Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Focal Lengths

A set of images using different focal length lens'.

  Focal length 12mm, f22

 Focal length 24mm, f22

 Focal length 70mm, f22

Focal length 140mm, f22

Focal length 200mm, f22

Focal length 400mm, f22

I purposely tried to not put the island set at the very centre of the frame as I captured the images. I was surprised that I felt the very long (400mm) lens produced the most pleasing shot, especially as the end result filled the frame nicely and wasn't planned. All the other shots have some kind of perspective, though the widest angle shots the subject is no longer the islands but the foreground.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Seek and ye shall find

Thoughts on photography as Art, reflections on reading so far.

I read "The Photograph" by Clarke soon after I received the course materials, I already had (and have now re-read) "The Photograph As Contemporary Art" by Cotton and "The Genius of Photography" by Badger having watched the television series and now re-reading again.

There are a number of things that strike me, firstly the likelihood that the same photograph will turn up in each book to illustrate a point. This concerns me a little in that whilst the image itself may have significant relevance to the chapter or genre being discussed, it would benefit the reader/researcher to have more variety to consider, otherwise the genre may tend to be considered a little narrow. This tends to suggest that more work needs to be done (by me) to investigate some of the photographers, to try and put some context to the text, in as much as it relates to what the authors is trying to relay vis a vis the photographers work and intention. There is a tendency to look at individual images and think that could be a "jumping-off" point for my own work. The seemingly straightforward compositions, especially of the still life work - which may or may not be atheistically pleasing - could quite readily be "cloned" and used to make similar images, in appearance at least. I suspect that when I have looked at more examples of the artists work it will help me put their work into perspective.

Clarke's book was less pleasing to read as it contained, for me at any rate, a number of contradictions which I have covered in previous entries - War and Peace and Confused already and I felt more at ease with Cotton's book. Both books, together with the Badger publication looked at how some modern photographers looked at, as Cotton described "Intimate Life". The photographs seem to be taken at the periphery of life (albeit intimate studies) and whilst I agree that they are "intimate" shots, I am a little concerned that it is the viewers prurience that is being pandered to. I saw an exhibition of Corinne Day's work (or it might have been photography that included Day and another's documentary of Day)  at the Photographer's Gallery some years ago which did detail the excruciating process she went through with the brain tumour. I can appreciate the bravery of the decision to record it, as there was no guaranty that there would be positive conclusion to the process. It was moving, I did feel shock and awe, but I came away thinking that it was the the image that shocked, rather than the emotive force that fed the creative process in its creation; much in the same way that Weegee's images shocked New Yorkers in the middle of the last century. Could it be that both of these photographer's contribution to the medium is as recordists of the society at the time? However Richard Billingham and Nan Goldin have both earned significant reputations as photographers almost by happenstance. Both recorded life as it happened around them, Billingham to gain material for his painting course and Goldin to record her life and that of her close friends - much in the same way that Facebook users do today. Both of these photographers work again seem to pander to the prurient and both photographers work have been legitimised by their having studied in either "Liberal Arts" in Goldin's case and "Fine art" in Bilingham's case. I will add that I have seen an exhibition of Billingham's work as well and again I was moved and shocked by the imagery, but much in the same way as for Day's work. I am also concerned that to research it more may inure the viewer to the "shock value" that must surely be at the core of the work; I can only assume that Billingham found himself looking for "more" intimate images of his family once the project gained momentum. This all needs more thought and research.

I did notice a similarity in a number of the "still life's" in that the subject - or object - found itself at the centre of the image, this was especially true in Cotton's chapter 4, "Something and Nothing". I struggle to believe this is a contrivance of the photographer to emulate a naive photographer's approach. For example Fischli and Weiss's Quiet Afternoon p114, Wentworth's Kings Cross, London, p119, Evan's "New Scent" p115, Shafran's "Sewing Kit" p115 amongst a lot of others and even Wall's "Diagonal Composition" p131 has the object (probably a piece of kitchen appliance) noticeable by it's absence at the centre of the image. I'm wondering why this all is.

All the books had something to say about portraiture which I found exciting, illuminating and challenging. I believe that portraiture should say something about both the artist and the subject - and it probably does in every image, even if it is nonchalance. I think that portraiture opens windows on both parties in a way that is difficult to do on other genre's in photographic art. When a photographer asks someone to sit, or is commissioned to portray someone in a portrait there are all sorts of emotions at play that cannot be involved in a landscape, still life or street photography. Two people, generally staring at each other, one decoupled through a lens the other naked in full view of that same lens. The emotions are probably amplified on a square law basis. The finest movement from either party will amplify the connection, or disconnection between the artist and sitter. I have taken a lot of portraits and intend to carry on doing so and I fully expect this course to inform my approach to portraiture.

I have included some examples taken of some volunteers sitters. These photographs were taken over a series os sittings where I have tried to convey, through the image, a sense of what the sitter is without being affected by the process of sitting. I am convinced I have not fully succeeded in as much as there is still residual artifice in all the portraits despite having each having sat for me a few times and all being very well known to me - good friends. The brief for the sessions that these images came from was for the sitter to turn up in everyday, comfortable clothes, not made up in any way, to be as natural as possible. One of the ladies spent some time in order to be "presentable" whilst the other did pretty much as I asked. Both males did exactly as I asked. I tried to have the sitters express bland, emotionless expressions to convey the "naturalness" of themselves, one of the ladies had no problem with this and it was so for the males. I have included one shot where the sitter has her eyes closed, I asked both the ladies to pose this way as I expected it to present a layer of emotion, trust in me as the photographer and only one lady was able to pose readily in this way.

I will try and get back to this project with either these models or some others to see how my thought processes develop. Maybe my lighting was too dramatic? Maybe I should use colour more?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Shutter Speed and panning

I visited an old corn mill powered by water and for the tourists they run the mill and grind some corn. I was able to set up the tripod and take some images to see the difference shutter speed might have on the image.

f2.8, 1/8 sec

The first three images have an aperture of 2.8 providing quite a narrow depth of field and as the shutter speed increased the grindstone showed more detail. Of these three shots my preference is the centre timing, providing a real indication of speed, but with some definition

f2.8, 1/25 sec

f2.8, 1/60 sec

f10, 2 sec

I also took some comparative shots at f10, which given the light conditions (I didn't change the image speed) meant the shutter speed increased.

f10, 1.3 sec


Panning with a slow('ish) shutter speed

 All shots at f40, 1/8 sec

I have had little or no experience in panning and initially found this a bit tricky. I realised that to have some effect the camera needed to have a continuous movement in line with the subject whilst the shutter was pressed. I also knew that the slowish shutter speed would blur the background at the very least.

Altogether I am quite pleased with these results, the impression of speed is very  definite and the blurred background of the sea is blurred in a lateral direction, whereas shots 3 and 5, which show a marked vertical movement must be made by the jet-sky riding the waves as the sea blur is consistent (relatively).



I include this shot as a clear example of my lack of technique in panning. The shot was f11 , 1/1500 sec. and despite the speed of the shutter the gull was almost past me before the shot was taken. Note to author, more practise.

Vertical and Horizontal frames

A series of images taken in landscape and portrait of the same subject

A detail shot of an old town called Kotor in Montenegro. I think the shot that works best is the portrait version. Both shots divide the image in half and probably could have both been composed more sympathetically.

I like both of these shots. The portrait divides the image into three parts with each having equal weight. The upper part has the tree almost bowing to the tomb. The landscape version, suffering more from lens distortion, but also benefitting; the line of the church roof meets the intersection of the cross and linking the theme, connecting them as one., which I can only presume is the intention of burial in consecrated ground.

 I had been looking for cypresses in the landscape as they offer a natural conflict in the capture of the landscape. I think the portrait version works better in this pair, though I have others where the reverse is true - they have more cypresses in those shots.

 I originally looked at this scene to extract a"diagonal" and the landscape version would have been the version that I would have chosen. There appears to be a queue to take to the staircase and as there is a person at the bottom just exiting the image maybe they are only allowed one at a time. Whereas the portrait version the scene is completely different, the group has crowded together and seem disinterested in the climb down. I like both for these different outcomes.

I am attracted to these alleyway shots as they lead the viewer into the image. This shot has an added intrigue in that there is a door, another favourite allegorical device that I like to use and furthermore the door is partly open revealing a dark interior - lots of story. The portrait works best for me as there is nowhere for the eye to go but deeper into the image. In the landscape version, whilst there is no easy exit, there is no imperative to go forward.

 In the centre of Dubrovnik this civic building flying the flag(s). I think the landscape has more harmony than the portrait version. Though structurally the architectural details are similarly symmetrical in both versions.

 This shot of a balcony works better in portrait, the context provides it with scale and dimension, whereas the landscape version has the balcony almost in free space.

 Stairs are another favourite subject, like alley ways they lead the viewer somewhere. Maybe its the poor crop in the landscape version but the portrait image has as exit at the top right, providing the viewer with resolution through an doorway. There is also a lot less lens distortion in the portrait version to deal with!

Another stairway shot and again, though not by as much, I prefer the portrait version. There is an exit in both, but the landscape version has a full stop whereas the portrait appears to have an option for further travel. The portrait also has a fuller description of the staircase.

 I purposely composed these two shots without any reference to a horizon or sky so that I could see what difference that made to my appreciation. I am fairly ambivalent about both shots.

Assignment 1 Contrast

I'll start and end with a contrast, the primary one not having been specified for this assignment. I have just returned from a trip to Dubrovnik for three days and then to Montenegro for 7 days. The duration isn't the contrast.

The contrast is pictorial and slight and whilst this is not entirely the best of comparison shots, there is a vital clue barely discernible on both shots. On the left is an Orthodox Church in Kotor, a beautiful old town on the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro. On the right, a detail from a Catholic church in the equally beautiful city of Dubrovnik, situated in Croatia. There isn't a great deal to contrast these two shots, they are both places of worship, they both have flags that have the same colours - albeit arranged differently; but crucially, with differing central Coats of Arms or insignia. That is the only material difference and the contrast that stems from it is a deadly one.

Reminiscent of that early Bob Dylan song "With God On Our Side", these two nations, along with most of the failed communist state of Yugoslavia were pitched in a wretched war and the Monument (left) that I found outside a very small fishing village in Montenegro bears testament to the futility and waste of war. It is the sheer volume of life extinguished from such a tiny community that I found abhorrent.

The photographic poignancy of this for me is that the upper right plaque refers to the Crimean War dead from this speck of humanity in the Balkans and it is, of course, from where Roger Fenton "the first war photographer" took those early images. The inscription (vertically in Cyrillic) to the left on the monument  translates to "Died For Freedom". Plus ca change.


All these photographs came from the few days I had in Dubrovnik and Montenegro; that's not what the holiday was for, however I used the opportunity to resource the images and discipline myself to try and fulfil the requirement for the assignment whilst I was there. I had hoped to have contrasting formats - portrait/landscape for each pair and monochrome/colour also - and nearly succeeded. 

                             Still                                                                                      Moving

The boat isn't going anywhere. It is still. It is at rest, recumbent against a step, away from the sea and holed beneath the waterline, it is difficult to see this vessel ever pitching against the waves again. The shot is tightly cropped in the camera and this is a full frame delivery. I felt the relatively low contrast, monochrome and sepia toning speaks of a by-gone time and sympathetic to the theme of the shot. Whereas the street scene in the centre of Dubrovnik has much more energy about it. I was initially attracted to the shiny and very smooth surface of the stone road and whilst I managed to grab some shots without people (difficult in Dubrovnik in August), it was  the images with people present that worked better for me. The photograph is toned monochrome again - the full colour shot is almost monochrome - the stones having a strong blue tone running through them, but the material on the left was a a strong blue and yellow and I could either crop it out or tone it out - I took the latter choice. The shadows compliment the feet and provide the corporeal presence and this, together with the feet clearly in motion, provide the movement.


                                 High                                                                                 Low

The "High" shot was taken in the very narrow streets in Dubrovnik and this image was taken looking directly up toward the sky, capturing the laundry which link the buildings - over and above the tourist another allusion to "High". The monochrome decision was taken firstly due to the singular colour of the laundry - mostly white, the lack of tone in the stonework and I think it helps the direction of travel for the viewer, that is in one direction only to the blank area i.e up and "higher".

The "Low" image contrasts in several areas, it is a shot of a puddle on the floor i.e. the opposite of  "high" and of course it is in colour and not monochrome - albeit with a restricted colour palette. Another contrast though is that the focus of the "high" shot is a blank area whereas the focal point of the low shot is the part of the image with the greatest detail - in fact the top of a very high hill outside the town boundaries. By pure coincidence the arrangement here has the two aforementioned sections orthogonal to each other thereby compounding the contrast.


                                  Broad                                                                              Narrow

Despite the initial appearance the "Broad" photograph is a full colour version - it was a hazy day and I was at a relatively high altitude which limited the colour palette. The detail that is present across the foreground is suggestive of the scale of the image, the slow reveal of the ships to the left of the image will further emphasise the width of the channel in the mid distance and there is barely discernible detail on the coastal line on the right hand side further developing the impression of scale. There is tonal variation in the foreground, but it doesn't affect the scene in any way. The "Narrow" photograph on the right is an impression of apparent lack of width of the river which is derived from the viewpoint, quite high up overlooking the feed to Lake Skadar in Montenegro. The breadth of the plain as it reaches out to the lake, turning to a wetland before reaches the water emphasises the contrast to the tributary feeding the lake from the western side. In fact the channel is navigable from quite a way upstream - there are boats on the channel at the edge of the tree-line. Both of these shots were dependent on a tripod with the "Narrow" shot using a 70mm lens and the "Broad" one using a 120mm lens (the same telephoto zoom lens).



The sea. The evening before I took this photograph I had been watching the sea and wondering at the constant nature of the movement on the surface of the ocean. The light had been low and creating a stronger contrast than on this shot and it seemed to me to be as close to watching infinity as there could be. I am not sure if the Dalmatian coast in this area is particularly prone to a constant agitation, maybe it's to do with the islands - but the sea wasn't still, it moved; it was fluid. A full colour shot with almost no work on the image.


The door of the church in central Dubrovnik (therefore Catholic) appeared new; I suspect it may have been replacement from when the city was under constant bombardment (another example exists later in this submission) from, mainly Montenegrins who besieged the city when they were allied with the Serb's. Dubrovnik is, in European terms, a new city, it was established in the seventh century however this door looks positively brand spanking new. I desaturated the image and then toned it this nut brown colour, so it is a monochrome image, in contrast to the sea - which is of course a trite contrast. The apparent solidity of the image contrasting with the liquidity of the water belies the opposite contrast of age - the sea being somewhat older than either the Orthodox or this Catholic church.


                             Many                                                                                               Few

The Old town of Kotor sits on the Bay of Kotor; behind it, to the south are hills and the Bay is in front and is it's commercial heritage. This shot was taken from the city walls which have historically protected it from invasion. It is difficult to discern any pattern or structure to the town - especially from this angle. The roofs seem dispersed in a completely random fashion. I cropped, in camera, to keep the image depicting the rooftops and to not include the bay and the hills in the distance. By contrast the "Few" image was taken overlooking the sea. I am not aware of what the plant is and it did strike me that it was a little precarious. The composition used depth of focus to isolate it from the background of some other vegetation and the sea; there was no horizon in the shot as I was shooting in a downward direction


This detail was part of the ceiling design in  Dubrovnik. Clearly the symmetrical nature of the composition is important to the image and whilst this is a duotone there wasn't a great amount of tonal variation in the cloisters where this photograph was taken. The important aspect from the image construction was to allow the eye to resolve in the central circular rose which was accomplished by having the upper arch out of focus with depth of field, and some vignetting post production to help keep the eye contained.

This lady sat on these steps intent on her mobile telephone, maybe reviewing a text message or compiling one. The line of her eye looks through the telephone through to the bottom right hand corner of the image and the extension in the opposite direction is very nearly top left, thereby cutting the image in half. The steps echo this line very well albeit they run out 2/3rds within of the image; had they done so more or less I think it would unbalanced the shot. I don't think there is anything to say about the black plastic sack, the soft tones of the stone work are pleasing and the pillar to the right neatly frames the end of the photograph. I had very little to do to the image, it seemed quite ready.


I hope to make clear why I have used the same subject, but with contrasting reasons!

                           Large                                                                                           Small

This very large bridge bestrides a valley that leads to the sea (I have taken the image from a boat). It is a magnificent edifice with some beautiful geometric constructs that I found very appealing. There is a coach that is leaving the bridge on the right of the photograph which gives a real sense of scale. I was lucky with the weather, the available light allowed a fast shutter action on low image speed allowing the colours to saturate naturally and the absence of cloud didn't disrupt the sight lines of the white wires. The contrasting shot on the other hand is included because of the scale of the individual at the bottom left. That short thin dark speck - just inside the first wire bottom left - is a person looking over the edge - I suppose there is a path alongside the road, there is certainly a fence! There is detail on the sign immediately to the right of the main pillars. Both images are better composed with the main pillar set to the right, the "Large" image as it naturally balances with the construction of the bridge whereas the "Small" image as the angle of the wires are dissimilar. The very clean lines, complimented by the clean sky also help these photographs deliver the feeling of efficiency and purpose.


                          Pointed                                                                                          Blunt

The "Pointed" image is a detail from a sculpture in central Dubrovnik and  don't think there is awful lot to say about the image. The subject is clearly writing and the detail at the point of inflection where the right hand forefinger is in contact with both writing tool and the parchment is very carefully worked, suggesting that the subject was famed for his writing or at least the words that he committed to print. The rest of the statue is not as "rubbed" as this part, suggesting also that the subject was probably a spiritual leader and people have continually touched both the hand and what was written on. The arms, the hands, the writing implement all lead to the same point and at the time of photographing the image the light was shining on this part of the statue - which was probably a consideration when the statue was situated. The contrasting image is a post that connects glass panels surrounding a swimming pool. Chromium plated posts with a blunt but very shiny top; a very simple utilitarian object that fitted the blunt but not dull - in fact the opposite of dull.


    Contrast in the image

A curious phenomena that I witnessed in the the short break in Dubrovnik and Montenegro was not the amount of Russians who visited both Croatia and Montenegro, after all the Dalmatian coastline had long been a haunt of apparatchiks of the former Soviet block. It wasn't that there was a great number of apparently very affluent young people who were travelling through - maybe on one of the many super cruisers, some with their own helipads. No it was the way the young women would pose at the drop a hat (wide brimmed or not). These young ladies, and some not so young, would adopt very coy looking poses for the camera; these cameras could be held by boyfriend, husbands or female travelling companions who would, after a series of shots, return the compliment and do same for the other.
I took advantage of the pose this young lady adopted for her camera wielding accomplice. The model was standing in front of a large fountain just inside the old city wall in Dubrovnik, there are some eight or so fountain heads around the fountain and the locals drink straight from the pipes, fill their water bottles from them and generally make use of the very clean and free supply.

Dubrovnik was held under siege by the Serbian forces for about 5 months until the Croatian forces mounted a counter attack. A large part of the city buildings were damaged in part by the armaments, most of which had been manufactured by the Soviet military machine. This young lady has a fine complexion in contrast to the fountain which has, besides the wear are tear of centuries of use, several pock marks from bullets. Incidentally all across the region there are buildings, road signs and other targets riddled with bullet holes. The lady is young and the fountain isn't, she is clean and the fountain isn't, but it is likely the fountain will be when the lady isn't anymore.


I expected to take shots for personal projects on this trip - and have done so - but increasingly I felt that the project has started to inform my personal work already, something I didn't expect to happen so soon. I have always had a strong desire to connect my photography with either a sense of place or purpose, simply leaving a scene with a pleasant shot, whilst it may be a "result" would leave me feeling slightly unfulfilled and this more important when the photograph contains people. There are very few people in this assignment.
I have found this Assignment interesting from a few perspectives. As is clear I have intertwined the history of the two places into the assignment; I think the contrasting shots work without the historical perspective but adding it allows more reflection to occur. I have tried not to express any bias, I wonder if you feel there has been?