Exercise 3.2: Trace

Start by doing your own research into some of the artists discussed above. Then, using slow shutter speeds, the multiple exposure function, or another technique inspired by
the examples above, try to record the trace of movement within the frame. You can be as experimental as you like. Add a selection of shots together with relevant shooting data and a description of process (how you captured the shots) to your learning log.

Getting Started:

I first started out by researching some of the artists discussed above, I gravitated towards Robert Capa’s style of capturing motion. I really liked the look of a lot of his photographs and obviously its work that I’m familiar with. Arguably one of the bravest and iconic war-time photographers of all time. John G. Morris called him “the century’s greatest battlefield photographer”. There’s nothing as visceral as war, especially being on the front lines. Capa’s inquisition, as well as his unique ability to capture motion is almost unparalleled. He would use rangefinders for most of his career, this meant his equipment was lightweight – he was able to get into situations without the gear weighing him down. He would also use an analog light meter, these were incredibly compact but also incredibly useful in intense lighting conditions – these days, most digital cameras measure in-body almost perfectly but back in the 40s you had no way of ensuring the image was perfectly exposed. On top of that the processing wasn’t as refined, as well as the actual photochemistry itself. I remember hearing that famous story of when he was sent by LIFE magazine to capturing the assault on Ohmaha beach. He shot 4 rolls of 35mm film, this film was then transported from battlefield to photochemistry lab during a World War to be then printed in a magazine – only 11 of those pictures came out perfectly, as most of Capa’s work was unfortunately spoiled during the development process.

FRANCE. Normandy. June 6th, 1944. Landing of the American troops on Omaha Beach.

This photo in particular would have required Capa to run ahead of the soldiers, putting himself in harms way to capture one of the greatest images ever taken. There’s a lot to be said when a single man, with minimal gear being able to stick himself in the middle of a battle in which between 4-9 thousand died and capture such stunning images. Because of the slower shutter speeds as well it exaggerates the motion, you’re almost confused how to feel because of the almost abstract silhouettes cast by the contrast in the film. Spielberg drew a lot of inspiration from these frames for his 1998 classic Saving Private Ryan – he has immense respect for his photographic works, and he’s incredibly respectful to Capa’s use of motion as the movie camera would often zip about and falter giving it that ‘handheld’ look. Capa continuously captured images like this throughout his career.

“The Falling Soldier”

This was taken during the Spanish Civil War, this image was also featured in LIFE magazine. It’s absolutely visceral. Photographers that capture war this way invoke an almost immediate emotional response. Capturing the very moment someone is shot, then capturing it in such an intimate way allows photography to transcend its two dimensional format and can almost become a memory in someones mind. This type of imagery conjures similar emotions to Richard Drew’s falling man imagery, although this predates it considerably – I am not saying either is better or worse, I’m simply stating that although the two images couldn’t be anymore different, they do capture someone’s final moments. Humans in a situation in which they have no direct control on the outcome of the situation. Capa’s movements even contribute to that ideology, his swift and often ‘smeared’ photographic quirk has become synonymous with his name.

Robert Frank’s “Elevator Girl”

Robert Frank’s ‘Elevator Girl’  is one of the most iconic photos of the 20th century. From his book ‘The Americans’ the book depicted life in a post-war America. This photo in particular is one of my favourites from the collection. Capturing passing moments, as the Elevator Girl looks onward – faces pass by but she’s completely apathetic to the situation, almost detached to a certain degree. The passing pedestrians on either side make great silhouettes, drawing your eyes further into the centre of the frame further emphasising the motion in the frame. It’s relatively off-kilter and is almost the very definition of capturing the decisive moment – but, this photo wasn’t just a regular snapshot, it’s actually a staged scenario. In fact, it’s a scenario that was rehearsed around fifteen times with different poses, different facial expressions – personally, it’s really hard to imagine this photograph being taken in any other way, but this was actually the fifth iteration. People often use this reasoning to somehow dismiss the authenticity of this photograph, I personally don’t think it takes away from the narrative story telling of this particular piece. Photography is a visual medium, the image, rehearsed or not, invokes a lot of emotion and intrigue. The look captured on the lady’s face allows the viewer to empathise with her boredom, part of you wants to ask her what’s wrong or if she’s doing okay. As you can see from the contact sheet bellow there’s actually several iterations of this scenario with the lady smiling, some where she’s by herself, some action shots of her pressing the buttons on the elevator console – I personally think none of those work for the message he was attempting to invoke in the rest of the book. The creative use of shooting with a slower shutter really allows the motion to flow through the scene, I think there’s a lot to say about creatively pushing the shutter like this. If there was a lot more light in this scene and he could use a faster shutter speed I still don’t think he would’ve utilised it – simply because it would eliminate this sense of motion.

Transferring what I’d learned into my own work:

Firstly, I began this assignment by going out and hunting for some decent shots. These first two below are quite good. They aren’t overly creative but I wanted to show that I have an understanding of long exposure work. I like the way the chimney catches the light. I also wanted to show how headlights and brake lights affect the light differently. As you can see these are 50mb .RAW files with a lot of flexibility in post. I wanted to make sure that I could also catch the orange emanating from the sky In the background as there’s a lot of light pollution from the stadiums in Hillsborough. I didn’t keep the shutter open for too long though, only 2.5 seconds but you can see even at such a short exposure time (for a long exposure) you can actually catch a lot of detail.

These photographs were both taken at F4. when you use M lenses the metadata does not transfer over, but these were both shot on the Voigtlander Ultron 35mm. I left the shutter open for 2.5 seconds because I wanted to display a metered approach to how I utilise the long exposure function. This was purely a technical perspective on the assignment, I wanted to display my knowledge and understanding when utilising the different shutter speeds. I don’t really tend to tell narrative stories in my images, I tend to think of them as gestalt Imagery. I always shoot longer exposures in low light but because my camera’s low light performance is so good I don’t usually have to leave the shutter open for too long to get an immensely detailed image with lots of layers and light. Because the camera is fully manual using only 2 dials you get optimal user control and accurate previews to the final scene. The best thing about these images is the fact there’s little to no polishing in post. The only tweaking I ended up doing was simply boosting the saturation – but even that was just a mild adjustment. I tried to show how much detail you can capture by ‘isolating’ a moment rather than emphasising the motion by capturing lots of movement. Although these aren’t completely conceptual, photographs like these are really easy to achieve and when coloured correctly you end up with cool results. Someone once commented on this photo and said ‘stop wasting your Leica taking images like this’ and I immediately started to question my place in the photographic community.

This exposure was over 13 seconds, this image would normally be incredibly hard to produce – how did the sheep keep still for that long without becoming a blurry mess? Well, they were asleep. The sheep at the front was asleep standing up which was hilarious. The sky was also moderately clear, allowing enough stars to shine through the clouds and I really like the texture in the grass. Believe me when I say there was no light at all out there at all, I was so far away from the city at this point there were no street lights and I had to stop on a national speed limit road to capture it – luckily nobody was around at this time. This shot is beautiful in my opinion, and the immense low light performance on these mirrorless cameras. This was shot on the Leica TL2 which is a decent camera, by today’s standards you could possibly say it’s a bit dated technologically, but…Leica cameras age impeccably well. The design is unmatched and the usability is almost unmatched, the way they formulate the settings is fantastic and the colour science they use is just perfect for images like this. The image was shot at 400 iso and the image was shot around 6k – sticking to patterned metering which allows the camera to identify the light values more accurately in scenarios that are more challenging such as these . For me at least this photo is one of the more intriguing photos that I’ve taken thus far – it’s a really bizarre scene with lots of depth. If I had to redo this photo in the future I’d perhaps user a wider lens to capture more of the scene, give more of a sense of scale which I think this photo lacks. I didn’t over amplify the colours too much either, the only real ‘editing’ I did was bringing out more detail throughout the scene, I like to have relatively flat colour profiles programmed into my camera’s settings – this gives me more freedom in post if I’m posting to instagram, but it also really helps when shooting in .RAW as you get to work with an uncompressed file straight out of the camera. Obviously 13 seconds is a long time for most scenarios when shooting at F4, because of this there is a slight movement in the stars and they’re on the brink of smearing (as the earth does move afterall all). I think it the slight smear doesn’t detract too much from the gestalt aspects of this particular photo. You do get a a lot of factors working with each other which creates a painterly scene. This photograph has been featured on several major photographic publications on Instagram – a lot of people stop and paint the sheep, there’s several theories on how many sheets are in this image as when you zoom into count, you see even more than you initially anticipate. A lot of my images are inspired by paintings as a response to me focusing on being sober and leading a ‘clean’ lifestyle – that’s why there’s a hallucinatory amount of detail. People will often say they don’t find my photographs ‘technically’ brilliant – I often suggest those people to look at the photograph above. I am not being bigheaded, I don’t really have too much of an emotional connection to any of my works, I just see them as ‘work’ – you have good days, you have bad days. I was fortunate at a young age to be able to work in the photographic industry – I received a lot of criticism, it allowed my skin to thicken, therefore I find it quite easy to focus in stressful situations. Photographs such as the one above are protesting those time periods, rather than being high intensity with fast motion – they often feature little to no motion at all.

I went out recently with my Nikon F5 to recapture an image I’d taken previously for The Square Mile, this experiment was to document the differences in long exposure performance comparing Digital (right) and Film (left). These images had almost identical settings and aperture settings, the only difference was the fact my film was 400 iso and the Digital was set to 200. This was more of me saying that although a lot has changed since The Square Mile project, I am still learning from the mistakes I made back then. But also me understanding that if I went back, I’d not do anything differently, as each mistake has allowed me to learn and course correct my creative outlook.

For this one I chose to shoot it on film, Fuji Superia on a 24mm lens set to f2.8. This was an 8 second exposure with 400 speed film. I really like this photo personally. I told the subject to keep as still as possible – personally I think she did an alright job although her hat does look considerably less sharp than the rest of the image. The street was completely dark – you could not see a thing. You can see the shape of a footprint come through the windscreen, which is hilarious and I think it adds a lot more subtle detail to the rest of the picture. There wasn’t any particular concept for this image, it’s just lifestyle photography but I had a chance to fulfil the brief and experiment in different scenarios. I use a keks light meter for situations like this, I do not trust the onboard meter at all. Despite the fact the Nikon uses TTL metering, it fluctuates way too much for me to trust it in every situation. I literally just stuck the camera on the backseat for this, allowing the exposure and natural lighting in the scene to gently illuminate each corner of the image – I think it’s quite affective, but don’t get me wrong – this isn’t a great image, especially when compared with previous images discussed.

This image was taken at 1/30th of a second, travelling at 38 mph through the drone camera. The ISO was 200 and luckily for me the sky was incredibly dull – I didn’t want the sky to be overexposed either, I am not a big fan of that white overcast sky look, it really gets on my nerves to see skies with no character. I like to see active clouds and different colours in the sky. I really like the smearing of this image, I took this to sort of document the differences In motion between faster and slower shutter speeds and look at their creative uses. This image has an urgent motion to it, you feel like you’re atop of a car moving quickly on some sort of Hollywood camera rig. 1/30th of a second isn’t ideal at all for situations like this as the motion tends to smear when traveling at such a fast speed. I wanted this image to feel almost hallucinatory with how the camera is speeding through the scene almost defying gravity.

This was shot on film. I used expired Fuji Superia 400 and shot it with a flash at f8, 1/40th of a second in a completely darkened room. I used a flash with a red gel just to see what would happen – I do like how it turned out but its a bit too ‘myspace’ for me. I don’t tend to shoot with expired film, but I wanted to do something completely unpredictable with little to no planning at all, other than ending the night with a few decent experimental looking photos. I don’t think they’re anything to right home about, but for this assignment they add a little bit more flare. Because I was using expired film there was a lot of unwanted green, there’s also these strange artefacts that appeared on the top and bottoms of each of these exposures from uneven tension on the film slide. I think these photos are quite amateur because of the ‘Myspace selfie’ look that they all have. For this assignment I thought it would be better to deliver as many different examples in numerous different styles. I don’t tend to stick with one theme for too long. I wanted the red and black to emphasise the dilation of the pupil, adding to the sedation in the situation. I don’t really want to glorify drugs because I am against them for the most part – but for me, film has the same texture and visual quality that a lot of psychedelic drugs have and that’s why I choose to use it in some situations. In my professional work I try to use digital, because if I take an image incorrectly I have the freedom to then adjust and fix it in post to suit the customer’s satisfaction. In my art however, especially in my personal project I tend to shoot my images almost exclusively with 35mm film. The results do vary a lot on film, depending on your ability to read light and the competence of the camera’s analog technology. As I said, I think these imperfections help mimic the look of psychedelic drugs, because you start to see things almost in four different dimensional planes – you can taste colours, you can see music and film really helps me work through a lot of internal struggle.

Published by bobbiemeralisarangi

Sheffield based Fine Art Photographer.

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