‘The decisive moment is not a dramatic climax but a visual one: the
result is not a story but a picture.’
(Swarkowski, 2007, p.5)
‘You know it’s funny. You come to someplace new, and everything looks just the same.’
(Eddie in Stranger Than Paradise, Dir. Jim Jarmusch, 1984)
Create a set of between six and ten finished images on the theme of the decisive 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 by presenting a series of ‘indecisive’ moments. 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, event or particular period of time.
Include a written introduction to your work of between 500 and 1000 words outlining your initial ideas and subsequent development. You’ll need to contextualise your response with photographers that you’ve looked at, and don’t forget to reference the reading that you’ve done.
The OCA photography forum is a useful place to discuss ideas, share work and gather informal advice for this assignment. Tutor Clive White:
‘As ever it’s not about showing us decisive moments it’s about the student showing us they understand the concept and can employ it creatively as a strategy in progressing their own work.’
For a view from assessment read the post on David Fletcher’s Assignment 3 on the WeAreOCA blog here:
OCA student Steve Young used juxtaposition and ambiguity as his creative strategy (be aware that the brief has since been updated): https://createatocalevel1photograph.wordpress.com/category/assignments/assignment-3/
And another ‘inversion’ of the decisive moment from student Martyn Rainbird:
Bresson once said ‘Photography doesn’t take much brains, only sensitivity, fingers and two legs’. Those words have stuck with me throughout my adult life, redefining what it takes to be a photographer. As a child, i’d always saw photography as more of a technical ability, but as technology has become more accessible, everyone can be a photographer. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that a lot of people are documenting, sharing their life through this fantastic visual medium – in fact, it proves Henri’s point even further, you don’t need a high IQ to take a photograph that will evoke an emotional response. Capturing people in their everyday life can be incredibly interesting, it can also open your eyes to the rest of the world. Bresson would often say that seeing someone through a viewfinder is like seeing them without their clothes on, people can appear very vulnerable when you take their photo and it tells you a lot about how they feel inside – They may blush, they may squirm, they may even embrace it and relax until the moment is over. There’s immense overlap in these areas when it comes to my other passion in life – hairdressing. I have spent almost the entirety of my childhood in my mother’s salon, waiting for her to finish her last customer so we could head home. Being surrounded by so many different varieties of people since a child, as well as coming from a family of African refugees – I have always found it incredibly easy to get along with people regardless of any differences. As I’ve grown older, I’ve followed in the footsteps of my mother by starting my own career in hair as well as photography. I’ve found that over the years, people have become a lot more comfortable around each other. Despite the pandemic, there’s a large amount of people ready to start embracing life once more. I do feel the opposite in some regard, I have a lot of anxiety about returning back to normality but I see it as a necessary step in my development as a person by getting back on track. For this assignment I want to make sure I’m meeting new people within the hair community, signalling my return back to the day of the working man and attempting to cure this anxiety that’s built up throughout the course of the past year. I am also going to focus on the intention behind each photograph, making creative choices and introducing visual elements that will help further my development on my journey to becoming a professional fine art photographer. A friend of mine once told me that ‘photography isn’t real art’, despite his poor wording I do agree with him to a certain extent – although I do find a lot of the ‘art’ in photos stems from the art that naturally occurs in life itself, also the mind of the artist behind the photographs. I always ask myself when looking at photographic works ‘what was the artist’s intention?’ and I find this is a healthy way of trying to figure out why it’s also become such an accessible art form. People need a way to channel their inner creative being but they may not be fantastic at drawing, writing music, they may wish to use photography as a means to express inner creativity.
I was fortunate enough to get an original copy of Vidal Sassoon’s “Cutting Hair: The Vidal Sassoon Way” as a gift from my mother, this book will act as the structural foundation for most of the photographic aesthetic for this assignment, as Sassoon as incredibly particular when it came to how his haircuts were photographed. Christian von Ehrenfel’s “On Gestalt Qualities” has also been incredibly helpful in my understanding of fundamental imaging principles as well as Joseph V. Mascelli’s “The Five C’s of Cinematography”. The book explains the importance of Camera Angles, Continuity, Cutting, Close-ups and Composition which are elements of both still and motion photography.
For this I wanted to make sure I had a connection with the concept. For most of my life I have been surrounded by hairdressers no matter how far I stray from home, hair always seems to find me. This is because my mother has been a hairdresser for about 28 years, owning her own salon for over 20. Me, my sister, my girlfriend, father, mother – even my friends, are all in the hair and beauty industry. I have worked in it for 6 years myself, I trained at Vidal Sassoon in London, as well as WELLA HQ in Manchester – so it’s safe to say that I take it pretty seriously. For this project I wanted to photograph the hair establishment, more specifically I wanted to capture the enthusiasm and passion that a lot of hair stylists have towards their work especially now returning on the 14th of April. The hair industry was struck really hard this past year, being amongst some of the most economically affected businesses through the pandemic. The hair and beauty sector has not been able to fully open in Sheffield in almost a year. With most hair stylists being self employed, Covid grants barely even touch the sides if you run a premisis – utility bills, rent, wifi for businesses that haven’t seen clients in months now. Of course, I am not saying these businesses should have remained open, what happened throughout the past year was unprecedented and has affected people from all walks of life. I know a lot of people who haven’t had a paycheque since this started, people with mouths to feed, struggling to make ends meet – that’s why this project is important. I have been in contact with a lot of independent businesses who’ve suffered over lockdown. My aim at the end of the first lockdown was to help as many people out as possible who haven’t been able to promote their works properly due to covid precautions/lockdowns. I called this the Covid Assignment. My explanation and learning from these projects will become incredibly useful as a reference point for a lot of my creative development throughout this assignment. It’s incredibly important to explain what I have learned from these recent endeavours, but it’s also useful to add context to the finalised work.
Learning from The Covid Assignment:
“Cheffield, Part One and Two”
This project was based on a start-up street food business that had opened after the first nationwide lockdown. The food is great, but they also had a lot of passion in their presentation. My philosophy behind these assignments was to document businesses that I thought were drops of colour in bleak city struggling constantly to find its identity. I believe there were around 70 finished photographs as one finished music video – which acted more as a trailer for the business. I only picked a handful of pictures from this assignment so I could express a deeper understanding of the visual philosophy I integrate when photographing businesses. I tend to pick angles that people fill find visually pleasing on platforms such as Instagram for example – you need to remember that this business has been open for less than a year, and have garnered a massive social media following since their opening. I wanted to take photographs that would best describe their business in a way that I knew not many people would deliver. The alternative angle is more often than not, the preferred angle. For example I think the close up photograph of the sign was incredibly important, this is the icon that a lot of drivers will see when driving through the neighbourhood – it’s very important that the rest of the world should see it as well. The last photo was inspired by a painting titled “Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper.
The painting has an ominous quality, it almost feels detached from reality. I’ve always found Hopper’s work incredibly helpful when photographing a scene I’m unfamiliar with. Also how the light and colours reflect the scene. When light projects, it allows objects to cast shadows – this contrast allows people to engage deeper within the confines of two dimensional imagery.
For example in Automat, you can see what appears to be the reflections of the cafe’s lighting, this further exaggerates the darker elements of the photographs, framing the subject to evoke an emotional response. Do the lights simply set the scene? or do they represent the void like complex of the human mind? Light is incredibly important, in the early days of photography the term “painting with light” was used quite literally as a means of understanding the importance of light in photography. The act of taking photograph, is painting with light.
Learning from this project, and especially after reading “The Five C’s of Cinematography”, I have found that a lot of the techniques used on Cheffield were a little bit messy from a more technical perspective. For example, a lot of the photographs captured on the Canon 7D suffered heavily from colour noise. The camera has travelled all over the world with me, and I am struggling to come to terms with the fact is maybe time for it to go – Using this camera substantially affected the outcome of my photographic process. The same goes for the top middle, I used a Leica TL2 to photograph a sign that’s suspended 7 feet off the ground – I was using manual focus and therefore missed, this isn’t to say the photo isn’t usable for social media, in fact very few people have actually noticed. As a photographer these mistakes can actually be incredibly frustrating, especially when you’re trying to create a back catalog.
I also got the chance to photograph The Blue Note saxophone shop, it was a great shoot. I only had an hour, so I had to make every shot count and it was incredibly small, especially when the owner would get out instruments to show me. Compared to my commercial styled work, I try to tackle shoots like this from a more photojournalist perspective. I try to focus on the quirks, if this were a paid shoot I probably would have had the owner eliminate any and all clutter, but I knew the owner wouldn’t mind the quirks of his unique establishment being on display in the final images.
What I learned from these experiences is that I need to focus more on the people who function in these environments. In retrospect I’d have done Cheffield Street Food and Blue Note completely differently if I knew that the pictures would feel so vacant. It’s a creative choice that I regret, I feel as if these environments look so different without their occupants – this is where the photos lack that ephemeral quality. Without people, these photographs don’t look like moments, they appear almost empty or liminal to a degree. This isn’t to say I dislike the work entirely, I had a fantastic time on this assignment. But, I knew going in that it was going to be difficult. One of the goals was to provide a business with a lot of social media photographs that they could post overtime to garner a wider audience. A brief perspective from an outsider, a second glance, can really help a business when establishing their public identity.
Taking what I have learned from these projects and adapting those lessons to my future work has been arguably one of the most defining moments of my career thus far. I had not actually photographed a business or event in maybe three years – so it served very much as a return to form for me, especially in-between lockdowns. I realised how rusty I had become in a stressful environment, If I’ve learned anything from Capa – it’s to show bravery in environments in which you are not in control, albeit I’m not photographing a chaotic war zone but that’s besides the point. I had a lot more confidence back in my early days of commercial photography, but certainly over the past few years as I’ve taken breaks from photography time-to-time, I can freeze up in overly chaotic scenarios. I often find that i’m trepidatious to which angle or viewpoint to use. That’s why I gravitated towards Gestalt imagery techniques. This something I have referenced several times before now, so I won’t go too in-depth on the understanding of the laws themselves, more on how they can go hand-in-hand with Cartier Bresson’s The Decisive Moment.
For my work I thought it would be important to look at a variety of different artists. Every artist discussed is going to have a direct effect on the look of the finalised images to contextualise my work even further. This work is combining my two passions, hair and photography – but I love people too. It’s important that I focus on the stylist themselves, as well as the environment. I do not wish to tell a story, but provide a solid collection of moments utilising a collection of techniques I’ve acquired from my recent readings.
Research into The Decisive Moment:
Henri Cartier Bresson’s mantra ‘The Decisive Moment’ is defined in his own words as “The simultaneous recognition in a fraction of a second of the significance of an event as well as of the precise organisation of forms”. He championed pattern, form and line – which were key elements in the rise of Modernist photography in the 1920s. He once said “If the shutter was released at the decisive moment you have instinctively fixed a geometric pattern without which the photograph would have been formless and lifeless.” His eye for geometry stems from his specialism in cubism, he studied at Academy of André Lhote who was a master of his craft. He would also hang out with the Surrealists group in Cafe Cyrano. He even first considered calling himself a “Surrealists photographer” but established photo journalist Robert Capa advised him to reconsider. Years later Capa and Bresson would then both go on to become co-founders of Magnum Photos. I could speak about his work all day, and it’s something we’ve all become familiar with, he’s considered one of the greatest photographer of all time.
This example is an execution of the decisive moment. You can also the cubism, the geometric shapes with sweeping lines that extend beyond the frame. You can see elements of gestalt theory, with continuity and continuation – there’s a certain level of visual intricacy that is incredibly impressive considering that he mostly shot with rangefinders because they were less intrusive. Rangefinder cameras are incredibly compact, they also don’t accurately portray a visual representation of the final image as the viewfinders are slightly off to one side – meaning it isn’t aligned with the shutter.
This is one of Bresson’s most iconic photographs, it isn’t particularly sharp but it’s another example of him utilising gestalt psychology in his work. The man is smeared across the frame, hopping along trying to keep his shoes dry. For me, the importance lies in the reflection on the floor bellow. There’s symmetry, continuation – flipping the image on its side and you can see a slight hint of his surrealists roots. The symmetry in the water has a Matisse quality to it and I’m not sure whether or not it was intentional, but its effective none-the-less. The moment is what matters, what happens before or after is lost in time.
How did this influence my work?
The psychology behind this is incredibly intriguing, it’s now something I think about on a regular basis. Although Bresson has a few dated concepts by today’s standards, such as his belief that a picture can’t be altered after – that you have to take another picture instead. Obviously now we’re working with digital cameras we have immense flexibility after the image is taken. We can alter colours, add depth, exposure levels; editing has now become a staple in modern photography. I am going to make slight alterations without defying the core principles of the decisive moment.
The Five C’s Of Cinematography:
Although this book is mostly dedicated to moving images, Joseph V. Mascelli made it incredibly accessible for any visual creator. 3D animation, paintings, drawings, photographs – the core skills within this book can be applied to any one of them. Camera Angles, Continuity, Cutting, Close-ups, Composition can all be adapted to photography. These are universal techniques. Some of the stuff is irrelevant, but as far as the information about framing, composition, close-ups it’s exactly what I was looking for to develop even further in those areas.
This is a small example, talking about balance in the frame to evoke an an emotional response. It also instructs you how to follow simple visual rules to keep the viewer interested and not break any building tensions. ‘Players’ are the performers. The images are also all high contrast black and white, so you can really pay attention to the lights – it emphasises the outlines of the actors faces and allows me to break it down.
As a textbook, I do find this to be incredibly useful. I am a visual person, so this book basically breaks down all of the fundamentals into digestible chunks. This helped me a lot when trying to figure out how I would position the cameras on the location which is yet to be decided upon. I want the camera to follow the 180 degree rule, essentially making sure the positioning of my shot isn’t going to throw people off. I want the images to have a level of continuity, without telling a narrative. The moments themselves will act as singular frames from a purely objective, photojournalistic approach. Despite my prior knowledge and experience in the hairdressing industry I do want a certain level of detachment from the subject – focusing only on the moments as they occur. This book helped me develop in that area, in the past I would make the work purely about me. I want these images to be about the moments themselves – that’s why it feeds into my Covid assignment as those images were mainly planned to be gifts to the businesses themselves in my style. These images will focus purely on the moments as they occur, whilst still focusing on the subjects in the frame. Mascelli says “A picture with faulty continuity is unacceptable, because it distracts rather than attracts” – this is one of the
Vidal Sassoon Influences:
Vidal Sassoon redefined the Hairdressing industry. Born in 1928, spending a considerable amount of his childhood in an orphanage, living through extreme poverty. His childhood dream was to become an athlete but taking advice from his mother, he started working as a shampoo boy at his local hairdressers. By the early 70s he moved to Los Angeles changing the face of hairdressing forever. His book helped teach his unique method to the masses and it’s one that I refer back to many times when looking for some technical tips on how to improve my hairdressing. As part of my preparation for my return back to work on the 14th of April, Vidal split his work into ABC and this was a very inclusive way in helping new hairdressers fully grasp his creative concepts. He would often look at buildings and objects for hairdressing inspiration, this technique is what lead to creations such as the graduated bob, pixie cut, layered cut – these were all inspired by what he’d seen in the world around him. There isn’t much beyond the imagery in this book that is transferable to photography, the only major visual motif was the monochromatic look which is actually present in almost all of Vidal’s editorial work. It reflects the time period, but the lack of colour actually exaggerates, defining his signature shapes and angles. There’s often striking figures, but the photos are incredibly staged, the backgrounds all a solid white backdrop. They’re quite boring, this is actually my main complaint with the book itself. The information is laid out incredibly well however, and I can’t say too many bad things as the techniques in this book would be learned, adapted to feed my family for years – quite literally. Without Vidal Sassoon, there’s truly no way of knowing where I’d be.
There’s an almost delicate quality in his hand movements, this isn’t something I have seen many people photograph in the past. Hairstylists tend to move swiftly and quickly, it’s hard to photograph each stage of the process. You often perceive a visit to the hairdressers as one singular experience, when for a stylist, each client may need 3-8 different stages of development which is then segmented over a significant amount of time. Hair can be a tedious, a lot of people tend to quit when they learn this. It’s hard to learn all of these angles and techniques without making the odd mistake – that’s why Sassoon opened his school, so young people had the opportunity to better themselves through further education. You could argue that a lot of these looks are dated, but I assure you almost all of his fundamental methods are utilised in one form or another in today’s fashion climate. Hair is confined to certain shapes, certain people aren’t ever able to have their ‘ideal cut’ – Vidal wanted to change this, by allowing everyone the opportunity to express themselves in unique ways through hair.
Ronald Dumont somewhat captured this moment in his photo of Sassoon and Mary Quant. The photograph displays one of the many stages of the hairdressing process – I am assuming this photo was taken directly before an event – that would explain why Mary isn’t wearing a hairdressing gown. In this photograph Dumont chooses to focus on the face, her pose perfectly displays the striking angles we’ve come to associate with Vidal’s work. As you can see the angles compliment Quant’s facial features, the cut really adds to her look.
This angle is probably my most favorite of the work Dumont and Vidal did together, the framing of this is amazing as well. One of the more interesting facts about this photograph is that Mary Quant was actually a significant figure in women’s fashion in the 1960’s – Dumont actually chose to focus his lens on Vidal as opposed to the stunning model, as you can clearly see her eyes aren’t sharp – instead he chooses to draw attention to Sassoon’s form. His body is relaxed in an almost unnatural position. What’s even more striking to me at least is that Vidal seems to be almost transfixed on his craft, the model looking onward past the camera. It’s a really striking composition with lots of visual queues I wish to adapt to my own work further down the road.
Alan Band photographed Vidal Sassoon giving Mia Farrow her famous pixie cut for Rosemary’s Baby – a haircut she paid him five thousand dollars to carry out. Vidal was the hottest name in hair at this point. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Roman Polanski was a good friend of Sassoon, and he himself invited the press to come down to Paramount Studios to witness Mia Farrow receiving her trademark haircut. He jumped at the opportunity to return to Hollywood, because at that time Mia Farrow was married to Frank Sinatra – one of the greatest musical artists of all time. The event was even broadcasted on television and held in the middle of a boxing ring, initially reporters were intended to stay outside of the ring to give Vidal more time to work – but in his own words “that lasted about two minutes” “It was a total madhouse”. This picture isn’t framed perfectly, but what we don’t see is just as important as what we’re seeing, especially in this photograph.
Renowned photographer David Montgomery worked with Sassoon on this fantastic gelatine silver print of Grace Coddington – showcasing Vidal’s famous Five-point cut which would keep it’s shape no matter the weather. Like I said earlier, black and white formats really showcase the level of craftsmanship in these unique hair designs. This was the epitome of trendy at this time, 1966. Montgomery is of course known for his intense portraits, photographing everyone from the Queen, Jimi Hendrix, Paul McCartney – even Mick Jagger. He would only ever produce perhaps a handful of images in this particular style, in fact, this is by far the most exaggerated of the whole lot – the contrast being so high that you can barely tell the model is Grace Coddington of all people.
I think David’s reasoning behind this, was because Eric Swayne had taken some similar pictures of Coddington a couple years prior and he perhaps didn’t want to similar photos to another incredibly established photographer. Vidal had of course been incredibly hands-on in the hairdressing process for these photos to further ensure his work was being displayed flatteringly to both represent his skill, but also Grace’s facial features. The sweeping design of this particular cut is terrific, slanted and asymmetrical, this is of course in contrast to the fact Coddington has a symmetrical face which further accentuate her beauty. As you can see the contrasts and lighting isn’t as exaggerated.
Obviously I could go on forever about Sassoon’s work with some of the most iconic fashion and portrait photographers of all time – as well as his work with Vogue, his influence on Twiggy’s hairstyle and how he redefined women’s hair forever. I think one of the most defining aspects of Vidal’s career is breaking into a female lead industry and completely redefining what it means to be a hairdresser. Male hair stylists are often few and far between these days, and during my three years of training I only ever met a handful of them that actually stayed in the hairdressing industry forever. I think for this project at least, I want to focus on the impact of male-lead hair salons. I have been surrounded by female-lead salons my whole life, seeing my mom work in her natural habitat has been one of the most inspiring aspects of my whole life – but for this assignment, I wish to step outside my comfort zone even further. I understand that Sassoon is known almost exclusively for his work with the female form – but he’s a substantial figure in the hair industry itself, he’s worked with some of the best fashion photographers of that era, he offers a deeper catalog of work to digest than most other hair icons.
Christian Von Ehrenfel’s On ‘Gestalt Qualities’ and the effect it had on my work:
He writes: “If we have succeeded in sketching a picture, however broad in outline, of the role and significance of the phenomena considered in psychic life, then it might now be pointed out that the theory of Gestalt qualities would perhaps be qualified to bridge the gulf between the various sensory regions, and indeed between the various categories of the presentable in general.” His writings detail the mechanical brain-occurrences when we hear sounds and perceive images. It’s incredibly well written, he makes It quite simple to grasp these concepts. He talks about the mind’s ability to define and picture shapes within our consciousness, and how we can deconstruct, associate and differentiate through our brain and ears. This really helped me gain a deeper understanding of photography as a whole. This is where the term ‘gestalt’ was first used and recognised. It actually gave me an even deeper insight into the works of Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler and Kurt Koffka. Who helped really further gestalt psychology. As a lot of my friends are in fact clinical psychologists, a lot of their work fascinates me. I could easily dedicate an entire assignment to them as their knowledge and insights have made it incredibly easy for me to break down these terms in order to gain a firm understanding of these concepts. I really want to make sure I am delivering the best quality images that I can provide for these assignments.
The location was set at a local barbershop, it was a male-lead salon and couldn’t have been more different to the hairdressers I’d grown up in – in the best way possible. I wanted an environment with a certain level of detachment so I could document it from an objective point of view ( as I’ve detailed earlier) – this is so I could focus on the moments themselves without getting too attached to the subjects I was photographing. I have been in a female-lead environment my entire career, so I thought it would also be quite refreshing to see a different type of salon.
Combining it all together:
I have been reading a lot recently due to lockdown, so finding relevant research was incredibly easy. I wanted to pay a slight homage to all the practitioners that I’d researched for this assignment, that’s why I am photographing the entire event in black and white – strictly .jpegs as well, so there’s no correction afterwards. I want to embrace the definition of the decisive moment. That’s not to say that there won’t be any sharpening or tweaking after, but I really want to build on my skills for this assignment, and take responsibility if anything goes wrong on the shoot. I’m also going to be using a Leica – again, paying homage to Bresson and Capa who would use them throughout their career.
With the exception of one or two shots, almost all of this was shot on the Leica TL2, I had it on multi field metering, with a 28mm lens set mostly to F1.4 – this is a manual focused lens. I set the images to Black and White and programmed the camera to shoot .RAWs as well as .jpegs just in case I did make any crazy mistakes. I brought two soft boxes, as you can see from the images below there was a lot of light coming in through the window – if I’d not have packed my soft boxes to fill the subjects they’d be entirely silhouetted. I positioned the lights very practically, none of them ended up showing in the shots which was another thing I’d learned from The Five C’s of Cinematography.
I tried to look seek out those minute movements, the mathematical precision – the gestalt imagery, mixed with Bresson’s work on the decisive moment. These aren’t the moments you’d catch from where you’d be sat in the chair. While youre sitting and drinking coffee, the stylist is at work – crafting, shaping, every movement has purpose. I’m very pleased with how these images turned out. They definitely evoke a certain Vidal Sassoon-like quality. I followed the 180 degree rule for the most part, utilising techniques I’d learned from The Five Cs. The photos definitely follow a continuity, but I wouldn’t say there’s anything narratively bonding them together, each photo was meant to represent the very moment itself. I wanted to make sure the whole was different to the sum of its parts. Actively ensuring that my readings were indeed impacting my work, forcing me out of my comfort zone. Initially I was nervous, but as a I started to talk with the guys they were actually really chilled out – they were open to suggestion and let me have almost complete creative control on the look of the images, as well as how they were taken. I wanted the subjects to remain as relaxes as possible, as if we’re watching them in their natural environment. You can see the impact of Montgomery’s work had over the finalised images – quite a few of them are purposely over exposed. I wanted the whites to be quite piercing at first, the sunlight helped with this. The soft boxes were faced slightly away from all of the subject’s faces. I wanted to catch some edge light, illuminate the eyes but also exaggerate the contrast naturally without needing any further advancements later. As I said I shot this assignment almost entirely in black and white – in camera, this helped me further embrace the philosophy of the decisive moment, as I was often left contemplating my next move, waiting for the right shot. Bresson once said that being a photographer is like being a predator, stalking their pray – analysing their every movement, I felt like I was doing that here.
In retrospect, there are a few things I would change, I have actually pondered what some of these images would actually look like in colour but I feel this may take away from the look of the images or break the illusion. Editing was actually one of the easiest processes of any of my projects, because I was shooting most of this with 2 different light sources, I had immense control over the look and could correct my settings as I went along. I ended up rounding down a collection of over a hundred different photographs to 60 final ones that I really liked, the only real variations between each of them being the moment themselves – shot this in continuous drive mode, which meant one picture would take consecutively after the next. This meant I had maybe 2-3 identical variations between each shot. I didn’t integrate any HDR, and tried to back away from overly correcting. Adding to the decisive moment, I wanted to emphasise the water sprays, this was particularly hard because the sun would often catch on the water droplets and they’d be lost in over exposed areas – In most of the examples below this isn’t as obvious as I’d initially anticipated and they definitely add a lot to the finished assignment.
Rounding the images down was quite hard, mostly because I think there were way too many individualised moments that I really liked. The only problem I had with the 60 I chose is that they seemed to follow a slight narrative unintentionally – so I made a creative decision to break that continuity down, focusing mainly on visual elements to tie the themes together. I wanted the first image to establish this new setting, but I also wanted the sun to be bouncing off the wall – this wider shot was only possible on the Canon if I recall – which had an 15mm lens attached to it, the wall was quite large an I wanted it all in frame.
I personally thought this one would make quite a good introduction shot, mainly just to establish this new setting – I wanted it to feel new to both me and the viewer. You can see that the interior lighting was actually really good for this one, I didn’t need any fill light to make the walls look more even. I didn’t really like the way the wires looked, but the repetition between each station contrasting with the patterned tile floor really adds contrast and much needed depth to the photograph. I think the black and white really helps bring this out. I wanted to make sure that I had a lot of ceiling as well, to further emphasise scale but also add some visual variation – like the lights are leading you down into the chairs, naturally.
For these types of shots I had to get really close to the subjects, you can see the bounce light really helps here adding much needed light to areas which would otherwise be drowned in shadows. I wanted the arms to lead the eyes into the shot, for the viewer to naturally hunt for the eyes. It was incredibly important that I not miss focus, as you could imagine the consequences when shooting at f1.4. The natural light adds a really crisp quality to these images, that combined with the soft box created a really nice cohesive look that was easily recreated for each situation. This meant all of the images would have the same level of contrast.
This one was great and was probably one of the best executions of the decisive moment in the whole collection. The client had said a joke which triggered laughter from the stylist, after this he regained his composure and immediately went back to concentration. I am glad that I got some photographs of the stylists having fun, as part of my introduction was about the enthusiasm of returning back to work after lockdown.
This was another great moment, I attempted to get the hair right in the middle of the frame – the arm acting as a divide between the client and the stylist, segmenting them across the image. I think this could have been done more effectively, but it really conveys the message I was trying to say, another moment with a lot going on. You can see that I am following the gestalt principles in most of these examples, keeping up the consistency and attempting to nail each shot consecutively. This shoot was incredibly hard, it required a lot of work – especially when moving the lights for each scene.
This being one of the famous ‘water spraying’ moments, I had to make sure I didn’t overexpose the droplets. I also thought it would be nice to include another picture of the stylist smiling to build on those themes of enthusiasm I’d talked about briefly in the introduction. I think the lighting isn’t as good on this particular shot but it portrays the message I was trying to say. Everyone was having a great time, the morale was high and a lot of my initial anxiety had completely disappeared. People were really relaxed on camera, they were incredibly good at forgetting I was there which further allowed the sensitivity of each given scene to present itself naturally as opposed to forcing it. They would naturally make each other laugh, this further building on Bresson’s philosophy.
Out of all of the images I shot, these were the most satisfying. A lot of it had to do with the fact that I knew what to look out for, again, these sorts of moments you usually miss when getting your haircut – but for people like us, this is all we’re seeing. This again builds on that level of disconnection, the client is experiencing a completely different perspective than the stylist. This is like revealing what’s behind the curtain so to speak. You can see the bounce light in the mirror, I think this does become a bit distracting once you notice it – but the lighting was needed in order for the scene to feel complete – this is something they didn’t mind.
I knew being in an environment mostly filled with mirrors that I’d eventually start playing around with reflections, this was me hunting for my decisive moment through the mirror. I wanted a photograph that would feature two perspectives, to further build on my readings on gestalt principles. This image was really effective. I turned the light off for this, and wanted the right side of the frame to be a little bit darker to add contras. You do notice the fact it’s a little darker when I’ve pointed it out, but when you look at the images as a collection it is significantly less apparent.
I turned the light back on for the close up, he sectioned the hair nicely down the middle so we had multiple lines and perspectives. I really nailed the focus on this particular image quite well, I think I did a good job of isolating another one of those elegant techniques used by a lot of hairdressers and stylists around the world. These principles look brilliant when photographed under the correct circumstances and can be visually striking no matter if you’re into hair or not.
This image was probably my favourite of the whole lot, capturing a moment I’m sure we’ve all experienced in the past. The cold water droplets on your skin can often send a slight shiver up your spine, I wanted to capture this. As you can see the client closed his eyes, he was actually flinching over the freezing cold water spray. This is a really good moment, probably my most favourite of the whole collection. I also like how the water naturally fills those negative spaces, adding more visual elements to further engage the viewer into the scene. The framing is also really good, I wanted to focus the viewpoint on the stylist but blur him out – allowing us to look more at what he’s doing, as opposed to who he is.
In conclusion, this was the final image. It does break the 180 degree rule, which is talked about in the Five C’s – but I think this is a good way of establishing a final photograph to round off the collection. These are the tools used by the professionals, and for the past year they’ve had a lot on their plate both financially and emotionally – I wanted this project to be a tribute to an industry that has fed me and my family for my entire life. The guys in the barbershop were incredibly welcoming, Bresson would often say that people are at their most vulnerable in front of camera, and although there were a few moments where I did sense a little bit of vulnerability – as the time passed, these barriers broke down and I was fully able to blend into the scene almost encapsulating what it means to capture the decisive moment. Although there are things I would have done differently, such as some of the lighting and adhering more strictly to the visual principles of photography by embracing newer technologies such as autofocus – using these more analog techniques further developed my skills as a photographer and a visual storyteller. I was also able to predetermine the philosophy of each shot as opposed to the technical aspects which are incredibly distracting and have been the soul focus of most of my work so far. I focused and anticipating each moment, and although I didn’t completely nail my exposure on each shot, I am really happy with the work.
‘If you are not willing to see more than is visible, you won’t see anything’
Ruth Bernhard (1902-2006)
Alberto Giacometti had already mastered the art of drawing when he discovered the problem of seeing both the whole figure and the detail simultaneously. When he concentrated on the whole, the details disappeared and conversely, the whole disappeared when detail took over. He didn’t know how to draw without compromising one or the other. The only reasonable solution was to let the brain choose the right movement without concentration.
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 then the things towards the horizon. Now try and see the whole view 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. When you’ve got it, raise your camera and release the shutter. Add the picture and a description of the process to your learning log.
From what I have read of the assignment brief, it’s important I display an understanding for visual laws – my interpretation of the brief was that I should display an understanding for the gestalt laws that help drive creative mediums. These laws offer an insight into a deeper understanding into speaking the visual language. The brief also touched on the ability to break a scene down into three dimensions and the ability to view the image as a whole, which is of course different to the sum of its parts. I also want to make this project feel a lot more visually organised as opposed to previous projects I’ve done in which every image has a new meaning. I am not going to be tied down to one specific format, and explore the implications of each format.
Alberto Giacometti was born in 1901, creating his first oil painting at just 12 years of age. He comes from a family of renowned artists, architects and designers. Alberto would often paint people he knew personally. The painting above is called ‘Caroline’ – She was a prostitute he hired in 1958 in Paris. She apparently had a lot of personality attributes that Alberto found attractive. This painting has an artistic attribute that Alberto would then go on to apply to his sculptures. For example in ‘Buste de Diego’ the head was extended and with incredibly exaggerated shoulders. Alberto would focus on the shape of the head, capturing the ‘essence’ but also the form. Alberto did work for The Surrealists and he would often look to them for inspiration although they would eventually part ways after they found his work became too realistic along with the fact he started taking commissions which essentially allied him with the bourgeoisie.
René Magritte was apart of the surrealists movement in Paris, he was one of the leading figures in the movement. His famous “The Treachery of Images”, at least in my opinion is about the differences between actual objects and their portrayal in images. It isn’t a pipe, it represents a pipe – the same with the actual word ‘pipe’ – the word is not the same as the object. I adapt this philosophy to my photographs as well, often we take creative choices and don’t wish to display a scene exactly as it is in actuality. A lot of scenes are constructed, or sought out in order to fulfil the artists vision. Even Black and white for example doesn’t accurately portray reality because of the fact it’s monochromatic – human beings see in colour. Film itself, as a format, does not accurately portray colour accurately – therefore the images themselves are different to reality – there’s a level of disconnection. The photograph is not the moment, it represents the moment. I want the images for this particular assignment to make you question what you are seeing.
When I read the second part of the brief I thought it would be important to further expand my knowledge on gestalt principles. After reading Roy R Behren’s “Art, Design and Gestalt Theory” I started to gauge an even deeper understanding of these individual principles and their importance in the visual arts. These writings in particular allowed me to trace back the history of gestalt theory in order to have a better understanding of each laws significance. I know they have great significance in almost every visual medium, but for the sake of this assignment I am only going to reference their importance in art and photography. The psychologists or philosiphers themselves weren’t the ‘inventors’ of these techniques, but amongst the first to apply critical recognition to these principles with skeptical analysis in order to garner a deeper understanding of the creative mind but also human methodology and psychological association. For example in 1890 Christian von Ehren published a paper titled “On Gestalt Qualities” which elaborates on this “relationship-between-elements” and man’s ability to naturally attempt to fill in details that aren’t actually there. The human brain subconsciously breaks down objects and perceives them in their most simplest forms, filling in relevant information. Essentially explaining that the whole is almost certainly different to the sum of its parts. Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka and Wolfgang Köhler then went on and built on this Psychology over time, adding to Ehren’s work and further developing it. Although I do personally like the story behind its inception, for the sake of this project it’s probably more efficient to focus on the laws themselves as opposed to how they first came about.
This logo contains all of the main characteristics most commonly associated with gestalt laws. The use of actual psychology and how shapes are interpreted in the brain in order to create a response is one of the driving factors of this design language. These are incredibly important in photographer because their uses can help further trigger an emotional response in the viewer’s mind – they can also help build on the spectacle. Agus Nonot Supriyanto wrote an article for snapshot.canon-asia.com in which he shot images specifically to help add visual definitions to each of the laws.
His image featured above follows the law of simplicity, meaning that at a glance our brains look at images and naturally subconsciously perceive them as something alternative to what they are in actuality – that’s why this image is titled ‘Alien Robot’ because the mind can perceive that image as some sort of sci fi killing machine but when you look further into it you actually realise the image is a lot more complex than initially thought. Agus has purposely chosen a scene that can be interpreted in multiples ways and this further aids us in finding a deeper understanding of these rules. These rules don’t have to be followed perfectly, in fact they often come to mind automatically without you even realising. I always find myself looking for the alternate perspective, capturing a moment that can be interpreted in multiple ways, both aesthetically and in a more subtle way.
I feel photographers like Jeff Wall use this technique exceptionally well, even if it’s unintentional. In his photograph “Mimic” he wanted to recreate a scene he could remember from this childhood. He said he left the themes of this image vague to allow the viewer to apply their own meaning. Wall picked the actors, he picked the clothes, the street – ever aspect of this image is staged but it’s done so well it almost looks like real life. If we examine this image closely we can actually see some of these gestalt laws coming into play. Most notably is the law of proximity and the law of continuity. We associate the two people on the right as a couple because of their proximity to one and other but perhaps at a glance we may associate all three of them as one single group – this all comes down to your brains ability to identify these patterns. The continuation comes from the background in my opinion. Like I said, these visual laws often apply themselves.
“Seeds on a Counter”
For this image I simply laid some seeds out on a black surface – I didn’t, it’s actually geese that are shot from above. This shot was incredibly hard to pull off but it was one I’d wanted to take for about a month. I had to wait for the right weather and find a suitable park in which I could achieve the final result without endangering any wildlife. Obviously I don’t wish to disturb animals in their natural habitat, not only that I know there’s often compromises we need to make as artists to make sure we achieve the result as efficiently as possible. This image Is a HDR, shot at incredibly fast shutter speeds using a drone. The idea for this shot came about when I was LSD, I was eating rice and my friend said I there was maggots in my food, because of this I then started believe therefore seeing the rice as maggots – the inability to make the distinction between rice and maggots sounds ridiculous, but you would be amazed how many people still believe this picture is of seeds laid out on a counter. My own mother doesn’t believe it and I wish that was a joke. The proximity and repetition of this image is what makes it uncanny in my opinion, I needed to isolate the water to add contrast – without that contrast the illusion is broken. It is not photoshop, nor a visual trick. In retrospect, I find this image a little too surreal to sit amongst my work – but I think it helps that it is actually a photograph of a real scene without any compositing in using photoshop or any external image manipulation application – only simple HDR conversion methods using Abobe Camera RAW, more specifically the HDR combining tool.
“Last Ones Up”
For this image I wanted to explore “Horror”, more specifically what something has to be to be defined in that genre. It was taken in an area called “Redmires” and over the past few months it’s been repeatedly struck with snow, which then freezes and remains for a considerable amount of time. I was sat on a wet log, at night, in the middle of nowhere waiting in the woods for snow to fall – and eventually it did. It took about 45 minutes of waiting but it was worth it because now I’ve got his image. It was a long exposure, I wanted to capture that in-between moment of the woods before the snow came falling down – that’s why the white of the sky is so surreal, this image was taken in the evening. The white is the now coming down, piercing through the woods. One of my followers once said this photograph reminded them of a movie they once saw a child that petrified them so much that they couldn’t sleep for a whole week, they also couldn’t remember the name of the movie either (which I thought was particularly amusing) but it had me thinking even more about the implications of colour and image. There was nothing scary about my miserable little trip to the woods that night, no phantoms, no monsters – but the image itself may say otherwise. We associate. I shot this using my Leica TL2 with a 28mm F1.4 – I set it at F4 on a tripod using a remote timer so I didn’t knock the camera during the exposure period.
This image was built on the law of closure. I had this idea for an image that had the approximation of a circle with missing pieces. I’d driven past this place a few times in the past, and knew that from above it would actually fulfil this idea I’d had. Unfortunately that particular day they decided arrange the skips more sporadically, therefore obstructing the circular formation I’d seen the week prior. It ended up looking like the ship from Star Wars. I do think the imagery of the bicycle chain is still present. I have this obsession with tilting the camera down, looking at the world like this isn’t something we come across in the natural world. This effect can make large structures often appear smaller than they actually are, you’re flattening the visual plane -it’s harder to distinguish depth. The circular formations in the middle of the frame help draw you into the image. The repeating colours of the skips, as well as the rough pattern really sell the image for me. It’s not something I would take everyday, because things like this don’t occur all the time. If I were to do this again, I would probably photoshop each skip to align more with a circular frame – but I didn’t really want to take away from natural human formations.
This is a historical building for many reasons, this company started in Sheffield for about 100 years, earning many accolades. They would make signs for many businesses throughout Yorkshire until they were eventually bought out by the Sheffield Co-operative Society and moved to a new location. There’s some dramatic irony in the fact that a business once famously known for supplying so many shop fronts hasn’t got a shop front anymore. Notice the sign, rusted and destroyed. I shot this image on my Nikon F5 on Fuji Superia 400 – not by choice, I did attempt to get much closer to the sign using my drone to avoid getting too much of the building in shot, but this is directly across the road from a court house and the security told me stop flying it or he would call the police. There’s a lot I would do differently. Thankfully I shot this on a full frame film camera with a 24mm F2.8 – so I would at least have a nicer viewpoint than if I shot it on a 50mm. I think the fact we can see a lot more of the building, especially combined with the saturation really helps give this photograph a bit more of a painterly feeling. In retrospect I would have focused more on the shutters, as the lines are quite striking and would love quite nice with the sign poking through the top of the frame.
I would always drive past this car when I would drop my girlfriend off for work. I always thought it was cool how the owner of the house had unintentionally framed the nose of the car so well. I think this gives a more secluded viewpoint, it’s an almost invasive angle, as if you’re peering into an environment you shouldn’t be. I shot this on film and it’s gotten quite a response online from a lot of people in Sheffield – I even got a message from someone in the area telling me the story behind the vehicle as well.
I’ve been in two minds of whether or not to delete this image, but for the sake of this assignment I decided to keep it. I think even without the backstory the image it stands for itself, I shot it on my Nikon F5 with a 50mm f1.8 – so I could really isolate the subject and make the plants seem more ‘frame like’. I only shot this from this angle and avoided taking any images of just the car itself – I wanted to use as many visual techniques as possible to make the image feel as concise as possible without coming off too stylised. I wanted each image to say something completely different from the last without them becoming too much of a ‘mashup’ of different techniques. These pictures actually go together because they all have a similar colour temperature with the exception of ‘Last Ones Up’.
In my opinion, I found that due to developing my skills by learning about gestalt theory and surrealists art I was able to have a more thorough understanding of the visual principles of photography. My work has slowly started to become more conceptual, often starting with brief ideas that I wish to explore first before I then go and execute the photographs themselves. I’ve also found myself trying to pack as much in the frame as possible – filling it, not overloading it. To ensure there’s an even spread of visual information, further conveying the message I’m going for. I still think there’s a lot to be learned, but through further reading I may be able to advance my knowledge and further develop my understanding.
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.
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.
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.
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’ 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.
Start by doing some of your own research into the photographers discussed above. Then, 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. Add a selection of shots, together with relevant shooting data and a description of process (how you captured the images), to your learning log.
I think it’s impossible to envision this method of photography without going back to Photographers like Salvador Dali and Harold Edgerton. These two examples stand out for entirely different reasons. Obviously Dali was more of a surrealist artist – the image below is an almost perfect example of his work, he’s obviously more accomplished when it comes to paintings but many practitioners cite his work amongst some of the earliest pioneers of the art form. Utilising faster shutter speeds, intensely bright studio lights, felines and even his own paintings as subjects and props – he’s able to freeze water in time, the cats clambering in an attempt to flee as he himself dances in joy as the momentary chaos ensues.
This image is of course a classic. The main reason this photo is so important to photography is because it’s one of the earliest examples of the use of fast shutter speeds being perfected, sometimes it takes a true artist, such as Dali to fully utilise and explore the true technical capabilities of photography – obviously this picture is very visually intense, there’s a lot going on, but it encapsulates a fleeing moment – momentary chaos. This methodology can be adapted in most areas of photography, but most effective when you apply these visual cues to scenes with a lot of motion – this ‘freezing’ can isolate a moment that the human eye would not be able to see nor comprehend otherwise. Philippe Halsman worked behind the camera to fully encapsulate Dali’s vision, it took over 20 attempts to get this perfectly. Dali was at first insistent that the only way they could fully embrace the technology is by blowing up a duck using dynamite, Halsman was opposed to this idea completely and insisted they remain patient. The two would work together for over twenty years – Halsman often cited as the greatest French portrait photographer to ever have lived.
Harold on the other hand focused more on the scientific and experimental aspects of high speed photography. His inventions would help photography evolve even further, up until this point a lot of photographs would take a very long time to shoot, it was incredibly early days. Whenever we take photographs with a flash on our phones we should be secretly thanking Harold for his fantastic technical advancements, he had two passions in his life – photography and electricity. His invention of the strobe light helped him gain even more notoriety in they eyes of the more academically inclined and when combining his immense experience in electrical engineering with his creative eye for photography – this allowed his work to achieve untapped potential, as up until that point people weren’t used to seeing time freeze before their very eyes. These techniques were incredibly cutting edge, capturing a fast exposure like this needs an incredible amount of light. Harold was another early pioneer, his photos are referenced in both artistic and scientific publications even to this day. Looking back, I think you could say these images look quite dated by todays standards – but for the time they really helped develop photographer as a forward thinking visual medium – these days we often take for granted the ability to push photography’s limits. He would use a motion picture camera that had been heavily modified to shoot at speeds untapped by photographers up until that point, inventing high speed flashes, cameras and equipment that wouldn’t just push photography – but would also aid in the battlefield, for example in WW2 his invention of the high speed flash was used to quickly illuminate stranded soldiers, landing zones and aid in photographing enemy locations.
On a more serious note, Pulitzer Prize winning Photo Journalist Richard Drew revolutionised photography in a different way. See on September 11th 2001 the western world was struck by one of the most catastrophic events in recent history. Almost 3000 people lost their lives in this horrific incident. Richard’s photographs are some of the most emotionally resonant photos of all time because they don’t just isolate a moment, they isolate someone’s final moments. The fleeing moment we touched on briefly above amalgamated in one of the most traumatic events ever. The juxtaposition of artistic vision and absolute terror combined to create a timeless image. People lost their lives that day, but this image shows an even darker side of it – a side of the situation a lot of people overlook, the fact people made the conscious decision to commit suicide rather than being burned to death. It’s awful to even think about, but this is what makes a great photograph. A photograph doesn’t always have to be pleasant, sometimes in order to capture something accurately you must capture even its most darkest elements – no matter how harrowing the scenario may be. Using a faster shutter speed to capture images like this somehow transcends the art form itself, this is among some of the most iconic photographs of the 21st century. Freezing a moment like this has a completely different effect to the world discussed above. It conjures up a completely different emotional reaction, rather than composing a scenario in a controlled environment – this is almost completely oppositional to the work previously discussed considering the fact this isn’t surrealism, this isn’t science – it’s pain, and allows the viewer to empathise, sympathise even if it’s beyond the viewer’s comprehension.
Jeff Wall’s ‘A Sudden Gust of Wind’ is actually one of my favourite images ever taken. This image is actually flawless. As you can see there’s actually so much going on, a feeling of momentary chaos frozen in time forever. Jeff based this set of images from paintings he’d seen in the past. A lot of photographers experiment with this style, but Jeff’s work stands amongst some of the greatest photos ever taken. The muted colours, the tiny sheets of paper being picked up by the wind and floating through the scene like petals from a blossoms tree. I am not actually sure of the visual relevant of the line that goes across the frame – I have considered this could be a photographic artefact, as a result of photographic compositing. Again, completely different to the work previously discussed. My aim was to find pieces from every region of the photographic spectrum without making it a history lesson. I wanted to find works from artists that resonate with me in particular.
This painting seems to have had a tremendous impact on Jeff’s perception of photography as a visual art form. My college photography teacher once said ‘a photograph is the lazy man’s painting’ and that stuck with me, this is almost a perfect example of that crutch being used as a strength. Sure, a photograph can be perceived as ‘lazy’ but this one certainly doesn’t. There’s also something quite interesting in regards to how the artist has sampled elements from a historical painting, it gives it an almost timeless quality.
I think one of the more interesting factors of this image is its tasteful use of photographic compositing – this image is actually a combination of a few different images, this editing technique allowed Jeff to think completely outside the box. This image has people questioning ‘how did he pull that off?’ and I think it really speaks for itself in this regard. What truly sets this apart from a lot of modern photographic work is Wall’s ability to fill the frame evenly which a concise amount of detail, it’s a truly meticulous task to combine all these visual elements together with such intricacy. As you can see, the line mentioned earlier is present on this combined composition – this leads me to believe that the line on the final image is in fact an artefact from photographic computing, as this photograph is actually a combination of several different photographs combined into one final image – stitched together.
Editing is often seen as ‘cheating’ when in fact it’s amongst one of the most integral aspects of being a photographer. People don’t actually realise that editing can be one of the more time consuming tasks as sometimes we want to push the creative boundaries of a particular project, this means you have to alter the colours until they’re completely different to what you captured on the day. And now iPhone filters are so overly used people often think there’s some just some ‘switch’ that can make any photo ‘pop’ when this is actually completely untrue. Photographs with a visual scale like this take an immense amount of skill to conceive. It’s a labour of love, and I think all of this work really pays off.
I’m not saying my skill and ability is anywhere near any of the photographers above, but it’s incredibly helpful to look into the methodology of other practitioner to expand my knowledge even further. It helps that I have experience in the field, so I’ve got somewhat of an idea of how to break image like this down.
Obviously I am not saying any of my work is even remotely in the same playing field as the artist shown above, but this exercise integral to my understanding of high speed photography. Obviously utilising my camera’s high shutter speed is something I do most of the time anyway. For example when I am shooting film and using the Sunny 16 rule it almost requires you shoot with higher shutter speeds to ensure I am not over exposing my photos on a sunny day. I have experimented in more creative scenarios as well, I find it refreshing to embark on creative projects and assignments as they often exercise parts of your brain you would otherwise wouldn’t be using when taking photographs of the natural world.
This is a simple series, literally snapping water droplets falling on a leather boot. Literally as simple as it gets, there’s nothing else that I can really say about these particular images. They were shot on film, ISO 400 at 1/1500th of a second with Ilford Black and White film on a Nikon F5 with the Sigma 30mm F1.4. As you can see with this particular set I wanted to freeze those droplets almost completely as a sequence. The F5 was famous for its Drive mode which could capture 6 35mm film slides per second. I don’t want to bore you with the technical aspects of this set but there’s something really interesting about seeing images like this coming from such an old film camera. I love the sharpness that came from this lens at f1.4, I think the lens did incredibly well in this situation. This is part of learning the ins and outs of this photographic device by really focusing in on the individual aspects that make this art form so immense.
This is a series of images taken on a timer, as soon as I flip the switch the camera would snap and document the speed of light – literally. I wanted to see if you could watch the bulb cooling down after it had been used for a considerable amount of time. This is a 1000w photo lamp, it carries some serious power and emanates some serious heat as well. Obviously in LED lights we don’t really catch this unique effect and I really like it. Obviously these photos are more just to show my understanding in fast shutter speeds and I know what to do in my work. I have used faster shutter speeds significantly, for example in my book from 2014 titled STATES, I would use really fast shutter speeds in the CANON 7D to capture birds mid-flight and moments I would otherwise miss if I was shooting relaxed. Obviously because of the sun in America you have to stick to 1/3000th of a second atleast anyway, especially when shooting with a 30mm F1.4. On the picture above I was dealing with an immense amount of light, I wanted to show how different these images are from one and other and how fast all that power can disappear. This example shows how slow you can actually snap and still have the ability to solidify motion. Obviously we’ve got a relatively static scene – there’s only one point of movement and that’s the light itself.
This was shot on a Blackmagic, I wanted to see the effects of using slower shutter speeds in video as well to try and capture different frames. I did this because I wanted to see if there’s any differences between video and pictures. When you isolate a frame from a moving video, because the shutter speed is still much slower than most pictures, you see a lot of smearing and motion blur. I wanted the liquid in the glass to feel apart of the image in the background – I wanted the light to pass through the glass and liquid to create somewhat of a chameleon effect. As you can see there’s not much going on in this particular image. There’s not much I can really other than that I was fiddling about with different scenarios and scenes, to experiment with different lighting setups.
For these, I simply just had the subject run towards me. I shot these at 1/60th of a second to make sure the flash had time to recharge between each shot. I was using a speed light, but it was still hard to ‘freeze’ the motion. The flash could shoot at 1/250th of a second but the flash wouldn’t recharge quick enough and every other photo would turn out really dark.
This was taken on Fuji Superia 400. I used spot-metering so the camera would expose for the drone, I don’t think my Nikon F5 was capable of exposing properly for something that’s moving quickly. I kept the camera at f1.8 at 50mm with a really quick shutter speed (about 1/3000th of a second) that’s why the frame is super dark. I had the drone fly towards the camera at 30mph, I knew the drone would stop well before it clashed in the camera so this Is a fantastic image for testing the cameras ability to freeze motion – this feels frozen in time. Don’t get me wrong, I know this photograph isn’t some photojournalistic masterpiece but I want to display the fact that I’ve been exploring the brief’s concepts in multiple different ways in order to display an even deeper understanding of each tool in the toolkit.
This is another film photo, shot on the same roll as the one previous. I wanted to take some wide angle bird photography – I have done better stuff before for my digital work, personally I despise the framing on this. But this was shot at 1500th of a second at f1.8. The robin flew away pretty much straight after I took this, so I think this is quite a fun one. I wouldn’t ever use this picture to represent my skills, as when I shoot birds I usually tend to get quite close up (using a 70-300 f3.5) and completely isolate the subject – but I’m working with using minimal kit these days, sometimes it’s just good to throw one camera and one lens in the boot and just drive out somewhere and see what you find.
‘Fragments of a vessel which are to be glued together must match one another in the smallest details although they need not be like one another.’
(Walter Benjamin,  1999, p.79)
The Walter Benjamin quote above expresses the idea that a collection should reflect a single coherent idea, but you’ll also need technical rigour to match the photographs to each other ‘in the smallest details’. Start by choosing your focal length, aperture and viewpoint combination in advance.
Visually, similarities correspond so they’re easy to look at, but be careful of duplicates because repetition is boring. Differences are interesting because they contrast, but randomly changing your framing or allowing a confusion of detail into your backgrounds will distract from the viewing.
Create a series of between six and ten photographs on one of the following subjects:
Albert Renger-Patzsch’s photobook ‘The World is Beautiful’ upset Walter Benjamin when it first appeared in 1928 and he railed against it in his famous essay ‘A Short History of Photography’ (easily available on the internet). He thought that this kind of photography denied social contexts – ‘the world is beautiful’ because that’s all you’ve got to say about it. However, Renger- Patzsch’s book was originally called ‘Things’ and rather than present a superficial beauty the point was more to let things speak quietly for themselves.
After reading Walter Benjamin’s ‘A Short History of Photography’ which details the short history of image capturing technologies – I’ve decided to focus on Views as the subject of this assignment. My main reasoning for this is predicated around the fact Benjamin’s understanding of photography doesn’t just touch upon the technological advancements of the craft, but also the artistic implications of photography as well. Now, in 2021 social and economic factors have affected photography so much so, to the point where we all have cameras, photography is now humanitie’s most favoured means in which to communicate. From Daguerreotype to the introduction of Front Facing Cameras on almost every Entry level device, nearly every citizen in the first world has the ability to take photographs. Obviously Benjamin could never have foreseen this, but those revolutions in early photography were merely the tip of the iceberg. The leather-bound coffee table books to which he Benjamin reflected on have now evolved into Facebook Photo Albums which can be uploaded and viewed by people all over the world. Cultural significance, the rise of Instagram as well as the major technological landmarks that followed, nobody could have foreseen photography’s importance in the modern world. That’s the reason I am going to use a Drone for this project, it embodies almost everything Benjamin spoke of. The Drone is the next step in expanding the art of photography to the masses. It’s going to be a lot less about the gear as it is the photographs themselves, what they say and what sort of feelings they invoke.
We live in a different world now, a world accustomed to violence and tyranny. We look back on history everyday, we see things for what they are. We switch on the television to see Planet Earth from its most unflattering angle. See, angles are important, angles tell a story – We don’t tend to see the world from above. And as cities get denser, the planet gets hotter – we see the natural world less and less. What would once be known as a metropolis, may now look more monolithic as the days progress – as characterless boxy buildings are erected, knocked down, erected. This cycle continues.
After reading Rosalind Krauss’s work on the differences between Views/Landscapes and the technical differences between the two. I wanted my images to hold up to a certain level of technical proficiency whilst still being explorative in nature. To capture is to create, but I didn’t want the images to seem pretentious at all. Landscape photography is the art of capturing an entire land mass complete with all of its defining features – to my understanding at least. I don’t really like capturing technical landscapes as much as I like seeing them in media. In fact, I tend to focus more on individual elements of the horizon. According to Flickr, there’s almost a million photos of the Eiffel Tower on their platform alone, this figure doesn’t include how many times the tower has featured in the background of an image – how many images do you think have been taken of this one landmark in total? How many of those images look almost identical? These are questions I want to ask myself when exploring these ideas. Upon reading Twentysix Gasoline Stations by Edward Ruscha, I knew I had to act little more nuanced as I had done previously – Ruscha would often paint his photographs after their execution, he would perfect the inconsistencies in their structure in these paintings by adjusting the perspective and straightening lines. These photographs were taken in 1962 and printed on low quality paper, this would mean the photos would lack detail but Ruscha took this into consideration, as the distinguishing shapes and striking fonts (as he started was fascinated with typography) were visible in almost every composition. Ruscha had an affinity with single word catch phrases, that contrasted with the rudimentary cuboid construction of each of the gas stations. Words like ‘TEXACO’ and ‘STANDARD’ almost jump out from the page. He captured each photograph during his journey to Oklahoma, the book also being a ‘Mass Produced Commodity’ like Fuel and Gas stations at the time – each of them very similar in design and construction, I think he also adapted this ideology when producing the photographs as well. Each of them express a very laid back approach to composition, one in particular being under exposed.
When researching Ruscha’s cultural impact, I came across another artist that encapsulated the creative approach I want to take for this particular project. Joachim Schmid actually referenced Ruscha’s quite heavily in his book: “Twentysix Gasoline Stations, Every Building on the Sunset Strip, Thirtyfour Parking Lots, Nine Swimming Pools, A Few Palm Trees, No Small Fires“ Joachim Schmid took great inspiration from Ruscha throughout his career, as Twentysix Gasoline Stations had immense cultural impact during the 1960s, Schmid is an acclaimed photographic connoisseur, he’s famous for looking at as much as ten thousand photographs in a single day And Ruscha’s book is considered one of the first great Modern Artist Books and inspired many great artists to release similar books in similar formats. Joachim’s approach was significantly more contemporary, the pictures were colour and all featured an almost unnatural ‘Top Down’ perspective on the world. They feature a lot of consistent patterns, take the rows of cars seen below. You can see the the art in the age of mechanical reproduction to which Benjamin speaks of, you can see Ruscha’s Twentysix Gasoline stations – this is modern photography. But at a more technical concise level, because not many people are capable of capturing the world from this particular angle.
This ‘Top Down’ approach flattens the image. It’s harder for us to work out the depth between each layer of the images. I like this approach, but for my images I’m intending to zoom in a little further. I do like how this is composed, but I think there’s too much of a disconnect. The scale on the cars is great however, there’s something quite satisfying about seeing the world from this ‘shrunken’ point of view. I think if anything, Joachim was referencing some of Rushca’s panoramic work, less like Twentysix Gasoline Stations.
This photo reminded me of video games from the early 2000s. This particular aesthetic, the way the colours look and everything really appeals to me personally. I like the aesthetic, the tones in the shadows. I do think the compositions are a little boring though, obviously they’re using a more limited form of Ariel photography, which is to be expected. It would perhaps benefit from being a little bit closer to the ground.
“Boston, as the Eagle and the Wild Goose See It” taken by James Wallace Black is considered by many to be one of the greatest Ariel photographs ever taken. Gaspard-Félix Tournachon was indeed the first photographer to take Ariel photographs, pioneering the use of Hot Air balloons to capture immense images with a fantastic sense of scale. James used this same method, but I believe he also used Arthur Batut’s invention as well. Obviously aviation laws are different these days, you’re not allowed to go that high today with current Drone Photography laws – in fact the highest you can go is about 400 feet – now in ‘The Queen of the Air’ hot air balloon (owned by Samuel A. King) you could go as hight as 1200 feet, this would mean James would have a much larger image.
These technologies were particularly inspiring to me and helped me a lot in the development stages of this particular project. I couldn’t be straight forward, I wanted to paint an honest painting of my hometown, whilst also feeding into the monolithic and destructive themes of modern day society. Walter Benjamin once wrote a book about Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, he once stated that when an object has been replicated by machine it loses its authenticity, it loses its ‘aura’. It rises from an object’s uniqueness. Like the environments depicted in this project, the camera is also mass produced – however each photographer has a unique vision, and even when their ideas are similar the results will still vary. Photography has been mass produced as well, you look up hashtags on Social Media platforms such as Instagram and Flickr, there’s thousands of photographic works published every minute of every day – there has been for over a decade at this point. Photography has been ever so present in modern day society. Everyone knows a photographer and they all each have an individualised perspective on the human condition. Everyone’s lives are completely different in almost everyday. How do these environments contrast against these themes? Do they at all? If there are neatly a million pictures of the Eiffel Tower alone, how many are there of the same tree?
James Wallace took this technique and crafted one of the most intriguing images of its time. A perspective like this wasn’t often seen from photographers like today, the use of drones in creative work is often commonplace in even some of the most low budget of productions – but back then it was completely different. People would see images from above and almost be blown away at the impeccable view, and beyond sitting on a tall hill or standing atop a moderately sized cottage there wasn’t really a way of reaching such high altitudes. I do however find it interesting how the means in which these images are captured aren’t actually that different from how we do it today.
The NCAP are an independent organisation that have helped archive aerial photography throughout history. For my project I chose to research imagery from the first and second World War. These historic examples would act as more of a foundation for me to start implementing my ideas creatively. These images aren’t particularly high resolution, but that Top Down perspective is present throughout almost all of the images, there’s also an astonishing sense of scale when you see these images, obviously because of their historical attributes. A lot of the images on the website don’t feature the Photographer’s credentials, in fact a lot of the images are ambiguous in nature.
This is an aerial shot from Auschwitz, you can see these images give that intense sense of scale that I was referencing earlier. There’s a lot of depth, the historical importance of these images is present in every single exposure. The only information we have on this particular photo is that it is taken above the nazi concentration camp. The uniformed lines, low contrast Black and White, that flattening of the pictorial place are actually the main reasons I like this form of photography. Nobody really sees structures like this from directly above. The image itself is really haunting, obviously because we all know what happened here.
This is an image taken of Britain during The Blitz, again this image is packed with historical significance. There’s an astonishing amount of detail in these images. I love the way the roads flow through each other to separate each section into individual segmented pieces. Obviously the quality of these scans could be better – the website actually limits the quality to avoid copyright infringement. The smoke cloud is what gives us that sense of scale, especially when you compare how large it is compared to the many roads and buildings in this image. The lack of colour makes it quite hard to distinguish each feature, in fact I think if you showed this someone without them knowing the historical significance they’d have a hard time trying to distinguish what it actually is. Obviously a lot of these images weren’t actually taken by trained photographers, the pilots had very limited control over the photographic capabilities, so a lot of these images speak for themselves in terms of quality. It’s more the subjects of these images that give them more importance. When looking at my project, I want my intentions to be quite clear, obviously I will have a lot more creative control when compared to the photographers above. I have said ‘historical significance’ quite a lot, that’s because a lot of the images I’ve researched for this project aren’t technically brilliant by today’s standards – what sets them apart is that significance, a lot of these pictures are great because of their situation. Ruscha for example, he was one of the pioneers in modern art, his perspective changed the way we look at pop art. If we look at Black’s examples, these images have significance because we have using very experimental techniques which have evolved overtime.
Photographer Karolis Janulis creates really high contrast images that take advantage of HDR functionality. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, this essentially increases the camera’s range between the darkest and lightest parts of the image – meaning? You can retain immense detail in both the shadows the the highlights of the image. Everything has a sort of hallucinatory amount of detail. I wasn’t ever really a fan of this particular style until recently. Initially I thought it was often used tastelessly like putting the Adobe Lightroom ‘CLARITY’ feature unto 100% but I couldn’t have been more incorrect. As you can tone down the look of the HDR, so it isn’t as overkill. This is going to be the main tool in my toolkit.
Using this and combining it with complex settings with a lot of repetition, you can produce striking results. This is a style I do like to see, and I do actually follow a lot of pages like this on my Instagram. But, for this particular project I want to make it more relevant to my setting. I would consider this somewhat of an improvement over The Square Mile project, as I didn’t particularly like the way I edited those photos. think the colours were a little off, too green I’d say. Not only that, The themes of the Square Mile weren’t particularly clear. These images couldn’t be just the straight forward Drone photographs we’ve become so accustom to seeing on a regular basis. And as Wes Anderson as these images appear they do lack that social commentary that Ruscha, and Benjamin speak of. There’s also a sort of visual authenticity that Joachim’s take on Ariel photography has over images like this. I am not saying this is a bad image by any means, but upon researching contemporary Ariel photographers the variation between the images does seem to dwindle.
Amos Chapple is another ariel photographer. There’s a lot of contrast, the intentions of the photographer are clear and it creates a very wonderful image. Ariel photography has the benefit of creating a supremeluy cinematic shot out of almost any scenario, and because this is a lot easier it makes it incredibly hard to craft something more nuanced than a high energy photo such as this. This was shot using an incredibly high end camera drone – as you can see using a vignette really helps imply the scale of the structure as well. These images are great for depicting that Discovery Channel aura.
Zekedrone was another example, although the intensity is on the same level – the camera is clearly a lot closer to the ground, so get his feeling that the camera could be snatched from above at any moment. This is sort of the effect I am going for, although I’m sure you’re aware there’s no hippos in Sheffield. But adapting this methodology to my own work will prove useful.
I wanted that Gaspard/Betut vibe in these images, just to get used to capturing images from heights like this, at first I didn’t really have much confidence. I also wanted to test the camera’s capabilities. Usually in drone cameras, like the DJI Mavic 2 and Phantom 2 used below have very limited colour depth – they do shoot raw, but the image often lacks detail especially the more textured parts of the image. For example, in the image above you can see very little detail I’m the blacker areas. Now, it was misty on that day and the camera was actually working incredibly hard to produce a bright enough image, not to mention the wind speeds meant I couldn’t keep the drone stable enough to do a long exposure. Wind speeds are one of those things you don’t have much control over, it is impossible to line up a shot that contains multiple exposures If the camera is moving.
For this I wanted to reference ‘Boston, as the Eagle and the Wild Goose See It’. As you can see it does actually look sort of like a snowy rendition of that image. I didn’t use the HDR functions at this point, I still wanted to rely soul on singe exposure photography. Using the drone like you would use an SLR, using the exposure triangle. My first attempts were just to get used to flying at higher altitudes, these images utilise the manual functionality of the camera. It’s basically controlled the same way as a normal camera. You input your ISO, Shutter Speed – the only main difference is the locked aperture, basically meaning you’ve got to use Variable Neutral Density filter with Polariser capabilities to get proper exposure during sunny and overcast settings. I for all of the following images I switched over to HDR capabilities and exposure bracketing. This is the art of combining multiple different exposures with varying incremental differences and combining them all into one editable exposure – This sounds technical, but it’s much easier than it sounds in practice. This is with itself is a very basic shot, not much planning went into it, I was just playing about. It had recently snowed and I wanted to see how far up I could fly without being affected by wind. To my surprise the done handled these situations fine, I am no by no means an experienced drone technician. I only really started getting into them a few years ago and there’s a lot more practice to be done just yet. Environments such as these you have to be incredibly careful, there is a significant amount of planning and preparation that goes into each flight. You need to make sure the aircraft is in sight at all times, that I do NOT accidentally film any person’s face. You need to stand back from the drone and make sure that there is NOBODY near by during take off – the blades on these devices spin incredibly quick and things can easily go wrong in weather situations like these.
As far as locations are concerned, I tried to stick to overgrown industrialised areas. In the Kelham area of Sheffield there’s a lot of collapsed buildings that for one reason or another had been knocked down in the past and left. There’s a huge fly tipping problem in areas like this. The video below shows you a good idea of the types of environments I have been working in. This further goes into that ideology mentioned earlier – these cuboid buildings are erected, destroyed, erected, destroyed – It’s a cycle, this will continue. This particular environment is ugly, but amongst this ugliness there is beauty. The moss and plants piercing through and fighting against the cold, through the trash, through the rubbish. This is another example of a HDR image. There’s a lot of definition in this image. Throughout this area alone there was at least ten mattresses, this image alone features four of them. I liked the strong lines in this shot, you’ve got the slabs on the floor in contrast with the mattresses, it really gives you a sense of scale. Look at the size of one of those slabs for example as opposed to the mattresses – How many people would have had to lift each one of them?
This essentially works out the exposure bracketing settings for my chosen ISO and Shutter speeds. That is a technological revolution within itself, the camera then produces three different images at three different exposures.
Then in Lightroom you combine the three images using the HDR Merge too. This takes the dynamic range from each individual exposure and combines it together to create one very flexible RAW file – this is edited like you would edit a regular image.
This RAW file is edited like any regular image, you have increased detail in almost every area – up to three times the amount of visual data. Obviously for this particular image, I wanted it to be the most visually stylistic. I wanted there to be a lot of depth in the image. As you can see below there’s an after, and then before – if you use the slider and slide left you can see how much visual data this three step process adds to the finished image. Obviously the finished image on the left is more of an accurate representation of what I saw in the real world as well – where as the image on the right looks washed out and dull, there’s also a ‘soft’ look as there’s limited colour information. There is no depth to the image on the right, there is no character. You could probably make arguments for either image if you wanted. If we were to talk about the brief history of modern photography, the word Adobe would probably be used over a hundred times. I wanted modern editing techniques to be utilised, there’s nothing analog about the image at all. I am not saying combining multiple exposures in post processing is a new technique, but as far was combining multiple .DNG files together to create a more flexible and visually compelling Image – this is still a relatively unknown technique.
As you can see we’ve got the finished edit on the left and the original unedited image on the right, the level of detail retained over the original image is almost unparalleled. Drone’s camera sensors are usually very small. It’s very hard for a camera sensor the size of an ant to produce an image anywhere near as detailed as that seen on an APS-C or 35MM camera. But combining multiple images, with varying exposure brackets can help bring back a lot of that detail that would otherwise be lost. Take the black ice for example, as you slide right you can see how much of that texture is actually lost on the original. This image was important for the project for many reasons, the main being the symbolic nature of it. I think the image, regardless of whether if it was shot on a 35mm or a Canon would be equally as striking. A manufactured item, a Bear, laying dead in the middle of a derelict man-made landscape, terraformed beyond recognition – but it’s impossible to escape nature’s fate. The greenery grows through it. Whether it’s the moss forming on the bricks, the weed piercing through the slabs, or the ice that acts as a dark void consuming the bear. These discarded landscapes have been left baron, forgotten for years. This looks more like something from 1984 that it does the rural city of Sheffield. These themes are heavy handed yes, but Sheffield has been heavily affected by this carnage, as more and more buildings in industrial areas are left to waste, as people pile up their rubbish – it’s a real issue.
These environments carry on for at least a mile, you can see how the industrial areas of Sheffield have been left almost completely barren. This area was integral for the majority of this particular assignment. They had a lot of the visual aspects I needed. As you can see there’s trees and bushes growing amongst the mess. This entire area used to be a building, as you can see from the wall in the video. This type of shooting is fun for a few reasons, the main being the level of freedom. There were no pedestrians about, so I have complete freedom to line up my shot wherever I saw fit. Some of them turned out really well, I usually like to keep my selection small – I am actually very selective over which shots stay and which don’t.
On the image above, I feel as though the effect doesn’t work as well. This what I meant earlier when I was talking about scale. It is incredible to be able to differentiate every single one of those bricks you see above, but is it always necessary? In certain situations the HDR can produce an almost Deep Dream effect – Where things look too ‘real’ if that makes sense. We’re not used to being able to see all of these details, so ultimately they don’t suit any real purpose. I think what’s most important about this image, is the fact that there’s grass growing through these bricks. But it isn’t as clear as id probably like. I want to be consistent with all of the images, not in colour but in texture – And in this, there’s no real reasoning behind having that much visible texture. In terms of the Bear picture, you understand why it was taken that way. You can also see me in shot, and although this is a relatively small detail, it is unneeded. You cannot particularly identify that the smaller aspects on the left are indeed bricks. From a technical point of view, the picture is fine, I just think it lacks the visual quality of the other images in the selection.
I feel like this image suited it perfectly, there’s an immense amount of depth in this image. Those trees felt a hundred feet high, and I think this image really does do a good job of shrinking it down. I wanted the more natural world to be emphasised in VIEW. I wanted every detail of the natural world to be visible. That’s why I think the high detailed look of this one really works, as I said previously we’re working with a sensor the size of a single grain of rice – this camera needs to be pushed for you to experience it’s true capabilities. You can have all of the gear but still have no idea. I wanted this to be striking, I wanted those textures in the snow to really shine through. There are a few problems in this particular shot I would like to recapture again in the future (If we indeed have snow anytime soon), the main reason would be the lack of snow on the trees, the wide angle lens of the drone doesn’t really depict this level of depth that well, it pushes the elements in the middle away from the lens because of it’s wide focal length. This particular image was only a couple of meters above these trees, but on the lens it would appear they look even further away – this sort of takes away from my initial plan of being closer and more intimate with the subjects. I think this particular shot is way too wide. For this project there would also be no real way of capturing it again at this level of visual quality, all of the snow has now melted.
This shot only really had two exposures, now, I like the purple I think it works. We don’t really tend to see purple light naturally. For example, the sun doesn’t shine blue or purple. But modern cars, their headlights often cast a blue/purple light. And in this scene in particular, it worked really well in conveying that monolithic theme I was discussing earlier. It does have a sort of Cyber Punk vibe going for it as well. I like the way the light interacts with the frost and the cracks in the ground. Ideally I would have liked this image to stick with the winter theme – Although I am a fan of this particular image, I am deciding to eliminate it from the final project, as I have produced similar images to this in the past, not to mention I don’t really think it fits in that well amongst the other pictures I have chosen. Initially I wanted the project to represents the monolithic and almost dystopian amounts of destruction these manmade structures have, there beauty also – as Ruscha depicted the Gas Stations, I would also depict my city with the visual tenacity of Joachim’s homage, this image would sooner fit in a car advertisement that it would a visual representation of these particular themes. This series would cover the effects of humans and their losing war against nature – not a celebration of it.
We first walked through this area, as the snow was still relatively fresh we needed lots of tiny footsteps across the main walkway in this area. It didn’t take much time to create this effect, I wanted it to be clear that people had been through here, that people had explored these regions. As this was miles away from previous locations, I needed there to be visual contrast. Tonally, the man made landscapes featured earlier aren’t too different from these. I didn’t want any contextual shots, I didn’t want to establish any sort of difference between these different environments, I wanted the physicality of each image to speak for itself. The foot prints in the snow are symbolic in that it also speaks about man’s effects on the environment, even all the way out here you can see people have been through here. Technically, the grass did keep moving between each exposure. You can see the grass in the bottom left has an overly dense effect – This wasn’t intended, this actually is because grass naturally aways, and when it does you can’t perfectly align each layer of the HDR. The detail on the rock really comes through though, you can see the texture in the snow really well as it’s not actually that blown out.
I take a lot of these photos at sunset, simply because I don’t have to spend as much time colouring them. I do like colouring my images, but for this particular set I just wanted to take advantage of the elements and colours already present in the settings themselves. I could have easily just boosted the orange channel to replicate these colours but that would take away from that sense of authenticity I was speaking about earlier. A lot of the colours in The Square Mile were artificially replicating expired Cinestill 800 – as a result I would boost the green and blue channels, I would also push the red channel – this did work, but overall I think I could have executed the project a lot better. The only real tool I used on this project was the implementation of HDR, this is more of a tool as opposed to a creative choice – there’s less room for error when you’re not using filters. I wouldn’t end up using this image though, if you look at the way the sky interacts with the top of the pylons, you can actually see this image is made up of several layers. The colours and exposure values change dramatically between the land and the sky – I don’t like this, it is a technical error which I have tried to avoid throughout this entire project.
This is another industrial photo, I first showed this image to a few of my friends from afar and they though the trucks were the lines in the middle of a road. I really like how small those trucks are, how that tiny stack of tyres, they’re almost minuscule. I really wish this particular shot was more of a HDR, with at atleast perhaps 2 exposure combinations combined together. There’s not as much intensity in the highlights, I do plan on retaking this image for a bit more visual intensity.
In conclusion, I’m really pleased with how the finalised images turned out. This project allowed me to tap into a higher plane of creativity (quite literally) by forcing me to think outside the box. I could have taken this assignment in numerous different directions, many of them would have satisfied the brief – but I think this exploration of this never ending war between humans and planet earth would be more intruiging. You can see a clear contrast in the images above, you can see subtle differences between both the complexities of humanity and the natural world – and how even the natural world isn’t free from humanities destructive capabilities, but the same could be said on the other end – for every pile of rubbish was a weed piercing through. The only image that sticks out and perhaps doesn’t belong is the one of the car from above – the main reasonings for backtracking on my previous statement about this particular image stems from the theme itself – there are at least one or two images of the natural world in all its beauty – but almost every image I took of these manmade environments would feature vegetation as if by design. This image acts as an opposite to these images. Obviously a lot of my ideology going into this project stems from Walter Benjamin’s work, but I didn’t want the work to feel too ‘edgy’ in that a lot of people my age tend to make these almost pro marxist statements by listing all of the things they hate – but I don’t think it leads to a very constructive discussion, in these images you can clearly see the effects of capitalism and almost a direct result of humanities growing obsession with mechanical reproduction. As a photographer who uses modern technology to capture my images, I know it could be considered almost hypocritical to talk about mechanical reproduction when I use factory built cameras made in the hundred thousands to produce my art. The aura of my art however is more in the images themselves as opposed to the means in which I’ve captured.
Does zooming in from a fixed viewpoint change the appearance of things? If you enlarge and compare individual elements within the first and last shots of the last exercise you can see that their ‘perspective geometry’ is exactly the same. To change the way things actually look, a change in focal length needs to be combined with a change in viewpoint.
For this assignment I essentially had to display an understanding of ‘perspective geometry’, and how backgrounds and images change depending on their focal length. I think it’s incredibly important in photography to have an understanding of parallax and perspective – or even just the way things move at different speeds depending on their distance from one and other. By understanding these simple laws, you can integrate them into almost any art form. You have the creative freedom to adapt this knowledge to almost every visual medium. For example in the Square Mile, I used my knowledge of perspective and parallax to create images with multiple fields – I’ve stated numerous times the importance of using photography in a way that makes it seem impactful, separating images into three different dimensions.
Here above is an example of what we call single point perspective, which means there is only one Vanishing point. This type of perspective is usually used in Street photography as it gives the viewer an immense sense of scale. As you can clearly see the buildings at the front are visibly smaller than the ones at the back, however they’re built to the exact same scale. For my project Plasterscene Gems, I used perspective when making miniatures to make the buildings seem much bigger than they actually are. By making the buildings that stand in the background smaller, I was almost guaranteed an increased sense of scale.
For this I decided to use the Blackmagic 4K Cinema camera. Using the kit lens I followed the brief, as you can see the differences in the images are subtle yet noticeable. First of all, as we step closer to the subject in the second image you can see a lot of lens distortion – as the camera’s mount is a full frame sensor sporting an EF mount – yet this particular 18-55mm lens is made for APS-C mounts. This isn’t noticeable when shooting at sharper apertures, but in this particular image you can definitely see some of that distortion coming in. Following this, you can see more background information in the second image, this is because we’re shooting with a wider focal length which pushes subjects further away.
Find a location with good light for a portrait shot. Place your subject some distance in front of a simple background and select a wide aperture together with a moderately long focal length such as 100mm on a 35mm full-frame camera (about 65mm on a cropped-frame camera). Take a viewpoint about one and a half metres from your subject, allowing you to compose a headshot comfortably within the frame. Focus on the eyes and take the shot.
Capturing portraits has always been one of my favourite things as a photographer. Utilizing every aspect of the craft, your brain’s firing on every cylinder. For this project I want to display my knowledge and experience in portraiture. It’s one of the cornerstones in contemporary photography. By using the visual language, we can portray emotion and invoke ideas within the viewer’s mind. Using focusing to direct the viewer’s attention can also project creative concepts and ideas. Using the bokeh, controlling the lenses focusing mechanism – these are all the ways in which we execute these ideas. With improving Auto-Focusing technology, we’re now able to capture people in environments and places we never could before. For example, a portrait which would take a considerable planning can now be taken on an iPhone and become viral within seconds of it being posted. The process of using manual lenses offers precise control, this is why I almost exclusively use them. A computer cannot read your mind, there’s something intriguing using vintage lenses in contemporary photography, they seem to develop a more nostalgic look and have distinct personalities.
Roland Scherman’s portrait of John Lennon has a rather traditional composition, you have some even light on the face. I think it’s most likely the subject and setting that provoke that visceral reaction. For this project I decided to have a look at the National Portrait Gallery, I wanted to see a wide variety of work spanning across every category. I think the most important thing to do with projects like this is to look back in time throughout history. I think the depth of field is relatively modest, displaying the crowd behind him whilst still retaining that bokeh blur.
Taking to Instagram, Rico Reinhold’s portrait of Louise Fankhänel has an interesting approach when it comes to lighting. I think the warm colours contrasting with the deep black values on her clothing culminate together to create a really beautiful colour palette. I think colour is one of the most important things in portraiture. A lot of the mood in this scene is represented by its use of colour. For example if we injected cooler colours into this image by affecting the image’s temperature it would change its entire tone. I also think it was very brave to only illuminate half of the face, traditional lighting techniques (although incredibly important for professional work) wouldn’t translate well. The lighting could suggest a few things, perhaps she’s the first face you see when you walk through the door, perhaps the last face you see before you leave – this compliments the facial expression well also. The soft focus is utilized very minutely, you can tell he’s shot this with a wider aperture as the background is clearly blurry, not to mention her hand on the left was clearly overexposed before he’d edited it. You can see that he shot this image 1-2 stops higher than he would before lowering the exposure in post to retain shadow content.
Nicolas Corradi is another photographer who utilizes depth of field to his advantage, as you can see in this image of american fashion model Katie Loo. I think the composition on this is quite nice. If it weren’t for the overexposed regions which he’s tried to save in post this image would be flawless. A lot of portrait photographers like to overexpose skin slightly and open the lens up fully, this makes surfaces such as skin look smoother. The same way Sony A7 Car photographers deeply underexpose their images to retain reflection details when they pull them up in post, a good example of this can be seen in Mike Crawat’s work:
As you can see Mike Crawat is amongst a lot of contemporary photographers who are fully utilizing shooting .RAW images as opposed to regular .Jpegs. This is what I am going to be doing with my portraits by overexposing. You don’t have to do it by a lot, but if you know your camera has enough dynamic range to handle it, why not? If it makes the finalized image look even better than so be it. In portraits, the framing and skin tones are arguably some of the most important aspects but you need context in order to make it impactful. That picture of John Lennon would never be as intriguing or intense as it is considered today without the subject and setting.
As you can see with a shot like this from my 2015 collection ‘Fade Away’ which won 4 photo competitions including an award for Best Portrait. I took full advantage of my Canon 7D’s dynamic range. I overexposed the image by 1 full stop to allow the light to fully pass over her face, slightly illuminating the tip of her nose. I think positioning was the most important aspect of this shot, although the background is almost completely white I do like the way it only accentuates the subject. I wanted to have the light pierce through the hair, run in the creases in the face. As I was saying earlier as well with colour, you can clearly see we coordinated the scene with clothing, lighting, I graded the skin tones the same way.
Here is another example of some of the work I did for College Music on Youtube, this was also in my Fade Away collection. As you can see I used that exact same technique, I’m still able to get soft and detailed images that have a vibe and set the mood well. With College Music mostly using images that are muted, faded, dark and somewhat melancholic – I needed to abide by a strict set of rules to be included on their Youtube Channel. By utilizing a single purple gel on a 800w photo lamp with restricted bounce I was able to construct a multilayered image with depth and emotional value. As I said earlier about deliberately over or under exposing, you can play around with the scene. Alter the images, you can make a bright room look dark, you can make a candle light look bright – anything is possible.
This is the image I chose to represent my finalised ideas, in this piece I wanted to make sure I tackled every medium. I challenged myself by using Black and White and using a relatively low contrast. I didn’t want the image to ‘pop’ so to speak. I wanted to keep the skin tones on the lower spectrum. There’s no real ‘highlight’ as far as colour. But the image is consistent and relatively finalised. I could have probably given a wider look, maybe taken a few steps back and revealed more of the background in retrospect, but I think the focusing on the eye and the lighting on the face using a 600W bulb and reflector has produced a soft sort of daylight effect. The focusing is very clear, I shot this image on iso 100 with my aperture at F1.4. I used an LED display in the background, the screen is very matte so you don’t tend to get too much of a bounce from the bulb. Now, I know this isn’t an outdoor scene, but doesn’t it look like one? I’m proud of the lighting on this image. Although there’s much more to learn in the future.
Find a subject in front of a background with depth. Take a very 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 or framing, set your focus to infinity and take a second shot.
This is something I usually do quite frequently, as I have said before, I like to separate and break an image down into three dimensions. Front, Middle, Back – this is important. I play around with this all the time, here’s an example from my Instagram:
As you can see it’s pretty much your standard macro shot, or so you’d think. Some moments you’ll never get a chance to capture again – this was perhaps one of them. I took advantage of my lens’s close focusing capabilities, as you can see manually focusing like this can really help you tune into untapped territory. Canon cameras are known for their fantastic autofocus capabilities, but this one needed a manual adjustment. I tapped in my autofocus points and it just wouldn’t act quick enough, I had to do it myself, otherwise that moment would be lost forever. The framing and focusing in this photo invokes something inside the viewer – as photographer Charlotte Sutton said in her book The Photograph As Contemporary Art: ‘Contemporary Artists have determined that through a sensitized and subjective point of view, everything in the real world is a potential subject’ – in more generalized terms you could say the world is your canvas and the camera is your paintbrush – but I think it’s important to attack it from a more conceptual point of view. Photography is a two dimensional artform, I like to break my images down into segments. More importantly I want to invoke a response.
For example in this image, I was in the back of a Taxi Cab coming back from a wild night in Leeds – we were almost home. The clouds were dull and overcast, so I’d been swapping from my Leica M to my Olympus Trip 35 quite frequently throughout the trip (no pun intended) using the Leica to get beauty shots and the Olympus to make the world look filthy. I saw this huge Volvo station wagon come zooming out of nowhere, I had to get it on the Trip 35. The scrape on the back window of the Taxi made the shot even better – it felt very three dimensional to me and with the vehicles going at different speeds I loved the motion in the image as well. That little foreground element actually makes the image in my opinion. Sure, the image could be considered dull or boring – even miserable, but that is by design.
I tested the brief in a couple different scenarios. I think the most important thing to do when practising something like this is covering as much ground as possible. I like to rehearse the idea first before capturing it later, if I need to come back and get it again – then so be it. I learned a lot about this back when I was working in Wedding Photography as if I didn’t rehearse portraits at least a thousand times before these events I’d have been completely lost in those environments. This is an example of me testing something. I liked the black and white filter as well, I think it’s a quick way to make bokeh pop even more. I love shooting scenes like this wide open. F1.7 is the lenses widest aperture, it makes everything look beautiful when you’re out in the woods.
As you can see in these particular night snapshots, I couldn’t get the framing perfectly (no thanks to the pedestrians) but hey, I’ve decided to get this one again when the place is actually open properly. Ideally I wanted to get more bokeh in the frame and get a cohesive texture in which the bokeh could further manipulate the image. I liked the combination of colour in this, also the way the rusted gates contrast the warm and inviting Christmas lights behind. I don’t like the grain though, I think the final shot needs to be more symmetrical, perhaps even locked down on a tripod with a shutter release. I think it’s important to display compositional consistency. Annie Leibovitz once said “One doesn’t stop seeing. One doesn’t stop framing. It doesn’t turn off and turn on. It’s on all the time.” This is practise, something I will attempt to perfect, another tool in the kit so to speak.
I decided to take a look at the way other photographers frame and draw attention to aspects within the image.
This photograph by Joao Bernardino from his 35mm Street collection is a great example of how selective focusing can affect the overall tone and context within the image. As you can see, the photographer chose to focus on the man’s back as opposed to streets preceding him. This gives us a sense of direction and scale, it’s also melancholic. I think the solidarity of this image was a concept Joao was quite keen on, as you can see with the colours he’s attempted to amplify and capitalise on that emotion. I think if you switched the focusing around and chose the background as the subject, the image’s tone could potentially change as well.
“Lucky” by Ingo in another example of why selective focusing is important, out of all of the beautiful angles this car has…he chose to focus on the Mirror ornament. This shows that he wanted to capture the aspect of the car that displayed the most personality – the most subjective, more importantly, what distinguishes it from the rest. I think this is also a good example of how the photographer controls the image. Looking through the car’s window this way brings attention the parts of the car we may otherwise overlook, it also gives us a sense that we’re ‘peaking’ into someone’s belongings.
How did this effect my images?
Well, I knew I wanted to work with nature on this project and I wanted to work with a minimalist colour palette to bring more attention to these uses and how effective they are. The main thing I wanted to address in my images is how important the subject is. Without those foreground elements in focus, do the images still work? Are the intentions of the photographer still as clear? The way we calculate focus in images is one of the most integral parts of the process. I will never use autofocus these days because I can’t rely on a Computer to interpret what I am seeing, I want my focus to mean something to me and that’s one of the driving motivations of my work. One of the main reasons I got into photography all those years ago was to show the world what I was seeing, not with just my own two eyes but in my mind as well. The subject is the foundation for which we construct all of our images.
I went to a place a few miles away from my house near Redmires. It has a lot of beautiful foliage, I wanted to capture the decaying nature of the environment around me without being too constrained by it. I wanted to capture images that could be universal and could be taken anywhere. For these images I decided to utilise the full effect of depth of field within the lens so I set the aperture to F1.4. I set the camera down on a small tripod and used a remote shutter release to capture both of these photos. I have done this method for pretty much all of the photos I’ve taken with the only exception being the one of the Tree Amigos. I set the camera one a 2 second countdown as well so I had enough time to back away from the tripod without accidentally budging it. I wanted as much light to bounce off of those minute inconsistencies as possible. The small colour variations and imperfections will only be more obvious when working wide open. As I have said before, shooting wide open can often soften out details within the image, this is why I want the camera to absorb as much light information as possible without being blown out. As you can see from these examples, the background is that of an eight foot drop into nothingness, with just the subject in focus you can’t interpret this information because it’s not in focus.
As you can see I achieved 100% focus on the leaf area. I tend to go for slower shutter speeds when I’m locked down in order to achieve as much detail as possible wide open, this photo was shot at 1/30th of a second, same with the following. It just gives a little more time for light to travel down the barrel of the lens in my opinion and makes the bokeh look a lot busier. I liked the slight colour variation on the face of the leaf, this effect is amplified when you activate the Black and White mode in Lightroom. When you bump up the contrast, it really brings out the black values, those inconsistencies in the texture really come through a lot better. I think this effect can really make the image feel more physical and real, despite the fact us humans don’t actually see monochromatically. Black and white images bring more attention to the shape of an image, the circular surface of the leaf is more apparent. The shadows on the first image have more colour information, so there’s more definition, where as if you flip it over to black and white those areas are darker. Colours like orange, red, blue can often register as darker shades of grey when translated over. Greens however can often show up lighter, depending on the level of contrast.
The main thing I learned throughout this experience is the attention you need to physically bring to details in the image. The subject and context actually bring the photo together, not just the technical skill. You can shoot anything perfect but if the subject isn’t intriguing, or doesn’t make you think – it’s just plain boring. For example this photograph of Felicity Jones by Laura Pannack, would this image be as renowned as it is if it weren’t for the fact it features one of the UK’s hottest movie stars? Perhaps, but the photographer knew this by design, she didn’t want the focus to be on the fields in the background, she didn’t distract us with foreground elements either – all of which could have made for an exceptional image, but the focus had to be on the actor. You could take this even deeper and say the background could represent her upbringing, where the actress came from.
For the final set, I chose to feature the photographs with the background in focus first, then follow with the foreground. I think the images flow better if you know the context behind them better, this also shows us the difference background has over the images, even if the background is nowhere near as fascinating as the fore – you have to appreciate the selective nature of these images. This particular experiment allowed me to think about things in a different way. As a photographer you’re in charge of what people see and what they don’t, so it’s very important to make your intensions clear.