as the subject. I set up close to a large window to capture the sunlight reflecting off the surface which created this great prism effect on the CD. The images was composed in the viewfinder, with only a minor crop post production to reduce the amount of white space showing, making it a more comfortable balance.


The idea of the artificial CD Vs natural world really helps exaggerate the contrast; The rough texture of the natural red/brown bark with the lines and cracks creating a pleasing pattern, contrasted with that cold, featureless, manmade and clean surface of the CD really separates the  extreme differences of the pair.

Getting that old natural feeling you get from the rough image against the machined artificial feeling from the CD. If it wasn’t for the light patterns, I think the CD picture would not hold much interest at all.



55mm f/5.60 1/60 sec ISO 800

‘Continuous’ was taken on a trip to Portsmouth Historical Dockyards, in an attempt to find some inspiration for the assignment; carrying the list of contrasts scribbled on a piece of paper, but with no specific idea or contrast in mind. This rope caught my eye in the way that he had been neatly coiled on the deck of HMS Warrior. By narrowing the angle of view to create a close crop (Image was composed in viewfinder with only a minor crop post production to remove the outside edge of rope); so that you can’t see past where the coil goes, added to the sense of continuity onward and outside the frame. 


60mm f/22 2 sec ISO 400 ‘Intermittent’ was taken on a bridge over a dual carriageway at night using slow shutter speeds to create light trails. Normally I think of light trails being considered as continuous, however in this image I considered the gaps between each trail laterally across the road lanes and the  ‘gaps’ created by the vehicles in the ‘space’ between the trails in the direction of movement.

This is created due to the low light and speed of the vehicles as they didn’t reflect enough light to the camera, giving the impression they are not there; creating an intermittent ‘stop-start’ pattern of light along and across the road.


The relationship of the pair’s differences compliments the contrast in a few ways. The regular pattern of a continuously increasing circle of old grey rope coiled neatly and still on the deck of an old slow warship with relatively flat light; with the rope continuing past and out of the frame giving the impression that it goes on and on.

Contrasted against the intermittent ‘stop-start’ pattern of bright artificial lights and gaps in the direction of movement, as well as laterally across the lanes; created by modern vehicles moving at speed.



50mm f/1.80 1/320 sec ISO 100 eyes closed and peaceful expression the subject fits with the title of ‘still’. The original image was in colour and the hard light reflecting from the white blanket was distracting and uncomfortable to look at; I converted the image to mono, adding a minor red colour cast in Photoshop Elements as well darkening the corners. I felt this softened the feeling suiting the subject more appropriately. The image was composed in camera/viewfinder and not cropped in post production


28mm f/27 1/6 sec ISO 100 ‘Moving’ was taken as part of the Panning with different shutter speeds exercise. In fact this image was what I like to call a ‘happy mistake’. The image wasn’t a mistake as such, as it was part of the exercise; however the image was greatly overexposed (a light coloured car in bright sunshine, low ISO with slow shutter speed). Although composed in the centre, I really liked the shape, sense of speed and movement it gave me and thereby countering any feelings of a static nature. To make the ‘overexposed’ version more interesting, all I did was to adjust the light/shadow and hue settings in Photoshop Elements creating this almost ‘animation’ effect.

I did consider using a more conventional image for the assignment, (similar panning shot of car but correctly exposed) as the assignment is not about post shutter production or Photoshop skills; however I just loved it from an aesthetic point of view and although it could be a risk to use for the assignment I think still represents the title and contrasts well in the pair.


A natural and peaceful baby; still with eyes closed in mono, short depth of field on a wide aperture and soft lighting effect with a closer crop and implied circle/curve (round face framed by the blanket) drawing the viewer to the subject and creating a smooth feeling to the image

Contrasted against the sense of speed of a car (being mechanical) outside on a road, bright hard light, bright artificial colours (regardless: with or without post production adjustments) and the straight and angular lines of the road, creating animation and direction car; The natural and mechanical add weight to the differences in the contrast.



50mm f/1.80 1/10 sec ISO 100 wife had a Bread-maker for Christmas and we have probably only bought bread once since. I have been for some time thinking about taking some photo’s of the bread, so when the contrast assignment came along it was the first thing that came to mind. I used natural light only with a really shallow depth of field. I wanted the viewer to be drawn to the thickness of the slices. The image was composed in camera with no other crops or adjustments. In hindsight I think a wider angle would have exaggerated the feeling further.


50mm f/22 30 sec ISO 100 was going to go for a natural Vs artificial contrast with the ‘thick’ (being naturally made organic bread) however I had already used that to exaggerate the contrasts in some of the other pairs, so for this I met the idea halfway. I used my (getting a lot of use) white card and used the analogy of thin peel. As it happened my daughter wanted an apple and the idea came to me. I used an off camera flash for this, which you can tell from the hard shadow under the peel, but again all composed in the viewfinder. However I think in this case to help the contrast it would have been better to leave more space against the close composition of the bread image.


I feel that the thick cut loaf of bread in the ‘warm’ colours, with the wood grain in the background and on the bread board creating that ‘rustic’ homely feeling, contrasts well against that high key artificial arrangement with artificial light. The thinness of the peel can be seen against the thickness of the bread. The soft depth of view in the ‘thick’ image also increases the contrast against the sharp hard focus in the ‘thin’ picture.



18mm f/22 1 sec ISO 100 had seen a few ‘sweet’ shots around the internet, and I have tried this before myself, however most of the one’s I had seen where from a higher viewpoint looking down on ‘them’ filling the frame. I decided to modify the idea by taking the shot form a low angle with a wide angle lens. I also made a mound as if to create a ‘hill’ with the sweets going off into the horizon. The idea of using the wide angle lens was to create perspective; the sweets closest to us are large but getting smaller further into the frame to create that sense of depth.


18mm f/22 1/60 sec ISO 100 was a lot of fun to create this shot. I had a rough idea in my head what I wanted to do, I wanted to create an almost ‘negative’ of the ‘many’ shot (but with fewer sweets!), however the shots didn’t really contrast as well as I hoped. I remembered I had a casino set for my birthday and thought that the chips could work well, but in the end it was the dice that came out best. I liked the idea of having a spotlight over a ‘few’ of the dice to isolate the ‘few’; I tried a torch and an off camera flash but they created a too wide spread of light, so I improvised with a toilet paper tube over the flash and was able to create a spotlight effect! In hindsight I think that I should have had moved back and left more space around the dice to emphasis the emptiness of the frame; thereby more emphasis on less items.


The multiple colours of many sweets in a bright hard light, a mass of sweets liken to a hill going off into the horizon giving the impression there is more over the hill, contrasted against the few items in a much darker space to create a feeling of isolation, strengthened by the light focussing our view to the few dice.



20mm f/22 15 sec ISO 200 wanted to avoid obviously ‘large’ subjects, wanting instead to make something feel larger than expected as well as contrast well in the pair. I dug out a pair of work boots and set the camera on a wide angle lens and got the camera as close as I could to them. The wide angle gave the image that exaggerated distortion to the front of the boots, giving the impression they were almost swelling in size. Filling of the frame with the boots added weight to the feeling of size. This was also composed in the viewfinder with no cropping post production.


18mm f/22 1/30 sec ISO 100 used a ‘prop’ from my daughters dolls house and used her as a model hand to give some scale to the image and used a flash instead of natural light as I did in ‘large’. In hindsight I think I could have exaggerated the feeling of ‘small’ further by having more empty space and using a higher focal length instead of the wide angle. This was composed in the viewfinder no post production cropping.


The close view of the old walking boots and the exaggerated distortion of them under natural light, contrasts against the cold white background of empty space around the miniature dolls chair, with the girl’s hand giving it scale in our mind. (Giving that impression of small contrasted to the large boots).



50mm f/8 1/500 sec ISO 200 tool ‘Diagonal’ on the same trip to Portsmouth Historical Dockyards, that I took in the ‘Continuous’ shot. I liked the way the ships rigging and sail lines created diagonal patterns against the bright sky. I was lucky to capture this as the flag itself creates a diagonal within the frame.


50mm f/22 10 sec ISO 100 was stuck for a while to find a good contrast to the diagonal lines. However it happens that I have an open fireplace at home and I had previously stacked some wood in the grate while not in use; The rounded ends of wood were just looking back at me! I decided to crop this image into a square to add emphasis to the symmetry of the image.


The cold bright sky, with the dark diagonal lines contrasting against it, contained in its rectangular frame. Contrasted against the darker and close cropped (square frame) of the round ends of the wood in a warm colour tone. The straightness of the lines against the rounded edges of the wood and implied circle of the smaller logs around the central larger log, giving a more symmetrical balance to the more dynamic balance of ‘diagonal’



48mm f/22 1/125 sec ISO 100‘Liquid’ was a fun setup. I kind of had it in my mind’s eye the idea of movement and liquid for this contrast against ‘solid’ and decided that I would create the image from scratch. I used a very large glass vase filled with water, adding a few drops of natural food colouring, blue as the colour mostly associated with water. The camera was on a tripod below the surface of the water, (Outside the vase of course!)  Then created a whirlpool in the water with a chop-stick (of all things!) and took the shot! The photograph was framed in the viewfinder with no post production cropping or adjustments to the colour.


50mm f/1.80 0.70 sec ISO 100 ‘solid’ I was determined to stay away from the obvious and push myself. It just so happened that my wife was making lunch for my daughter and asked if I wanted a boiled egg too; Shortly after that, my ‘lunch’ became the subject of a small photo shoot! I used some large pieces of white card to create my high-key look with bright sunshine through window. I like the idea that most people think of a raw egg as being liquid which I think reinforces the ‘solid’ of the image in this cooked state.


The cool blue water filling the frame with the shiny surfaces reflecting the light into soft wave patterns (reminded me of light reflecting through water tanks in an aquarium or when drinking through a clear plastic bottle).  Contrasted against the ‘hardboiled egg’ with the warm bright yellow/orange yolk (although yellow and blue work well together, it’s the contrast between those colours that actually creates the compliment). The air bubbles that give the the impression that the liquid has been disturbed and has fluid movement throughout the frame against the hard, static and brittle shell with rough jagged edges.

Some may say that there are other images that would suit ‘solid’ more, after all a hardboiled egg is still soft, but contrasted against that cool liquid I think it fits really well.

Thoughts on the set.

As well as keeping in with the assignment and hopefully demonstrating some of what I have learnt (and learnt from the assignment); and from the exercises and projects to this point, I’ve made a few observations that I want to keep check on as the course continues.

I have a tendency towards staged/still life photographs. it could be considered Mise en scène as one possible way to describe it (but that phrase is quite subjective). I tend to stage a lot of my photographs in my mind’s eye and create them as I want them, placing the subject exactly in the setting of my choosing; I think I like the control and I find this a most enjoyable way to work. Even though I find this style gives me the most pleasure to shoot I should explore other areas and styles more.

Another tendency I’ve noticed in my photography is close cropping and filing the frame; both in the viewfinder & post production. Maybe this suits this style of staged and still life that I seem to enjoy, however as a note to self I should really explore wider framing occasionally and work out of the comfort zone a bit more.

Anyway I had a think about this and have set some themes to consider going forward.

  • Get out and explore suitable subjects and scenes more than ‘creating them’ (perhaps the weather this year has been a contributing factor to this!). However that’s not to say I still wont continue to ‘create’ my scenes as I really do enjoy it, it’s more the case of at least trying different styles more often
  • Explore pulling back more and not cropping so tightly in the viewfinder and give my images a bit more space. Not to rely on post production cropping so much, but keep it in mind as a design option
  • Have a look at more styles of photography and photographers to give me inspiration in trying more varied styles. Maybe try to replicate some images in their style

I can’t promise that I will explore these ‘themes’ fully or all the time, but at least it will be at the back of my mind and hopefully extend my range/skills so far.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Irving Penn – National Portrait Gallery

One of my themes from the course so far was to make more effort to have a look at other photographers work. I was aware that the Irving Penn (1917-2009) portraits exhibition was on at the National Portrait Gallery in London. I had been planning to go in a few weeks, however I had an unexpected free day today. Taking advantage of some nice weather I decided to head into London with the camera and work on some of the exercises for the next section (elements of design). I hadn’t booked for the exhibition but thought I would just chance it anyway; and as it happened, I went straight in (with OCA student card concession price).

The exhibition was setup as different sections, with each being a different period of his portrait work, from the 1940’s to 2007. All of the portrait work on display were in black and white.

I found his earlier periods the most interesting out of the exhibition. Much of the work (especially around 1947-1948) was conducted in simplistic studio setups with very few props and simple lighting (The exhibition notes said that he used ‘tungsten’ lights as well as natural light); At most there was a Chair and some old plain carpet for much of this earlier work. Some of the images also had old thread and dirt scattered around the floors. I think the idea was to take the subject ‘out’ of their context and therefore concentrate you onto the subjects expressions and actions within the frames.

In some of this earlier work he had also used a narrow corner, with the subject in the apex of this confined space; I really enjoyed these and the way you were drawn into the image and focused onto each subject.

The other notable thing about his earlier periods was that a much (not all) of the photographs showed the subject more fully (head to toe) or not cropped in close.

In the 1950’s his work remained very simple but the frame appeared to be much closer on the faces with more head and shoulder framed images unlike the earlier work. There were some interesting framing on some of these; one that stuck in my mind was of the young Richard Burton. The frame cuts through his head and his hand almost dominated the image. Another photograph that stuck in my mind was that of Grace Kelly; Probably  to do with her contemporary beauty.

In the 1960’s portrait work seemed to have stayed with the closer compositions, concentrating on face and expressions, I noticed in many of the portraits that the catch lights in the eyes appeared to be the reflections of windows. I could be mistaken, but that’s what it looked like to me.

The 1970’s onwards he appeared to get closer still to the face and in more of them the lighting seemed to be harder, creating darker shadows.

Overall I really enjoyed the exhibition. I thought that the earlier work up to the 1960’s was much more interesting overall; I especially liked the work he did in 1947-1948 with the stark studio setups. 

Thursday, 8 April 2010


I have opted not to upload my assignment notes/images to the blog at this time; I have sent the printed versions and notes direct to my tutor and await my feedback. I will however continue with the next stages (Elements of Design) of the course and will update the blog in due course.


I have made some crops in the earlier exercise of Fitting the frame to the subject. This exercise takes the concept further to practice cropping further.


These images are a selection of some that I have completed on the course and prior. As such I have left out the camera settings and just concentrated on the cropping and thought process behind the crops.


This is a scanned in photograph from when I went trekking in Nepal and Everest Base camp. I like the shot of two traders on market day in Namche Bazaar.


In this crop I wanted to focus attention on the two characters. However It feels tight to me I feel that they have no room to breath. You also lose some sense of scale


I prefer this crop which has a ‘panoramic’ feel to it and does not seem to lose the sense of scale. I thought about an off centre from having the subjects to one side, but they felt off balance.


Centre framed squirrel lots of space around. Quite static and there is also a distracting green leaf in the bottom left quarter of the image.

Crop I cropped in quite close and in doing so the distracting green leaf was removed. I feel that the image is much more dynamic with the squirrel off-centre, the space in front of the squirrel has given it space to move into. I find this a lot more interesting that the original.


This is where I was playing in the garden with my daughter last year with sparklers. Although I like this image, light reflecting off the window frame to the right is distracting and the dark door/space to the left adds little to the image.


I cropped in quite close with a square crop to give emphasis to the ‘O’ / circle of light and remove the distracting dark space and window. Although more symmetrical in balance I think the image remains dynamic from the sense of motion and the interest that the effect (by slow shutter speed) has created


A light trail shot taken over a bridge with slow shutter speeds. Although I like this shot and it feels balanced (there are a few distractions though – the sign post to the top left) I wanted to try something extreme with the crop.


I made an extreme crop of the road, removing all but the red streaks and the 50mph speed limits. This was about the tightest I could go without compromising the details (any tighter would have reduced the quality too far). As well as the tight crop I angled the crop so that the 50mp signs created a diagonal line making the image more unusual. Out of all of the crops this is my favourite. Note: this was taken last year and the crop was used as part of a panel I used for an Open University course. I was planning to replicate the image (as I play with light trails at the same spot regularly) but time was against me.

Very enjoyable project and useful to practice Photoshop skills. I still think I need to be more aware of ‘framing’ in the viewfinder (especially with leaving space for the subjects)  and admittedly I’ve been a ‘crop in post production’ person thus far.