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: www.photgraphylife.com/how-to-photograph-the-supermoon [Accessed 22 July 2013].

Meyer, J. (2013);  Available from: http://www.digitalcameraworld.com/2013/07/25/using-focal-points-in-photography-how-to-get-perfect-composition-every-time-you-shoot/ [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

Panning with different shutter speeds

The starting point; “This comes naturally as a technique to most people”!  Regrettably I do not fall into that category and on the occasions I have tried to use this technique have had to work really hard at it, many shots to get just a few acceptable results; my initiation was a course at the Welsh Hawking Centre so perhaps not the best place to give it a go.  In my planning for this exercise the main headings that came to mind were; different subjects to compare use of the technique; a suitable location with clear line of sight and no obstructions in the panning arc; an uncluttered background; range of shutter speeds to try; safety when photographing passing vehicles (both personal and driver distraction).  I opted to use camera set to Shutter priority, Continuous Low shutter release and constant ISO 200 with a 24-70 f2.8 zoom lens; I am aware that there are some who recommend the use of a tripod or monopod to maintain the horizontal sweep.  My resulting shots are grouped by subject.

DSC_5505 - 1/40 sec at f22

DSC_5505 – 1/40 sec at f22

This first shot was a crow that I tried to get close to before it took flight.  I had already selected 1/40 sec as they are not the fastest of flyers.  As one of my first shots I do not consider it too bad.  Obviously with a bird there is both the direction of flight and wing movement to contend with.  The blurred background is achieved and the bird is recognizable.  I think the background is perhaps too blurred for the subject as it conveys a speed of flight out of character with the bird.  My technique probably has much to do with the result and there is probably a degree of camera shake given the shutter speed and the lens is quite heavy.  Next time I would opt for a slightly faster shutter speed.

DSC_5446 - 1/60 sec at f11

DSC_5446 – 1/60 sec at f11

This next shot was an opportunity shot and, as such I am quite pleased with it, a better result than the previous shot with better focus of the bird and a good sense of movement conveyed by the burring of the background and the wings.  A shutter speed of 1/60 sec would seem to be about right for this subject although there was no opportunity to try at other speeds. I like this shot as it gives a sense of the bird dragging itself away from danger, reaching forward to scoop the air over its wings and gain height.  Again this was one of my early shots so technique is perhaps in question.

DSC_5480 - 1/50 sec at f16

DSC_5480 – 1/50 sec at f16

Seem to be getting the hang of it with this next shot of a cyclist.  The face is in focus, there is a good amount of blurring of the background and the movement of the wheels, pedals and cyclists legs is well depicted.  Clearly I am better able to cope with the passing speed of a cyclist in terms of the panning technique.  The shutter speed of 1/50 sec must also help in addressing any camera shake.

DSC_5478 - 1/50 sec at f22

DSC_5478 – 1/50 sec at f22

I was hoping for a motorcycle and this opportunity surpassed my expectations, not the normal “road racer”.  I picked it up from a fair distance and was able to achieve a relatively smooth tracking.  The 1/50 sec shutter speed has achieved the desired effect, just a pity I was not able to get a sharper image of the machine and rider.

The next series of photos are arranged in increasing shutter speed.  My expectation was to see a difference in the degree of background blur, irrespective of my efforts to achieve a sharp subject.

Clearly the sense of speed is greater at the slower shutter speeds even though all of these cars were travelling at around 30 mph.  I think two of the photos have interesting points.  Firstly DSC_5448, the yellow Saxo, which I took just as another car was passing from the opposite direction such that there is the overlap of panning on one with the other driving through the frame with considerable blurring; to me this makes the Saxo really stand out in a sea of confusion and brings bright colour into the equation making me want to explore the technique against a background of brighter colours.  The other shot I find interesting is DSC_5463 the ambulance.  This vehicle took me by surprise having never seen anything like it before.  However, aside from the challenge of fitting it into frame, I am intrigued by the variations in focus along its length, could I have been changing my point of focus whilst trying to keep the overall vehicle in frame.

So what am I left with at the conclusion of this exercise?  First of all the panning technique needs practice, as evidenced by the variability in my results; where there is little or no opportunity for a repeat take best get your camera setting right and opt for either bracketing or a high rate of shutter release.  I need to go back to my camera manual and explore the plethora of settings that might improve things.  It may be worth exploring the use of a tripod (gimbal or ball head?) or monopod, not something I have ever tried.  One habit I found coming through most shots was that of tilting the camera down to the right as I panned, I corrected this in LR.  As to the use of blur to create a particular effect; I think it is down to what you are trying to convey.  In some instances having a pin sharp subject against a blurred image will enable the viewer to appreciate the detail of the subject yet it is set in a context of what it does, move at speed.  Equally, some blur of the subject can add to the impression of movement or portray a situation.  Moving to the far end of the scale, where there is overall blur of both subject and background, can make for fascinating abstracts.  In this exercise my favourite shot is DSC_5446 the pigeon; the blur of both the bird and the background to me conveys a struggle to climb away from danger at full power and maximum speed  As regards the previous shutter speed exercise I favour Photo 9 as it provides a blend that gives the impression of the power of water but the calming effect it can have.

Focus at different apertures

Looking for something different for this exercise I found 2 scenes that I thought worthy;  moored boats and some old railway wagons parked in a siding both of which I thought contain enough detail to pick out the sharpness limits and could be viewed at an angle.  I first photographed the boats but when I reviewed the shots in camera I could not see with any degree of clarity the effect being sought so I reverted to the railway wagons as it was a more compact scene and had a row of terraced houses behind which I thought might add value; the result was not what I expected or hoped for and I am finding it hard to get my head around the result insomuch as the sharpness limits are not well defined.  My selected apertures were; f2.8; f8; f22; the camera was tripod mounted and I used a remote release.  I went a bit off piste for me in that I went into manual mode. The focus point was the front wheel of the flat wagon behind the green tank wagon ie 5th wagon from the right.

1/320 sec at f2.8

1/320 sec at f2.8

1/80 sec at f8

1/80 sec at f8

1/10 sec at f22

1/10 sec at f22

In the first instance I was disappointed with the sharpness around the focus point at f2.8 and wonder whether this is the effect of the low contrast as the camera was set to single focus point, but I did not detect any evidence of the autofocus hunting.  However, the theory of shallow depth of field is demonstrated with the foreground and background out of focus.  At f8 there is a distinct improvement in sharpness as evidenced by the rail tracks in the foreground, the houses in the background and the wagons either side of the focus point.  The final shot at f22, whilst not looking too much different from the shot at f8, shows a considerable difference to that at f2.8 with the majority of the shot in focus.

In terms of my preference, I go for the shot at f22. I chose the scene for the variety of wagons, their shapes, sizes colours and construction and the detail in the tracks.  As such, I wish to see as much in sharp focus as possible; the fact that it is taken at an angle does not allow for the isolation of the wagons from the other elements in the scene.

The prints I made are not too good and do little to boost morale; I suspect the paper quality does not help!

Shutter speeds

In my mind the jury is still out on “creamy water” so I chose to use a water scene for this exercise as part of my own journey to making a a personal decision on this aspect of photography; in this case it is the water feature in Millennium Square in Bristol, which, fortunately was functioning on the day I visited, having since discovered it is often switched off (a frequent target for revellers with soap powder!); given the simplicity of this feature I felt it would provide an ideal scene.  Conversely the weather was far from ideal, cold with a mixture of rain and snow!

1/6 sec

1                       1/6 sec

Photo 1.  Classic creamy water with no definition of the individual streams or splash.  It conveys a continuos stream of water and adds a softness to the image.

1/10 sec

2                       1/10 sec

Photo 2.  Very similar to Photo 1 as to be expected with a small difference in shutter speed.

1/13 sec

3                       1/13 sec

Photo 3.  Still a good deal of creaminess but there is some slight definition of the individual streams of water beginning to appear.

1/15 sec

4                         1/15 sec

Photo 4. Very similar to Photo 3, again I would expect this given the small change in shutter speed.

1/20 sec

5                         1/20 sec

Photo 5.  A little more definition beginning to appear as the creaminess reduces.

1/25 sec

6                         1/25 sec

Photo 6.  Rather than creaminess I would call this blurring of the movement and individual streams of water are better defined.

1/30 sec

7                        1/30 sec

Photo 7.  Still plenty of blur but not significantly different from the previous shot.  Again, the difference in shutter speed is small.

1/40 sec

8                          1/40 sec

Photo 8.  A slight reduction in blur.

1/60 sec

9                      1/60 sec

Photo 9. Reduction in blur creating more of an impression of the power of the water.  The movement is still not sharply frozen.

1/100 sec

10                         1/100 sec

Photo 10.  I was expecting to see some sharpness at this speed and my initial impression was that the turning point had been reached.  However, when zooming in on the screen it was evident that it was not sharply frozen.

1/160 sec

11                   1/160 sec

Photo 11.  There is a definite improvement in sharpness now but still not optimum when zoomed in.

1/250 sec

12                      1/250 sec

Photo 12.  I would expect there to be a significant improvement in sharpness at this speed.    Indeed, when viewed in comparison mode with Photo 11 in Lightroom there is a significant improvement in the sharpness of the frozen movement of the water.  Also the bubbles and splash are well defined.  However, again in the zoom mode I do not see the sharpness that would define this as the transition point.

Clearly I have not picked a spread of shutter speeds where the transition to sharply frozen movement is clearly defined and I should have explored shutter speeds greater than 1/250 sec.  In conclusion, therefore, I do not think I have found the shutter speed which clearly defines the transition to sharply frozen movement as this exercise set out to do.  However, a number of lessons have been learnt; my planning for this exercise fell short in that I had not thought through the range of shutter speeds to be used – more research of photographs of this type of scene would have provided the clues ergo taking the advice to build up a folder of photos for future reference; it is difficult to assess photographs on the camera LCD monitor, particularly in adverse conditions, so better to take more shots across the range of settings to ensure the required spectrum is captured. However, I have also learnt some more functionality of Lightroom for comparing shots.  As regards the “creamy water” issue, I am still inclined to the view that some take it too far but I guess it is a very subjective aspect of a photograph and what one is trying to convey.

Focus with a set aperture

Having decided to find a subject other than the ubiquitous row of cars I tried a couple of scenes.  The first attempt was to place 3 numbered marker poles along a lane but I found this did not illustrate the effect to my satisfaction.  Attempt 2 was a scene I noticed whilst out walking, a boardwalk through a wood which had good depth and had coach bolts in the handrail thus providing good reference points.

DSC_5177 - Shot 1

For the first picture I focussed on the near upright post on the left. Shot taken with 28-70mm lens at 31mm, ISO 200, 1/250 sec at f2.8.

DSC_5178 - Shot 2

Second picture I focussed on the next post along on the left. Shot taken with 28-70mm lens at 31mm, ISO 200, 1/250 sec at f2.8.

DSC_5179 - Shot 3

In the final picture I focussed on the third upright on the left.  Shot taken with 28-70mm lens at 31mm, ISO 200, 1/125 sec at f2.8.

The first photograph draws the eye to the nearest uprights as they are in sharp focus but in this scene I feel my brain is being confused.  The boardwalk draws me into the picture yet so much is out of focus I find it very uncomfortable to look at.  In the second shot there is more of a balance between the foreground and background but still I am drawn to what is further along the boardwalk; I find this easier to look at than the first.  In the final shot my curiosity is more satisfied as I can make out more of the background detail.  I favour picture 3 as I feel the scene is all about what there may be deeper in the wood and the foreground, whilst giving context, is not as important and, as such, not where I want the focus to be; certainly my brain seems happier computing this final image.

Focal length and angle of view

Enough reading, time to get out with the camera!  At least I had picked up early on that the crop factor for my camera is 1.5 so determined the setting for the first photo in the series of 3 should be 33mm on the zoom lens.  However, on framing the first shot I realised from the viewfinder information that there were some peculiar settings – lesson here; when you have been experimenting with the camera in conjunction with the manual always return all settings back to your normal values!  This also applies when returning home from any shoot.  Anyway, with 3 shots in the bag returned to print them out ready for the second part of the exercise.  Back outside returned to my carefully selected memorable view point, a convenient manhole cover.  It took me a minute or two to calibrate my eyeballs but found having a large van in the pictures helped considerably as it provided a very good reference.  Not so easy was taking the measurements from eye to picture; if you have access to a measuring stick for spacing seeds in the garden it makes life easier!

Focal length 33mm - DSC_5138The first picture, lens set at roughly 33mm focal length (actually recorded as 32mm in Lightroom) returned a viewing distance of 40mm.





The second picture, wide angle setting of 24mm, returned a picture to eye distance of 24mm.





The third shot, telephoto (thought I had it set at 70mm but LR shows 66mm), gave a picture to eye distance of 80mm.




For the standard focal length shot there is good correlation between the lens setting and the eye to picture distance, given the rather rough measuring method.  This accords with the fact that the with both eyes open the central angle of view is 40-60 degrees which gives a focal length similar to the camera standard focal length.  Again, the wide angle lens setting corresponds to picture to eye distance.  However, the telephoto setting figures show a discrepancy in the trend.  Nevertheless, the results correspond to the findings put forward in the exercise notes and suggests a good deal of similarity between the optics of the camera lens and our eyes, albeit the camera sees what it sees within the limits of the technology and there is considerably more processing in the case of the eyes/brain partnership.

Know your camera

A stark reminder about how little I really know about my camera (Nikon D300s)! In common with many others I am sure, it was a case of get it out the box, get the battery charged and crack on – and that was many moons ago.  At some point I heeded advice and bought a Magic Lantern Guide which I have now found, blown the dust off and started to use; there have been some eureka moments since and hopefully some of the past frustrations will be alleviated!