Take a series of 10 photographs of any subject of your own choosing. Each photograph must be a unique view of the same subject; in other words, it must contain some ‘new information’ rather than repeat the information of the previous image. Pay attention to the order of the series; if you’re submitting prints, number them on the back. There should be a clear sense of development through the sequence.
In your assignment notes explore why you chose this particular subject by answering the question ‘What is it about?’ Write about 300 words. Your response to the question doesn’t have to be complicated; it might be quite simple (but if you can answer in one word then you will have to imaginatively interpret your photographs for the remaining 299!)
Make sure you word process and spellcheck your notes as they’re an important part of the assignment.
For this assignment it is important that you send a link (or scanned pages) to the contextual exercise (Exercise 5.2) for your tutor to comment on within their report.
Check your work against the assessment criteria for this course before you send it to your tutor. Make some notes in your learning log about how well you believe your work meets each criterion.
I have spent a lot of time thinking about this assignment. At first sight, it sounded like the tv shows where a picture is gradually unveiled like a jigsaw and the competitor gets less points as each piece is revealed. At the other extreme, you could interpret the subject to cover the whole of humanity, although the theme of development would be tricky.
I decided to continue my thinking from Exercise 5.1. For that exercise, I had planned but not achieved, to take images of my birth town, Bristol. That would be the starting point for this assignment. As a young adult, I spent most of my spare time in and around Clifton, very near to the Clifton Suspension Bridge, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. That bridge is an icon for both tourists and for Bristolians. It is also extremely beautiful.
Most of the images of the bridge are very formulaic. My personal favourite is a pencil drawing I bought from an art student:
Most of the postcard shots are similar to this drawing or, often, they are taken at night to show the illuminated bridge. When I visited, I found one of the two towers encased in a shroud, covering a huge restoration project. The weather was also very variable. The shroud and the black clouds helped me decide that this would be my subject. An icon, but not an item of perfection.
My intention was to see the bridge from unusual angles, including some angles looking away from the bridge towards the surroundings, such as the River Avon itself and also the Observatory, from where some of the best views can be obtained. The last image is, broadly, inspired by the drawing I own. The others are elements of what makes the bridge; the cars, the structure and the surroundings. As the sequence goes on, starting from a silhouette of the Observatory at night, rather than the Bridge at night, the elements eventually become the whole icon.
Look again at Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photograph Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare in Part Three. (If you can get to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London you can see an original print on permanent display in the Photography Gallery.) Is there a single element in the image that you could say is the pivotal ‘point’ to which the eye returns again and again? What information does this ‘point’ contain?
Include a short response to Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare in your learning log. You can be as imaginative as you like. In order to contextualise your discussion you might want to include one or two of your own shots, and you may wish to refer to Rinko Kawauchi’s photograph mentioned above or the Theatres series by Hiroshi Sugimoto discussed in Part Three. Write about 150–300 words.
The Cartier Bresson image is so well known, I suspect most photographers and certainly students can visualise it as soon as they hear the name:
My first reaction to this image was and still is, to smile. The central character skips along in his suit and hat creating tiny waves in the water as he progresses, completely and blithely oblivious to the mess around him. Meanwhile another man just outside the fence gazes away from the scene and will never know what he has missed. The second thing I notice is always the shadows. Not just of our airborne hero, but of the other man, the fence and even a second “dancing figure”, both in the fence at 11.00 o’clock and shadowed in the water. In fact, of all the parts of the image that I look at from time to time, it is the shadow of the man that I always find myself drawn to first and last. That leads me into the man himself and then into the other constituent parts. The shadow is perfectly positioned in the bottom right 1/3 of the image and its diagonal position draws the eye naturally in.
Oddly, the image can make me feel both happy and sad. It is hard not to smile at the man in the air, but beyond that response we also guess that the home he is heading towards is probably in an area very like the image, dark and neglected.
Looking for something in my archives, I came up with this:
Here I had known what to expect and planned an action shot (as had a number of others on the far side of the image!). Even so, I am pleased by the luck of having a figure in the left background also on the move and someone on the stairs behind staring intently at the walker. I also managed to get both of his feet off the ground. The most interesting analogy between this and the Cartier Bresson image is the luck involved. In this image the obvious lead in to the image is the diagonal staircase in the background and and so I find I look straight at the centre of the staircase, at the shirt with its logo, then the head and then at the onlooker on the stairs. From there the staircase goes on up but as I follow it I see the woman in bottom left. I rarely look at the bunch of photographers in the bottom right of the image.
The most important difference with the Cartier Bresson image is the lack of a story. I believe there are elements of a story but nothing that makes me look again and again as I do at the St-Lazare photograph. The difference between OK and memorable!
Rinko Kawauchi is not someone I knew until I read about her for this exercise. The image the exercise refers to is from the cover of her book, Illuminance:
I have to admit that I do not relate to this image. I have looked online and seen a number of the other images from the book and they are much more accessible by me. But this almost hurts my eyes- it is so over exposed, I cannot see enough of the content to make anything of it. I find that I cannot get past the brilliant white in the centre of the image except to see the blue circle in my peripheral vision. Whatever makes this image great to others, I am sadly unable to find it.
Select an image by any photographer of your choice and take a photograph in response to it. You can respond in any way you like to the whole image or to just a part of it, but you must make explicit in your notes what it is that you’re responding to. Is it a stylistic device such as John Davies’ high viewpoint, or Chris Steele Perkins’ juxtapositions? Is it the location, or the subject? Is it an idea, such as the decisive moment?
Add the original photograph together with your response to your learning log. Which of the three types of information discussed by Barrett provides the context in this case? Take your time over writing your response because you’ll submit the relevant part of your learning log as part of Assignment Five.
Many years ago, I was shown a book of Nudes by Bill Brandt. I loved the way he created shapes for their own sake, not trying to reproduce a record of the person, but an impression that was from or about the subject rather than simply reproducing the subject. I had always enjoyed abstract art and this was the first time I had seen abstraction created entirely from life. Brandt’s Nudes were real and unmanipulated but were nonetheless abstract.
Although my ideas have evolved since then, mainly because I have seen a lot more photographic works, my preference and my ideal is to try to achieve something like that effect in my photographs. I enjoy cityscapes, but not simple architectural images. Looking back at my early Blog (27/9/14) and the comments I made on Michael Wolf’s series “The Architecture of Density”, the images of high rise buildings are powerful statements about those buildings; much more than just a picture of the buildings; almost abstract but still totally real.
In my blog (2/3/15), I referred to Steiner’s image, “Power switches”. This image always reminds me of Lang’s Metropolis, with its incredibly powerful evocation of a nightmare city of the future. Again, the image is not in any way blurred or defaced as a number of modern artists are now doing. It is clear and well-focussed but gives a different view of the subject; much more than simple reportage. In some ways, even simple reportage can rise above itself, such as the famous press photograph of the naked child running down the road in Cambodia. This has so many undertones, the fear, the horror approaching, and not least, the photographer in the background still frantically trying to get his photographs.
The subject that I keep returning to for similar reasons, is flowers. Every flower is different and every flower is potentially beautiful, edible, deadly, or even in some cases carnivorous! We grow them for pleasure in our gardens and then we cut them down to continue to get that visual pleasure in our vases. In the garden, they are usually seen in a mass of other plants and we rarely go up very close to really look at them- if anything we approach them to smell their scent rather than to look at their form close-up. But, when in a vase indoors, isolated from their peers and competitors, their form is much more obvious and they become more sculptural, changing all the time as they degrade and die, but even at the end worthy of our look.
In that context the curves, the hidden spaces between the petals, the nectar at the centre are all there for us to see and to wonder at. To my mind, no photographer has captured that wonder of the cut flower better than Mapplethorpe. In many cases, the type of flower is much less important than the impression given by its shape, the background and often by the use of background shadows. Mapplethorpe was a master of lighting! In many ways his images remind me of those ground-breaking Nudes by Brandt. His images are incredibly sharp and beautifully observed, yet they rise above their subject into a type of abstraction that I find totally beautiful.
So, my image is in homage to Mapplethorpe. All his images in his book Flowers are square in shape and so I have used that format. Similarly, I have used colour as did Mapplethorpe. I have not tried to reproduce one of Mapplethorpe’s images; I have used them as an inspiration for my own. In particular, I decided to use a colourful background, rather than the black backcloth I normally use I also decided to have the flower head in one corner of the image with the vase central, but, because of its angled top, the vase and the flower stem seem to flow as was often the case in Mapplethorpe’s images.
Use your camera as a measuring device. This doesn’t refer to the distance scale on
the focus ring(!). Rather, find a subject that you have an empathy with and take a
sequence of shots to ‘explore the distance between you’. Add the sequence to your
learning log, indicating which is your ‘select’ – your best shot.
When you review the set to decide upon a ‘select’, don’t evaluate the shots just
according to the idea you had when you took the photographs; instead evaluate
it by what you discover within the frame (you’ve already done this in Exercise 1.4).
In other words, be open to the unexpected. In conversation with the author, the
photographer Alexia Clorinda expressed this idea in the following way:
Look critically at the work you did by including what you didn’t
mean to do. Include the mistake, or your unconscious, or whatever
you want to call it, and analyse it not from the point of view of your
intention, but because it is there.
I started this exercise with some difficulty- I have always thought empathy is about people relating to people. My tutor gave me a very helpful tip: “In answer to your question, there are two possible definitions for empathy, the first as you describe or a second which the Merriam Webster dictionary describes as,
“the imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it”
(see http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/empathy). I would use this second definition to allow you to photography any subject –be that a person, another animal, an object or a landscape for which you have some level of connection as the basis of the exercise.”
So that is how I approached this subject! I decided that I would use a place, initially I thought of Bristol where I lived till my mid twenties. That proved difficult for logistical reasons, and so I reverted to London, where I have lived most of my life.
I decided to photograph some of the iconic sights of London- places that a tourist would always expect to see and which somehow evoke London to me as an inhabitant of the city. I wanted to do this in a slightly different way from the usual sunshine postcard images and decided to combine it with learning about evening and night photography. I therefore went up to town and took photographs between about 3pm and 9pm. I only went to a few sites- Tower Bridge, St Paul’s from Millennium Bridge, The London Eye, Big Ben and Smithfield market.
I liked the images I came back with. I have done virtually no editing apart from cropping to A4 size and straightening some verticals. I also lightened some of the images to see a bit more detail.
The 150 or so images I ended up with included multiple images taken at each site, with different settings, over a period of time, some with ND grads, some without, some with a Big Stopper to calm the Thames to a mirror surface, and from slightly different spots. My final selection is:
I like this image (and the others from this site) partly because they are a different way of looking at a common view. Most images of Tower Bridge are taken looking East, not from the Tower looking West. This image, which I had intended to be of the Bridge only, allowed me to include a second very recent addition to the skyline, The Shard. I could not find a spot or an angle which allowed me to exclude the boat and the pier, which I wanted to do. With hindsight, I actually prefer it with these included. This is also what London and the Thames are about.
This image was taken with an ND filter to try to get some more detail in the sky. Unedited, it has come out with a very different tone. An accident, but one I quite like. The first image was a little cold, which is more how it felt on the day I was there. This is much less “real”, but much closer to how I feel about the viewpoint.
By the time I took this image, it was getting darker and the lights were coming on. I wanted to include the line of lights in the frame and I have included this image to show the failure to do so successfully! The problem was that the light was not really dark enough to need the lights and they do not really look as though they are adding light to the scene- because in fact they were not. I will go back to this location in due course at a later hour and I think there will be a far better image when the bridge is illuminated and these pavement lights contrast more with the lack of ambient light.
The above three images were taken from the virtually same location, but the zoom on the camera was changed. My intention was to photograph St Paul’s with an interesting lead in to it of the Millenium Bridge. In fact, the Bridge is such a powerful structure, I have ended up with three images of the bridge with St Paul’s as background! I like the first image in this sequence due to the amount of background seen under the bridge span. Truthfully I was much less aware of that background as I tried to frame St Paul’s and the bridge. Having seen the outcome, I would be interested to take more images from this area, but with much greater awareness of that background.
I took a lot of images of the Eye from the North bank of the Thames. As usual, without a tilt and shift lens, the distortion of the Eye and the buildings around it are enormous and distract from the image. In desperation, I zoomed in and took a number of images of the pods, framed by the County Hall chimneys. I like this effect, but am disappointed by the way I have allowed the left-most chimney to be partly cut off by the wheel. A few metres to my right and this would not have happened.
Smithfield at night is full of shadows and strange alleys. I like this location, but need to rethink the exposure. The light is not fully burnt out; the case can be seen quite clearly. Even so, it is too bright for the rest of the scene.
So finally my favourite of the sequence. I went back to the London Eye at the end of my shoot. I knew it would be lit up and I wanted to try one more time to get a worthwhile image of this icon. So, over about 20 minutes or so, I took a number of photographs from different spots and liked this one best, not least because of the reflections in the river.
I had packed my camera away and put my bag over my shoulder, when the colours on County Hall changed. I very quickly got the camera out again, onto the tripod and took one sighter to check how it looked. As I was looking at the rear of the camera, the light changed back to the blue colour again! So, this image may not be perfect, but for luck and drama, it was my best of the day. Unexpectedly, it even has more of the attractive reflections in the Thames. I had not deliberately changed the zoom for this shot and must have nudged the zoom ring as I was moving the camera around. But a good result.
I found Exercise 4.3, using artificial light very interesting and in some ways more technically difficult than the others. Like most people, I enjoy candlelight for its shadows and warmth. Fortunately, we now have the option of electric light for working and reading and so we can appreciate the aesthetic effects of candlelight without having to suffer from the lack of illumination provided! As referenced in the exercise, I chose candlelight for the exercise after reading a quote by Brassai and looking at the way his monotone images (not taken by candlelight) still managed to capture some of the effect of that light source. But, taking a candlelit photograph brings in a whole range of technical challenges, not least white balance and avoiding getting complete loss of detail near the flame and too much shadow elsewhere.
I looked at how other photographers used candles. That research was extremely disappointing. The first images from a google search for candlelight photography were:
Looking further I found a website that offers thousands of candlelight images:
Taking a random page (50) from this selection, the first few images were:
Too often the photographs just showed the candle flame and ignored the effect of the wavering and indistinct light on the subject. The candle seemed to often be the reason for the image, rather than the lit subject.
Comparing this with painters who used candles because they were used to them and knew how beautifully they could light a subject was much more inspiring. Take as an example John Singer Sargent. He uses the soft warm light of the candle lanterns to perfectly illuminate the two young girls@ faces. It does not look like a staged scene, done to see what effect a candle has, but a natural scene of youthful curiosity.
Going further back, Joseph Wright painted, A Girl Reading Letter by Candlelight, with an Old Man Looking Over Her Shoulder. 1767.
Or many of Goya’s paintings, which I believe must have been lit by candles, such as one of his Black paintings:
The difference seems to be between images which feature candles as a key part of or even the whole of the subject of the image and those in which the candle is a creative way of lighting the real subject and in which the candle may or may not appear. In most of the online images, the subject was lacking any intrinsic interest and the candle did not make a dull subject more interesting. On the other hand, looking through candlelit images on Pinterest, I came across this image of the Gritti Palace in Venice:
This works because the image has a worthwhile subject and the warmth of the candles adds to that.
My assignment will use candles in the second way, either by not showing the candle flame at all, or by trying to ensure that it does not take over the image and detract from the main subject. I want to use man-made objects and to make the viewer see them differently and to think about their meaning. Candles are usually seen as warm and inviting, but they also add mystery and strangeness to an image. My images will try to show both these aspects. All the objects will be taken from my home and I hope to see and show them in a new way. Because of the feedback from my last assignment, I will also submit the final images in print form as well as online, to see whether the steps I have taken have improved the quality of my print output. I will submit the images in colour, as most writers refer to the colour as an intrinsic part of candlelit images. For completeness, I will also convert each into black and white for comparison, to see how much of the Brassai shadow effect I have managed to capture, but will not submit these separately to my tutor..
Image 1. Taken from exercise 4.3
1/45 sec f4.5 Focal length 65mm ISO 200 Auto white balance
I like the warmth and the softness of this image. The stone is actually quite cool in daylight and the candles (One tea light front right) have given it a much more attractive appearance. I have deliberately isolated the statue from any background so that it stands out in its own right, without any distraction, with a kind of purity to the form.
4 secs f8 Focal length 105mm ISO 200 Auto white balance. One tea light placed directly behind the head on a black velvet backcloth.
This is a Swedish art glass item, hand carved and slightly mysterious at the best of times. Shining the light directly through the glass has greatly increased the strangeness and air of menace in the face. I have deliberately left a red tint around the head, vaguely hinting at heat or fire.
6 secs f5.6 Focal length 80mm ISO 200 One tea light placed on front right at about a 45 degree angle and one tall candle level on the right, both about 20 cm away,on a black velvet backcloth. I took a shot of a grey card with the same lighting and used this to adjust the white balance in Lightroom.
In normal light, the silver and gold metallic finish can look stunning. I adjusted the white balnce to get back to this kind of effect, rather than leaving the image very orange as it came out. The effect from the candles here is not to colour the image but to provide shadows and reflections. The lights were far enough away to need a very long exposure, to get the gold well captured, but still left the overall image dark and, I think, we therefore look at the shape and the colour tones, without being too concerned with the actual subject.
8 secs f11 Focal length 80mm ISO 200 One low candle on left and 3 high candles on right.
This sort of glamorous mask is usually seen face on to make the empty eyes more forbidding. I preferred to allow the low key lighting to emphasise the mask as a discarded luxury item, beautiful but left behind. I like the way the warm candle light from the right has bathed the face in a warm glow, but then, through the eye sockets, just blackness.
3 secs f4 45mm ISO 200. One candle at head height and a tealight at foot level, both on right.
This is a Russian doll, symbolising the Year of the Goat. Slightly menacing in daylight, the warm light on the clothing and face, together with the flame and heat coming in to the frame make this really quite frightening!
6 secs f11 35mm ISO 400 One candle seen in shot and a small fire behind.
Probably a slightly more traditional shot of a book by candlelight, made slightly stranger by being left open in the grate.
1 sec f4 40mm ISO 200 3 candles as seen in shot.
This is another image from exercise 4.3, cropped and sharpened very slightly. I like it for several reasons. The candles have caused a great colour shift in the (originally) purple, slightly cold looking flowers and in the leaves. I also like the twisting stems reaching out towards the light.
6 secs f9.5 35mm ISO 400 One candle held directly in front out of camera.
A simple composition for the final image. This is an old fashioned wash basin and jug, bathed in the warm glow of a single candle held in front. I imagine this might be how it would have looked 100 years ago as the owner was preparing for bed, before they went to fetch the water. This is all about the shadows and the warm glow.
Contact sheets and my observations on meeting the course criteria are in a separate password protected post.
The monotone conversions, all converted using photoshop black and white layer and a small amount of warm colour filter added:
I decided some time ago that my first two assignments were mainly about learning, rather than expecting perfection at this stage of the course. After my feedback, I made a number of alterations and have left these assignments unchanged since then. In the meantime, I have become much more familiar with Photoshop and so have decided to look back at them again. I am not intending to re-photograph the subjects. I would prefer to see any change in my style as the course progresses rather than re-inventing the past.
I can now see flaws in the initial and original reworked images which were actually caused by me in post-processing. One fairly common error has been the use of too much sharpening and so a number of the images have obvious artefacts which I can now see more clearly. I have decided to reconsider a few images in assignments 1 and 2 that have blatant editing mistakes which make me particularly unhappy with the image as originally submitted/reworked..
Image 1 was greatly over-sharpened. The colours were also way out of line with how I saw the scene. In trying to compensate for the dull sky, I ended up with a very blu tint to the whole image. I have amended these errors and am happier with the final image:
Image 8 was extremely dull! There was a lot of sky in the frame and it was a mucky grey colour. The buildings were underexposed because of all the sky and I have recropped the shot to include more of the buildings and allowed them and the cranes to stand out with much more detail. I had previously overcompensated to try to keep some detail in the sky. This is now virtually gone, but the cranes, which were my interest in taking the photograph, now stand out much more clearly. It now looks like this:
I quite like this image, but it is very cold and sterile. It has been desaturated too much and does not really show the warmth of the background or the flowers themselves. I have given the colours a small boost to restore the saturation I took away and it now looks like this:
I have made a few adjustments to the other images but none fundamental
Make a Google Images search for ‘landscape’, ‘portrait’, or any ordinary subject such as ‘apple’ or ‘sunset’. Add a screengrab of a representative page to your learning log and note down the similarities you find between the images. Now take a number of your own photographs of the same subject, paying special attention to the ‘Creativity’ criteria at the end of Part One. (Demonstration of creativity= Imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice. Don’t be afraid to take creative risks – and expect the occasional failure!)
You might like to make the subject appear ‘incidental’, for instance by using juxtaposition, focus or framing. Or you might begin with the observation of Ernst Haas, or the ‘camera vision’ of Bill Brandt. Add a final image to your learning log, together with a selection of preparatory shots. In your notes describe how your photograph differs from your Google Images source images of the same subject.
A friend just told me about and showed me his iPhone images of a local lavender field, so I wondered how others have photographed this subject:
I decided to try this subject for my creativity exercise. I knew that the plants would be harvested soon and that they were at their peak. Even so, I was very keen to try something different to the highly saturated images that seem to prevail when I look online. One of the problems in thinking about such a subject, is the difficulty of forgetting all the stereotypes and trying to see the possible image in a different way.
I decided what I wanted to try, which would be best with at least some blue sky as well as the predominant clouds and I waited a few days in hope! Then I saw a Times article which said that the lavender fields would be harvested that day. I wanted something new, but a field of stubble was not it, so I went to get my images that afternoon, when at least the drizzle had stopped.
Before trying my idea out, I took some photographs in the same style as the google search images. It was a very dull sky and so the colours were very muted. To get close to the norm, I boosted the exposure, contrast and clarity, but did no other substantive editing. The results were:
Not very interesting although the colours in the end are not too bad. I think that with not much further editing several of these would very acceptable images. Acceptable, but certainly not creative.
I then took a further set of images in the way I had actually been intending, using a Canon 20D converted for infra-red shooting. When I took the photographs, there was very little blue sky, so the dark interesting skies that I like from infra red were not possible. I took the results into Lightroom and applied a preset I created a while ago, to convert the shocking pink colours of the raw files into a much more manageable blue based monochrome, which is my starting point for editing my infra red images. After just that one edit, the images were like this:
The different approach adds a sense of mystery and strangeness to the images. The infra red also captures a lot more of the detail in the sky. I chose one of the images to do just a little more editing, but have deliberately not done too much. I want this to be a photograph not a created image.
The main editing here has just been with a curves adjustment layer to bring out the contrast in the sky a little more and to emphasise the people in the field. I also converted the image to black and white. This is still a lavender field, but it now looks like something strange is happening there and the people are standing and looking maybe in fear but certainly in anticipation. Not for the first time, I like the way the monotone image lets me look more at the tones and shapes. The lavender colours are so intense it is hard to see past the sheer profusion of colour.
I have enjoyed all these exercises and was pleased with the way the infra red images of the lavender field worked out. I will take several more of these images through to further editing for my own collection. Taking away the overwhelming impact of the colour gave a much better appreciation of the form and shape of the subject and the tones are much more varied than might appear from the original image. For full comparison with the final image In that exercise, this is the original Raw image, unedited:
For this exercise and for any infra red shoots, I keep my preview jpeg set to black and white, to give a better impression of how it will finally look. Even though I like the images I took for this exercise, I decided not to use it for my assignment. I think it works well as a creative exercise, but does not show the potential beauty of artificial light.
If you make a Google Images search for ‘landscape’ it’s interesting to see how the pictures on the first few pages look quite similar.
The first view of the search results is the same as the image included in the OCA brief. But, if you select the Photography filter, there is a very different result.
Scrolling down, the results continue to be very varied:
Selecting the black and white filter gives an equally varied result:
Many of them don’t seem to be about actual places and that’s because in a way they’re not: they’re more about an idea of landscape. Similarly, if you make an image search for ‘portrait’, you’ll find several pages of technically accomplished but similar images that conform to an idea of ‘portraiture’. In both case the photographs are similar because they share the conventions of the genre. Most of the conventions used in photography for landscape, portraiture and still life come from the history of painting.
A lot of similarities, the most obvious one being that in every case the eyes are looking into the camera. It seemed to me. Looking into these faces, that these were the sitters’ views of themselves with little really creative input from the photographer. I looked back at the Sally Mann webpage (from an earlier blog) and looked again at her Faces portfolio. Any one of those images was so much more interesting than the much more bland images thrown up by the google search:
I doubt the sitter had ever seen himself like this. The photographer has created a new vision of the person which may or may not reflect something of the individual. It certainly makes me wonder about the sitter; who is he what is he like and why is he there in Sally Mann’s life?
One way you can measure ‘personal response’ is to tackle a popular subject that has been photographed thousands of times before. The conventional way to represent Mount Fuji in Japan is to frame it by water and cherry blossom (the idea can be traced back to Hokusai). The photographs above show a good command of ‘technical and visual skills’ but how would they be assessed under the ‘creativity’ criteria?
Google Images search for ‘Mount Fuji’
Katsushika Hokusai, Mount Fuji seen through Cherry Blossom
I found a “pretty” picture at http://freewallsource.com/mount-fuji-19636.html
This is not quite the typical Mount Fuji shot and in some ways it emulates the painting by Hokusai. Sadly, it really is just a chocolate box image. Beyond its prettiness there is nothing to add to our thinking and certainly nothing to increase our sense of what Mount Fufi is, or is like.
In his series Fuji City, the landscape photographer John Davies (b.1949) imaginatively combines traditional elements with the contemporary industrial landscape of Fuji City: http://www.johndavies.uk.com/fuji%20text.htm John Davies, Fuji City, 2008. Copyright © John Davies
I found another image by John Davies, which I like even more:
This is a very clear statement about how “civilisation” is encroaching on the natural beauties of the World. I would love to know whether the inclusion of so much water at the foreground was a very conscious decision when the image was composed. It probably was- it acts as a perfect frame for the industrial subject with the messy river bank, I suspect a highly polluted river and the majesty of Mount Fuji in the background.
Even if John Davies had none of these thoughts when he made the image, the fact that he brings those ideas out from me makes me think this is a worthwhile addition to the countless other images of this mountain. Magnum photographer Chris Steele Perkins uses a similar strategy of juxtaposition, pairing the remote and majestic Mount Fuji with ordinary scenes of the ‘everyday’: www.prixpictet.com/portfolios/earth-shortlist/chris-steele-perkins/
These are all interesting and a different take on the Mount Fuji image. I always have a soft spot for night shots of refineries and particularly like this one, with Fuji in the background, clearly framed by the two tress.
While both series are ‘about’ Mount Fuji in some way, it’s almost as though the volcano had to be relegated to an incidental position in the frame to make room for a personal response. Incidental: Happening by chance in connection with something else, and of secondary or minor importance. (Oxford Dictionaries) While we’re not expecting you to go to Japan to photograph Mount Fuji, the difficulty of seeing something in an original way confronts every artist and photographer. The problem isn’t so much the iconographic subject – after all, it’s often said that the whole world has been photographed. It’s rather an expectation of how a photograph of a particular subject should look. The photographer Ernst Haas (1921–86) described his own experience of having a fresh perception of an ordinary subject: I looked at an apple for such a long time until it became the first apple I had ever seen. I was so excited that I called a friend to tell him my experience. But how could I find the right words for what I had experienced? How could I describe my visual sensations with literary words such as red, yellow, green, shining and round after this movement of nuances and counteractions in form and colour, even in touch and smell? Anyhow I did not find the right words and my friend did not believe me, so I ate the apple as I have eaten many an apple before. It was a fairly good apple. http://www.visuramagazine.com/ernst-haas [accessed 16/06/14]
Student image Interviewed in The Face in December 1984, David Bailey said much the same thing but in a simpler way: In photography everything is so ordinary; it takes a lot of looking before you learn to see the ordinary. http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Photography [accessed 16/06/14]
The other quotes on this page are also worth a look!
A photograph is a biography of a moment.
- Art Shay as cited in interview: Dean Reynalds (2014 February 13) Photographs tell story of decades-long romance. CBS News.
- There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.
- Ansel Adams as cited in: Elizabeth T. Schoch (2002) The everything digital photography book. p. 105
- A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense, and is, thereby, a true expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.
- Ansel Adams “A Personal Credo” (1943), published in American Annual of Photography (1944), reprinted in Nathan Lyons, editor, Photographers on Photography (1966), reprinted in Vicki Goldberg, editor, Photography in Print: Writings from 1816 to the Present (1988)
- I have often thought that if photography were difficult in the true sense of the term — meaning that the creation of a simple photograph would entail as much time and effort as the production of a good watercolor or etching — there would be a vast improvement in total output. The sheer ease with which we can produce a superficial image often leads to creative disaster.
- Ansel Adams “A Personal Credo” (1943), published in American Annual of Photography (1944), reprinted in Nathan Lyons, editor, Photographers on Photography (1966), reprinted in Vicki Goldberg, editor, Photography in Print: Writings from 1816 to the Present (1988)
- The herculean task of a photographer is to capture a momentary frame as beautiful in reality, as it would be in a dream.
- For me the future of the image is going to be in electronic form. … You will see perfectly beautiful images on an electronic screen. And I’d say that would be very handsome. They would be almost as close as the best reproductions.
- Ansel Adams Interview with Paul Hill (March 1975), published in P. Hill & T.J. Cooper (1979), Dialogue with Photography
- I eagerly await new concepts and processes. I believe that the electronic image will be the next major advance. Such systems will have their own inherent and inescapable structural characteristics, and the artist and functional practitioner will again strive to comprehend and control them.
- Ansel Adams The Negative (1981), introduction to second edition
- When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.
- Ansel Adams Attributed to Adams in: AB bookman’s weekly: for the specialist book world. (1985) Vol 76, Nr. 19-27; p. 3326
- There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.
- Ansel Adams Attributed to Adams in E.T. Schoch (2002), The Everything Digital Photography Book (2002) p. 105
- If what I see in my mind excites me, there is a good chance it will make a good photograph.
- I would never apologize for photographing rocks. Rocks can be very beautiful. But, yes, people have asked why I don’t put people into my pictures of the natural scene. I respond, “There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.” That usually doesn’t go over at all.
- Yes, in the sense that the negative is like the composer’s score. Then, using that musical analogy, the print is the performance. (Paraphrased as “Film is the score and the print is the performance.”)
- Pictures produced by camera can resemble paintings or drawings in presenting recognizable images of physical objects. But they have also characteristics of their own, of which the following two are relevant here: first the photograph acquires some of its unique visual properties through the technique of mechanical recording; and second, it supplies the viewer with a specific kind of experience, which depends on his being aware of the picture’s mechanical origin. To put it more simply: (1) the picture is coproduced by nature and man and in some ways looks strikingly like nature, and (2) the picture is viewed as something being by nature.
- Rudolf Arnheim (1974). “On the nature of Photography”, Critical Inquiry, Vol.1, n.1, p. 156; As cited in: A. Bianchin (2007), “Theoretical Cartography Issues in the face of New Representation”
- In photography everything is so ordinary; it takes a lot of looking before you learn to see the ordinary.
- David Bailey in interview in The Face December 1984
- Photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organisation of forms which give that event its proper expression.
- Henri Cartier-Bresson as cited in: Bruce Elder (1989) Image and identity: reflections on Canadian film and culture. p. 114
- Great photography comes about at the right time but it also needs the right cut that enhances that precise moment…Photography must feed on both contents and form, if it gives up the one for the other it is not going to last.
- You put your camera around your neck in the morning, along with putting on your shoes, and there it is, an appendage of the body that shares your life with you. The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.
- Dorothea Lange, as quoted in Dorothea Lange : A Photographer’s Life (1978), p. vii
- One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you’d be stricken blind. To live a visual life is an enormous undertaking, practically unattainable. I have only touched it, just touched it.
- Dorothea Lange, as quoted in Dorothea Lange: A Visual Life (1994) by Elizabeth Partridge
- Photography is a strong tool, a propaganda device, and a weapon for the defense of the environment… Photographs are believed more than words; thus they can be used persuasively to show people who have never taken the trouble to look what is there. They can point out beauties and relationships not previously believed or suspect to exist.
- Eliot Porter as cited in: Rebecca Solnit (2007) Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics. p. 235
- Photography as a fad is well-nigh on its last legs, thanks principally to the bicycle craze.
- Alfred Stieglitz (1887) in the American Annual of Photography 1897.
- There is a reality — so subtle that it becomes more real than reality. That’s what I’m trying to get down in photography.
- Alfred Stieglitz as cited in: M. Orvell (1989) The Real Thing: Imitation and Authenticity in American Culture, 1880-1940. p. 220
- Photography, if practiced with high seriousness, is a contest between a photographer and the presumptions of approximate and habitual seeing. The contest can be held anywhere…
- John Szarkowski (1973) Looking at photographs: 100 pictures from the collection of the Museum of Modern Art. Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y.). p. 192
- My own eyes are no more than scouts on a preliminary search, or the camera’s eye may entirely change my idea.
- Edward Weston as cited in: Harold Evans, Edwin Taylor (1978) Pictures on a page: photojournalism and picture editing. p. 75
(reproduced here for ease of future reference.)
I particularly liked the quote by Arheim (underlined above). This seems very relevant to this exercise.
But Victor Burgin would disagree that it’s even possible to have a pure observation or an ‘innocent look’: There can never be any question of ‘just looking’: vision is structured in such a way that the look will always-already entrain a history of the subject. (Burgin, 1982, p.188) In other words, we can’t forget all the photographs we’ve already seen. But maybe the camera can? Bill Brandt (1904–83) preferred to rely on ‘camera vision’ rather than his own subjective vision: Instead of photographing what I saw, I photographed what the camera was seeing. I interfered very little, and the lens produced anatomical images and shapes which my eyes had never observed. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/b/bill-brandt-biography/ [accessed 16/06/14]
I have read and wondered about this quote many times. In the end I have concluded that Brandt was either misleading us or himself. It took a hint (or more) of genius on his part, to point, compose and frame his images as he did. I believe that he did not interfere greatly with the images in the darkroom, but he certainly put his own incredible vision into what “the camera was seeing” If these competing and contradictory viewpoints appear confusing, don’t worry. At this point, it’s not so much about understanding a range of theoretical concepts as just ‘thinking through’ the assessment criteria.
The key issue coming out of this is the difficulty of deciding what is in fact a creative image. I had a similar problem in defining a Decisive Moment. Anselm Adams comment (above bold and underlined) sums up perfectly how I see this, except that I would add the unsaid ” although not all photographs are good”. Despite my criticism of Brandt’s modesty above, he does have a point. I certainly find that the discipline of trying to conform what I see to a potential frame for a photograph can make me reconsider composition and shooting position. Remembering back to exercise 1.4, the camera sees things very differently from the human eye and the photographer needs to anticipate that difference as a part of his planning for the shutter release.
I was (and am) fairly scathing about the kind of pretty chocolate box photography that reminds me of so much of Monet. Beautiful but boring. |Having said that, I like much of Monet’s work to have visited Givenchy and tried (and failed) to capture something of what he painted with my camera! The difference between Monet’s water lilies etc and the image I call pretty above is a mix of originality, freshness and of course composition, as well as extraordinary depiction of shapes and colours. I am certainly not against beauty in photography, even sometimes just for its own sake. But I would like to aim for images that tell the viewer what I saw, not just what was there.
Use a combination of quality, contrast, direction and colour to light an object in order to reveal its form. For this exercise we recommend that you choose a natural or organic object such as an egg, stone, vegetable or plant, or the human face or body, rather than a man-made object. Man-made or cultural artefacts can be fascinating to light but they also contain another layer of meaning requiring interpretation by the photographer; this exercise is just about controlling the light to reveal form.
You don’t need a studio light for this exercise; a desk lamp or even window light will be fine, although a camera flash that you can use remotely is a useful tool. The only proviso is that you can control the way the light falls on the subject.
Take some time to set up the shot. The background for your subject will be crucial. For a smallish object, you can tape a large sheet of paper or card to the wall as an ‘infinity curve’ which you can mask off from the main light source by pieces of card. You don’t need to use a curve if you can manage the ‘horizon line’ effectively – the line where the surface meets background. Taking a high viewpoint will make the surface the background, in which case the surface you choose will be important to
Exposure times will be much longer than you’re used to (unless you’re using flash) and metering and focusing will be challenging. The key to success is to keep it simple. The important thing is to aim for four or five unique shots – either change the viewpoint, the subject or the lighting for each shot.
Add the sequence to your learning log. Draw a simple lighting diagram for each of your shots showing the position of the camera, the subject and the direction of the key light and fill. Don’t labour the diagrams; quick sketches with notes will be just as useful as perfect graphics. In your notes try to describe any similarities between the qualities of controlled lighting and the daylight and ambient artificial light shots
from Exercises 4.2 and 4.3.
For this sequence, I used the same velvet backdrop I used for exercise 4.3. It gives a very effective infinity curve so long as it is hung carefully!
I decided to use some of the same flowers from exercise 3, and also a bunch of bananas.
My lighting was all by a simple table lamp,standing to the right of the bananas and very slightly forward from them and then on its side and much further forward for the flowers. There was no other significant light source. I wanted to limit the shadows on the bananas, so there was enough to show their form, but not enough to distract. For the flowers, I was hoping for a more transparent effect from the light shining more directly onto them:
I decided to try a very different lighting setup for my next shots. This time, using the same backdrop, I lit an apple and an orange with a torch beam. I used a very small torch with a very narrow beam. For the apple, the torch was in front of the object; for the orange it was slightly to the side.:
Again, I have done virtually no post-processing apart from some small sharpening. I was surprised that the best (ie most accurate) pre-set white balance was fluorescent. In both cases there is some obvious glare on the subject from the very directional beam of light. However, I am not sure this is a major distraction. I was surprised that the effect was not colder. to my naked eye, the torch beam looked very blue; the white balance preset clearly eliminated a lot of that effect.
The most noticeable effect of using both the lamp and the torch was the ability to create deep shadows and to decide on both their direction and the depth of the shadow on the subject. In some ways this is not so different from ambient light, except that then I had to move myself around rather than the light source to get the effect.
The biggest similarity was the colour temperature after white balance adjustment. Even with very simple adjustment, the camera was able to render relatively accurate colours using any of the light sources. I will use a grey card for the assignment for even more accurate results.
I used a mix of upright candles and night lights for this exercise. I shot on Auto white balance to see how the jpegs would turn out, but used the Raw files for editing and for this post. I was slightly surprised that, prom the presets available, the setting for Tungsten gave the best result. (ie the closest to how I saw the setup. In fact though, none of the presets were particularly accurate and I set custom exposure, contrast and clarity for each image.
Other than those settings, I did no other significant editing. In every case, I found that the exposure I had used based on the camera reading, gave too much loss of highlights. The candle flames are so much hotter than the reflections on the subjects that I had to reduce the exposure by between one and two f-stop’s, depending on how much of the flame was visible. Fortunately, I could see this problem in-camera on the preview, and so was not left with all the shots fully blown out, ie I adjusted the exposure setting in camera and only had minor adjustments in Lightroom.
I really like these images. They are warm and interesting to look at, with shadows and highlights quite different from previous daylight shots. They were all shot at night; the room was very dimly lit by some street lighting, but very little and none shining directly onto the setup. The glass vase was clearly, as I expected, the most difficult subject. The light reflects and refracts so much that it is difficult to predict the outcome!
I also took some shots of the same subjects by daylight coming through the window and then by using a normal household lamp to light the set. I used Auto white balance again to see the preview jpegs.
Both these images were taken in late afternoon, with ambient light (on a sunny day) from a window directly facing the set. No direct light comes through onto the setup. The White balance setting was adjusted on the Raw image to Daylight.
These are much cooler images than the candlelit shots above. The colours of the flowers are very close to how they actually appeared to the eye. The candlelight had significantly changed the colour and I have clearly not adjusted the white balance fully to compensate.Interestingly, I prefer the false colour!
The last two images were taken later in the day, with little natural light coming in. The object was lit by a simple table lamp, with a light shade in place. I leaned the lamp on its side so that the light was less direct, mainly reflected off the shade. I turned the geisha by 90degrees between shots. In the first case, there is therefore much more obvious shadow in the area not lit by the lamp; the second shot, facing the lamp is much more evenly lit.
I tried a number of the white balance presets and ended up with “As shot”, which was the auto setting. These are warmer than the daylight images, with nice shadows, particularly in the face-on image. This last shot is my preferred image- it retains the interesting shadows of the candlelit image, as well as much of the warmth, and with less colour distortion.
The white balance setting is clearly a big issue in this sequence of images. I will probably do something similar for Assignment 4, but will make full use of my grey card and/or Whibal card.
Capture ‘the beauty of artificial light’ in a short sequence of shots (‘beauty’ is, of course, a subjective term). The correct white balance setting will be important; this can get tricky –but interesting – if there are mixed light sources of different colour temperatures in the same shot. You can shoot indoors or outside but the light should be ambient rather than camera flash. Add the sequence to your learning log. In your notes try to describe the difference in the quality of light from the daylight shots in Exercise 4.2.
The research suggested by OCA has been interesting. A lot of the images I have looked at have been of outdoor situations, streets and cities. Over the years, I have lost track of how many night shots of Tower Bridge I have seen! There may be a new way to photograph that, but I don’t know it!
When I was in Sydney recently, I took some photographs based on some of the research-
This image seems to me to work well in black and white. I have done virtually no post-processing except to allow Lightroom to automatically desaturate it. Even so, I think the iconic content, the Harbour Bridge and the Opera Hose, flanking the city’s commercial and residential areas, is good with the colour removed. But, as with Shintaro, the power of the cityscape is improved by leaving the colour in:
The colour adds to the sense of vitality that is the essence of this capital city.
But I looked back at the Shintaro images and noticed how many of them were panoramas, not A4 shapes. This format (panoramic) works well on cityscapes and I decided to try the black and white version like this:
I like this image and with the greater concentration of light and less black sky to distract, I think this is more effective than the colour image. The different coloured lights are transformed into tones, so I lose the warmth of the foreground light, but gain in dynamism. This b&w panorama would be my choice from this image.
I took a picture from a different angle earlier that same evening:
The tonal range in this image is very narrow; desaturated it is just a mix of greys running into each other. But, in colour, I think this works reasonably to show the size and diversity of the city, but with a sense of peace as it goes into evening. It lacks the dynamic quality of the previous image, but it does seem to me to reflect another aspect of the city. Given that these were taken through the window of my hotel as an experiment, I am pleased by the results and they point the way to a future series.
Having tried these and read about and viewed a lot of images for this exercise, I have decided to try something different! I was very interested by Brassai’s comment about the paintings with candlelit subjects. Candles are simple items but cast complex light patterns and varying colour temperatures.
I think they are at their best when they are the sole source of light, and will base the exercise on that, but will try some of the situations I set up with a mix of lights for comparison.
In manual mode take a sequence of shots of a subject of your choosing at different times on a single day. It doesn’t matter if the day is overcast or clear but you need a good spread of times from early morning to dusk. You might decide to fix your viewpoint or you might prefer to ‘work into’ your subject, but the important thing is to observe the light, not just photograph it. Add the sequence to your learning log together with a timestamp from the time/date info in the metadata. In your own words, briefly describe the quality of light in each image.
I decided that the only way to be sure of getting a good range of times and the same location, was to take the photographs very close to home. In the end, I decided that my garden was the most suitable location. I decided that the specific shot would be of some flowers in the greenhouse, with the door open. There was too much wind to get movement free images in the rest of the garden.
For each photograph, I used a tripod, as far as possible placed in the same location. I also took one or more shots at each time using a grey card to adjust white balance in post-processing. I decided not to do any other post-processing adjustments and, in each case I accepted the white balance setting given from the grey card shot. I used an aperture of f11 for all the shots, and adjusted the shutter speed based on the exposure reading to get a combination that the camera was saying was a correct exposure. Interestingly, this was harder than I expected. The cloud movement, given this was a windy day, was very rapid. The measured exposure was changing by a whole stop or more in fractions of a second and, on several occasions, I had to wait to let more sky or more consistent cloud appear. As far as possible therefore, the images should be totally comparable except for the natural light changes during the 24 hours over which I was shooting.
I began the sequence on 16 May at 16.48 and finished the following day at 15.13. The time gaps were largely dictated by personal convenience! I used the white balance auto setting, because I was intending to adjust the white balance from the raw file and was therefore not too worried about the jpeg.
Starting with the first image, the results were as follows. I have shown both the adjusted raw and the jpeg image because it was interesting how much difference the white balance adjustment made, compared with the auto setting on the camera. In each case the jpeg is followed by the adjusted raw image:
Taken at 16.48. A nice day, the sun having moved round so that it was behind me and beginning to cast a cooler light, with more shadows. A calm feeling, a gentle light for this type of image with the possibility of some nice but not too harsh shadows.
Taken at 18.40 Understandably much cooler – image and temperature!
The sun now completely behind buildings so all light was reflected and no shadows. Pleasant lighting but not enough contrast. The feeling at the time was that it was all very flat and that is how the image has turned out.
Taken at 09.20 A nice light Very directional-just about at right angle to the flowers, so all the shadows are diffused in this small perspective. Backlit, the flowers seem to sparkle
Taken at 11.28 Similar to the earlier shot, but a slightly warmer feeling. More evenly spread light, so the image is brighter and felt that way at the time.
Taken at 13.37 More cloud around by now and a cooler feel to the light. The sun is very low at the moment, so nothing too glaring or bright.
Taken at 15.13 Really beginning to cool down, with a lot of cloud and a very flat feeling again. I think the flowers lose some of their beauty in this light. Still nice to look at but a little dull.
As much as the changing quality of the light, this exercise has convinced me of the value of a grey card. The images, after white balance adjustment, are much more as I remember the reality than the jpegs. I do not know how much I might have improved the jpegs by thinking about the white balance setting. Some images were shot in sun, some in cloud. Even so, the auto setting was really not very satisfactory.
One of the issues picked up by my tutor on Assignment 3, was what looks like over-inking on some of my prints. I had not spotted this until he pointed it out, but now I can see that and other unsatisfactory printing problems in the submission.
The tutor recommended some procedures to check what is happening, including printing a number of identical prints, using different media settings and specifically without any colour management. Hard to do in Photoshop CC, but he gave me a link to the adobe print utility, which allows this to be done: https://helpx.adobe.com/photoshop/kb/no-color-management-option-missing.html
The image he suggested is:
I did this with 4 different media settings, including the one recommended by Permajet for this paper. Two of the settings were clearly better than the others, the recommended media setting “Enhanced matte” and “Archival matte” The full test setting was :
1-4 all printed with Adobe print utility with Epson Print mode set on Enhanced photo setting, as originally printed for assignment 3 submission
5-7 printed with No colour controls set in the mode dialog box for the printer.
Print 8 used full Epson print dialog and the Print profile for the paper as received from the paper manufacturer, PermaJet
Media settings were :
1 Enhanced matte
2 Archival matte
3 Matte inkjet
4 Velvet fine art
5 Enhanced matte
6 Archival matte
7 Matte inkjet
8 Archival matte with colour profile setting
The most significant difference was between the prints using colour controls and those without. There was a definite sign of over-inking when I used enhanced photo settings, compared to those without.
At this stage, I believe that the Archival matte paper setting is, by a very fine margin, my preferred setting, although enhanced matte is the manufacturer’s recommendation. I will use this setting with no colour controls, and occasionally print a comparison to test the enhanced matte paper setting.
1.Set your camera to any of the auto or semi-auto modes. Photograph a dark tone (such as a black jacket), a mid-tone (the inside of a cereal packet traditionally makes a useful ‘grey card’) and a light tone (such as a sheet of white paper), making sure that the tone fills the viewfinder frame (it’s not necessary to focus).
Add the shots to your learning log with quick sketches of the histograms and your observations.
You might be surprised to see that the histograms for each of the frames – black grey and white – are the same. If there’s not much tonal variation within the frame you’ll see a narrow spike at the mid-tone; if there is tonal variation (such as detail) you’ll see a more gentle curve. If you find the tone curve isn’t centered on the mid-tone, make sure that you have your exposure compensation set to zero. You may see an unpleasant colour cast if you’re shooting under artificial light, in which case you can repeat the exercise using your monochrome setting (a light meter is sensitive to brightness, not to colour).
This simple exercise exposes the obvious flaw in calibrating the camera’s light meter to the mid-tone. The meter can’t know that a night scene is dark or a snow scene is light so it averages each exposure around the mid-tone and hopes for the best. But why can’t the camera just measure the light as it is? The reason is that a camera measures reflected light – the light reflected from the subject, not incident light – the light falling on the subject. To measure the incident light you’d have to walk over to the subject and hold an incident light meter (a hand-held meter) pointing back towards the camera, which isn’t always practical. If you did that each of the tones would be exposed correctly because the auto or semi-auto modes wouldn’t try to compensate for the specific brightness of the subject.
2.Set your camera to manual mode. Now you can see your light meter! The mid-tone exposure is indicated by the ‘0’ on the meter scale with darker or lighter exposures as – or + on either side. Repeat the exercise in manual mode, this time adjusting either your aperture or shutter to place the dark, mid and light tones at their correct positions on the histogram. The light and dark tones shouldn’t fall off either the left or right side of the graph. Add the shots to your learning log with sketches of their histograms and your observations.
Switching to manual mode disconnects the aperture, shutter and ISO so they’re no longer linked. Because they’re no longer reciprocal, you can make adjustments to any one of them without affecting the others.
I set this up in a room in my house. I used a length of black cloth, which I often use as a backdrop, a grey card, and a sheet of white paper. The lighting was a daylight balanced fluorescent tube. The shots were unfocussed.
I knew the theory behind this exercise, but even so, I was surprised by the uniformity of the three auto-shots. A virtually non-reflective black surface, a grey card and a white sheet of paper look virtually identical. Not 100%, because they did each have slightly different reflective qualities, but more so than I had expected.
In the field, I rarely use a grey card. Also, I tend to use aperture priority most of the time. The most interesting things for me were therefore how flexible the manual setting actually is and how relatively easy to use it; also the extent to which exposing against a non-mid-tone can give inaccurate results. Even shooting raw, the adjustments needed to get back to the correct white balance are inaccurate and getting it right in camera is much more straightforward!
I do have a grey card and a small Whibal card (recommended by my tutor), so I need to get in the habit of thinking more about what I am using for my exposure and try to use the tools I have more often.
This exercise has also made me get out my old exposure meter. I bought this for studio use, using flash, and only rarely used it outdoors. In fact the incident light meter is another tool for the kitbag. In some cases, it is probably easier to use than a grey card. It is often possible, even which distant landscape shots, to turn and face the camera from the same viewpoint towards which the shot will be taken- the outside light will not be any different unless there is a lot of cloud moving around.
More kit to carry around!
- What do the timeframes of the camera actually look like? If you have a manual film camera, open the camera back (make sure there’s no film in the camera first!) and look through the shutter as you press the shutter release. What is the shortest duration in which your eyes can perceive a recognisable image in bright daylight? Describe the experiment in your learning log.
I used my Canon 1V for this exercise- after getting a new battery for it!
I stood in an upstairs room, looking out at the front of my house. It was fairly sunny and there is a good view of the garden, parked cars and road traffic. I started with a long release- one second to see just what is visible in this way and to set a baseline for what is a recognisable image. I then did the experiment at various exposures from 1/10 sec up to 1/6400 sec. I assumed that I would “fail” quite early on.
In fact, I was still seeing the image quite reasonably even at the fastest speed. I am not sure what this means! The eye is very sensitive to light and this was a bright day. The objects I was looking at were reflecting a lot of light and were simple shapes- cars, street light, etc. The less distinctive shapes, especially the foliage on the tress was clearly recognisable, but I certainly did not have time to focus on a particular flower!
Submit a set of between six and eight high-quality photographic prints on the theme of the ‘decisive moment’. Street photography is the traditional subject of the decisive moment, but it doesn’t have to be. Landscape may also have a decisive moment of weather, season or time of day. A building may have a decisive moment when human activity and light combine to present a ‘peak’ visual moment.You may choose to create imagery that supports the tradition of the ‘decisive moment’,or you may choose to question or invert the concept. Your aim isn’t to tell a story, but in order to work naturally as a series there should be a linking theme, whether it’s a location, an event or a particular period of time.
Submit assignment notes of between 500 and 1,000 words with your series. Introduce your subject and describe your ‘process’ – your way of working. Then briefly state how you think each image relates to the concept of the decisive moment. This will be a personal response as there are no right or wrong answers in a visual arts course. You’ll find it useful to explore the photographers and works referenced in Project 3, if you haven’t already done so. Don’t forget to use Harvard referencing.
Preparing for this assignment, I began by reading about Henri Cartier Bresson and watching the video L’amour court.
My research made me think for a long time about
- Is some form of action, caught by the camera, necessary for a decisive moment?
- Are human beings necessary for a decisive moment image?
- Should I be aiming to take images which reflect a decisive moment?
- Is the decisive moment the subject, the composition and lighting (ie technical details)?
- Is it an excerpt from a story or an unrepeatable moment?
Without coming to a conclusion on these questions, I felt apprehensive about finding 6-8 decisive moments with a linking theme.
As I was visiting a wildlife centre for a shoot, I decided to try to take a suitable series there. I enjoyed the shoot and was pleased by many of the images, but did not feel they captured decisive moments. I took some to a study day at Tate Modern which was followed by sharing current W-I-P and discussing our images. This convinced me that the images were not appropriate for this assignment. It also helped me to answer question 4 above. Some of the images were everything I had hoped for technically and would potentially be fine for a calendar, but they were chocolate box images, which really said nothing interesting about the subjects. (see Blog entry 22/2/15)
One issue which was raised at the study visit was very interesting. The animals in the photographs have all become semi-tamed by being bred or cared for by the centre. Their surroundings were also very clean and orderly. It seems likely that this contributed to the lack of dynamism in the images- they looked too staged to truly reflect a decisive moment. But, despite this conclusion, I do not believe that a decisive moment is the same thing as an action shot (Q1 above.) Looking through Cartier Bresson’s images at many online sources, they are often relatively static. I felt that, in many cases, they were also just a moment in a series of moments (Q5 above, they are excerpts from a story) What distinguishes his work is that, even if the moments before and after would have been just as “decisive”, that does not detract from the single image that Cartier Bresson gives us. So, I do not believe that a decisive moment has to be a unique moment; rather, the image has to tell the story by itself, whether it is just one moment in a long series of similar moments or, in fact, a split second of unrepeatable time.
This first attempt, using animal images, despite failing, together with my research, did convince me that human beings are not crucial for an image to record a decisive moment. Ghazzal’s article (Blog entry 18/4/15) and the discussion about artists such as Evans and Friedlander was particularly helpful. The buildings and cities in their images are almost static, yet the images record times and places that are as informative as Edgerton’s coronet, probably more so. The split second, unrepeatable event, is not required for a decisive moment.
This just left me with question 3- should I be aiming to take photographs which reflect a decisive moment, or presumably , if not, to take images which are more in line with Evans and Friedlander- images of places or objects that have their own significance. I decided to try to take up to 8 photographs that show moments in time, ideally interesting in their own right, but also acknowledging that there is a before and after to the images. Without that, the images would be truly 2 dimensional. So, 8 decisive moments.
I chose as my linking theme, Life in Dee Why. This is a suburb just outside Sydney, where I was holidaying with my family. The choice was fairly arbitrary; it reflected the fact that I would be there for a number of days, the weather would be fine for at least part of the time, and there is a lot of outdoor activity.
I took over 50 potential images. I rejected some for technical reasons and some just did not seem to meet my expectation of what a decisive moment might look like in a print. So, for instance, I took a lot of photographs of surfers; although I like them, I felt that the bodies were not sufficiently dynamic:
I am sure part of the reason for this not working is the relatively short zoom I had to use. I did not have any long lenses with me in Australia.
The final 9 images after rejections were:
Although similar to the previous image, this reflects a different story- the decision is made, the fish is going back and the fisherman is donning his gloves to remove the hook. The fish can only wait and watch. Rejected for final submission.
After spending some time reviewing the prints of these images, I made a few minor crop changes and changed the exposure on one image. I also rejected one of the fishermen images. The irony of the fisherman donning his glove to protect himself from the hook is less obvious than it had been when I saw it happening!
Most importantly, I decided to convert all the images to black and white, which is the format for my submission. Cartier Bresson continually emphasised the geometry in his shapes and the importance of the right geometry to the decisive moment. Although that can be achieved in colour photographs, in tha main I find the lack of distracting colour helps the lines of the tones to stand out more clearly. I had in fact set the jpeg capture on my camera to black and white, in anticipation of this and had specifically chosen my shots at the time with black and white in mind.
The final submission is therefore:
A moment that is unrepeatable. Off to see the world, alone and unafraid. Just able to walk and prepared to use that new skill for joy.
Certainly decisive for the fish and the fisherman caught trying to decide if he can justify keeping it, or throw it back.
Everywhere I went, there were young parents out with their babies. Here the babe is trying to get some attention from a mum who is much more interested in her texting.
Happy children showing off to mums- again the moment is lost as the telephones hold their interest.
Just sheer joy and then they were gone.
Alone and uncaring. A moment of concentration as the World walks by oblivious.
Is he about to go in, or did the wave come and get him?
Ghazzal’s brief article on the Decisive moment in photography is initially very persuasive..
He says at one point “The decisive moment is therefore that infinitely small and unique moment in time which cannot be repeated, and that only the photographic lens can capture.” In fact, even though he calls the decisive moment “more of a cliché than a reality”, he does not really try to destroy the concept. Instead, he seems to be arguing that photographs which do not capture decisive moments are at least as important as those that do.
He argues that movement (“gestures”) are virtually a pre-requisite for a Decisive moment and then points out the importance of work by such as Evans and Friedlander of largely static subjects. But I do not think he is arguing against the concept of the decisive moment, only that it is just one type of image and that others can be as meaningful and as lasting in their significance.
Cartier Bresson took his keynote text from the 17th century Cardinal de Retz, “Il n’y a rien dans ce monde qui n’ait un moment decisif” (“There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment”). As he said, “In photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject. The little human detail can become a leitmotiv.”( Henri Cartier-Bresson (1952). The Decisive Moment. New York: Simon and Schuster”. pp. 1–14”
That must imply that he would agree with Ghazzal, that movement is not essential for a great photograph – as Evans shows, a building and importantly a series of images of buildings can capture as much of significance as a sudden movement caught by the Cartier Bresson famous luck, not to mention his observational skills!
There are some more very good Cartier Bresson quotes at http://fotografiamagazine.com/decisive-moment-henri-cartier-bresson/
|2. Find a good viewpoint, perhaps fairly high up (an upstairs window might do) where you can see a wide view or panorama. Start by looking at the things closest to you in the foreground. Then pay attention to the details in the middle distance and, finally, the things towards the horizon. Now try and see the whole landscape together, from the foreground to horizon (you can move your eyes). Include the sky in your observation and try to see the whole visual field together, all in movement (there is always some movement). When you’ve got it, raise your camera and take a picture. Add the picture and a description of the process to your learning log.
For this single image, I wanted to take a photograph of a panorama that I liked looking at, not just a random view. I have seen many of these in the last two weeks, while I have been staying at Dee Why, a small suburb just North of Sydney. From the ferry, on the ground or up high the Sydney harbour and the Opera House are amazingly photogenic.
I have chosen this image for the log:
This is a view of the harbour from a high viewpoint called Arabanoo.There is a short circular walk at North Head, which has a number of breaks in the bush from where the harbour can be seen. Stopping at a number of these, this gave the broadest view of the city, the harbour, full of yachts and the northern headland.
In the near distance, the bush is full of different vegetation and colour, the sky was gorgeous, with slightly darkening clouds, moving quite quickly due to a strong breeze and the harbour and city were full of life with dozens of boats and yachts. The haze over the city did nothing to reduce the impact of the view.
I took the image on my Canon 5D, at 1/750, f16 and ISO 800. I wanted to use a wide angle to try to get a lot of what I was seeing in the frame. Although I could have taken the image with a longer exposure, I was keen to avoid blur if the foreground, where the bush was in constant movement due to the breeze.
Inevitably, the image does not do justice to the scene. The foreground and the sky dwarf the harbour and the city, as they did when I looked out at the scene. But, because I could move my eyes, I was able to disregard the surroundings when I focussed on the city. In a static image, everything appears and its scale is based on perspective, not on a subconscious interpretation of what the eye is seeing.
The exercise just reinforces something important- photographs are not a real record of what we see. Our brain and our eyes work together to interpret what is there, disregarding some aspects and emphasising others. The camera is not judgemental- it just records what is there, based on all the rules about focus and perspective, using the instructions (settings) given by the photographer. The settings decide what the photograph will reflect. Post-processing and cropping etc. can affect that, but not in the same way as the eye/brain combination can do at the scene. So, as usual, the lesson is to think before taking the shot! Set the camera and frame to image to reflect what you are trying to record.
Out of interest, I was actually shooting the jpegs in black and white that day, because the scene seemed to work well for that. This is how the b&W shot looks:
I have done very little post-processing on this, but I think it might get closer to how I saw the scene on the day because of the framing effect of the dark foreground tones and the light sky tone. The small but interesting element in the middle stands out more. Tones can be much more effective than colours in interpreting a scene.
February has not been a productive month- too much thought, not enough action! The brief for this assignment says,
“Submit a set of between six and eight high-quality photographic prints on the theme of the ‘decisive moment’. Street photography is the traditional subject of the decisive moment, but it doesn’t have to be. Landscape may also have a decisive moment of weather, season or time of day. A building may have a decisive moment when human activity and light combine to present a ‘peak’ visual moment.
You may choose to create imagery that supports the tradition of the ‘decisive moment’, or you may choose to question or invert the concept. Your aim isn’t to tell a story, but in order to work naturally as a series there should be a linking theme, whether it’s a location, an event or a particular period of time.”
I came to the conclusion, soon after reading this brief, that I have approximately zero% chance of identifying 6 or 8 scenes, with camera in hand to capture them, all on a common theme, during a short time period, which would clearly record decisive moments in the eyes of a subsequent viewer of the photograph. Since that early thought, I have been trying to decide how to address the brief successfully.
In my research I have talked about aspects of the decisive moment and how I interpret that phrase. One of my most important views, not specifically mentioned in the blog previously, is that dramatic action is most definitely not needed to create a decisive moment. For a sports photographer or photo-journalist, drama can clearly help to sell pictures. But for many subjects, even including sport, a completely static image may be equally “decisive”.
There is no movement or action in this image, but, for me at least, it captures a memorable moment of introspection by Mike Tyson. A decisive moment by most standards? Certainly by my standards.
What makes an image good, or even more importantly great, is very ephemeral.
I came across a selection of quotes from Cartier Bresson, on this website:
I can see why the website owner chose them all. Two stand out particularly for me, in the context of this assignment:
“In photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject. The little, human detail can become a Leitmotiv.”, and “Of course it’s all luck.”
Timing is of the essence. A moment before or after the photograph and the reason it was important may have changed completely. At one particular moment the interactions in front of the photographer make it the right time to take the photograph- those interactions may be as simple as light and shadow, the particular shape of a crowd of people or even of a herd of animals, the look on a face, chemistry between two people, or just a stillness in a crowded place.
To take another quote from Cartier Bresson, “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event.” The photograph is two-dimensional and will be seen out of context, away both from its surrounding space and from its surrounding time. So ultimately, to be successful, the photograph needs to capture whatever it is that makes the photographer choose that moment and that place, not any of the other potential images that were available.
I decided to see if I could apply this to a series of animal photographs. I visited the British wildlife centre near Lingfield and took a large number of photographs of some of the British animals they care for and breed there. A few of these are shown below:
I would not claim these are “great” photographs, but I liked them, as moments when each of the creatures was doing something that caught my eye, and the light and shape worked well. So do these meet the criterion for this assignment? To be honest to myself, I did not think so. I was about to go on a study visit to Tate Britain and so took these up for discussion with some of the other students. Sadly, they confirmed my own doubts! It was a helpful discussion, because it made me articulate, with their help, some more of what the decisive moment is (and is not) to me.
Most importantly, I remain committed to the idea that “decisive moment” is not another way of saying “dramatic moment”, at least not in any way that requires an action shot. But the image does need to reflect something momentary, that matters and makes the viewer interact mentally or emotionally with the image. These animal photographs are pretty, which is not a bad thing, but they are not significant to the viewer. The reality is that they were opportunistic for me rather than decisive and that comes through in the final image. An interesting comment by a fellow student asked whether the tameness of the animals and the fact that they are virtually posing for the camera make it impossible to get a decisive moment image? I think impossible is too strong, but it certainly makes it less likely!
I still like them and I think my grand-daughter (aged 3!) will like them, but they are not the right images for this assignment.
Suggested by my tutor:
As you have photographed flowers for this assignment I thought it might be useful to provide you with a reading list of photographers who have worked with flowers in interesting and unique ways. Some comments on each would make a good addition to your learning log:
David Axelbank (look under the Still lives heading)- http://www.davidaxelbank.com/
These are very simple but beautifully lit images of (mostly) garden flowers. Almost all have a black background, making the bright, colourful flowers stand out totally and become the whole focus of the image. There are some spots of light which show that artificial light (probably flash) was used, but the light is very evenly distributed and consistent between each image. The one image with a fence in the background, in front of the black backdrop, clashes with the others. Sometimes one or two outliers add to a sequence like this, but in this case it just jars. I would prefer this image to have been excluded. It might have worked if it had not been such a large area of the image and so light in colour.
Robert Mapplethorpe – http://www.mapplethorpe.org/portfolios/flowers/
Mapplethorpe’s flowers are some of the most beautiful photographs I have ever seen. The colours and shapes are so striking that, even on a computer screen it seems you can reach out and touch or smell them. He photographs the flower with complete visual truth but somehow adds more to them by his “posing” of the flower and especially by his use of shadows to frame the flowers. The lighting is key to the image and technically amazing. The shadows are never there by accident, they are a part of Mapplethorpe’s plan for the image. Like much of his other work with male and female nudes, many of his flower images were very controversial at the time they were first published. The apparent similarity of his lilies to parts of the male and female body was seen as being obscene by many. They are certainly sensual and possible even erotic, but never obscene. In colour and in black and white, these images are as good as it gets!
Lee Friedlander’s Stems – http://fraenkelgallery.com/portfolios/stems
Lee Friedlander is a superb photographer, who always seems to work in b&w. Flowers, despite all their colour, make a good subject for black and white images. The monotone leaves the structure of the flowers to speak for itself, and can be very beautiful. In these images, the images do not even include much of the bloom, and concentrate on the stems alone, seen through the glass of clear vases or possibly drinking glasses. Interesting online, but I think these need to be seen in the flesh to fully appreciate the beauty i them. The low-res web images do not do them justice. Even so, they have been convincing enough to persuade me to buy the book!
Karl Blossfeldt – http://www.artnet.com/artists/karl-blossfeldt/
More b&w images. These remind me a little of Brandt’s nudes. Sensual form and lines using the flower (or in Brandt’s case the nude figure) as a base for the image, but the flower itself is not important. The image is about the shapes not about a flower. I felt that Friedlander’s Stems would probably have been viable as colour images, although the lack of colour added to their success. These images would not be viable in colour; the tonality and shape are all and colour would rob them of their impact.
Charles Jones http://www.michaelhoppengallery.comartist,show,1,171,0,0,0,0,0,0,charles_jones.html
Mostly vegetables not flowers; I find them dark and depressing; accurate but not interesting. Too dark to be in a biology textbook, but not enough life to inspire.
Garry Fabian Miller – http://www.garryfabianmiller.com/
Interesting images, particularly the camera-less images which are his current work. I like the result and the abstract nature of much of his work, but wonder whether this style of image-making is photography and what it gains by that name? For this type of effect, paint or other media, particularly sculpture. are more appealing to my eye.
Paul Kenny – http://www.paul-kenny.co.uk/
My comments about Miller also broadly apply to Kenny. An exception is Kenny’s series, Leaving. These images of fallen leaves near his home are almost sculptural in effect and visually very appealing. Again, interesting that I could not imagine these images in colour.
Chris Shaw’s Weeds of Wallasey – http://chrisshaw.carbonmade.com/projects/4295217#1
There is a definite fashion for portraying grim reality in photography. Simple representational photography does not address the photographer’s need to add something to the image, to impose our own Vision. These images are definitely making statements that are important to the photographer and can only be evaluated in context. Just seen as images, they are striking, unappealing, good and bad in equal measure. Some images can be seen alone or as a series with no narrative- they carry their own narrative. These try to do that, but I think I would need to know more about their context to truly appreciate them. That does not make them a failure, but it means the viewer has to be willing to work a little harder and not just look.
Erik Niedling –Formation (scroll down to 2007) http://erikniedling.com/search/photographs
Clever and innovative, but that is not enough to make it worth looking at. By their very nature, the images are unclear and lack detail or clear structure. I can admire the technique, but do not much appreciate the outcome.
I had useful feedback on both these assignments and have been working through the comments and changed some of the images. Feedback and my responses:
…be able to critically defend any decisions to alter the crop from one image to the next, or to switch from colour to black and white. Whilst an editor may crop pictures for a layout, generally if you are showcasing a series of photographs they would all be cropped to the same aspect ratio and be presented at the same size. I have recropped several of the images in assignment 1 to create a more common theme and all of the images are now in colour. As individual images, I like the original image shape and the one b&w image, but they did not help the overall theme and were certainly not necessary from any artistic or “Vision” viewpoint. From assignment 1, two of the images really do not fit into a landscape mode and I have left these as portrait mode. Partly because of the decision to use all A4 sizes, and to discard the panorama and square shapes of my original submission, I have dropped one image. The image did not fit well into the original collection and having 8 rather than 9 images works much better for a more standard collection.
…make sure your camera is level, ideally in all planes when making a photograph of a view or a building…due to the camera perspective the building to the left of falling into the frame… I had not realised that the particular image was not horizontal- my tutor’s eye was better than mine at spotting this. I have now mastered the use of Camera Raw’s straightening tool and routinely use it to check myself in appropriate images. The perspective issue was more difficult. In the particular image, I was simply too close to a wall and the lens distorted the perspective badly. I have improved this image by closer cropping. I have started to use the Lightroom Lens correction tool to straighten the verticals on my building images. I am also experimenting with the Perspective warp tool in Photoshop. Both these tools are very powerful, but easy to misuse and to get even worse distortions. Practice needed! (and care!)
…something unnatural about the colour…Better colour correction in Lightroom is helping and I am getting a WhiBal by Michael Tapes Design, which I hope will help with getting consistent white balance when I am shooting a series like these.
…specks of duct on lens I have spotted the offending images and am now checking all my images for spots before saving them as finished items. I have also bought a lens cleaning kit and am working up the courage to use it on my sensor.
…could have composed with just a little more information at the top of the frame and less at the bottom Recropped to eliminate the wasted space.
Most importantly, …(need) strategy that will allow the photographs to sit together …narrative isn’t really apparent in the overall series. This particularly applied to assignment 2, which is the life cycle of a vase of flowers. The different lighting and the white balance issues distract from the theme. Even after improving these, it was not fully clear what the series was showing. I have eliminated one image from the series (now 7, not 8 images). The eliminated image did not really fit in the story of New; Growth: Maturity; Decline; Decay; Death and Renewal. It was too much of a life-cycle period with the second image, having been taken on the same day. I am tempted to add a narrative caption to the images, but I think the sequence now works better and have left them untitled.
And assignment 2 looks like this:
As part of Barbican’s Constructing Worlds event series, they invited a group of photographers for a special photography workshop in association with RIBA. With the Brutalist architecture as a backdrop, the photographers explored their skills capturing the urban sport, parkour. (Taken from the Barbican website)
I expected to be disappointed by this film; so many famous photographers seem to be both pompous and patronising. (I can never look at a David Bailey photograph in the same way, since I saw him in a recent documentary on his retrospective!) In fact, Cartier Bresson was interesting and not in the least superficial.
A number of his comments were particularly interesting for me.
“What matters is to look. But most people don’t look” But in practice, most photographs are not taken in that way: As Sontag points out,
“In photography’s early decades, photographs were expected to be idealized images. This is still the aim of most amateur photographers, for whom a beautiful photograph is a photograph of something beautiful, like a woman, a sunset.”
Sontag, Susan (2014-12-04). On Photography (Penguin Modern Classics) (Kindle Locations 333-335). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
She also comments that
“The immensely gifted members of the Farm Security Administration photographic project of the late 1930s (among them Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Ben Shahn, Russell Lee) would take dozens of frontal pictures of one of their sharecropper subjects until satisfied that they had gotten just the right look on film— the precise expression on the subject’s face that supported their own notions about poverty, light, dignity, texture, exploitation, and geometry. In deciding how a picture should look, in preferring one exposure to another, photographers are always imposing standards on their subjects.”
Sontag, Susan (2014-12-04). On Photography (Penguin Modern Classics) (Kindle Locations 82-86). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
But this is not at all what Cartier Bresson wants or does. As a friend, commenting on one of his photographs explains in the film, Cartier Bresson, walking with the friend, looked, saw and took a photograph that really shows something very special to his friend. The image, of a place the friend had seen so many times, was an entirely new view on that familiar scene.
Cartier Bresson says, “It’s always luck. You have to be receptive”. Successful as their images were, this is not the way Walker Evans and his peers took their successful photographs. And it is far removed from the artificial staging of the work of many artists such as Jeff Wall and Diane Arbus. That does not detract from the work of those latter artists. They are setting the stage and creating the possibility of an image that reflects a pre-determined vision. I suspect that, in practice, however well planned and implemented, even such works as theirs still needs a final ingredient of luck for it to be truly successful.
As Cartier Bresson says, “It’s always luck. You have to be receptive” and, admittedly in a different context- when he is talking about his drawings, “You must know when to stop, when you’ve said it all.”
His images are far more structural, geometric is his description, than many modern photographers. Shapes are very important “I go for form more than for light”. I doubt he would ever consider having a viewfinder that shows the Rule of Thirds markings to help him! He has an instinctive intuition of where the focus should be to obtain maximum effect. I do not believe that Cartier Bresson advocates that we should go out looking for phot0graphs. What I think he is saying is, we need to look at the world around us. If we look with an open mind and a love for the world we are seeing, then we will see the value of that moment, which will allow us to take a photograph that shows what we have seen.
So, where does that leave me on the Decisive Moment? I wonder if the phrase is simply inaccurate? Most of the images in the film and most of the images of his that I have seen in books are not defined by the moment of the shutter release. The “Moment” began before that and goes on after it. The decisiveness more accurately refers to Cartier Bresson himself, being there, looking and seeing.
I think this comes much closer to how I see photography. This definition requires the studio photographer and the war photographer to be equally as receptive to the Decisive Moment as the street photographer. As Sontag says
“Photographs are perhaps the most mysterious of all the objects that make up, and thicken, the environment we recognize as modern. Photographs really are experience captured, and the camera is the ideal arm of consciousness in its acquisitive mood.”
Sontag, Susan (2014-12-04). On Photography (Penguin Modern Classics) (Kindle Locations 48-50). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
“If (in Whitman’s words) “each precise object or condition or combination or process exhibits a beauty,” it becomes superficial to single out some things as beautiful and others as not. If “all that a person does or thinks is of consequence,” it becomes arbitrary to treat some moments in life as important and most as trivial…..In the open fields of American experience, as catalogued with passion by Whitman and as sized up with a shrug by Warhol, everybody is a celebrity. No moment is more important than any other moment; no person is more interesting than any other person.”
Sontag, Susan (2014-12-04). On Photography (Penguin Modern Classics) (Kindle Locations 344-345). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
I do not agree with Sontag’s view as expressed here. The implication of what she is saying, which I do agree with, is that every moment, person or time is worthy of being seen and potentially recorded. Cartier Bresson’s genius was in seeing those possibilities and being able to recognise them when others, like his friend in the film, saw the same thing but saw nothing. I think it is a mistake to go out looking for decisive, interesting events that could be described as decisive moments. A static scene can be just as worth the name as an action scene. In fact, the particular scene photographed while walking with his friend, was basically a group of children sitting around, as they probably did for considerable time on that and other days. The only difference was that Cartier Bresson looked and saw.
The OCA Project 3 notes that “Another criticism of the decisive moment is that it somehow just misses the point of our contemporary situation.” The note then refers to Paul Graham’s book of street photographs “The Present”.
The photographer has a web-site where he displays some of his images:
I looked at these and understand what OCA is saying, but do not necessarily agree with it. OCA also describes Cartier Bresson’s photograph,”Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare”, Paris, 1932, as “one of the most iconic photographs of the twentieth century”.
If, as he claimed, Cartier Bresson did not see this Decisive Moment, is that so different from Graham randomly selecting a series of pairs of images linked only by how close they are in time and place?
OCA compares the two with a quote “Reviewing Paul Graham’s recent photobook The Present, Colin Pantall writes:…what he [Graham] wants us to see is the antithesis of the decisive moment and the spectacle of the urban experience. Instead we get a very contemporary contingency, a street with moments so decisively indecisive that we don’t really know what we are looking at or looking for.”
But each of Graham’s images is no more random than the apparently iconic image of Cartier Bresson. Each pair of photographs in Graham’s book is its own Decisive Moment, which, seen alone, has its own story to tell. Seen as a pair, the story increases to include the impact of time on each moment and that adds an interesting concept that, I suspect, would not have appealed to Cartier Bresson.
I have only seen these images on screen, from the web-site above. It was very noticeable that, looking at images on screen, with no eye movement between each image, highlighted the slight changes in viewpoint from which each was taken. For me, this was significantly distracting and reduced the impact of the story of time in the images. If it is so obvious that the place has moved, because we are now looking from a slightly different viewpoint, it is not surprising that the images have other differences as well. I also wondered whether the lack of any identical pairs really reflected a random selection or was the changing view very definitely selected by the photographer to make his point?
I like the idea of including time, by taking photographs at different times. To be truly effective, this needs to be from identical viewpoints, so that ALL changes are due to time. Probably impossible in practice direct from the camera, but achievable with careful cropping.
Time now to see the Cartier Bresson film “L’amour de court” and see if that influences my thinking on the Decisive Moment.
My previous thinking about slow shutter speeds has always been- avoid them. They just cause camera shake and blurry photos, unless I use a tripod. Even then, slow would usually mean 1/60, or on a very dark day 1/15. Before attempting this exercise, I watched a short training video on YouTube:
This was a really useful video for me. I don’t think I learned anything new, but it brought all the basics together in a very clear and helpful way. One thing it reminded me of, was the concept of light leak. I had heard of this, but never worried about it- my exposures were never long enough for this to be a problem. But, for this exercise, if there was a very bright day and I had to use a very long exposure, maybe it would matter. I tested my Canon EOS 5D MkII to find out. This was my first photograph, shot with the lens cap on and leaving the shutter open for 222 seconds:
I was surprised to see just how much light seemed to have got in. This could be a serious problem if I ended up with the shutter open for several minutes. I then tested the camera using the viewfinder cap that came with this and my previous SLR and which, until now, has always sat on the lens strap, as it arrived:
It seems that light leak is real!
To take the sort of images that are shown in the training video really needs a strong ND filter, which I do not own. I decided to take advantage of a small garden fire we had started and shot a few images using programme mode:
1/90 secs, f5.6, ISO 100, 28mm
1/60 secs, f4.5, ISO 100, 28mm
This is, not surprisingly, quite close to what I was seeing with the naked eye, although there is no sign here of the flickering of the flames. The second image comes closest to that, with small disconnected pockets of flame seemingly suspended in the air or in the hedge.
I then shot a number of images, all using the following settings: 8 secs, f22, ISO 100, 28mm. The two I like most were:
These are less realistic, but probably more interesting. The images seem to show a very intense heat, apparently consuming the hedge.
For this subject, 1/60 was actually slow enough to capture some of the flames’ movement. The longer exposure, of 8 secs, creates a false image but a more interesting one.
Looking back at other images, I remembered this one which I took handheld:
1/50 sec, f4.5, ISO 100, 70mm
The sea is interesting in this photograph. It seems to show more movement than I would expect from a faster, daylight shot. But, the shutter speed is still fast enough to leave some sharpness in the ripples and not to smooth them out completely. The overall effect is a real sense of movement in the sea.
Another image of water had a similar effect, using a longer shutter speed:
6 secs, f11, ISO 200, 28mm.
I wanted to keep some sharpness on all the branches and so kept a reasonably high f-stop. It was late afternoon, so although there was a clear sky, light was poor and the camera’s exposure meter set the shutter speed very slow. (I was using a tripod.)There were quite a few ripples in the water, due to a breeze and a stream entering the lake. The smoothing out of the ripples adds to the sense of quiet and loneliness of this spot. I converted the image to near b&w to enhance this further.
I have not yet tried a seriously long exposure, but the lesson from this is, as usual, the setting is just a tool and needs to be fit for purpose. I need to choose the combination of aperture, shutter speed, focal length and ISO that works for my vision of the final image- and be more willing to carry and use a tripod!
Using fast shutter speeds, try to isolate a frozen moment of time in a moving subject.
Depending on the available light you may have to select a high ISO to avoid visible
blur in the photograph. Try to find the beauty in a fragment of time that fascinated
John Szarkowski. Add a selection of shots, together with relevant shooting data and
a description of your process (how you captured the images), to your learning log
This was an interesting exercise for me. I very rarely use shutter priority on my camera and, if I am using a hand-held exposure meter, I would always prioritise the aperture as my key priority. So this was relatively new territory. I began by trying to get something like the stop action of Edgerton’s corona, by using a relatively slow shutter speed of 1/250, but freezing the moment with flash. I have no infra-red trigger or similar equipment, so I judged the moment to take the photograph by eye. One of the first images was:
Which I quite like, but which lacks any real oomph! I prefer a later image:
I like the effects of the flow, now seen as drops not a stream of water and the ice in the air. This is probably the way I would generally try to take any similar shot. The difficulty is, with most cameras, like my own, the flash sync speed is at most 1/250 sec and so, with any reasonable amount of ambient light, some of the image may be blurred, as has happened in these shots.
In the end though, my favourite of this series was:
This is a crop from a larger image; I particularly liked the enigmatic nature of this crop- what is it? It could even be a shot from space. The stars are of course small drops of water splashing out of the glass and slightly blurred but not so badly as to ruin the image.
If I was serious about this sort of image, I think I would have to seriously consider some sort of infra-red aid and so be able to limit the ambient light significantly.
Without that sort of aid, the high shutter speed photography required for this exercise needs, as suggested in the brief, both a high shutter speed and either exceptional light or a high ISO setting.
Over two days of weak sunshine (a relief after no sun at all), I took about 80 photographs of the birds feeding from a feeder in my garden. I began with speeds of 1/250, and managed about 60 shots of an unoccupied bird feeder, as the birds were quicker than my reaction time! But I liked this image, taken at 1/250 sec, f6.7, 140mm and 800 ISO:
Not surprisingly with hindsight, the bird in flight is blurred- 1/250 simply is not fast enough for this subject and with an aperture of only f6.7, focussing may well have been an issue as well.
A later shot was more satisfactory from the technical point of view. This is taken at 1/500, f5.6, 170mm and ISO 1600.:
I like the inquisitive way the bird seems to be watching the camera. Although little movement was occurring at the time I captured the image, the shutter speed needed to be high because the bird only remained stationary for a very short time. Realistically, I was lucky to get this image and not another empty feeder shot!
For all these images, including the empty ones, I was standing in a dark garage with the camera on a tripod, pre-focussed and using a connected shutter release. There was certainly no time for autofocus to occur and I had already set up the focus on the centre tube, in the hope that a bird would alight on the feeder in that plane. I took the photographs in a continuous shooting mode of 3-4 photographs each time a bird approached the feeder.
It is possible that, with the very wide aperture, the bird is slightly out of focus. But I suspect that the slight blur in the image is caused by a slight movement of the bird; they are virtually never completely still! To take a successful shot which captures that moment of stillness, when the subject is actually in motion, needs a much faster speed than this.
A lesson to take away from this is that even 1/500 sec is not really a fast shutter speed. That is particularly true when there is no opportunity to track the movement during framing and focussing. (At a further distance, with a bird flying relatively predictably a much slower speed should work.)
Out of interest, I looked back at some photographs from Madagascar:
This was taken at 1/500, f11, 105mm and ISO 400. The greatest difference here was the extremely bright light, but I was also able to predict within reason where and when I would be taking the shot.
Setting the shutter speed for a photograph involving the capture of movement is a complicated decision, not least whether to stop the motion completely, or to allow some blur in order to keep some sense of motion in the image. Depending on that decision, the shutter speed can be estimated and, as I have learned, may need to be much faster than I am used to using. The combination of aperture and f-stop is a linked decision. Again, the key lesson for me is a need to be willing to go to a much higher ISO than I have been comfortable with in the past, particularly if I need to get more depth of field and so want a smaller aperture.
The following two images was taken at 1/2000, f4.5, 180mm and ISO 3200
I like this image, but when cropped down severely:
it is more obvious how much impact the high ISO is having. Even so, at this magnification this is much better than the earlier, slower speed images.
The light worsened slightly and so I reduced the shutter speed to 1/1500, keeping all the other settings the same:
And cropped (less severely)
The issue here is focus- the bird is well beyond my plane of focus, but the shutter speed has worked well and I think would be acceptably fast if the focus was accurate. I would have been more successful with a handheld camera and servo focussing, but could not have hidden in the shadows of the garage in that circumstance. All in all an interesting and educational exercise.
Decisive moment- Reflections
Whether or not we think about it as Szarkowski did, every time we take a photograph, we are trying to capture a moment in time. It may be a moment of memory, or of beauty, or of evidence. Usually we select the subject and the moment because of its significance to us personally. Sometimes, as Edgerton did with his coronet, we try to create the moment specifically in order to capture it, at other times we see the moment and take the photograph to preserve it.
Cartier Bresson talks about the decisive moment, and it seems to me that the moment is just as important and just as potentially “decisive”, whether it is observed or created. Working in a studio, taking a series of portraits, I generally give guidance rather than instructions to my subject. I then take the photographs within the boundaries I have set. But sometimes, during the session, the subject moves and there is a fleeting moment where the face or the figure is “right”, which may or may not be in line with what I had been expecting. The key then is to either take the photograph at once, which takes a lot of luck, or if the movement is too quick, to help the subject to try to replicate the position, the expression or whatever it was that made the moment important. Either technique is likely to create the photograph I was hoping for. The same principle applies to still life subjects, or any controlled situation.
But in a different, less static environment it is usually impossible to create such a repeat performance. Sports photographers cannot ask the goalkeeper to “make the save again”! They either caught the moment as it occurred or it is gone for ever. Some years ago, I took some photographs in a small village in Provence and there was a moment where the combination of bored and slightly hostile glance from one waitress and the very Gallic stance of the other caught my eye.
It is far from a great shot, but it summed up for me the moment I was living, a hot day in Provence with nobody inside the café, or even on the streets. Just two of us drinking a beer, everything moving very slowly and two very bored ladies! In its own way, a decisive moment that I still enjoy when I look at the image. The framing is as important as the faces; without the empty tables the scene means much less.
The shutter speed in this instance was probably quite long; it was a bright day and there was plenty of reflected light around. There was also very little movement- even of the air!
A very different decisive moment:
Taken in Madagascar, I turned round in the jungle to see this scene. The lemur is definitely checking the picture on camera LCD screen!
Totally fortuitous, and a non-repeatable moment- at least, not by design.
On another holiday, I was looking out of a window in a hotel when I saw this:
I took the photograph with the settings I had, and got this result. It was a film camera, so I do not have the metadata, but it was clearly a slow shutter speed. I find the image more interesting because of the lack of sharpness; there is so much movement that a static perfectly focussed image would have lost.
Interestingly, Diane Arbus does not accept the idea of a decisive moment. “In the world colonized by Arbus, subjects are always revealing themselves. There is no decisive moment. Arbus’s view that self-revelation is a continuous, evenly distributed process is another way of maintaining the Whitmanesque imperative: treat all moments as of equal consequence. (Sontag, Susan (2014-12-04). On Photography (Penguin Modern Classics) (Kindle Locations 451-453). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.)
Cartier Bresson says, in the introduction to his book, The Decisive Moment ““Photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organisation of forms which give that event its proper expression.”
In a review of the republished book by Cartier Bresson, Sean O’Hagan wrote in The Guardian “There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment,” wrote the 17th-century cleric and memoirist Cardinal de Retz, “and the masterpiece of good ruling is to know and seize this moment.”
Arbus was talking about portraits, but the point she makes is equally true of any photographic subject. Even a building will change depending on light, weather, the presence of more or less people and the viewpoint and settings of the photographer. But that does not mean there are no decisive moments or that all moments are decisive. I think Cartier Bresson’s quote above still says it as well as it can be said. My only concern is the extent to which Cartier Bresson manipulated the organisation of forms, in order to make it precise according to his standards and his love for lines and patterns. My personal view is that a random pattern can be equally momentous and that the question of whether it is a decisive moment is more about the recognition of the moment than of the content itself.
Part 3; Traces of Time
Fast exposures are not new in photography, but they were unavailable to the photography pioneers using natural light. At the very beginning of image-making, when a photograph was known as a “calotype”, the shutter speed was controlled by use of the lens, not by a shutter at all. This is still seen even today in alternative photography enthusiasts’ cameras as part of the wet collodion plate process. (This recently seems to be getting more popular, probably as rejection of what the enthusiasts see as the relatively unthinking approach so many photographers have when they take digital images.)
The first major advance in high speed photography was probably the introduction of silver gelatine film as the light sensitive medium, enabling the use of a shutter worked mechanically at much faster speeds than previously. I had no idea how many variants of shutter had been tried in order to finally get to the focal plane and electronic shutters that predominate now. There is a very interesting summary at the Early Photography website: http://www.earlyphotography.co.uk/site/shuttern.html
But, even with the primitive open camera shutter and lens cap removal, photographers have always tried to move forward and Fox Talbot produced the first high speed image as long ago as 1851. A brief description of his technique and of the advances in high speed photography is given in an interesting article from an old Chicago Times: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1989-03-24/entertainment/8903290417_1_shutter-speed-high-speed-nikon
As Susan Sontag puts it in her wonderful book of essays, “On photography”,
“Virtuosi of the noble image like Alfred Stieglitz and Paul Strand, composing mighty, unforgettable photographs decade after decade, still want, first of all, to show something “out there”, just like the Polaroid owner for whom photographs are a handy, fast form of note-taking, or the shutterbug with a Brownie who takes snapshots as souvenirs of daily life”. (Loc 76 on my kindle)
Generally acknowledged as one of the first “game-changers” in high speed photography, was the photographer Eadweard Muybridge. In 2007, BBC television aired a series on The Genius of Photography. On the BBC4 website, this extract relates to Eadweard Muybridge:
“Eadweard Muybridge’s famous ‘Motion Studies’ was the product of the wealth and the whim of the railroad baron, Leland Stanford. Stanford came to Muybridge because he had a rich man’s problem. A passionate race horse breeder, he wanted to prove that a horse lifted all four feet off the ground when it trotted – something that had evaded human perception for millennia.
On a specially whited out section of track, Muybridge placed a row of 24 cameras with electric shutters, which would be triggered in sequence, four every second, as the horse passed by. By this means, Muybridge did more than freeze the moment; he took a scalpel to time itself”
By taking a series of photographs a photographer was able to answer a previously unanswerable question and to immediately demonstrate that many paintings of horses in motion were, quite simply, wrong!
Even today, looking at those photographs, taken in 1877, is a remarkable experience. They are beautiful in their own right and introduced a new concept to the use of the camera).
As the OCA introduction to Part 3 says “Muybridge’s experiments were followed in 1906 by AM Worthington’s (1852–1916) series of drops and splashes made at even shorter durations, and then in 1939 by Harold Edgerton’s (1903–90) beautiful photographs of the ‘milk coronet’, many of which were published in LIFE magazine: http://edgerton-digital-collections.org/
Maarten Vanvolsem has written a very interesting article describing his approach to Dance photography which talks about these and other pioneers, in which he interestingly refers to Cartier Bresson’s decisive moment. (Vanvolsem, M., Motion! On how to deal with the paradox in dance photography. Image [&] Narrative [e-journal], 23 (2008).
As Cartier Bresson says, the decisive moment is “is “[when all] the elements in motion are in balance” (Cartier-Bresson, p. 33). The point to remember, as did these great artists, is that achieving a technical hurdle is only worthwhile if it achieves something. In Muybridge’s case an answer to a question, for Worthington, the ability to move on to hugely more important applications and, for Edgerton, something that still grabs my attention every time I see it!
Edgerton’s image is beautiful and ambiguous
© 2010 MIT. Courtesy of MIT Museum
Sontag says “What looks like a bare coronet- the famous photograph taken by Harold Edgerton in 1936-becomes far more interesting when we find out it is a splash of milk”. (On Photography, Sontag, Loc 1114 on kindle) The high speed shutter has created an iconic image that has not lost its power after almost 80 years.
Vanvolsem’s article referenced above, describes the difference between a single image such as the coronet and his own multi-image photographs using a strip camera and moving film. He seems to admire much of the work of photographers like Lois Greenfield, whose book Airborne is a product of staged scenes with very athletic dancers, usually in small groups. In each case, they are posed and captured on film in that one “Decisive moment” seen by Greenfield. The timings of the dancers’ choreography must have been difficult in the extreme to achieve the symmetry and perfection of form in her images.
I like many of the images in this book very much, especially plate 39, in which 4 dancers, all airborne and perfectly symmetrical, are all absorbed in their task except the foremast dancer, who is looking into the camera, resting his chin on his fist, as if asking what we are doing there?
It is interesting to compare this with Edgerton’s image, Back Dive:
This image captures not only symmetry and beauty, but also shows the motion itself.
Vanvolsem takes this a step further, by combining the multiple images into one photograph. The effect is a blurring of individually sharp images. As with many deliberately blurred images, I have mixed feelings about these. In some cases the objective works very well, but for many of the photographs I looked at, I find it hard to differentiate the effect from a shaky hand and an over-long shutter speed.
I looked at some of the work of the other photographers referenced by OCA, including Sugimoto, Weseley and Wong Kar-Wai. Sadly, I found the first two impenetrable! Chungking Express was interesting from the description given by Mike d’Angelo but I suspect I would also have watched the film many times before realising the significance of the 22 seconds!
The introduction to OCA Part 3, does not make any reference to the overtly commercial (rather than “artistic”) use of fast shutter speeds. In fact, much of this genre is not only commercial, but also very artistic in its own right. Sports photographers in particular, as well as advertising and even fashion photographers, frequently capture their decisive moments in a way that takes the result well beyond the original need for a news story, or a product or fashion promotion.
There are many examples of such momentous, commercial images that capture the decisive moment:
I do not think you need to be a boxing fan to appreciate this image. In fact, in many ways this image could be a good visual explanation of why boxing is such a dangerous sport.
Similarly, this is not just about rugby, there is joy triumphalism, tribalism and much more going on here.
A final observation, following on from this work and the previous exercises on aperture. Shutter speed is as important as aperture and can be effectively used both at high and at slow speeds to achieve desired effects, but at a cost in compensating aperture changes. The effect on depth of field from using different apertures is, for most of my photography, more important than shutter speed. But, with the increasing ability of cameras to give high resolution and virtually noise-free images at high ISO settings, the decision is now realistically three, rather than two- dimensional. I generally use a low ISO, generally 400, mainly as a legacy from my days using film that could be pushed to higher speeds with better effect than starting with a higher-rated film. That legacy is probably no longer valid and I need to start experimenting with higher ISO settings. A further complicating factor is the ability with Raw files to achieve similar results as I used to by pulling or pushing my films. It is certainly very easy to gain or lose at least one f-stop with little noticeable loss of image quality.
So, my workflow should be, choose the most effective aperture AND shutter speed for my subject, set the ISO accordingly and, if the ISO is a bit higher than I want, consider whether I can gain anything at the post-processing stage. In practice, I will be able to continue using aperture priority most of the time with my usual ISO setting, because the shutter speed suggested by the camera’s exposure meter is usually satisfactory for my needs. But, in low light like we have been having in recent weeks, the thought process above does add more options!
For my series, I chose a vase of flowers. The change from a bud about to open, to glorious effusion of colours and open petals, which then wither, discolour and die, is always sad but is saved by arrival of new flowers. I decided this would form the basis for my submission. A key feature of my planning was that, as well as 8 individually interesting images, the series should combine to become more than the sum of its parts. For that reason, I also include a final suggested hanging panel with my submission
I wanted all the images to be very sharp and to have little noise evident and so I decided to shoot the images at my smallest available aperture, f27 and a low ISO, 200. Focal length was generally quite long, to aid the sharpness. The most difficult decision was whether to use portrait or landscape format. A combination would have been the obvious choice, to include the vase as well as the flowers in some shots. But when I looked at a few sample shots, the mix of formats seriously detracted from the overall effect. I chose landscape, because the flowers were the subject and excluding the vase from most of the images kept the attention on them.
The weather has been very bad with little decent light for photography and, in any case, my images were of cut flowers which are usually seen under household lighting. I therefore decided to take all the images indoors, relying on window light or artificial lighting, with some augmentation in one or two shots from a small ring flash held to light up shadow areas. The shutter speeds were long to very long and so all shots were taken with a tripod, with the mirror locked up and using a remote release. Full details are given below.
I took at least 10 photographs each day between 11 December and 23 December, 134 photographs in total. I then eliminated as many as I could for reasons such as out of focus areas, unsatisfactory shadow areas and minor compositional judgements compared to the chosen images. I had selected about 20 images as potential submissions, from which I wanted a sequence of 8, to make up my collection. After a final round of eliminations I was left with 12 images which told the story I was trying to record. A composite panel was my way of deciding which combination, shown in chronological order, made the most coherent story and became more than just eight individual photographs. This panel is shown below:
The series works as a whole:
It was important to me to reflect the key stages in the period covered by the collection: new flowers still in bud, opened and in full bloom, gradual and then complete decay and a new beginning. I wanted the collection to feel like a circle of life and for each image to lead naturally to the next and the penultimate image to clearly lead to the need for a new beginning. I think the collection achieves that. My choice of background colours, a pattern of light and dark, also adds a coherent feeling to the 8 separate images.
What worked well?
I wanted to work without full flash photography, which would have made the images much too harsh. The use of the tripod, mirror up and not actually touching the camera when I pressed the shutter, worked well, with most images focussed as I had hoped. The selective use of a small ring flash on a few images also worked well to allow some fill in light in deep shadow areas.
I think the choice of lilies as the subject worked well. These flowers have relatively muted colours, which means that the image is about shape and tone. My original thought, to use a vase of red roses, meant that the vivid colours were overwhelming and only the colour mattered.
What didn’t work so well?
The different light sources meant that there was a great deal of variation in the colour cast of the images. The low light levels also meant that some of the images were very flat. Using directional light, either from overhead household lights or the ring flash caused a lot of problems with reflections. In the end I think I got over this, by anticipating and looking for the reflections in framing the photograph, so they became a part of the intended image and not an accident. Even so, a number of otherwise good images were unusable because of the reflections.
I originally wanted to put a photograph of a fresh vase of roses as the final image, to fully capture the newness after the decay. In fact, what I thought would be an effective contrast just jarred and took all the attention from the other seven photographs. I went back to using lilies as the subject but tried to achieve the contrast by making the image brighter and more yellow than the original bunch.
How the series might be improved in the future
If I was able to, I would like to set this sequence up with a tungsten lighting setup, to get fully consistent and predictable lighting results.
Detailed notes on images
(All shot at f27 unless otherwise stated)
1. 2 seconds; window light; 105mm
2. 1.5 secs; fluorescent light; 105mm
3. 30 secs; Window light, very dull day; 90mm
4. 3 secs, normal light bulb + ring flash; 80mm
5. 6 secs; window light + side light from normal light bulb; 105mm
6. 15secs; window light + ring flash; 105mm
7. F4.5; ½ sec; window light and ring flash; 105mm
8. 4 secs; window light; 100mm
A lot of my background reading so far has been of photographic collections: Simon Roberts’ Piers and Andreas Gursky’s Nightclubs being two obvious examples. In these two cases, the photographer took a theme, chose a method or style and produced a series which stood better together than any one photograph when viewed alone. But, in the case of the 81 images of piers in Simon Roberts’ book, the series is the whole point and no one photograph really stands out for me, when seen alone. Gursky’s monumental sized images must be enormously (literally) powerful seen as a collection in a gallery, but also make sense and would hold much of their power as individual photographs. It was clearly an artistic choice on his part to show these images as huge enlargements. Seen on my computer screen, they are interesting but not compulsive- part of the artistic power is in their size. Some of the other photographers I have written about in this blog, Mona Kuhn, Gianluca Cosci and Fay Godwin have also published photographic series. To a greater or lesser extent, each of their series not only appear to be a coherent collection, the series also seems to become significantly more than the sum of its parts.
Looking at my photographic books, particularly those by individual photographers or exhibition catalogues, they are almost all collections or series which work together in this way.
I recently attended an exhibition at the Barbican in London, “Constructing Worlds” comprising images by 18 different photographers of architectural subjects. This exhibition very successfully gives us two types of collection to look at; the individual series from each photographer and the collection of 18 very different styles. Not surprisingly, Walker Evans was one of the 18, as was Andreas Gursky. Others included in the exhibition:
Julius Shulman, whose photographs are effectively a sales pitch for a Southern Californian style of life to which many were aspiring at the time he was working. Now they remind me of some of the 1950s movies, full of superficial gloss and shine. But, in a way like Evans’ images, they are also a record of a real time and place and especially a mood that existed and has moved on.
Lucien Heve, in complete contrast, was a very Impressionistic photographer, whose images are full of concrete, straight brutal lines and shadows. Working at the time for Corbusier, his images reflect wonderfully the style of that architect. These and most of the others are very coherent collections by each photographer and also make a collection of images of architecture and places. One or two are quite different, including my own favourite, Helen Binet, who photographs light and shadow, by taking a photograph of an element of the building that creates the shadows or lets in the light. Despite the radical nature of these photographs, most of her work is by commission from architects, who see her images as a reflection of what they want their buildings to be. Any one of her photographs is arresting to look at and taken together they make a great impact when you look at the gallery wall.
What is clear from all these collections is that a collection does not require uniformity to be coherent. In many cases, a sequence of similar photographs becomes even more meaningful by including one or more images that do not apparently fit in, but that actually add to the story that the series makes as a whole. (Kuhn’s nudes for example include some fully clothed models who somehow fit into the series by being different but in the same style. They succeed by reinforcing and adding to the natural look of the nudes.) Similarly an out of context black and white image in a collection of colour photographs can be quite shocking and very effective.
Create a series of between six and ten photographs from one of the following options, or a subject of your own choosing:
Use the exercises from Part Two as a starting point to test out combinations of focal length, aperture and viewpoint for the set. Decide upon a single format, either vertical or horizontal. You should keep to the same combination throughout to lend coherence to the series.
• Crowds make a great subject for photography, not least because they are so contemporary. A city rush hour is a good place to start but events also offer great opportunities to photograph the crowd rather than the event. The foreshortened perspective of the telephoto lens will compress a crowd, fitting more bodies into the frame, but it can also be used to pick out an individual person. A wide-angle lens can capture dynamic shots from within the action.
• If you choose to make a collection of views you need to be prepared to do some walking so keep the weight of your equipment to a minimum – you’ll walk further and see more. A tripod will be important to allow you to select a combination of small aperture and slow shutter speed to ensure absolute sharpness throughout the frame. The weather and time of day will be crucial, whether for urban or landscape views. A wide-angle lens is the usual choice but Ansel Adams also used a medium telephoto to foreshorten the perspective, bringing the sky, distance and foreground closer together.
• Heads: Frame a ‘headshot’, cropping close around the head to avoid too much variety in the backgrounds. The light will be paramount and a reflector is a useful tool (you can ask the subject to hold it), throwing light up into the face, especially the eyes.
The classic headshot is buoyant but neutral which is quite difficult to achieve, but try to achieve a natural rather than an artificially posed look.
Send your photographs to your tutor accompanied by assignment notes (500–1,000 words) containing the following:
• An introduction to your subject.
• A description of the combination of aperture, focal length and viewpoint you’ve used, and how they affect the images.
• An evaluation. You’ll want to evaluate the technical aspects of your assignment, but it’s also important to evaluate how well the series works as a whole. When writing your evaluation, use the following structure: what worked well, what didn’t work so well and how the series might be improved in the future.
Include a link (or scanned pages) to any exercises from Part Two in your learning log that you’d like your tutor to comment on.
Check your work against the assessment criteria for this course before you send it to your tutor. Make some notes in your learning log about how well you believe your work meets each criterion.
Your tutor may take a while to get back to you so carry on with the course while you’re waiting.
The brief for this assignment is extremely wide; a series … of crowds, heads, views or anything else. In fact, this reminds me of parking my car in an empty car park- easy to do until you can’t decide which space to take and end up in the middle of two of them!
I initially thought about Scenes for this assignment, partly because I was visiting Santorini for a holiday and wanted to record a feeling for what this amazing island is like. I took a lot of photographs there, including many of the island’s famous sunsets. But when I looked at them as a whole, they really were just scenes form Santorini, not in any way a coherent collection which came to more than the sum of its parts.
I also visited Sheffield Park to see and photograph the Autumn colours, which were wonderful. I was pleased with these photographs, which could have formed the basis for my assignment. I am intending to go back soon to take some photographs of the same scenes now that many of the leaves are gone.
I also thought hard about the options of heads or crowd scenes, but was partly put off these by the truly awful weather we have had for the last month or so! All the ideas I had for these subjects involved shooting outdoors and the lighting has generally been so flat I decided to rethink.
I finally chose to take a sequence of images of a vase of flowers, from bud to decay and then renewal with a new bunch of flowers to start the cycle again.
Apart from the expected learning from assignment 2, I need to keep a few more things in mind in future:
Using mirror lockup and a remote shutter release is a huge aid to getting in-focus images.
Reflections are a real problem with any kind of reflective surface in the frame!
I need to do some research on how to photograph glass. It looks beautiful until I see my photograph, which just does not do justice to the subject.
The LCD screen on the back of my camera is genuinely helpful for framing when I use a tripod, but the camera will not autofocus when I use the screen. I need to focus first, frame and then recheck focus because I will probably move the camera away from the original point of focus during framing.
Choosing vertical or landscape format is not just about the shape of the subject, it also greatly influences the final effect of the image.
Cropping in camera is more efficient and keeps more pixels available for image quality than cropping on the computer!
The jpegs I get from my camera are rarely of any use to me, I usually just use the RAW files. I need to consider whether I might get some use from setting the jpeg image up as a b&w preview, when I am considering a final image in b&w. Even though I can get a better final conversion in Lightroom or Photoshop, the instant feedback could be useful.
Getting horizontal and vertical lines straight in the frame saves a lot of time and pixels compared with cropping! Diagonals also need just as much care to look right.
Use a combination of small apertures and wide lens to take a number of photographs exploring deep depth of field. Because of the small apertures you’ll be working with slow shutter speeds and may need to use a tripod or rest the camera on a stable surface to prevent ‘camera shake’ at low ISOs. Add one or two unedited sequences, together with relevant shooting data and an indication of your selects, to your learning log.
Achieving deep depth of field might appear easy compared to the difficulties of managing shallow depth of field. We’re surrounded by images made with devices
rather than cameras whose short focal lengths and small sensors make it hard to achieve anything other than deep depth of field. The trick is to include close
foreground elements in focus for an effective deep depth of field image. Foreground detail also helps to balance the frame, which can easily appear empty in wide shots, especially in the lower half. When successful, a close viewpoint together with the dynamic perspective of a wide-angle lens gives the viewer the feeling that they’re almost inside the scene
Completed and results published as part of 2.6
Use a combination of wide apertures, long focal lengths and close viewpoints to take a number of photographs with shallow depth of field. (Remember that smaller f numbers mean wider apertures.) Try to compose the out-of-focus parts of the picture together with the main subject. Add one or two unedited sequences, together with relevant shooting data and an indication of your selects, to your learning log. Wide apertures create shallow depth of field, especially when combined with a long focal length and a close viewpoint. In human vision the eye registers out-of-focus areas as vague or indistinct – we can’t look directly at the blur. But in a photograph, areas of soft focus can form a large part of the image surface so they need to be handled with just as much care as the main subject. Don’t forget that the camera’s viewfinder image is obtained at maximum aperture for maximum brightness and therefore at the shallowest depth of field. Use the depth of field preview button to see the actual depth of field at any particular aperture. (This is especially useful in film cameras where you don’t have the benefit of reviewing a shot immediately after you’ve taken it). It’s surprising to see the effect that a single f stop can have on the appearance of an image.
For this exercise, I decided to first look back at some of my archived images, where I knew I had made an effort to think about focal length and aperture to get the effect I wanted. In particular, a few years ago I visited Ecuador, where I took a huge number of photographs, using my Canon 20D. I love to look at flowers and to photograph them from time to time. The following two images were wonderful in the flesh and I wanted to keep the subject distinct from the background. In both cases I used an aperture of f5.6 and a focal length of around 90mm. I think the images worked reasonably well and like the blurred effect of the background.
The third image is one of many wildlife images I took. The lizard was easy to see but difficult to photograph because of the surrounding foliage. Even at my longest focal length at the time, 240mm, there was going to be a lot of the frame around the main subject. I deliberately used a fairly wide aperture to try to isolate the lizard; not my widest aperture, because I wanted to get as much of the lizard in focus as I could, so I used f6.7, at 240mm. It is not the best ever wildlife photograph, but it did more or less achieve what I was aiming at. This is probably more obvious in the cropped image.
To see how much impact the aperture can have with small increments, I decided to take some photographs of still life, so that I could control everything except the shutter speed. (Oh, and the weather! I wanted to use natural light and it began to rain soon after I began!) I did get a couple of shots before I had to abandon this attempt:
Canon EOS 5D MkII, 28-105mm lens at 28mm, f3.5 1/350, ISO 100
As above except f5.6 1/180, with exposure brought back to 3.5 in Lightroom for display purposes.
The two objects were less than a meter apart, but at these apertures, only the point of original focus, the clock face, is actually in focus. I think there is a very small difference between the two images, but so little that either aperture would have been fine to achieve the effect of foreground in focus, background blurred. But, looked at in greater close-up, it becomes apparent that even on the clock face, only a part of the image is truly in focus. The difference between the two images becomes more apparent when looking at the lower half of the face, where the numbers and symbols are slightly more blurred at the wider aperture. This is insignificant for this image at say A4 size, but would be more important if a bigger enlargement was planned.
Over the last few weeks I have taken a large number of photographs in my garden, of the diminishing number of flowers, with combinations of small and large apertures and short and long focal lengths, to see just how much impact there is from changing these settings.
The series below was first taken, using my Canon 5D MkII, at f4, f5.6 and f8, all at ISO 200, and 28mm focal length, ie wide apertures but short focal length. Shutter speeds varied from 1/8 to 1/30, in line with the aperture change. They are shown below in ascending order of aperture size (ie f4-f8). In each case I brought the brightness level to an equivalent level of f5.6.For comparison I have shown the original untouched and uncropped f4 image at the bottom of these images.
The combination of wide angle and large aperture gives a noticeably smaller depth of field than the more medium aperture of f8. But the wideangle lens has kept more of the image in focus than I had expected. The images were taken from very close to the nearest flower.
I also took a similar series at similar settings except for the focal length, of 105mm and the aperture, which ranged from f9.5 to f19m ie long focal length but less wide open lens. Shutter speeds varied from 1/60 to 1/250. These are uncropped, but all at f9.5 brightness level for comparison
In all cases there are noticeable (at full enlargement) differences between the depth of field at the smaller versus the larger apertures. But at this longer focal length, even the smaller aperture does not bring much more of the image into focus. These images were also taken from relatively close to the bush.
It is very clear that wideangle lenses and small apertures make a huge difference to the depth of field compared to long focal lengths and wide open lenses.
Exercise 2.7 suggests using long focal lengths and wide apertures at close range. I decided to use relatively small objects with a lot of detail for this exercise and used two lenses, firstly my 28-105 set to 125mm, then my 75-300 set at 260mm. In each case I shot the image from as close as I reasonably could, given the lens; about 2 meters for the 105mm and about 4 meters for the 300mm. I have included these images here for ease of comparison with the shots in exercise 2.6 above. In each case the first images were shot at f13 and the second image was shot at f27, with shutter speeds of 1.5, 6, 2 and 8 seconds respectively.
Seen at original size, all these images are crisp and have great depth of field. I cannot, at any magnification I would try to use for an enlargement, see much difference between the two apertures, despite a 2 stop difference. Seen highly magnified, the smaller aperture in the 105 series does give slightly more crispness to the image, most easily seen in the feathers. Interestingly, although all the images are useable, the two photographs taken with the 260mm lens are not quite so crisp. This may be the inferior quality of this lens (it is much older and was an inexpensive lens at the time), or because of possible camera shake with such a heavy lens, even on a tripod. The only certain lesson is that longer focal lengths and heavy lenses are not first choice unless really needed!
The exercises are a good reminder of how much effect aperture choice and focal length can have on an image. One thing I have particularly taken away from this, is the potential for auto bracketing to help with subsequent image choice. For all the images taken for these exercises, I used AEB, for the first ever time. It was simpler to set up and use than I expected and allowed instant review in Lightroom of the various elements of the image at different apertures. I have tended to think of Lightroom exposure changes to the Raw image as an adequate way to finesse relatively small exposure errors/choices, but that only affects brightness, not depth of field. I shall more actively consider AEB where depth of field is critical to my vision of the image.
Photographers of sets of photographs, ie themes. Probably a good approach for Assignment 2 when I get to it.
Simon Roberts: A collection of 81 photographs of piers. I can see the attraction of this series. The classical seaside attraction is slowly disappearing through neglect and unrepaired attrition from weather. The pier has a place in most people’s imagination, but is often better there than in reality. Often dirty, and badly maintained, they are not the exciting places we remember from childhood. Simon captures this reality by taking slightly under-saturated images, often including the scenes around the pier. Unfortunately, I do not like them. They are cold and uninvolved, taken by a dispassionate bystander. I do not sense any love for the subject, just a great technical ability which has been directed to task by intellectual considerations. For that reason, I personally find the series lacking in power and emotion.
I think these are gorgeous and would love to see them in a gallery at full size. The artist cared about the subject, knowing a painter who had actually created the pool to aid his painting. The painter is now dead and Jem wanted to try to capture similar sensations in his photograph to those that the painter had achieved. I have not seen the paintings, but the photographs are warm, inviting and evocative of a place I would like to see. Having a group of 36 together adds to the power of the project.
Andreas Gursky German photographer. Gursky’s work is characterized by the tension between the clarity and formal nature of his photographs and the ambiguous intent and meaning they present, occasioned by their insertion into a ‘high-art’ environment. It is comparable to that of contemporaries such as Thomas Struth, Thomas Ruff and Candida Höfer, all of whom were influenced by the documentary approach of Bernd and Hilla Becher. During the 1980s and 1990s Gursky’s work took on an increasingly global range of subjects, and he presented his images on an ever larger scale. Through all his work runs a sense of impersonality, a depiction of the structures and patterns of collective existence, often represented by the unitary behaviour of large crowds. His images of the stock exchanges of North America and East Asia are exemplary in the way that he uses crowds to create a type of picture comparable in formal terms to the ‘all-over’ compositions of the Abstract Expressionist painters. In the early 1990s Gursky used this format to represent grand urban landscape vistas in the Far East, juxtaposing different urban zones and suggesting an interplay between the zones of leisure and commerce. This theme was also taken up in his photographs depicting Prada shop displays, for instance in o.T.V. (186×443 mm, 1996; see 1999 exh. cat., p. 20), in which assorted training shoes are lined up in an austere Minimalist display. Gursky’s distance from Cartier-Bresson’s dictum of the ‘decisive moment’ and his concomitant rejection of the truth of the candid image is underlined by his use of digital manipulation. Bundestag (284×207 cm, colour print, 1998; see 1999 exh. cat., p. 59), a highly complicated view into the newly built German government building, relies to a high degree on digital manipulation for its dazzling effect. Gursky lives and works in Düsseldorf. (From a web search,
Apparently, Gursky is the seller of the most expensive modern photograph. The images are displayed at a huge size and my computer monitor is simply not big enough to do them justice. I think they might be overwhelming in reality. I am not sure they need to be seen as a set if they are displayed at monumental sizes. Maybe this was more a subject of interest for Gursky, rather than a set as I would understand it.
Find a subject in front of a background with depth. Take a close viewpoint and zoom in; you’ll need to be aware of the minimum focusing distance of your lens. Focus on the subject and take a single shot. Then, without changing the focal length, set the focus to infinity and take a second shot.
The closer you are to the subject, the shallower the depth of field; the further from the subject, the deeper the depth of field. That’s why macro shots taken from very close viewpoints have extremely shallow depth of field, and if you set the focus at infinity everything beyond a certain distance will be in focus.
I took my two shots using my Canon 5D28-105mm zoom set to 105mm, and using 1/30 sec @f5, from about 3ft from my window.
As you review the two shots, how does the point of focus structure the composition? With a shallow depth of field the point of focus naturally draws the eye, which goes first of all to the part of the image that’s sharp. It generally feels more comfortable if the point of focus is in the foreground, although there’s nothing wrong with placing the point of focus in the background.
There are actually a number of trees visible from where I sit, but in practice I think my eye behaviour is nearer to the second image, ie I only really see the window! Even if I look beyond the frame of the window, I realised that I rarely actually focus on the view beyond; it usually remains a blur. As with the photograph, the closer object is the more obvious to let the eye stop at, even though the image beyond is more appealing. It is also more distracting to have to first dismiss the fuzzy, out of focus, frame before getting to the background image. It’s important to decide where I want the focus to be- it can be too easy, using autofocus, to get the foreground every time, even on those occasions when the background is the subject.