Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Final reflections on The Art of Photography

TAOP is complete and submitted for assessment in March 2013, so it’s time to consider a final evaluation, a self-appraisal if you like, of what I have achieved and what I have learnt, as well as to consider what went well and what didn’t.
First and foremost, it has been enormously enjoyable, and that’s what I started the course for.  Like many OCA students, I’ve done the scrapping for marks and grades in an earlier life, so this was all about expanding my photographic horizons beyond those I have previously developed as a hobby wildlife photographer, and trying to connect with the artist aspects of making images. 

Distance learning has been an interesting and new experience for me and one I have enjoyed.  I think I have maintained motivation throughout the first year and apart from a few employment related slowdowns in output, have maintained a consistent pace throughout the course and certainly never lost focus on what I was trying to achieve.  Given that there is no cohort entry into the OCA courses it is expected that as new ‘rules’ and documentation are issued they appear at different stages of a student’s progress and additions to reading lists and availability of clearer assessment submission guidelines materialised towards the end of my first module. I don’t see that as a problem, just an observation of an inevitable part of an open entry course.

There is opportunity to spend several years over TAOP if I had wished, and with that could potentially come the chance to go and re-shoot assignments to try and improve submissions based on feedback, growing knowledge and experience.  However, I resolved from the outset that I would get this done in one year if work allowed, and I certainly don’t feel that I would gain significantly from repeating what I have already done.  I am sure that I could garner a few extra assessment marks if I went back and photographed again some of my early efforts, and I could definitely add a lot more ‘learning’ and study visit experiences, but that would defeat my personal purpose.  On the student forums there does seem to be a lot of debate over marks and comparisons between achievements, but given that students can build work over a flexible number of years, I don’t really see this as particularly valid.  I will gain more from moving on to DPP than I will from dwelling on TAOP I think.

There is no doubt that I have developed a far greater awareness of possibilities for photographs when I’m out with the camera, and as I will elaborate later, have developed the beginnings of an instinct for spotting contrasts and design elements and for pictures that ‘work’.  This has been a huge improvement in my photography and probably the biggest change attributable to spending the time on TAOP.

Contrasts was the first opportunity to photograph to a ‘set’ brief, albeit a very wide one.  This was not as simple as it seemed and initially I fell into the trap of assuming knowledge on behalf of the viewer would inform their understanding of the contrast portrayed, rather than solely using the images to show unequivocally what the contrast actually was.  However, some helpful tutor guidance steered me away from a couple of early blunders and I was pleased with the set at the time.  However, looking back after nearly a year, I do cringe at several of the choices and would certainly never repeat some of the shots I took back then.  This is good, as it clearly means I have changed in my views and thought processes and I am sure that I could go back now and interpret the contrasts in a far more imaginative way and deliver some better images than I did with quite a constrained approach in the early days.  I think the biggest change in my photography over this year has been the expanding ability to think more widely about the subject when interpreting a brief and not be too limited by precise instruction, although at times I have found this hard as I don’t think I have a very artistic way of thinking about things.

Elements of Design
This was an opportunity to investigate shapes and I think was the high point of TAOP as far as the photographs I took were concerned.  I decided to use the Embankment area of London as a theme for the assignment and also chose to work in black and white so I could focus on design and shape and not be deflected by the presence of colour.  Getting narrowed down to a location and a medium from the outset worked well, as did the opportunity to make a number of visits to improve and expand the portfolio of images from which I eventually drew the submission.  I found that I started to spot ‘elements of design’ quite easily after a while and this has not stopped since, becoming a regular feature of my photography – I often spot and photograph ‘shapes’ that fit this brief and have collected a great many more over the last year, although I have no plans to start replacing the originals I submitted. 

Well I thought this was going to be easy, everything is coloured, right … ?  And that was part of the problem.  Deprived of the focus of a topic and left to photograph anything, I got somewhat derailed at the start by trying to be too precise in finding the exact colour and in trying to compose images where the colours I wanted were just too large a part of the picture and in too precise a ratio.  I didn’t think the course guidelines were too helpful in this respect, although Michel Freeman’s Photographer’s Eye set me down the road to what I think I was trying to achieve.  I tried to get a mixture of still life, outdoor and indoor images for this assignment, although I guess the easiest option would be to go for still life indoors and select a topic such as food where colour and proportion could be more easily controlled.  This was one Assignment where I did decide to make a few late changes in images for final submission for Assessment, so hopefully they are an improvement. 

In the initial exercises I experimented with a couple of statues and vases, which served well to develop some rudimentary lighting skills and an understanding of how to emphasise various features of a subject.  However, my final choice was a loaf of bread as suggested by my tutor.  This indeed worked well and I was able to illustrate shape, colour, form and texture indoors with lights and candle light and outside with sunlight.  The biggest improvement here came with the purchase of a couple of decent constant lights and attendance at an RPS portrait photography weekend workshop, both of which gave me the chance to practice the impact of lighting changes, and both of which gave me a real boost forwards for later parts of the course.
The work with the loaf took me quite some time and numerous attempts to get the images as I wanted them without having to do much in Photoshop afterwards.  This was an important personal goal here as I wanted to learn to get it right in camera and not to substitute post-production for what I ought to be able to get right in the first place.  I also discovered that unless you have a series of stands and clamps and an assistant, you need four hands to set up some lighting arrangements.

Illustration and narrative
The subject for this was to a large extent dictated by the time of year.  Indeed there are many events around Christmas that could potentially be researched and photographed, but they tend not to be occurring in my life and work in any way that I could envisage being available to shoot a sequence of images to tell a cohesive story.  I eventually went for the concept, design and fabrication of a piece of silver jewellery which gave me an interesting number of technical and narrative challenges.  However, it did give me a subject  to which I had ready access and was able to shoot on a number of different occasions to fulfill the objective of telling a story from beginning to end, and hopefully using a range of the techniques which had been covered on the course thus far.  I had the aspiration of bringing shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation, focal length, use of colour, lighting skills and composition into the images and then using what I had learnt of illustration to compose images of different sizes into a final document.  I was really pleased with the outcome of this as the final output from TAOP and I would not have done this anywhere near as well a year ago.

Finally, there are the other parts of the course and the learning that went with the practical photography.  I read a number of books which were on the reading list for TAOP as well as some recommended by my tutor and others that I discovered along the way or through discussion on the student forums; these have mostly been reviewed elsewhere on this blog and my thoughts can be found under the Book Reviews tab in the side bar.  Apart from the technical material, the rest was new to me and I derived a great deal from the coverage of the history of photography and the works of various celebrated photographers and fine artists.  I also, for the first time really, started to appreciate pictures from their artistic point of view and developed some basic skills and knowledge in the reading of a photograph, although I do fundamentally disagree with the interpretations propounded by some authors where I am sure they are reading far too much into serendipity.  A debate for another day and another module though …

The four OCA study visits I attended were a vital element for me in not only getting the opportunity to talk through images with tutors and other students, but also to be able to put names to faces of some of the people I ‘met’ through the OCA students forum and through the Flickr site.  Several of these have been an excellent source of advice in matters relating to the course and in offering help and encouragement through TAOP – you know who you are, so great thanks.  Everyone has something new to suggest and books and websites which have contributed to my overall learning have been numerous.  I was also able to make a number of gallery visits on my own, and again the learning from the course enabled me to really start to get to grips with some of the images I saw.

The OCA Photography student’s weekend residential event in Leeds was a great success for me and it was the first time I had met face to face with several people I had been corresponding with online and the chance to have informal discussions with tutors and other students was invaluable and enriched the whole learning experience.  The lecture content suited me well and I thought the portfolio session was a real eye opener as it was the first time I had produced images other than wildlife shots for critique and discussion. Although it is difficult to achieve I would like to see some form of ‘live’ tutorials taking place as it just adds so much to breaking inevitable barriers associated with distance learning.  I have recently become involved with a regional Thames Valley OCA group, so hopefully some of the plans to meet informally as a student group will come to fruition.  Our first gathering at Somerset House in January to look at Henri Cartier-Bresson was certainly a successful venture.

Blogging was something I enjoyed and I really forgot the online element and public visibility very quickly and just got on with it.  Blogger has some irritations and seemed unreliable with the placement of pictures unless you just wanted them lined up down the middle of a page, and its handling of text was at times bizarre.  However, as long as it was kept simple, it worked well enough, although next time I will structure my blog differently with greater emphasis on the learning and less on the exercises and assignments.

I was glad that I kept the hard copy learning journal as well as the blog, as it gave me somewhere to consider images which were not available on line.  However, as I became more aware of the excellent and readily available press packs which galleries were willing to make available to students, and how willing some quite well known photographer were to grant access to images with acknowledgement, the hard copy journal got used far less.  I may continue with this is the future, although at the time of writing I’m not convinced.

Tutor responses to assessments were rapid and very helpful, with valuable pointers on how I could improve images and my approach as well as helpful suggestions on reading. 

This will just about be the last post in this TAOP blog apart from when I add the final mark in case it is of use to anyone who reads this far in the future, so it’s off to DPP ……

Monday, 14 January 2013

ASSIGNMENT 5 : Response to tutor feedback

I have now received the feedback from my tutor on the final Assignment 5 – Illustration and Narrative– and I am very pleased with the positive response.  The summary comments were:

You comment how much you enjoyed creating a narrative on a factual subject.   I can only comment that I enjoyed your discourse to a similar degree, but also for the well planned and executed narrative.   The lighting in the silversmith’s department did not appear to be on your side but I feel that you coped with the conditions with some skill.   Your commentary is complete and well presented and your use of a storyboard to plan your work has obviously been used to effect.   The images which would figure in the magazine article are laid out with a taste which is appropriate to the hand-crafted product for which it is intended.  

You have finished this module with a well-conceived assignment.   The chosen subject has enabled you to demonstrate your ability to reproduce colour and texture.   The framing and composition have necessitated that my criticisms have been quite limited.   I my opinion your work has been of a consistently high standard throughout this module and up to the standard expected of students at this stage of the course.   Your enjoyment of this assignment has only been matched by my own and I hope you will pass on my own appreciation of the work of the jeweller.  Done!

Revised 'magazine' layout is here.

Of the more detailed comments on specific images there were a couple of challenges and points for consideration, so I’ll take these in turn.  On the front cover image the comments were:
Hand-made jewellery is a labour intensive bespoke product at the high end of the market and requires the restrained and tasteful presentation you have aimed for in this image.   Placing the subject off centre immediately lifts the product out of the mass market area to appeal to a more select clientele by its contemporary character.   There is one point I would like you to give a little consideration.   As I studied this image I became obsessed by the area of black which occupies most of the upper half of the image and I wondered if a very thin line of wide spaced white lettering running just below the upper edge would alleviate my feelings.

Having reviewed the image that I submitted as a single photograph I agree with this and that the area of black at the top of the frame is too dominant.  However, in the version of the image that I submitted for the magazine format I had cropped this photograph a little as well of course having added the white text.  In response to this I have made a change to the submitted single image and made a different crop to match that used in the magazine cover as shown below.

The Stone

If you had made this quite beautiful green turquoise much bigger in the frame you could have given it the effect of a paving stone and I think that you made the right choice.   There is just enough shine on the edge to demonstrate the surface quality to effect.
I was especially pleased with this as I spent some long time trying to flag the lights to get the edge effect without getting glare off the top of the stone.

Meeting the Client

The idea of separating the product from the discussion is very good but the jeweller and client in the distance are almost lost in the gloom and if you could do a bit of Photoshopping to make them by more prominent it could yield a big improvement.   I know that you cannot reshoot but I have a thought running around in my mind that if you could extract the image of the stone from the previous image and set the whole shot again with a piece of black paper in the immediate foreground.   The image of the stone could then be arranged on the paper.   My own preference would be to have the product discussion clearer in the background not as far from the camera position and the image of the stone much larger.   The idea is to keep the stone in its principal role with the meeting still appearing blurred but not too distant.   I would be interested to know you reaction.
This was a good suggestion and although the stone was no longer available I did have the opportunity to re-shoot the set up with the ‘client’ with a blank in the foreground, and then use Photoshop CS5 to select the stone from another image (using the select and the refine edge commands) and place it as my tutor had suggested.  I thought this made a big improvement and I amended the submitted images and magazine layout accordingly with the following photograph.  Although this was of course not as originally shot, I thought it was an acceptable approach in light of this whole assignment being targeted to a final magazine layout.

Drafting the Design Idea

This is a successful ‘looking over the shoulder’ shot during the design process.  Exposure has been just right to handle detail of the emerging design on the drawing board and the drawing implements.

Cutting out the Baseplate

The cutting out of the baseplate with a hand fretsaw is an essential part of the process.    This operation requires considerable concentration is shown at a an angle which depicts the position of the hands in relation to the sheet of silver and the silver dust particles around the saw blade give added realism.
I was pleased that the silver sawdust got noticed as my first efforts were taken at the start of the cut and I went back to repeat the shot specifically to get the metal particles as it looked rather a sterile image without any sign of action.

Forming the Bezel, Rolling the Textured Corner pieces and Doming the Corner Pieces were not specifically commented on other than that they fitted the narrative well and were executed appropriately.

Soldering the Bezel to the Baseplate

The flame of the blow torch and the glowing charcoal portray the essence of this image.   The camera angle has been well chosen.    I think that the brightness of the shadow detail could be raised to show a little more detail in the bottom right quarter of the frame.
I agree with this and I can see that on screen the shadows look blocked in the charcoal slab, so I used the diagonal gradient tool in Lightroom 4.3 to lift the brightness and expose some more of the detail as below.

Checking against the Brief
You have created a very appropriate image with which to close your sequence.   The details in the drawing and the texture of the finished pendant have been captured accurately.   There are some parts of images, presumably taken in the course of the project which I find distracting.  If a reshoot is not possible they could be removed by some judicious Photoshopping although the fall-off of the illumination of the paper in the back ground could make the task difficult.

There were indeed some distracting elements in the original, although at the time I thought this made it more of a ‘work in progress’ type of image.  However, I re-cropped it slightly and removed the areas of concern to end up with a less cluttered image as below which I think suits the ‘clean’ magazine layout and tone rather better.

As I posted before in my original blog on Assignment 5, I got a huge amount out of process and from trying my hand at shooting images to a specific brief and then formulating them into an article for a magazine.  I don’t claim to have too much idea about page layouts and magazine composition as yet, but it was interesting to make an attempt and at least end up with something that pleased me anyway! 

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Study visit. Henri Cartier-Bresson: a question of colour

'You'd have to be dead not to feed off the energy contained within this exhibition'

Alastair Sooke, The Daily Telegraph

The first study visit of the new year and the chance to join folks from the newly formed Thames Valley regional group of OCA photographers at the Cartier-Bresson :  A question of colour exhibition at Somerset House in London.  This is a multi-function venue, plus ice rink, which provides gallery space for various art shows and had dedicated four rooms to this exhibition.  The objective was to showcase ten HC-B photographs which had never been exhibited in the UK before alongside seventy five images from fourteen internationally recognised artists who worked in colour, eschewed by HC-B himself apparently on the grounds of its technical (at the time) and aesthetic limitations, but followed his ethos of capturing the ”decisive moment”.   I felt that there was some very wide interpretation of this in many of the pictures shown and there was to me sometimes the lack of a ‘decisive’ element.

Exhibition curator William E Ewing encapsulated the reason for the exhibition perfectly when he said "My proposition is simple: take the ethos of the decisive moment, and look at how colour photographers have actually fared. Put differently, if we take Cartier-Bresson's scepticism about colour photography as a challenge, how convincing is the response?"  HC-B is pitted against overwhelming numerical odds as well as having pictures shown that are drawn from lesser known examples of his work, and his relatively small images are pitched against the likes of the often far larger and imposing works of Boris Savelev, described in The Times as having a ‘cruel grace’, and the very loud work of Robert Walker to name but two.  A great deal of what is shown from all artists would fall into the category of street photography of one sort or another and I felt that HC-B’s images were often quite calm and contemplative, certainly compared to the action of Joel Meyerowitz.  Some of the work displayed was from photographers of similar age to HC-B, and Helen Levitt, Ernst Haas (whose wonderful vibrant colours I have blogged on before), Saul Leiter and Fred Hertzog were amongst these.  Hertzog was not a photographer I have come across before and I loved the beautifully composition and muted colours in images of his native Vancouver in True Story 1959, especially Old Man Main where the sharp, dense shadows fall contrastingly across the faded paintwork.  Saul Leiter’s street scenes often made use of reflections and images distorted by refraction through glass, with snow or rain further scrambling the image detail, although a photograph of a girl in a cafĂ© (Paris 1959) made me think most of parallels with HC-B as it seemed quite a contemplative shot.

Boris Savelev had some imposing images which were printed on gesso coated aluminium and gave an almost lustrous but flat effect with very deep shadow which I thought suited the images of Moscow on show.  Interestingly, the images of Dog Moscow, 2007 I have found on the web seem far, far brighter than my recollection of the picture in the gallery, although it was done no favours by its particular hanging location as far as incident light was concerned.  From Joel Meyerowitz’s Intersections came Camel Coats 5th Avenue which is just brilliant with two couples walking away into the steam, with the shadows of people further behind falling perfectly on the backs of one of the couples – that one certainly was a decisive moment… 

The images most similar to HC-B I thought were those of Helen Levitt.  Levitt was a New Yorker, born in 1913, and therefore of a similar generation to HC-B, so maybe it was not surprising that she produced photographs of the city with a similar feel to them, at least to me.  Cat next to red car, New York, 1973 shared many of HC-B’s great compositional balance and interest around the frame.  Girl in a window, 1972 was a stunning image with the way the bars in the window separate the girl’s eyes from the rest of the face and the reflection in the glass of the buildings opposite add to the feeling of the girl somehow being locked in, although I have no idea whether this was the case.  Looking after the exhibition at some of Levitt’s early black and white work there were even greater parallels with HC-B’s photographs and interestingly they have been exhibited side by side in New York recently.

A final artist I’ll comment on is Australian Trent Parke.  Parke’s street work shown was from 2006 and examples such as George Street OJ and Today cold water, George Street, Sydney were wonderful mixtures of bright colour and intense shade, but with the figures picked out beautifully in the patches of sunlight.  They were very vibrant images, both in terms of their colour saturation and use of shadows and in terms of the movement of the people going about their lives.

So, overall, did HC-B meet the challenge, if indeed that is what it was meant to be, of the colour workers?  In my view he certainly did and stood alongside the more numerous colour artists by virtue of his superb compositional skills and balance in the images, although I would have been fascinated to be able to make the comparison between all the artists with a set of black and white prints of the same size from each …

Monday, 7 January 2013

ASSIGNMENT 5 Illustration and narrative

Illustration and narrative

Larger images can be seen on my Flickr site.

Magazine layout .pdf can be seen at this link.

The final assignment in many ways brings together all the preceding elements of the course and the skills developed in the earlier units.  The requirement is to set myself an assignment of some sort and then take 5-15 images which tell a story.  Important to the process is the work that needs to take place before shooting commences to (a) decide on the final topic and (b) formulate the background research to establish a story board or ‘picture script’.  Essentially, it is all about forward planning and taking photographs to illustrate the narrative and then ensuring that the selected photographs work well together as a group both in terms of relative size and order.  A key consideration is when to use large and small images in the final layout and whether to use small pictures of large scenes or large pictures of close ups to add interest, and also how to scale the images in alignment with their relative importance to the story.
In essence, I noted the key features to be planning, narrative, illustration, layout, sizes, order and importance.  I would like to add some text to the picture narrative and prepare the final assessment photographs as a short magazine article to see how I get on with aspects of layout, not something that I have had a great deal of experience of previously.
I had initially considered trying to find some outdoor activity along the lines of a sport or parade and got some links with a local rowing club which might have been interesting.  However, the rowing idea sunk ;-) without trace as in the winter they only paddle on Saturday and I am not available often enough for that.  My final choice is going to be around the design, fabrication and marketing of a piece of silver jewellery and I think this will provide opportunities to deploy many of the skills that have been covered in the course so far and I plan to try and illustrate key learning points from the first four assignments.  There was a significant risk associated with my selection of subject in that the final item would be sold and no longer available for any repeat shots, but then is likely to be true of many aspects of photography, so there is pressure to get it right, which I think is good.
The silversmith’s workshop is somewhere to which I have easy access and I started out by taking a few shots of the environment in which I would need to work to get an idea of the available angles for photographing and lighting.  The majority of the actual practical work takes place on a shallow bench set against a wall, helpfully painted white, and gives options for shooting from either side and from behind.  The roof is quite low, but is clad with silver reflective material which may well be of benefit in terms of lighting the project.  However, I am jumping ahead of myself a little here because it is first necessary to plan out what I am hoping to illustrate and the story I am going to tell.
I wanted to illustrate the piece from initial concept through to design and then on to the making phase, so I needed to sketch out what was expected to happen and think about some ideas of how to take the photographs and also how they might cover aspects of the course so far.  In discussion with the maker I was able to go through the process and we did a dry run from start to finish so I could understand exactly what was going to happen as we went along; this was vital as a number of the steps, especially those involving the soldering stages, could not be repeated if I failed to get suitable images first time.  Another important part of this was my explaining to the maker what I was trying to achieve and demonstrating what I needed to do to get the optimum images.  There needed to be a little give and take here and it proved possible to change a few minor details to make it easier to photograph and gets the lights and tripod into position.  I did discover that soldering gets extremely hot and to use the longer lens from a greater distance to avoid melting anything expensive!

Initial storyboard

Initial thoughts

Below is the initial outline of the ideas that I had of how I was going to approach shooting the design and making of the piece and some notes from the initial design brief that had been held with client when the work was first commissioned.
The location in which I was shooting was quite congested and needed artifical lighting, which as can be seen in the picture, could only be directed from behind, to the sides and slightly from the front.  There also was not too much room in the studio considering that I wanted to set up both fixed lights and would be shooting some of the shots from a tripod.  The second picture shows the actual bench set up where much of the technical making of the piece would need to occur, and this was rather more restricted in terms of shooting angle with no easy side or front lighting options, so there would be a need to place reflectors to fill any shadows I didn’t want.  The lighting set up I used for these shots appears in the thrid image and silver reflectors were placed at the front as required.  I found that the combination of the open light (it has a silver dimpled interior) and the softbox placed as close as I could to get the softest shadows gave a good effect with the silver surfaces which are difficult to work with as they need to be at just the right angle to avoid showing as just white or just black – there was some good learning from the exercise on lighting reflective surfaces here.
As far as actual shooting was concerned I wanted to use a range of different focal length lenses and went with a Canon 24-105mm f/4 and 70-200mm f/2.8 zooms and a Sigma 150mm f/2.8 macro.  A Canon 5DMkII was used for the assignment shots and a Canon G1x used for the studio set ups.  Using the constant lights, which have an output of 1300 watts, I was able to take many images hand held as at ISO200 I was getting shutter speeds of between 1/125 and 1/500sec.  I wanted to explore slow shutter speeds for some of the practical tasks involved in making the object, and in these cases I mounted the camera on a tripod and experimented with shutter speeds on down to ¼ sec to introduce motion blur into the movement of saws and drills.  I explored a number of different shooting distances and angles to maximise the amount of material I had for cropping and final editing. 

Silversmith's bench

Lighting setup for technical shots

Design brief

All commissioned pieces begin life with a meeting between the client and jeweller and the agreement of an initial design brief outlining what the final piece will look like; an important aspect of this is who the piece is to be worn by as that impacts on things like size, bulk, chain thickness and length etc.  The following words are from the maker:

Design brief for Green Turquoise.
The green turquoise stone – a freeform shape stabilised with bronze was chosen by the client to be made into a gift for his wife. The size and shape leant itself either to a brooch or a pendant. The pendant idea was chosen to be worn on a longer chain, with the option of transferral to a shorter chain on occasion.
To accentuate the irregular shape and also to incorporate elements of my own textured silver, it was decided to make a flat base of silver sheet in the same shape as the stone and onto which the simple setting for the stone and three pieces of gently domed textured silver would be applied. To reduce weight and also show the stone off, the back of the stone setting would be pierced out and the bale at the top of the piece would reflect the shape by being triangular and also large enough to allow chains to be exchanged easily.

I wanted to use some close up shots as large pictures in my final ‘magazine’ output and so I shot a number of these at different apertures ranging from f/2.8 to f/22 as I wanted to insert some smaller images into a blurred part of a whole page image and also intended to use one with the complete image in focus.  The majority of these I shot in portrait format.  The other photographs I took followed the whole of the process from the original client meeting (yes, that is me posing as the client in the photograph – I was unavailable to take pictures when the real one visited), through the initial sketching stage with the stone and potential settings and then into the actual studio to follow the technical making of the setting, the setting of the stone, polishing and finally finishing off the story with the boxing of the finished item and checking against the agreed client brief.
The following images are the individual shots I selected to form the narrative and this is followed by the final layout I put together.  I had some considerable debate over which image to use as the cover.  I originally shot the ‘client meeting’ for the cover, but was then tempted to go with the ‘final boxed piece’ as a clear indicator from the outset that this was going to be about the making of a piece of jewellery; this was from the set of photographs I originally took to be the final image in the sequence, so a complete change around.

1  Image for front cover

2  The stone

3  Meeting the client

4  Drafting design ideas

5  Cutting out the base plate

6  Forming the bezel

7  Rolling the textured corner pieces

8  Doming the corner pieces

9  Soldering the bezel to the baseplate

10  Working on the final polish

11  Checking against the original client brief


I have to start by saying how much I enjoyed doing this.  I have said before that I think I make a far better job when I have the opportunity to shoot to a specific brief, and I find I can focus on that quite well rather than on the ‘looser’ type of assignment.  The opportunity to take the photographs which would then be assembled into an article of some sort gave me a real goal to work to and I found that stimulating. I felt in control of what I was doing and where I was going throughout although there was the risk that a) there was a specific and tight timeline at which the client was collecting the piece, and therefore b) there is no opportunity to reshoot any of the images if required following tutor comments, so I acknowledge that I would need to start again with another subject which would make my intended submission deadline of Feb 15th difficult to attain.  Still, what is life without a little risk!
From a technical perspective, the lighting element of the assignment went well, although I didn’t attempt anything exotic as I wanted to produce an instructive magazine piece, although I did make extensive use of flags and various reflectors to get just the lighting I needed.  The choice of different lenses of course helped with the close ups and wide shots, as well as with not getting fried by the blow torch in the soldering steps!  I used a variety of depths of field ranging from f/2.8 for the ‘client meeting’ image to f/22 for the ‘finished item boxed’ shot.  I also took a number of shots in manual mode, especially the soldering shots which were taken at 1/4sec in the darkness and required some tinkering to get right as the lighting changed dramatically depending on just how the flame was playing on the metal; the flame obviously needs to be moved about to get even heat and avoid melting the setting.  The ‘polishing’ shot was taken at a shutter speed of 1/6sec to get the blur of the polishing brush and give the impression of its rotation.

Selection of the final images took longer than the shooting of the candidate images for the sequence.  There are many more minor steps that I photographed and clearly it would not be possible to show all these in the final selection for submission.  The study notes offer a guideline of 6-12 images, but I wanted to avoid going for the maximum and thereby force myself to make a stricter choice, so I ended up with a cover plus ten others as I felt this was the required to effectively compose the narrative.
In the production of the layout for the magazine article I tried to make the best use of colour in terms of font choice for the captions, working with the green of the stone in the cover shot and linking the blues where pages 2 and 3 in the layout would open as an opposite page spread.  I did not consider the impact of gutters and page bleed etc. at this stage of the course, although these are areas that I would like to learn more about in the future as the course progresses.

I learnt the need for speed as well .. things that are being cut, drilled, soldering, polished etc. are not around for long and constantly move, so there was a need for careful planning, anticipation of each step (the research prior to the shoot was invaluable here) and I also needed to compromise at times to get shots, especially during the faster stages of the process.  If I did this again I don't think there is anything major that I would do differently, although I would have liked to use natural light for some images, would have been possible in summer.

So, at this point I'm going to submit Assignment 5 to my tutor and collate a few remaining items that I want to get sorted out prior to final submission for assessment before Feb 15th.  I also plan to write a final overview of my reflections on TAOP as a whole to accompany my submission.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Book review : The Genius of Photography: Gerry Badger

Gerry Badger’s The Genius of Photography is a book that I have been dipping in and out of throughout the time I have been working on TAOP and was one that I first came across when watching the television series of the same name a few years ago.  Essentially, it is a book that covers the various photographic movements through the twentieth century and explores developments via the key events, people and photographs that defined the era.  The evolution of photography from the earliest images by Niepce to the end of the century and slightly beyond (2006) is covered in a succinct way and the social context of the imagery thoroughly explored and exemplified with around twenty key images in each section. 
The historical coverage was the major element in the book for me and the treatment of the development of social documentary photography and the start of photography as a political and propagandist tool especially so.  The third chapter, Some decisive moments (maybe?), gives an interesting appraisal of (mostly) war images from Robert Capa (Loyalist militiaman ..etc), Lee Miller and her post-war documentation of the Holocaust and its victims, Don McCullin in Vietnam and Luc Delahaye in Iraq and discusses points around how photographs can be tailored to a cause via the way they are taken and edited, and indeed how events in war can also be manipulated to suit photography.  Face to Face looks at portraits and how they developed in an historical context and how they can generate and channel emotional responses, and Badger very succinctly states that a portrait “ … is capable of immortalising and creating myth.  It can confer acknowledgement and bestow dignity.  It can also stereotype, debase and dehumanise.”  The chapter starts with Nadar’s photograph of Sarah Bernhardt from 1863 as a fairly uncomplicated image and travels a path through Paul Strand and Walker Evans and others, concentrating on the ‘reading’ of the images and what could potentially be derived from them other than just the face in the portrait.  Nudity gets quite short treatment and seems to focus mostly on where the images taken have been sympathetic and often taken in an apparently willing collaboration, although he does briefly cover the uncomfortable looking subjects of Diane Arbus and self-portraits of Jo Spence as she explores the demonisation of the aging female form.
There are two sections at the end of the book which I found especially useful and interesting.  Firstly, there is an historical timeline of the development of photography to the modern day paralleled with major world events which occurred at the same time set alongside, and secondly a glossary of the terms used over the years to describe different print processes.  So, if you want to know the differences between your gum bichromate print and your palladiotype, then this is the place to look.
The book is quite a large format (23 x 20cm) and the images are clear and well set out, although I did find the sudden appearance of large bold font in the titles of some of the images quite strange.  It is a book that has been well reviewed elsewhere and one particular quote from Martin Parr caught my eye “An excellent primer and leads us through the complexities of understanding what makes a great image .. Badger’s book lays out the debates in a clear, authoritative way.”  I’d certainly agree with that, and I found the book immensely readable and engaging throughout and will be a resource that will doubtless find use again as I progress.

Monday, 31 December 2012

Exercise 41 : A narrative picture essay

This final part of TAOP covers the skills needed to tell a story with both a set of pictures and with a single picture.  The first exercise requires the development of a narrative picture essay using between 5 and 15 images to tell a story of an event that has been researched and the storyline planned.  The suggestion is firstly to develop an idea of what the story is going to tell without thinking too much about potential photographs, so basically thoughts around what happens before the event, during it, who the main players are, what they doing and where they are going to end up.  There is encouragement to ensure some variety in the shots and give due consideration to frame orientation, distance and close up approaches, use of different focal length lenses, use of colour and single colours in images and finally to encompass a variety of lighting. Basically it’s all about getting variety into the approach and immediate viewer appeal into the photographs, but the images need to work together as a set so there is an element of presentation skill built into this exercise as well as the images needing to combine well into a set.  Which photograph is the most important image and whether it should be the first and/or the largest photograph in the story is a challenge to be tackled.
I have decided to tell the story of the design process and fabrication of a piece of silver jewellery (elephant earrings) as this gives the opportunity for the exploitation of a number of different aspects of the course so far as well as the opportunity to employ different focal length lenses, lighting approaches and shooting strategies.  I also plan to use this approach as my assessment piece for this final part of TAOP so greater details of my thinking and research of the location and what was about to happen will be included there, so just in summary, the technical part of the shoot takes place in quite a congested situation where I needed to get both my lights (can’t expect someone to do this work with a flash going off) close to the action, although the overall lighting was assisted by the presence of the white studio wall and a silver heat reflector material on the ceiling.  I wanted to avoid harsh shadows, so placed the lights as close as I reasonably could.  Lenses used were a Sigma 100mm f/2.8 macro for the close ups and Canon 24-105mm f/4 L IS and 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS zooms for the longer shots.

Having taken my images from the initial design brief that the silversmith was given right through to the final article being worn, I needed to assemble these into an appropriate order and decide on image size and how each photograph related to others from the shoot in terms of constructing the narrative in this strongest way.  The images are initially shown in sequence and I will then assemble them into a brochure style narrative to be posted at a later date.  The 'background shot' will be used to overlay some of the other images in the final layout.

There is a .pdf version of a magazine type layout at this link.

Background shot
Marking out
Attaching to silver
Drilling eye and hole to pierce out the ear
Cutting out
Making the hanging loops
Cutting loops en masse
Aligning loops for soldering
Soldering on the loops
Into the pickle for cleaning
Final barrel polishing
Boxed for sale
The happy purchaser


Friday, 28 December 2012

Exercise 45 : Rain

This final exercise leads us to the point of defining a single image suitable for the cover illustration of a magazine, and the topic is rain.  Now, as a UK resident finding rain is not difficult, but I really need to think about this in terms of the effects of rain and not necessarily just take pictures of the endless rainfall!

I considered a number of options here including subjects like umbrellas, wellies, raincoats etc. all with rain on, but that began to feel too much like the developments of a rainwear catalogue and was not specific enough in its indication of rain as the main subject.  Rain in headlights, splashing in puddles or ponds, falling against the dark sky, running down a window were all angles I have been considering, as have been flooded roads and rivers and raindrops on leaves and fruits.
Earlier in the blog I took some images of rain, and there I used rain splashing in the garden pond, a rainbow, a kingfisher in the rain and rain falling on an umbrella.  All these visually describe rain or the effects of rain, but other than the possibility of the rainbow, I really didn’t feel that any were of sufficient merit for a front cover.  In the end I decided to go for a close up shot of someone in wellies splashing in a puddle; admittedly, the source of the water could have been anything, as indeed many rain shots can be, but it’s obviously a puddle and it was fun to do anyway!

The requirement was for a magazine cover, so I shot this in the vertical and I used slow enough a shutter speed of 1/125sec to get the splashes to blur yet retain some structure.  The rest of the text was just a bit of fun and was added in CS5 to comply with the magazine cover guideline.