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.


  1. Very interesting to read and admire. Well-planned and executed, and you come over as being quite relaxed about it, in an organised fashion of course. The 'creating' images are so clear that I felt I could almost have a go myself (in fantasy of course). I also like the 'blurred' image as well.

  2. Your planning and attention to detail with the 'shot plot'—great idea! Really interesting Dave—looking forward to seeing the final piece. BTW—pass on the fact that I thought the jewellery looked fab too!

  3. Hi Dave, This is a fabulous submission. I enjoyed reading it and your tutors comments. It has also provided me with some food for thought on how to develop my own Ass 5.