Assignment One Revisited (Again)

If at first you don’t succeed………My Transparent/Opaque pair did not pass muster, the contrast is again too obscure:

“In my view, the item demonstrated by each image or group of images should by the first thing which comes to the mind of your viewer when confronted by your work.   At final assessment, if the meaning of your images is too obscure the assessor may well misunderstand and a loss of marks could be the result.”


In view of the feedback it seemed sensible to stick with a family of subjects as this would seem to be the best way of making the contrast more obvious.  As such I have chosen a pair from the “Trash to Treasure” exhibition photographs which, I believe, demonstrate the contrast very well.  Again, the technical challenge of the “white environment” is evident and I wonder whether the composition makes for an interesting image; overall, though, I think the subject holds it together in both shots.

Clearly a second knock back was not good for morale but the point is well made regarding the challenge to gain all the marks you can where formal assessments are concerned – I’ve just pencilled in “KISS” below the assignment assessment criteria!  Keeping things simple often makes them more effective (not just applicable to government and BBC IT projects!).


Assignment One Revisited

My tutor feedback on Assignment One indicated that a number of my paired images required revisiting against the background of:

The images created should interpret the pairs of descriptive words in a manner that would be obvious to an unitiated viewer.   In other words, the picture should tell the story without the assistance of any prior detailed knowledge or helpful legend.    I understand your logic for the images you have submitted but I am afraid that in a number of them the interpretation is too obscure and would not be the first impression that your viewer would understand.”

Having reflected on this comment I decided to use the same subject for one pair (Long/Short), but with an adjusted viewing position for one image as, in my opinion, the comparison story is told; in my experience people tend to comment on the length of piers.  For the remainder of the comparisons I selected new subjects.


By changing the viewing point for the second shot I believe there is more of a direct contrast between the two piers and, for me anyway, the one thing that stands out is the difference in length; vive la difference!


Staying with my idea of subjects from the same family, a rummage in the trusty toolbox revealed a couple of items that I think make a fair contrast of pointed and blunt.  Setting up the shots provided an opportunity to explore some new skills, namely reverting to manual on the camera, taking light readings with a hand-held meter and setting a custom white balance.  I explored a number of different angles for both shots looking for the ones that best emphasised the contrast between the two.  I also tried different aperture settings to see whether the depth of field added anything; for the hammer shot I settled on a value that lost sharpness along the handle in order to give weight to the head whereas I found a greater depth of field better suited the shot of the cold chisels.


My theme for this pair is glass and these two shots came about by chance.  The first image was the result of contemplating the meaning of life one evening, as you do.  Looking into the fire I was taken by the unusual burning in that rather than the wood being on fire the heat was generating gas which was accumulating at the top of the combustion chamber and then igniting; this produced a rather striking image through the glass panel in the door of the burner.  I hastily gathered together camera, tripod and a couple of lenses in the hope of capturing the scene.  There was a good deal of trial and error to achieve the image I thought best captured what I was seeing, working against a diminishing occurrence.  It was achieving a depth of field that captured what was going on inside the burner as well as showing the context of the event coupled with the ISO setting and shutter speed to show the swirling flame.  The second shot, which I found equally demanding, was the result of visiting an art exhibition by Melanie Paice titled “Trash to Treasure”.  She has used old lightbulbs to create bugs using the filament wires and amongst these were some opaque bulbs and I saw an opportunity.  Having obtained her permission to take photographs I set about capturing a suitable image.  On my camera I had a 50mm f/1.4 lens so was limited in minimum focus distance but benefited from having a fast lens.  Of course the gallery was painted brilliant white with plenty of overhead illumination and the displays were arranged on white tables; having never taken photographs in this sort of environment before I found the lighting something of a challenge an experimented with various camera settings.


I’m hopeful that I have not strayed into the realms of deep obscurity once again by choosing this metaphor!  The first shot was relatively straightforward, although I did try a range of different backgrounds but found the contrast with the black to be the most striking.  The second shot was a bit more of a challenge both in finding the view that most clearly conveyed the meaning and the lighting.  It was shot positioned next to a window and I used a piece of white card to reflect the light; I tried a number of settings to obtain the best contrast between the cream tablecloth, the white dish and the butter.

I am hopeful that these photographs have moved me out of the obscurity zone; if not I look forward to some meaningful debate since I am of the opinion that many pictures have a degree of obscurity in order to generate thought and debate.  However, I do accept that there are degrees and at this early stage in the course it is perhaps best to err on the side of obvious.

Reference List:

Paice, M. (2013) Lightbulb, 2013. ‘Trash to Treasure’ exhibition. Walton-on-Thames: The Robert Phillips Gallery. 15-26 May 2013

Assignment One Contrasts

This assignment is about exploring the theory of composition developed by Johannes Itten at the Bauhaus school in Dessau, Germany in the 1920s which led to the most fundamental overhaul of the theory of design in the 20th century.  The idea moves us beyond the traditional concept of photographic contrast, the range of brightness, to many other qualities including graphic, material and the less tangible, such as sweet and sour.  My starting point, as for most tasks so far in this course, was to construct a mind map and turn to what I judge to be the bible for this course, The Photographer’s Eye (Freeman, 2007) and also (Prakel, 2006).  Reflecting on what I read prompted me to consider the list of qualities beyond the obvious meaning and for that I delved into the Concise Oxford English Dictionary.  From this I was able to begin distilling my thoughts on possible subjects, bearing in mind I still have little confidence in my ability to be truly creative; suffice to say there were some subjects that emerged from my meagre list of possibles that I have been compiling; perhaps there are some creative juices lurking after all!

My thoughts also turned to other challenges associated with the task.  Logic says this is the conclusion of a phase therefore all that has gone before needs to be considered in composing the images; this is against the background of there still being much that is not second nature to me; solution for this would appear to be to construct a pocket check list but this may be counter-productive in terms of being a distraction. Another consideration is the ability to influence how things appear by the use of lighting, colour or tone; I did not feel ready for this approach although I did try to keep it in mind when out and about.

I also considered how to approach the selection of possible images.  Whilst the assigment instruction calls for the depiction of ‘extremes’ the context is left open.  I saw a couple of options; firstly, pick a theme and gather images that reflect said theme; secondly, select pairs in the same subject family.  I decided to go for the second approach.  After reviewing numerous previously taken photos and taking just shy of 300 new shots, thank goodness for digital, my selected 8 pairs and one depicting contrasts in a single shot are shown below with my associated thoughts.


My theme for this contrast is, obviously, buildings; both of these are located in Bristol in the harbour area.  The block of flats is just that, a block. The other is the Lloyds Bank building and often forms the backdrop for local festivals and events.  Whether they represent extremes is possibly open to debate, certainly to my mind the block of flats seems pretty extreme.  Turning first to the shot of the flats.  The scene screams straight lines, encompassing not just the structure of the building but the railings, railway lines, the road and its markings.  I did approach it from different angles but felt this one gave the best representation despite being challenged by the position of the sun which I sought to use to create a highlight.  From this angle I feel the linear format draws you into the scene and gives it depth.  I was also taken by the colours which added interest; without those colours, which also serve to highlight the lines, I feel the building itself would be quite bland despite the extensive use of glass.  In contrast the Bank’s lines have been complemented by the curved landscaping such that it all flows together in one large, graceful arc.  In composing this shot I thought of leading the eye from the foreground round to the building and hence the need to get a good camera position and appropriate depth of field.


I had many ideas for this category but with these two structures in my local area they seemed an obvious choice; Burnham pier is claimed to be the shortest in Britain and the Weston-super-Mare pier has been rebuilt following the disastrous fire in July 2008.  At first I was hesitant in shooting these two as they are both well photographed but decided to give it a go and not look at any of the standard stock shots beforehand lest I be influenced.  For both scenes I found it a real challenge to get an angle that did justice to the structure and portrayed the length of each pier; I took many shots from a multitude of angles trying to gauge the effectiveness of each.  There was also the issue of tide in/tide out and the constraints this placed on camera position.  For the Burnham pier I decided on this angle as I think it depicts just how short it is, literally jutting out a short way from the seafront; on reflection I am not sure that a more panoramic view may create a better impression but I am sticking with this.  For the Weston pier I thought my chosen composition portrayed the structure reaching out into the sea, almost straining to reach the island in the distance and thereby giving an impression of its length.  Both shots were taken in contrasting weather conditions; shooting into the sun at Weston exercised my grey cells and I have to admit to some application of graduated filter in Lightroom (my first use of this tool so a bit undecided on its success).


As a regular visitor to, and admirer of, this iconic vessel I quickly decided on these two shots depicting pointed and blunt; nothing to do with the fact that, as a former regular passenger on HM Royal Navy ships it was custom, as a member of the embarked forces, to refer to the front and back of the of the vessel as ‘the pointed end’ or ‘the blunt end’.  I did not see much option for composing the stern shot given the space available to manoeuvre the camera position so opted for symmetry, mindful of the need to get it dead centre.  Being a very bright day I found myself playing with the camera settings to overcome the high contrast between the deep black of the ship and the bright sky.  I took several shots of the bow in isolation, both below and above the waterline, in order to get away from the standard picture postcard view, including one looking up through the glass that surrounds the ship, but it was just too cluttered.  This view, including the entry to the dry dock, not only captures the majestic prow which you can imagine slicing through the water but the ship seems to be set to return once again to the open sea, sitting there waiting for the gates to open.


My chosen theme for these two shots is glass.  When looking down into the top deck skylight on the SS Great Britain there was a myriad of reflections which I thought created a real sense of confusion as to what was real and what was reflected.  The geometrical shapes added to the interest along with the richness of the varnished timber.  In contrast to this was the opaque glass in the windows of the shed on the wharf along with the rusting corrugated iron cladding, not very shipshape; again very geometrical but also providing a contrast in the materials’ form and texture.  I tried several ways of framing this shot to get away from the flat, vertical wall effect, seeking to get the in-camera cropping correct.


Again, inspiration from the SS Great Britain, this time from the structure below the waterline.  Time and circumstance has not been kind to the hull and rudder of the ship. However, the restoration work being carried out provides a stark contrast between before and after.  The rudder, having been restored, shows a smooth, contoured surface, highlighted by the rows of rivet heads, all cloaked in a rich coating of red paint. It took me some time to decide upon how to shoot this, whether to put it in context of the ship or go solely for the theme of smooth.  In the end I felt that, despite it being a large expanse of smooth red metal, the lines of rivet heads gave an area of interest that makes this composition work.   Contrast this with the severe rust on the hull providing a landscape of deeply pitted iron, giving colour and texture, and flaking paint all of which combine to provide an interesting array of shapes, textures and colour; I have it in mind to go back and try this shot with a macro lens.


The link between these next two subjects is metal.  Whilst some may argue that my diagonal, the spoke, does not fit the bill as it does not span the corners of the standard geometric shapes I would contest otherwise as this falls into the category of ‘other figure’ as per the definition of diagonal.  For me there is something about such objects, the size, how they were manufactured and how the surface rusts generating patterns and colours; I think this shot also conveys something of the weight of this component and the rigidity that the spokes give it.  My concern in taking this shot was how to add interest given its position almost flat up against the wall so I spent much time framing it in different ways.  The contrast with this is the collection of metal fuel containers, lights and the bucket waiting to be filled with oil.  There was a real sense of how the light was generated; oil from the barrel into the bucket, then tipped into the containers which, in turn, are used to fuel the lights. Again, I was concerned that this shot would be too flat but I think a degree of depth is given by the bucket and oil barrel.


For this contrast I wanted to get away from the obvious subjects and looked for images that implied the contrast.  Whilst I think these images speak for themselves as regards the hard and soft contrast I believe they also convey a message.  For me it starts with the Help for Heroes poster displayed on the door and the knowledge that so many of our servicemen fall on hards times when they leave the armed forces due to a number of factors; most of us take for granted a warm bed and roof over our head each night.  When composing the doorway shot I considered a number of options from including the whole frontage of the doorway to concentrating on the sleeping bag on the floor; my final choice reflects my desire to give some prominence to the poster and thus the wider meaning of the photographs.  When it came to the shot of the bed my initial concern was it was going to be just that, a bed; using different viewpoints and judicious use of the zoom lens I was able to bring in the interest of the window blind and colour of the painting on the wall, all of which puts the bed in context and adds to the message.


These two images should, I hope, stimulate the senses in order to bring to life the contrast!  Taking the photographs moved me out of my comfort zone in a number of respects; composing the shot, depth of field, lighting and capturing the moment through selection of shutter speed.  Thanks be to Continuous Low shutter release, a plentiful supply of lemons and a very patient wife!  This was the first time I have ventured into this area of photography and at first, in my enthusiasm, rushed headlong into getting the shot; not until I stepped back and thought things through did I make headway.  I am particularly pleased with capturing the lemon juice spray as it was squeezed.

Contrast ‘in one picture’ – rounded/diagonal

This has always been one of my favorite shots, taken at the Eden Project.  It is part of an intricate fence of various geometrical shapes and here we have the contrast of rounded and diagonal provided by the clever weaving of the rope on the frame.  When I took this picture it was more about framing the scene through the fence but I think it works equally well for this exercise.

As I stated at the beginning, I saw this assignment as the drawing together of all the lessons thus far as well as exploring the theory of contrasts.  In that respect I found it quite a challenge as it was too easy to get wrapped up in the task of identifying the contrasts and how to get the message across and this was sometimes at the expense of some of the learnings from the exercises.  This has brought home, once again, the need to stop and think about all the elements of constructing that ‘killer’ photograph.  Also, taking so many shots of various contrasts resulted in a lengthy down selection process with much back and forth before taking the decision to reject a set of images.  For some of the landscape shots the light was not at its best and I should have planned when to take them (golden hour springs to mind); it is now very evident why you often read that top landscape photographers visit a place many times before committing.  I am happy with my decision to seek contrasting images from the same family of subjects; that said, I think using a theme would also be interesting in that it would be telling a story.

Reference List

Concise Oxford English Dictionary. 2004. 11th ed. Oxford. Oxford University Press.

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

Prakel, D. 2012. 2nd ed. Basics photography 01: composition. Lausanne. AVAPublishing SA.


Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills.  I believe my technical skills are improving although there is still much that has yet to become second nature.  As such, some of the photographs are perhaps lacking in quality as I concentrate on one or two particular aspects at the expense of others.  In some areas this may be explained by a developing knowledge of the functionality of my camera and my overall workflow, including the use of Adobe Lightroom.  In terms of demonstration of visual skills, I think the majority of photographs show an ability to compose a scene, building on the exercises leading up to the assignment.

Quality of Outcome.  I think both the photographs and the narratives demonstrate an application of knowledge gained thus far and I have presented it in a coherent manner allowing the reader to easily navigate to the various sections. On reflection, in one or two cases perhaps the photographs do not conveying my thoughts as clearly as I had wished, specifically, rounded/diagonal and I should have been more self critical at the time of selecting the shot.  In the majority, though, I believe I have put my message across clearly.

Demonstration of Creativity.  Creativity has been an issue on my mind throughout.  I think it is evident that there are degrees of creativity in this assignment, in some areas I have gone for the obvious (Long/short) but I hope I have shown an ability to explore the boundaries elsewhere (Hard\soft, sweet/sour) both in terms of the subject matter and new techniques.  In putting this together I have told it as I see it, it is for others to decide if I am developing a personal voice.

Context.  An area for improvement is research.  There is perhaps a lack of evidence of wide research reflected by my reference list and I need to read more widely and get myself to some exhibitions/galleries.  However, I believe my learning log indicates critical thinking and the application of the discipline of reflection.  I look forward to my tutor feedback which I feel very much in need of at this juncture.