Multiple points


This exercise builds upon the single point, grouping objects together such that they are linked attractively, in a relationship that is active rather than obvious and static.  The group of objects implies a network of lines and, by implication, create a shape.  The exercise requires the build up of a still-life arrangement using 6-10 similar sized objects against an unfussy, but not plain, background resulting in a final grouping, which is not so obvious as to be boring (avoiding regular shapes), but which hangs together visually.  As each single object is added a photograph is taken.  The camera is to be fixed in one position aimed down at the background; this calls for the use of a tripod or similar.  The composition should be controlled by rearrangement of the objects, not by changing the framing within the camera. The final photograph calls for a sketch to be drawn indicating the ‘lines’ that relate the objects and any basic shape(s) that they form.


I contemplated this exercise for a lengthy period as I did not find it the easiest of tasks to get my head round; probably something to do with self belief in being creative.  As usual the first port of call was Freeman (2007) followed closely by Prakel (2012).  Whilst both these publications covered the ground in varying degrees I did not find the explanations and examples sufficient to provide the clarity I was seeking in order to carry out the exercise. The technical aspects were straightforward, it was producing a final grouping “not so obvious as to be boring” and “hangs together visually” that presented the greatest challenge to me and I craved more explanation and examples.  There did not appear to be any pertinent information in any of the other course books so once again it was the internet.  Of course there were many examples from other students on the course and it was heartening to know that others have found this exercise a challenge.  Most of the sites I visited were concerned with selecting multiple points from an existing scene rather than building a still life.  Even looking at sites which were from the artist’s perspective did not prove much help as they seemed to be more concerned with the arrangement in side elevation rather than plan view.  I considered a range of objects such as buttons, confectionary, nuts, coins, earrings and pebbles; as well as shape I considered texture and tone with the conversion to B+W in mind as I intended to produce both colour and B+W images.  In the end I selected pebbles for their shape, texture and varying tones.  For the background I selected a wood, in keeping with a natural theme, and the potential for the grain to provide some interest.


The set up was done in a conservatory so as to provide plenty of natural light but I did wait until it was overcast to avoid harshness.  I mounted the camera on a tripod with the column at 90 degrees (beware the balance of forces!) to effect a plan view of the composition.  All the shots were taken using a 105mm f/2.8 lens with camera settings of 1/60 sec at f/5.6, ISO100 with a custom white balance derived from using a grey card and I used a cable shutter release; the camera settings were taken from a hand-held light meter.  I also found it best to use the Live View mode which made it much easier to make composition changes and see the effect in the frame.

When I began the build I had no idea where I was going with the composition and had many attempts, looking for inspiration, always nagged by the directive to not be boring, avoid regular shapes and find something that would hang together visually.  Finally as I was laying the pebbles down in a diagonal line my mind went back to my shots of the moon in the previous exercise and the thought of stars in the night sky – after all had man not looked up and deduced shapes from the objects in the sky; this led to my final arrangement and the end to a good deal of frustration.  Whilst some may challenge the fact that it does not conform to the remit to avoid regular shapes I would invite viewers of that opinion to consider the definition of ‘regular’ – if, perchance, there are two or more spaces of the exact same dimensions then that is pure coincidence and says much for my calibrated eyeball!


This exercise has been a challenge and not one I can say I enjoyed in all respects; the technical elements I found enjoyable but building the still-life not so.  Why is that?  I think it stems from entering into a completely new arena of arranging a still-life with strict rules applied; I felt as if I was completing a process rather than composing a photograph that I found pleasing to view as, after all, the final shot is to illustrate the lines and shapes therein and thus prove a grasp of the concept (my interpretation).  Perhaps I should have used different objects to try to bring it to life.  I have to say that I did not find the notes in the manual particularly helpful and there seemed to be a paucity of information to support this exercise elsewhere which led to a good deal of frustration on my part.  Also I cannot say that still-life photography is something that I have ever had an interest in so perhaps there was degree of negativity at the outset which I should have recognised and addressed.

In terms of the end product, I believe it illustrates the complexity of composing a still-life and I have been able to identify lines and shapes that confirm the theory.  By producing both colour and B+W images I have been able to further my understanding of the subtleties of grayscale; in this instance I feel that there is not a great enough tonal difference to make the image stand out and work in B+W albeit that may be due, in part, to my knowledge of the software I used.  I have tried to make sense of the “vectors” in the arrangement and have found it difficult to make a reasoned conclusion apart from there appear to be four lines of direction pulling outward according to the placement of the four pebbles near the edge of the frame; given that they are all of a similar size I can only deduce that the lines with an object nearest the edge are the stronger; this is certainly an area I think needs face to face tuition to fully understand the subject area. Whether the composition meets the criteria set is, in my view, open to debate; on the one hand it should be “not so obvious as to be boring” whilst on the other I have been exulted by my tutor to compose my images such that the intent is immediately obvious to the viewer.  I hope that the arrangement of the objects gives the viewer the impression that there is meaning to the composition, even though they may not be into astronomy, perhaps in the same way as those who constructed Stonehenge did so with reason, or so we think!  It is all in the eye of the beholder, is it not?

Reference List:

Freeman, M. (2007) The photographer’s eye: composition and design for better digital photos. Lewes: The Ilex Press Limited

Prakel, D. (2012) Basics photography 01: composition. Second edition. Lausanne. AVA Publishing SA


Positioning a point


This exercise concerns the positioning of a single point in the frame and explores the graphic relationship that the points have with the frame.  Three photographs are required each depicting one of the three classes of position: middle; a little off-centre; close to the edge.  The reason for the placement of the point is to be stated along with an analysis of the graphic relationship the points have with the frame.


As always my first port of call was Michael Freeman’s The Photographer’s Eye closely followed by David Prakel’s Composition.  In the early stages I had a jumble of thoughts surrounding such things as what constitutes a point, building on previous work, make it interesting, should I go for black and white, my tutor’s comments on Assignment 1, to mention but a few!  The first step to making sense appeared to be to make a list as directed in the manual and pick a few previously shot photographs which contain obvious points. My thoughts on the types of situation which depict a point were as follows:

Boats on lakes/open sea

Isolated buildings in open landscape

Sunset over the sea

Lone individual/vehicle/animal in a field

Single flower against a plain/blurred background

Isolated light source in dark environment

Aircraft in sky

Bird against contrasting background.

A trawl through the old photographs revealed a few, some of dubious quality, that seemed to fit the bill; I decided not to convert these to black and white at this juncture:

Having done a fairly coarse selection of examples above and reviewed each went some way towards clarifying the objective and focusing on the criteria.  However, the words of my tutor keep coming back to me regarding the need to ensure that the viewer of the image immediately understands what it is trying to convey.  I therefore elected to pursue images that conformed to the basic principles as stated by Freeman (2007), “The simplest form of a point in a photograph is an isolated object seen from a distance, against a relatively plain background.”.  However, this approach did pose something of a dilemma in that the brief calls for the images to be “interesting and attractive”, nevertheless I felt that keeping to the essentials was the best way forward for the purpose of the exercise; the use of tonal contrast and dynamic balance were other considerations which could provide interest and attractiveness.  I also considered the suggestion in the brief that this exercise lends itself to the production of images in black and white and decided that doing so would also provide additional learning; however, in order to aid that learning I decided to include both a colour and black and white image in order to make an informed comparison.


In looking for suitable subjects I soon became aware that I was, perhaps, looking too hard for “the shot” and it was time to get out and about and get some images in the bank, so to speak.  Shortly after having this blinding glimpse of the obvious I saw a potential shot in something as simple as the shed door and that same evening the rising of a full moon, both of which seemed to meet the criteria.  First I tackled the shot of the shed door.

What attracted me to this subject were the hard geometrical shapes formed by the wooden planks and the padlock forming the point of interest, contrasting with the background of the grainy wood; I regret that I did not get the diagonal absolutely accurate in the bottom left of the frame.  It was not immediately obvious to me what position the padlock should take in the frame but as soon as I looked through the viewfinder and explored the orientation of the planks I formed the opinion that it should be a little off-centre.  I chose to put in the bottom half of the frame as I thought it provided balance when viewed against the large expanse of wood in the top half of the frame and the perceived moment arm from the centre of the image to the padlock seeking to restore the whole to the vertical position.  Tension is induced by the different orientation of the planks and the expectation that the padlock would be hanging vertically, all of this combining to add interest to what is essentially a very simple image.  Whilst the conversion to black and white does justice to the grain of the wood and the hard lines, I find the colour version provides more of a contrast between the background and the padlock making the point more prominent; it may be that all the colours in the image are much of the same pallet has influenced my choice.  Had the padlock been round in shape then I can imagine the black and white image may have been preferable as the contrast in shapes would have been prominent.

The 22 July 2013 saw a pretty spectacular full moon, well from my back yard anyway, which inspired me to use it as a subject for this exercise.  I was undecided as to which position in the frame I was going to use, preferring to wait and see what the situation was when actually taking the shots.  Having never tried to specifically photograph the moon before I did a fair amount of searching on the internet for tips and through the books on my bookshelf; the following  were found to provide the most useful information:

Freeman, M. (2008) Mastering Digital Photograph

Mansurov, Nasim. How to Photograph the Supermoon

It was something of a challenge to find the best location for the shoot given the proliferation of power lines in the immediate area but by waiting until a little later in the rise this was overcome.  Following the advice I had read I set up the camera on a tripod and used a cable shutter release (omitted to engage mirror lock up!).  Most of what I gleaned from my research suggested the most successful shots are achieved by using HDR techniques, however, I decided to shoot the moon against the dark sky and not include any landscape thus obviating the need to employ this method.  What I was also undecided on what lens to use to achieve the effect I was after so I ended up trying both a 70-200mm with a 1.7 teleconverter and crop factor of 1.5 and a 70-300mm zoom on an FX body.  I used quite a wide range of settings throughout the shoot and positions of the moon in the frame.  After several hours of trial and error and review of a plethora of shots on the computer I elected to position the moon in the centre of the frame.  Why?  Many of the shots of the moon I had seen positioned it near the edge of the frame but in most cases the image included either a landscape or other subjects.  In this case I had chosen a shot of the moon in isolation and since the object of the exercise was to investigate the positioning of a point I thought that the symmetry provided by the central position of the focus of light against the dark night sky worked well, albeit I appear to have transgressed as the moon it not perfectly central – I attribute this to the surprising speed at which it moves.  Certainly I feel this composition shows the dominance of the point.  For me it also explored the definition of a point and raised the question of how much should the moon dominate the image and hence I have included the two shots above; on reflection I feel I should have used a greater differentiation in size to illustrate the issue.

Having completed the centre and slightly off-centre images it was a case of finding a suitable subject for the close to the edge position.  Once again nothing obvious sprung to mind so it was a matter of going walkabout.  Fortunately we had the local annual Rescue Services Day which provided a number of opportunities so 199 shots later and a good deal of time reviewing and down selecting images I ended up with the above.  Again, I have presented both the colour and B+W image for comparison.  I chose this image as the kite forms a contrasting point against the background both in terms of the tonal range and shape – the eye is drawn to the point which, by virtue of its geometric shape implies man-made, then explores the image to locate its source, in this case the surfer whose direction and speed is implied by the wake from the board.  By positioning the kite near the right hand vertical frame there is implied movement in the direction the kite surfer was travelling; I did not position it such that the kite was hard up against the frame as I wanted to include the wake of the surfer to give the implied movement and direction of travel in order to give meaning to the space in the remainder of the image. For this shot I think the conversion to B+W provides a better image than the colour version; the kite stands out very well and the tonal range suits the large expanse of sand, with the vehicle tracks, and sea, adding texture to the whole. Dynamic tension is induced by the kite being close to the frame and balanced by the expanse of sea and sand;  similarly there is balance between the foreground and background due to the tonal range of the sea and sand against the sky.


For some reason I found it difficult to get going with this exercise, perhaps due to it being very similar to the previous exercise but trying to be mindful of addressing balance and proportion as well as grappling with the “size” of the point;  I found the explanation by Prakel (Prakel, 2006) to be particularly useful in addressing the definition of a point.  I also found it difficult to get my head around the relations to do with movement and division and am still not sure I have fathomed it out.  In the event I took a large number of shots and spent a lot of time reviewing them in order to select those that I thought met the criteria, perhaps overly so.  In framing the shots for this exercise I drifted away from the rule of thirds, after all rules are made to be broken, and I thought the strength of images were not lessened by this approach; the criteria of “a little off-centre” did not seem to sit well with the rule anyway!  I enjoyed the comparison of the B+W with the colour, where appropriate, and this built on my experience of visiting the exhibition at Lacock Abbey; I will certainly explore further this aspect of photography but clearly there is a lot to learn if my images are to truly benefit as evidenced by my attempts here, they have not got that punch.  I also think that this being the first step towards Assignment 2 which is formally assessed made me somewhat cautious in my approach and thus contributed to the time taken to complete this exercise to my satisfaction.

Reference List:

Freeman, M. (2008) Mastering Digital Photography. Lewes: The Ilex Press Limited

Freeman, M. (2007) The photographer’s eye: composition and design for better digital photos. Lewes: The Ilex Press Limited

Mansurov, N. (2013) How to photograph the supermoon. Available from: [Accessed 22 July 2013].

Meyer, J. (2013);  Available from: [Accessed 30 July 2013]

Prakel, D. (2012) Basics photography 01: composition. Second edition. Lausanne. AVA Publishing SA

Various Photographers. (2013) Arrangements in black and grey. Lacock: Fox Talbot Museum. 12 April – 22 October