Visit Exhibition – Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 at Mshed, Bristol: A judge’s perspective

I visited this exhibition not only from my interest in wildlife photography but also to gain an insight into how these competitions are judged.  Roz Kidman Cox, a competition judge, wildlife writer and former editor of BBC Wildlife gave a very informative and interesting talk as we toured the exhibition of 100 photographs, the product of some 43000 entries from photographers representing 26 countries. Roz was able to talk from a position of considerable experience having been involved with the competition since 1981 and she did so with evident passion and knowledge of wildlife and what it means to capture the moment but without undue interference.  The competition does not distinguish between professional and amateur, an interesting stance given the quite extensive resources that went into the capturing of some of the photographs, and has many categories.  There is a wide variety of images, some absolutely magical and others quite shocking. Obviously the judges have a mammoth task in distilling such a vast number of entries into the top 100 and the winners of each category but one of the things that struck me is that this is done completely anonymously and my understanding is that it is also without any data relating to the photograph unless there is a concern raised.  Given the strict code of photographic ethics placed on the entrants and the number of miscreants identified over the life of the competition it says much about the integrity of photographers worldwide, at least I hope it does.

I was surprised at the wide range of categories included in the competition, some that I would not have expected eg landscape, but on reflection, and a quick reminder of the definition (“the native fauna (and sometimes flora) of a region”) all would seem to encompass wildlife and provide for a very visually stimulating and thought-provoking collection of photographs.  As to be expected not all were to my taste, not only from a subject matter perspective but I some cases I though they pushed the boundaries just a bit too far with regard to the set up and the potential to disturb the animals.  However, I do accept that, at times, it may be necessary to go to extremes but I believe this should only be done when it is part of a necessary concerted campaign to bring a particular issue to the notice of a wider audience; it is a fine line we tread as photographers.

Whilst there were many in the cast of 100 that floated my boat there were four that I found had a real impact.  The first is a shot of two jaguars (The Spat), a female putting a male in his place, taken by Joe McDonald and won the Behaviour:Mammals category; this is exactly what I would expect to find in such an exhibition, it captures nature at its best, as found, and to my eyes is a technical masterpiece in capturing the moment as well as showcasing what a wildlife photographer, in the most basic sense of the definition, can reveal to us.  The next, the winner of the Wildscapes category, is by Sergey Gorshkov; it is the eruption of the Plosky Tolbachik volcano, a stunning photograph made all the more so when considering he shot it hanging out of an helicopter flying in close proximity to the event.  My third memorable entry is God’s Ivory by Brent Stirton, winner of the Wildlife Photojournalist of the Year category; in just six images he tells a story that depicts greed, wide cultural differences and craftsmanship.  The final photograph that has left a lasting impression is one by Garth Lenz, runner-up in World in our Hands category, Oil Spoils, which shows the devastation caused by the extraction of bitumen from the tar-sands in Canada;  I stood in front of this image for quite some time, my eye roving all over it taking in the detail of what is being done to the land, he clearly knows how to compose a captivating photograph that tells a story.  I was also very impressed by the entries in the young photographer category, some made me feel very much at the lower end of the learning curve!

This is an excellent exhibition made all the more so by the talk by Roz Kidman Cox, well worth a visit in my opinion.

Bibliography:

Lenz, G. (2014) Available from: http://www.garthlenz.com/ [Accessed 23 January 2014]

M shed. (2014) Wildlife photographer of the year 2013.  Available from: http://mshed.org/whats-on/exhibitions/wildlife-photographer-of-the-year/ [Accessed 20 January 2014]

Natural History Museum. (2014) Wildlife photographer of the year 2013. Available from: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/wpy/about/index.html [Accessed 23 January 2014]

Stirton, B. (2014) Available from: http://www.brentstirton.com/ [Accessed 23 January 2014]

 

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Assignment three Colour

Task

This assignment is about showing command of colour in photography, being able to find and use different colours in deliberate relationships.  It should be possible to identify at least two kinds of colour relationship.

  • Complementary (colours that face each other across the circle)
  • similar (those near each other, as in cool or warm range of colours)
  • Colours spaced about a third of the way around the circle: very different from each other, but not quite complementary.  Blue and red are an example, as are green and orange.  This kind of combination has a strong contrast and they might even be considered to clash with each other.  Using this kind of relationship is not particularly harmonious, but is certainly eye-catching
  • A fourth kind of relationship is when one small area of colour sits against a much larger background of another colour as a spot or accent

Four photographs are required (16 in total) that illustrate the following colour relationships:

  • Colour harmony through complementary colours
  • Colour harmony through similar colours
  • Colour contrast through contrasting colours
  • Colour accent using any of the above

The subject matter should be varied, including both arrangements (eg still-life) and found situations.  Make use of both lighting conditions and filters to help create the colours being sought in some of the photographs.  Make notes about the ways in which the colours work in each image and make a sketch for each to show the balance and movement.

Include a self-assessment of the work against the criteria given in the course manual.

Research

My first concern was regarding the overall approach to this assignment; whether to decide at the outset what I would go out and look for in respect of the ‘as found’ scenes based on previous excursions or go walkabout and be inspired by what I might find; it was difficult enough finding natural scenes for the exercises in this section.  Considering the high probability that I would waste time searching for preconceived ideas I opted for the ‘walkabout’ option.  Clearly still-life scenes needed some prior consideration to enable something sensible to be put together.  Technically I felt pretty confident about the ‘as found’ shots, but not so much so for the still-life scenes which I still find a challenge both in composition (it doesn’t come naturally!) and lighting.  As such, I spent some time looking at examples of still-life images by both photographers and artists on the internet, both to find inspiration for subject matter and composition.  Having had extensive comment on Assignment two from my tutor regarding post processing and the need to get to grips with this aspect of making a photograph I also spent a good deal of time reviewing my workflow in Lightroom in the pursuit of images that ‘sing’; I have to admit that although I was able to define the process to follow the degree of alteration of the various parameters still remains a concern as there appear to be so many differing views in the articles and books I read.

Outcome

All photographs were shot on a Nikon D600 and in most instances I set a custom white balance using a grey card, resetting when the light changed.  I have developed a number of custom camera profiles (not sure I have totally got my head around how many of these you should generate) using a ColorChecker Passport which I apply as the first stage of post-processing in Lightroom along with lens corrections.

Colour harmony through complementary colours

This is the stern of a particularly gaudy barge which provides a good example of complementary colours.  It was difficult to compose the shot to get the ideal ratios both due to the position of the barge and the extent of red in the railings and rudder gear. However, as indicated on the sketch, I think the proportions are about right.  I am unsure about depicting the movement in this shot but I think the railing moves the eye around the picture whilst the tiller handle implies direction.   Post-processing consisted of adjusting the exposure, black clipping and shadows, increasing clarity and vibrance to bring out the detail and texture and finally adjusting the tone curve to add contrast.

Spend enough time on Shanks’s pony and you can still find some of nature’s finest. Composition was the first challenge here, not least having to work my way into the bush to get the right viewing position.  Also, in trying to gauge the red and green proportions I found the berries very deceptive in terms of a bulk of colour, if that makes sense.  Once I got this shot up on-screen it was obvious that it was in need of some cropping, not a surprise to me.  I then decided to try a different white balance which I found delivered a better result. There are a good many shadow areas so some adjustment of the black and shadows was applied after having tried some exposure adjustment (reset to original).  Some increase in clarity and vibrance brought up the saturation and detail but I still found the colour of the berries to be wrong to my eye so I applied some saturation using the HSL panel slider.

I could not believe my luck when I turned the corner and saw this building; admittedly the orange facade was considerably larger than the blue shop front, which was the wrong way round for balance, so cropping was the order of the day.  I also felt that having the pastel coloured building alongside made the orange and blue more prominent, hence giving the blue more presence than it would have had otherwise.  It is notable that I discounted the colour in the windows of the blue-fronted building due to the difference in hue – I may be in error here but it would be a matter of adjusting the crop to get the ratios right.  In Lightroom I dropped a half stop in exposure before adjusting the highlights.  As usual I increased clarity and vibrance which, in particular, I found to bring out the endearing shabbiness of the building giving character, and added contrast in the tone curve panel.

The dreaded still-life!  I think it works insomuch as depicting an activity, heading out of the front door for a run, although on reflection it is perhaps a bit stilted; probably in trying to get the proportion of the yellow correct.  I positioned the articles near the front door in the hope that the light falling on one side conveyed the impression that we were heading to the great outdoors, also indicated by the diagonals of the floorboards, but this caused me problems with the overall exposure, even though I tried using white card as a reflector.  Post processing started with some cropping, reducing the exposure by 2/3 of a stop, increasing clarity and vibrance and finally adding contrast in the tone curve.

Similar colours

A classic case of being ready for the unexpected!  Whilst considering a shot in a different direction I caught this out of the corner of my eye and had little time to capture the moment as they galloped off into the distance in the rain, hence not as sharp as I would have liked. However, for me, it contains all that is asked for, similar colours (notwithstanding the coloured pillars in the background) and movement, all within the mood of the day which was dank and overcast.  In post-processing I spent some time cropping the image trying to determine whether more of the background should be included to put it into context; I think this provides enough space for them to ‘run into’ whilst emphasising the colours of their kit.  I reduced the exposure slightly, adjusted the black and white to eliminate some clipping and added clarity and vibrance and adjusted the contrast; the processing challenge here centred around the pink shirt.

Amazing what you can find in the dry(!) dock of the SS Great Britain.  To my mind a prime example of nature’s colour variation.  The fact that there was a slow trickle of water flowing constantly provided the sheen which caught the eye and emphasised the textures and hues.  On reflection I should have gone for a smaller aperture to give a greater depth of field, the light was not too bad so a modest increase in ISO would have enabled this.  The image also portrays the movement of the water by way of the lighter areas and erosion of the stone.  In LR I spent some time adjusting the exposure and dealing with the consequent black and white clipping then applied some clarity and vibrance increase which, coupled with strong contrast adjustment, brought out the colour variations and textures.  A real indicator of what nature can produce if left to her own devices.

One of my favourite buildings in Bristol not for its architectural excellence per se but the glass finish which has infinite variations as the light and viewing angle changes.  I shot the whole building with view of cropping later as I could not make up my mind at the time how much was required to best illustrate the similar colours and in the knowledge that vertical correction crops the image.  Indeed, when you get the image on-screen you really see the colour variation.  There was also the issue of converging verticals given the viewing angle.  Once in LR I applied the vertical correction and then applied much cropping to achieve the desired result.  I was then faced with a pretty drab, flat image and instantly recalled my tutor’s comment about making an image ‘sing’ – how to achieve this, had I picked a bad one here given my less than honed LR skills?  This is the result of much ‘fiddling’ with exposure, clipping, vibrance, clarity and contrast.  I have to say that this is perhaps not what the building looked like on the day but more what it is capable of looking like.  This is perhaps one image I expect will attract significant comment in assessment but feel it is warranted including to get that feedback – have I gone too far?

This was one still-life that I had determined to do having seen something similar before, although a lot more striking – walk before you run.  Not only does this product seem to have an infinite variation in shades but I think it lends itself to still-life.  Nevertheless, it is amazing how long it can take to arrange 3 bottles to one’s satisfaction!  Early on in the proceedings I learnt how all manner of stuff shows up on a black background.  I experimented with both ambient light and flash and found ambient to deliver a better effect; having the camera tripod mounted eliminated any concerns about long exposure times. All shots were taken with mirror up and a remote shutter release.  I followed my post processing routine but found myself revisiting settings time and time again, this image has the longest history record in LR.  Much of my difficulty was around the blacks and shadows and I think this is still evident, particularly in the black cloth in the foreground.  I do not regret having a go at this but there is obviously much more to learn about shooting still-life and the backgrounds used.

Contrasting colours

Clearly I would not make it as a shop window dresser, or whatever the technical term is. However, I think this makes a very striking contrast, despite the hue of the gloves, and putting the ensemble on a white background really makes the subject stand out; I also think the ratios are about right given the Von Goethe scores.  Again, with this still-life I tried using both ambient and flash and, despite my usual dislike of flash, it seemed to deliver a better image; this makes me think that there is something in the choice of lighting for different colour and background combinations.  This flash set up was something new for me having been given an “Orbis” for use with my external flash; it seems to do what it says on the can.  In LR I carried out minimal cropping and some spot removal on the white background before addressing some white clipping and shadows ( I guess you still have to be selective with the Orbis to minimise shadows) before applying a strong contrast adjustment.

This appealed to my sense of humour as well as appearing to be a fairly simple set up to further address my still-life phobia.  I think the sum of all the triangles in the sketch gives about the right ratios of colour although I have not consulted Pythagoras.  Certainly the colour contrast is eye-catching.  I opted to take this shot under normal domestic lighting having first set a custom white balance.  In post-processing I followed my usual workflow but again I had some issues with the black background; a final application of strong contrast and adjustment for black clipping seemed to resolve the problem.

Somewhat unusual to see such neat scaffolding, but a perfect shot for contrasting colours and one of the few scenes which was easier to gauge in terms of the ratio of colours.  As I have found with taking shots of buildings, getting the viewing angle is a matter of trial and error as a small change in position seems to make quite a difference in the outcome; I guess a tilt/shift lens may make things easier, or access to alternative viewing points from buildings opposite.  I would have preferred to have been able to crop out the lamp post from the edge along with the majority of the sky in order to really home in on the main subject.  In LR I followed my normal workflow, reducing exposure a bit which then required some adjustment of shadows and highlights, increasing clarity and vibrance and finally applying some strong contrast.

I very nearly missed this scene whilst on walkabout in Bristol.  It was a view down a narrow alleyway behind an iron gate; it may not deliver the colours in the ideal ratio but I think the composition makes up for it – well it does it for me.  I took a good many shots in an attempt to get a pleasing composition and tried different metering options shooting down the dark alley; I was aware that post-processing could address some of the issues but I wanted to get it right, as far as possible, in-camera.  Reviewing my shots in LR identified one shot with potential.  I revisited virtually all the adjustments a number of times, mainly around how much detail in the alley should be revealed bearing in mind I was after taking the viewer to the cars; I think the path does that, coupled with the bright yellow car.

Colour accent

I found it difficult to find accent examples in the natural landscape at this time of year.  This shot necessitated a particular viewing angle to create the accent, hence its position close to the edge of the frame; I think the composition is aided by the confusion of the diagonals of the branches running across the frame.  In LR I reduced the exposure slightly, reset the blacks and whites, increased clarity and vibrance and finally added contrast to make the red leaves stand out.  To me the final image, whilst portraying accent, gives the impression that the branch that the red leaves are on is coming out of the photography.

I will own up to this arrangement being suggested by my wife.  Not only do I like the rich colour contrast but I get a real feeling of the texture of the chair and handbag.  The way the bag sits and conforms to the chair seat and the creases in the leather conveys the collapsing of the bag as it is put down and settles into its own shape within the confines of its envelope.  I did try a number of compositions including more of the chair but that somehow detracted from the two contrasting colours and the texture of the leather.  In post-processing the main area of effort was in achieving the right saturation of the colours.

I debated with myself the inclusion of this image; did it meet the criteria as the red panel could be considered to stand on its own rather than against another colour background. However, I concluded that overall the red panel formed part of the overall backdrop of blue. If the intention of the owner was to make the boat stand out without the overstatement so often used then this works, the eye is drawn to it even with the pastel colour of the building behind.  Once in LR I carried out some fairly drastic cropping due to the inclusion of a lot of dead space in the foreground due to the single lens I had with me.  It took me a good deal of tweaking to get to the final image, mainly in making the boat stand out, the original image being very washed out and lacking in detail.

I guess the first comment on this image will be around the closeness of the accent to the frame.  I tried a variety of compositions using the rule of thirds but none really seemed to provide anything that cut the mustard.  I selected this image due to the fact the trail through the grass leading to the bridge is fairly well defined and provides a leading line to the accent; then across the bridge and through the hedge you can see yet another patch of green implying another wide open area and the question “I wonder where that goes to, what’s on the other side?”.  In LR I cropped the image and decreased the exposure by half a stop then lifted the shadows to reveal some detail.  Clarity and vibrance were increased before adding some contrast to lift the image.

Reflection

I found this to be a challenging but satisfying assignment; it was indeed difficult to find naturally occurring colour combinations to meet the requirements of the assignment and my still-life phobia did not help.  Turning now to my self-assessment against the given criteria.

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills.  At the highest level the main challenge was applying all the previous learning whilst addressing the specific requirements of the assignment.  As more knowledge is gained it becomes more and more important to stop and think before pressing that shutter release; using a tripod encourages such a way of working but it is not always practical eg photographing in a city, so one has to build the self discipline and confidence to take your time, even when in public – I was only questioned once on this assignment, when taking a shot of moss on a tree; was I some sort of private eye!  I have learnt a lot about the use of colour but as yet am undecided on the use of specific ratios based on the Von Goethe principle.  I think we have much concept of the use of colour hard wired into us already, we react to complementary, contrasting, warm and cool colours without really thinking.  Nevertheless, this is about how to compose a colour image so as to convey your message, emotion, whatever, to the viewer and I don’t think a one size fits all as we humans are all slightly different in our colour perception, at least we are in this house when discussing various hues.  I found it a challenge to eyeball a scene and instantly see a composition that would work best if the colours were in proportion thereby either inducing harmony or tension; I’m relieved that there is no single ‘correctness’. Notwithstanding this I now find myself looking at colours and their use with a more critical eye, as well as appreciating more what nature has to offer.  I think that, visually, I have demonstrated an ability to identify photographs that meet the criteria for the assignment although I have struggled with the concept of identifying ‘movement’ in some of the images and I would appreciate feedback on this area as I may be missing the point.  Technically I have put into use functionality in my camera that I have previously only touched upon, specifically, the use of Live View, manual settings and  also more use of a hand-held light meter.  Following feedback on my last assignment I have spent a lot of time gaining a more in-depth understanding of using Lightroom for post-processing and I believe my photographs now have more punch.  However, I still feel I am a long way off mastering this tool, particularly in terms of understanding what particular or subtle tweak will render an image a cut above the rest or make it ‘sing’.  There are areas where I am very wary of treading as a little knowledge can be dangerous.  It is all very well looking at the works of notable photographers but how to deliver that through post-processing is another matter – I trust it will come with experience and my tutor has started me on the road of understanding through his feedback on Assignment two.  What this assignment has really punched home is that even with all the technology in today’s cameras they cannot replicate the image imprinted on our brain and there is a need to apply further technology in the form of post-processing to make a photograph more akin to what the eye saw or would see; many of my friends and family wonder what all the fuss is about, “look what I took on my phone”.

Quality of Outcome.   I think I have delivered an assignment that contains better images than previously presented, although this time it is colour rather than B+W so there will no doubt be areas where there are opportunities to improve, be they minor or major.  I consider my Learning Log to be clear and comprehensive and reflects my thinking and learning and is easy to follow in its structure.

Demonstration of Creativity.   I think I am beginning to come to terms with the meaning of this criteria after some sound advice from my tutor, however it still bugs me.  Insomuch as this assignment required images that demonstrated certain relationships between colours I believe I have identified a suitable range of subjects in the ‘as found’ category as well as still-life shots.  On reflection I wonder whether it may be better to try to take a lead from the images produced by notable photographers rather than seek to be ‘original’ and over time this will help me to define my own direction and style.  At the moment I feel I am in grasshopper mode.

Context.   The wider reading and comment on work I have been looking at remains a major weakness in my learning log and, I am sure, is linked to my concerns around creativity.  I have set myself a goal of producing one blog entry per week making comment on work I have been looking at.  There is no shortage of photographers to study as my tutor very kindly produces suggested reading/viewing lists.  JDI!

Overall this has been an enjoyable assignment and I feel that I have learned a lot.  I look forward to my tutor’s report.

Bibliography:

Douma, M. (2006) Goeth’s color theory. Institute for Dynamic Educational Advancement, Washington, DC. Available from: http://www.webexhibits.org/colorart/ch.html [Accessed 22 January 2014]

Freeman, M. (2012) Michael Freeman’s photo school digital editing. Lewes: The Ilex Press Limited

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

Freeman, M. (2013) The photographer’s eye: a graphic guide. Lewes: The Ilex Press Limited

Google. (2014) Images for contemporary still life photographers.  Available from: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=contemporary+still+life+photographers&sa=X&rlz=1C5CHFA_enGB524GB525&espv=210&es_sm=91&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&ei=GlfmUq-lLcSyhAe85IGgAg&ved=0CDYQsAQ&biw=1280&bih=595 [Accessed 12 January 2014]

Google. (2014) Images for still life photographers.  Available from: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=still+life+photographers&rlz=1C5CHFA_enGB524GB525&espv=210&es_sm=91&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=TlHmUsnrL-q47AaijoCoDQ&ved=0CEMQsAQ&biw=1280&bih=595 [Accessed 12 January 2014]

Haas, E. (2013) Color.  Available from: http://www.ernst-haas.com/colorGallery04.html [Accessed 3 January 2014]

Kelby, S. (2012) the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 book for digital photographers. San Francisco: New Riders

Colours into tones in black-and-white

Task

This task is designed to develop familiarity with the process of converting a digital image into black-and-white using processing software which allows the photographer to decide the exact shade of grey that each colour in the image should become.  The exercise aims to replicate in the digital process that which would be undertaken if using black and white film ie the use of red, yellow, green and blue filters and demonstrate the powerful tonal control of black and white imagery allowing the emphasis of certain objects in a scene whilst suppressing others. A still-life arrangement is required which includes red, yellow, green, blue and a piece of grey card.  The colours should be as pure as possible and the image shot under even lighting with shadow fill.  One exposure is to be made for which the grey card should appear as mid-grey (check the exposure gives this effect).  Using the processing software, in this case Lightroom 5, proceed as follows:

  • for the neutral, filterless version, accept the default settings for the sliders
  • for the ‘red filter’ either raise the brightness of the red slider or use the red filter preset; experiment with lowering the brightness of other sliders
  • repeat this for ‘yellow’, ‘green’ and blue

Research

Fortunately I had submitted my images for Assignment Two in black-and-white and my tutor provided a good deal of detailed feedback on processing techniques which I have been following up.  However, it is clear to me that conversion does require a certain eye regarding deciding the choice of tones in order to deliver the punch in the image and I believe that it is something that can only be developed over time by studying notable works and receiving feedback on your own work.  Building on my tutor’s feedback I delved into a number of books ranging from Lightroom instructional manuals to those containing specifics on black and white photography in the digital age.  I also found numerous internet sites covering the subject.  However, since this exercise is about demonstrating tonal control rather than producing a pleasing final image I decided to restrict myself in the time spent on research as I became aware that this subject could become bigger than Ben Hur.

Outcome

I set up the still-life and mounted the camera on a tripod with an horizontal arm so as to shoot from directly above.  In the first instance I set a custom white balance using a grey card (the same one used in the still-life) and took a shot of the ColorChecker Passport in order to generate a custom profile.  For the actual shoot I attached a remote release cable, dialled in Mirror Up and selected Live View.  The first results were not good as I did not get the exposure right for the grey card.  Whilst I could have taken one exposure and used virtual copies in the end I decided to take a shot for each conversion at the risk of some change in the light in the short period of time.

Reflection

Whilst I did experiment with the sliders after applying the preset filters and saw what considerable tonal differences could be generated, the images above are all set at the Lightroom 5 filter preset default values.  I have to say I am surprised by some of the results above but guess that is down to the software designers and the individual selection of the associated options; I also noted that there is quite a difference between my two monitors which are both calibrated, something to be aware of.  This result does highlight the need to understand and master the use of tonal adjustments when converting to black-and-white, it is not sufficient to rely upon software presets as there are a number of options built-in; having said that this does not preclude using the presets as a starting point.  This has been an interesting exercise and has served to further increase my interest in the world of black-and-white photography, notwithstanding the need to become better acquainted with the software if I am to do the images justice.

Bibliography:

Adobe TV. (2014) Working with b&w adjustments.  Available from: http://tv.adobe.com/watch/learn-lightroom-5/working-with-bw-adjustments/ [Accessed 19 January 2014]

Freeman, M. (2012) Michael Freeman’s photo school digital editing. Lewes: The Ilex Press Limited

Freeman, M. (2009) The complete guide to black & white digital photography. Lewes: The Ilex Press Limited

Kelby, S. (2012) the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 book for digital photographers. San Francisco: New Riders

Colour relationships

Task

This exercise consists of two parts.  Part one requires a single photograph for each combination of primary and secondary colours, adjusting distance, focal length or framing so as to compose the pictures in the following proportions, or at least close to:

  • Red: Green           1:1
  • Orange: Blue         1:2
  • Yellow: Violet        1:3

Part two requires the production of three or four images which feature appealing colour combinations; these can be of two or more colours.  The objective is to demonstrate there is no single ‘correctness’ to complimentary colours.  However, any indication of imbalance in the combination should be studied and the effect noted in the learning log; the slight tension that comes from imbalance can often be more interesting than perfect equilibrium.

Research

As this followed logically from the previous exercise my research was focussed on possible images.  It was evident from the outset that the first part was going to be difficult if I was to follow my wish to identify suitable scenes ‘as found’ in the landscape environment.  I also had to get it firmly in my mind that this exercise was about colour harmony and that balance/imbalance was not about, shall we say, the selection of white balance setting. However,  I did delve into the origins of the colour values assigned by J W Von Goethe out of interest as I had never heard of this before; on the one hand I found it to be a bit difficult to get my head around having an engineering background and therefore very much from the Newton side of life, but on the other there may be something in Goethe’s view given the influence that colour has on us from a psychological perspective.

Outcome

Part 1

DC6_3890 - 1/45 sec, f5.6, ISO400, 56mm Red:Green - 1:1

DC6_3890 – 1/45 sec, f5.6, ISO400, 56mm
Red:Green – 1:1

It was difficult to gauge the proportions of this in camera so I chose to bisect the frame diagonally with the green bramble crossing the red stems of the Dogwood.  Compositionally this worked for me with the single thick stem of the bramble contrasting with the confusion of red stems behind.  Taking the shot in the early morning shortly after a heavy mist lifted gave a good depth of colour to both the green leaves and the red stems.

DC6_3847 - 1/90 sec, f6.7, ISO100, 70mm Orange:Blue - 1:2

DC6_3847 – 1/90 sec, f6.7, ISO100, 70mm
Orange:Blue – 1:2

Fortunate to have an RNLI station close by!  Whilst the proportion does not strictly fit the requirement I think the design of the sign illustrates well the use of proportions and complementary colours to produce a striking, eye-catching advert, especially attached to the green fence.  I guess I could have cropped the image to give a closer 1:2 but, to my mind that would have been fiddling the books for the sake of it.  I believe what I have captured here is a good illustration of the use of colour to attract attention and it has been designed following the ‘ideal proportions’.

DC6_3899 - 1/15 sec, f8.0, ISO 100, 105mm Yellow:Violet  - 1:3

DC6_3899 – 1/15 sec, f8.0, ISO 100, 105mm
Yellow:Violet – 1:3

Again, finding a subject that gave the proportions called for in the exercise proved a challenge.  I felt sure I could find something in nature to use for these colours as they are so prevalent in flora, just not at this time of year in the wild.  However, this proves that looking at things from a different angle is revealing.  Right or wrong I really like this image, to me it speaks volumes as to the use of colour by nature.  The proportions may not exactly fit the bill but nature must have had a reason for what we see here; it may not be divided up in the proportions that deliver an impact for us but it surely must be pleasing to some bugs out there.  Again, I guess I could have framed\cropped to deliver more closely the 1:3 but that would have lost the context which I consider important to illustrate this use of colour balance in nature.

Part 2

I decided to adopt a ‘Just Do It (JDI)’ approach to this part of the exercise; get out and about and see what takes the eye from a colour perspective, take the shot then address the “why?”.

DC6_3800 - 1/60 sec, f8.0, ISO100, 50mm

DC6_3800 – 1/60 sec, f8.0, ISO100, 50mm

Shortly after a bit of a storm I decided to go to the beach to see the impact. This, believe it or not, is ‘as found’!  I had no hesitation in breaking out the camera.  So why? Having sat in front of the image on the screen for some time I guess there are two main reasons.  First, this demonstrates the power of colour insomuch as we produces millions of throwaway articles many of which are highly coloured, presumably to appeal to us sensually, encourage us to purchase them, use for a while then throw away and buy some more.  This is reinforced by the fact that my eye was instantly drawn to the area.  From a colour perspective it is, to me, in harmony or balance probably because of the spectrum of the colours present and the random distribution, although I think there is tension induced by the fact that the coloured artefacts are against a backdrop of naturally occurring material, be it the colour or texture.  The other reason I took this shot is very simple, it is but a small indicator of what we are doing to this planet; take a look at the work of Garth Lenz.

DC6_3845 - 1/180 sec, f8, ISO100, 48mm

DC6_3845 – 1/180 sec, f8, ISO100, 48mm

Passing by this park I was struck immediately by the visual impact of the colours used in the children’s play area against the lush green of the field in which it stands, notwithstanding half of it was under water!  Here we have, in the main, three colours that sit one in each third of the colour wheel providing a strong contrast that is eye-catching rather than harmonious. I can’t help wonder what the designer had in mind regarding the impact that this colour scheme might have on the emotions of the kids using it, presumably energising.  I think the tension arises from the shape, form and colours of the structure sitting within the lush green of the grass.  The net effect is a very eye-catching structure appealing to the target audience.

DC6_3914 - 1/4 sec, f8.0, ISO100, 105mm

DC6_3914 – 1/4 sec, f8.0, ISO100, 105mm

I found the colours of this flower to be striking, it just screamed for a macro shot so that’s what I did.  I think there is also the fascination of why it is these colours, I have no idea as to whether this has been modified by breeding, but presumably it is attractive to some particular insects for the act of pollination.  From a pure colour perspective there are the complimentary orange and blues, the similar reds blending with blue fringes of the petals.  Whilst it does not fit perfectly with the definition of colour accent I would contend there is something about the orange highlights against the  blue, red and green background.

Reflection

This was a challenging exercise both in terms of finding the scenes and, once found, composing the shots to deliver the required images.  There was good deal of learning and it has certainly opened my eyes to the use of colour and encouraged a more questioning view of the world and how colour is used both by nature and man to achieve desired outcomes.  It has added yet another variable to use in the equation of making that superb photograph and I am concerned that it may increase my procrastination rather than relieve it, at least in the near future, as I try to remember all the elements to consider when setting up for the shot and composing it through the viewfinder.  Judging the colour proportions is a particular challenge despite the part of the exercise that is aimed at demonstrating there is no single ‘correctness’; being relatively inexperienced it is difficult to ignore the conventions despite trying to develop ones own voice, so to speak, for example I still invariably opt for the rule of thirds.  Clearly, how you use colour and apply the ‘rules’ very much depends upon what you are trying to convey in the image, I imagine the commercial photographer and the photojournalist could differ significantly in their approach.

Bibliography:

Douma, M. (2006) Goeth’s color theory. Institute for Dynamic Educational Advancement, Washington, DC. Available from: http://www.webexhibits.org/colorart/ch.html [Accessed 22 January 2014]

Google. (2014) Images for Garth Lenz photographer.  Available from: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=garth+lenz+photographer&rlz=1C5CHFA_enGB524GB525&espv=210&es_sm=91&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=A0zhUqKZKIKThgflr4CYCA&ved=0CC0QsAQ&biw=1280&bih=595 [Accessed 22 January 2014]

Research – The work of Don McCullin CBE FRPS

Following the review of my Assignment 2 work which contained one or two fairly “moody” shots and my stated preference for landscape photography my tutor pointed me towards the work of Don McCullin; a photojournalist who covered extensively some of the most brutal wars and conflicts of recent times including Vietnam, the Congo, Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Biafra and Bangladesh before developing a profound interest in protecting our countryside and turning his considerable energy and talent towards that goal and, of particular interest for me, his support of the Somerset Wildlife Trust.

Unfortunately there does not appear to be a single website that gives the full spectrum of his work but I found many examples, predominantly his images from the wars and conflicts he has reported.  However, it was very revealing to watch the film produced by Canon, as they courted him into digital photography during a trip to France, which gave an insight to the man and an understanding of his pictures which are, in the main, dark.  Having watched the film and some interviews on YouTube I found myself revisiting his images and being very drawn to them.  His war images are brutal, honest and shocking; they tell the story as it is and despite the horror they convey they are captivating and make you question humanity.  It is therefore not surprising that, as he turned his attention to the countryside, his landscape images also convey a similar darkness but are also captivating and caused me to gaze long and hard at each one;  his use of light is fantastic and in particular the black and white images convey a magical use of tones and textures.  I am truly in awe of the photographs this man makes; look at his work, sit back and reflect.

Bibliography:

BBC. (2013) Don McCullin in his own words. Available from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nNeVZjMVn0o [Accessed on 14 December 2013]

Google. (2013) Don McCullin landscape photography.  Available from: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=don+mccullin+landscape+photography&rlz=1C5CHFA_enGB524GB525&espv=210&es_sm=91&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=KWDJUtKJN5OShgehnYDoBQ&ved=0CDAQsAQ&biw=2560&bih=1235 [Accessed 3 December 2013]

Canon. (2013) Don McCullin feature.  Available from: http://cpn.canon-europe.com/content/Don_McCullin.do [Accessed 5 January 2014]

Control the strength of colour

Task

This task is aimed at illustrating a technique to control the colour in a photograph at the time of shooting; it utilises one of the most basic, over saturation.  The exercise requires a subject of strong, definite colour shot from a viewpoint such that the colour fills the viewfinder frame.  Five photographs are required, all composed exactly the same, but differently exposed from bright to dark.  Having found the average exposure setting take the sequence of photographs starting at one stop brighter than the average recorded and subsequently stop down by half a stop each time. On completion note the difference, apart from over-exposure to under-exposure, in terms of colour.

Research

My research for this project began by building on what was given in the course text ( I lost the will to live in trying to find the basic text for the theory of colour on the OCA website).  My main sources were Freeman (2007: 109-127), Freeman (2013: 139-153) and Prakel (2012: 74-85).  Whilst these readings went way beyond the requirement for the first exercise I considered it best to get a fulsome understanding of the subject matter at the outset.  The main learning was to keep at the forefront of the mind Hue, Saturation and Brightness and to view all images, and potential images, in consideration of those parameters. Having considered the requirements for the exercise I selected a piece of green card for the subject.

Outcome

I mounted the green card on the wall and set up the camera with cable release, tripod mounted, such that the card filled the viewfinder.  The average exposure setting was determined with a hand-held light meter and a custom white balance set using a grey card. All the shots were carried out in manual mode.  There was an unexpected challenge during the shoot which was carried out in a conservatory in the middle of the afternoon, in that the weather changed rapidly and the light kept changing.  This was overcome by resetting everything and completing the shoot in quick time.

The exercise called for the shots to be reviewed for difference in colour apart from the over/under-exposure.  I approached this question with the HSB mantra in mind.  In deliberating this I found the explanation of HSB given in Freeman(2013:141) of the colour cylinder to be the most useful.  Clearly the Hue/colour is constant but as the exposure changes the saturation and brightness are affected.  Looking at the shots from left to right, the constants are ISO and shutter speed and the variable is aperture with decreasing light falling on the sensor giving an increase in saturation or richness of the colour with the final two frames being so dark as to make the colour almost unidentifiable; in other words the saturation increases to a point where brightness becomes the dominating factor.

Reflection

The exercise has demonstrated the ability to control the saturation of a colour when taking a photograph.  However, It has raised questions in my mind as to the relationship between saturation and brightness where brightness produces the pastel colours; can you have a saturated pastel colour?  There does seem to be quite a lot to get your head round with saturation, brightness, pastel colours, muted colours et al.  But is there a right and wrong treatment?  Again we come back to the eye of the beholder.  Whilst the basic theory of the colour wheel, harmony and discord provide the basic structure the latitude for personal preference appears to be in the saturation and brightness, notwithstanding some will elect to go totally off-piste.

Reference List:

Dorling Kindersley. (2008) art the definitive guide. London: Dorling Kindersley Limited

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

Freeman, M. (2013) The photographer’s eye: a graphic guide. Lewes: The Ilex Press Limited

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

Assignment two Elements of design

Task

This assignment is to incorporate the insights learned so far on the course into a set of photographs directed towards one type of subject.  10-15 photographs are required, all of a similar subject, which between them are to show the following effects:

  • single point dominating the composition
  • two points
  • several points in a deliberate shape
  • a combination of vertical and horizontal lines
  • diagonals
  • curves
  • distinct, even if irregular, shapes
  • at least two kinds of implied triangle
  • rhythm
  • pattern

Research

The first consideration was the choice of subject.  I have always favoured landscapes and that has been the focus of my photography for a considerable period of time.  However, I was concerned that within the subjects listed ‘street details’ was also an option; I have always considered such a subject to be included within landscapes.  I therefore decided to look into the definition of landscape; this revealed that there are as many definitions as sites you research.  This was made all the more daunting by the proliferation of academic definitions, beyond dictionary definitions, but the research was enlightening in that I had previously been inclined to just the scenic vistas of the countryside or urban areas.  In the end I settled on two sites from which to draw my own conclusion as to what I could include in my portfolio of images for this assignment, namely; Dave Wyatt’s Landscape into Photo and The Royal Photographic Society where a piece by Paul Foley FRPS addresses the question.  I concluded that I could include anything which defines my environment and, as such, settled on ‘landscapes’ as my chosen subject.   Beyond this my research for this assignment consisted of a review of the exercises carried out for Part two elements of design and revision of earlier course work, being mindful of the need to incorporate all learnings.  Having reviewed my images in the exercises regarding presentation in colour or black and white I decided to go with the latter; I am now convinced that absence of colour does help to emphasise and portray the elements of design.  As recommended by my tutor, I elected to carry out the assignment using a single focal length of 50mm which would definitely take me out of my comfort zone.

Outcome

Single point dominating the composition

I have probably strayed into dangerous territory with this image.  Not only is it an iconic, much photographed subject but I chose to tackle it at the height of a storm, at dusk, at high tide in an estimated 70 mph wind.  I have for some time been seeking an ‘alternative view’ of this lighthouse and this assignment provided the challenge for me.  There was little choice in viewpoint given the conditions.  I learnt a good many lessons from this shoot, most notably the fickleness of mother nature and being prepared for any eventuality;  I should have been in position a lot earlier.  Anyway, I look forward to the feedback on this image.

Two points

I selected this image due mainly to the fact that the two people were alone in a vast expanse of sand and water and, as such, really dominated the scene; I used the rule of thirds and presented them walking into the space ahead.  I elected to position the horizon near the top of the frame in order to emphasise the sea and sand rather than what was a rather dull sky. Their purposeful stride is indicative of what was approaching up the Bristol Channel.

Several points in a deliberate shape

I was attracted to this subject due to the rather shabby appearance and the impression of a rather hasty construction, all of which makes for a number of textures, shapes and tones.  I hope my interpretation of several points, being the four points of the cross, fit the criteria.  I am a little unhappy with the sharpness but in order to get the shot I had to adopt a rather precarious position, hence the use of a high shutter speed.

A combination of vertical and horizontal lines

I took several shots of this building from different viewpoints but selected this one due to the fact that the structure upon which the clock sits provides a very strong, bold vertical line which compliments the solid horizontal lines of the floor levels.  The vertical lines in other views, which although being obvious, are much weaker.  My selection is also a trade off with depicting the full height of the building.  The picture was corrected for vertical lines in Lightroom.

Diagonals

I have stood atop Crook Peak many times and gazed at the scar of the M5 motorway as it carves its way through Somerset and Devon disgorging its load onto the feeder routes for Cornwall.  Obviously it was not the best of days and on this occasion I did not have a tripod with me so the image is not as sharp as I would have liked.  Nevertheless, I think it is a good illustration of a diagonal benefitting from having an elevated view-point.

Curves

I chose this unusual urban landscape as the curves are very obvious and there is a good flow from the horns down to the curvature of the bridge itself.  I waited quite a while to get the pedestrian walking in what I considered the right direction thereby complimenting the direction of the curves.  Again there was a lot of moving around on my part to find a suitable view-point given the use of the 50mm lens.

Distinct, even if irregular, shapes

One benefit of taking photographs in urban areas is the proliferation of multi-storey car parks which offer very good viewing points providing, of course, you are prepared to stick your neck, and arms, out.  I took this photograph due to the multitude of shapes on view, it just seemed the obvious shot.  There was a good choice of compositions but this seemed to offer the best in terms of the variety of shapes in view.  It was a hand-held shot due to the position of the view-point.

Implied triangles

I thought this would be one of the easier sections but I did not find it so; perhaps there is something here about training the eye.  My aim here was to produce a varied (in terms of the environment) selection of implied triangles; quite what the instruction means “at least two kinds of implied triangle” I’m not sure as I understand there to be triangles achieved by perspective or implication – I’m sure my tutor will enlighten me.  Of the above shots the one of the blackberries proved the most challenging due, in the main, to the wind; I was reluctant to increase the ISO to enable a faster speed for fear of losing detail in this particular composition which has resulted in some loss of focus in areas but as it represented the detail of the landscape I have, nonetheless included it.  Within the remaining selection I have identified that I should have used a faster shutter speed for the slipway image as I took this hand-held and there is evidence of some camera shake.

Rhythm

Lesson here, timing is everything and use of a tripod in cities is difficult.  However, I was attracted to this scene due to the rhythm induced by the columns which effectively marched you through the image from foreground down to the harbour.  This was also complimented by the regularity of the benches and the fountains.  Clearly the use of a tripod would have delivered a better technical result.

Pattern

I decided to include two images here to cover both ends of the spectrum, at one end a man-made pattern on a sculpture and at the other end one of nature’s patterns in the form of a seed pod I noticed when out and about.  In the case of the seed pod image I reverted to my macro lens rather than stick with the 50mm; taking this shot was a challenge in terms of selecting a depth of field since the pod itself is curved – I wonder what Fox Talbot would have made of my ‘accurate’ recording?

Reflection

I found this assignment to be more testing than I had anticipated.  Two main factors influenced this.  First, having to deliver all the images depicting the elements of design from within a single subject area which, in the case of my selected subject, was open to a broad interpretation which may not accord with the assessor’s view; this was nagging me all the way through but I felt I should stick to my guns.  Secondly, using a single prime lens (50mm) took me out of my comfort zone of “the zoom”, making me move around to study the subject from many angles; good discipline yes but it added considerable time to the field work and I then found I was doing a good deal of cropping in post processing.  Clearly the fact that this is my first marked assignment also added to the pressure.  Nevertheless I have enjoyed the challenge and satisfaction of completion and look forward to the feedback. Turning now to my thoughts of achievement against the assessment criteria points.

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills.  Wherever possible I should have used a tripod and in the cases where I could have, but elected not to do so, it is evident with the associated loss of sharpness.  Allied to this, where I shot handheld, on occasion, I failed to take into account camera shake and dial in enough shutter speed to compensate.  In these respects I need to take more time making sure my camera settings are the most appropriate which use of the tripod will help with.  I look forward to my tutor’s comments on the technical aspects of my images as I am now using Lightroom in anger, so to speak, and delving into new areas of the functionality with the help of YouTube and some literature; I suspect there are areas that I have entered where my skill level will be evident.  I do have some concern that when I am taking shots for a particular exercise I may not be giving sufficient consideration to all of my previous learning and incorporating that into the image.  I think my visual skills are improving, I certainly feel that I am looking at my surroundings in a different way and have become much more mindful of what makes a good image.  However, I have not given enough attention to learning from others and need to seek out the work of notable photographers which will help me determine a direction to move in.

Quality of Outcome.  I believe I have presented my work in a coherent manner and communicated effectively my ideas and thoughts both through the written word and the content of my photographs.  Whether the underlying theme of my interest and concern for our environment is evident will no doubt be revealed in the feedback after assessment.

Demonstration of Creativity.  In the words of my tutor “Creativity is a highly subjective term”.  Thus far in the course I have commented on my own creativity but following feedback on assignment one I have tried to avoid this nagging noun.  I hope it is evident that I am developing a personal voice through my selection of subject matter and the comments I make.  Within all of this I still find it challenging to imagine or, preferably, visualise the impact of a photograph I am considering which makes for a time-consuming dilemma on occasions – probably a matter of just getting on with it rather than using that all-encompassing technique of procrastination.  I think there is evidence of my readiness to experiment at the expense of perfection eg the lighthouse image although it might have been a step too far at this juncture.

Context.  I am aware that whilst I research the topics and exercises as they arise I am still not reading wider and studying the work of others to help me find a real direction in which to take my photography, a point already raised by my tutor.  I think a big stumbling block is the language used in some of the recommended reading which makes reading a chore rather than informative and inspirational; I am currently still struggling with Susan Sontag’s On Photography, Sontag (1979), try reading it without a dictionary in the other hand!  In terms of my learning blog I believe I have developed a style and layout that enables the reader to understand my thoughts and navigate their way around.  As mentioned above, what is missing is comment on wider study.

Reference List:

Foley, P. (2009) Landscape photography. Available from: http://www.rps.org/learningzone/landscape/landscape-photography-paul-foley-frps/ [Accessed 13 September 2013]

Sontag, S. (1979) On photography. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books

Wyatt, D. (2013) What is a landscape photograph? Available from: http://www.landscapeintophoto.com/what-is-a-landscape-photograph-part-1/ [Accessed 1 September 2013]