Thursday, 30 December 2010

"It's the photographer" - Lens - New York Times

Joao Silva Photojournalist

I came across this article in Lens by The New York Times which I have posted the link to above. The article by David Dunlap tells of the photojournalist, Joao Silva, who was working in Afghanistan alongside US army personnel and a unit of Afgan soldiers and police officers when he steps on an antipersonnel mine.

There is a slide show of the images taken from his memory card showing before the blast and amazingly 3 further shots after he had lost both his legs in the explosion. Mr Silva is recovering in hospital and funds are being raised for his treatment by the sale of some of his images. 

The interesting thing about the images is that they appear so innocuous. A local lad herds his goats down the street moments before, some locals pass on motorbikes the army personnel are quietly going about their job - and what a job! These young lads put their  lives at risk every day and we forget that, when we see images of war, there are photographers putting their lives on the line too  - for a photo to bear witness. Brave man. Hope he has a speedy recovery.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Assignment 1 - continued.

For this assignment I have put into practise the techniques learnt from part one of the teaching manual. The aim was to put together a cohesive set of images reflecting pairs of contrasts. All images were taken with a Canon 400d camera and either a Canon 18-55mm, 70-250mm or Sigma 10-20mm lens.

Each pair has been presented and mounted together to clearly show the contrasting concepts. As presenting each pair of images together side by side suggests that there is a relationship between the images you will find that each pair, whilst still showing the contrast, will also have something within the composition that is similar to its partner. E.g. In Light/Dark similar subjects were used, Transparent/Opaque similar tones and in Straight/Curved there is some similarity in the pattern.

Continuing with Assignment 1 these are the images for the next few pairs of contrasts.


This image was taken with a Canon 18-55mm lens at 43mm. Aperture f/5.6, ISO 400 and shutter speed 1/100sec was used. When I was thinking about the images I wanted to demonstrate the contrast between Still and Moving, my initial idea was to use flowing water or a still pond, however none of the images taken seemed to work out as I would have liked. In the end I have chosen this image of shop mannequins to represent Still.
Post processing
The highlights in the image were reduced slightly to minimise the reflection on the shop window. In hindsight these could have been reduced by using a polarising filter when taking the image. Although there are still some areas of reflection in the image I think the bright colours hold your attention enough for these to be less noticeable.

This is an image of traffic tail lights taken to represent Moving. Taken with a Canon 18-55 mm lens at 55mm and with the camera on a tripod. The camera was in Manual mode with an Aperture of f/5.6, ISO 200 and shutter speed 2.5sec. Again the idea was to have complimentary colours in both images so that the contrasts worked as a pair.

This image is a close up view of a decaying boat hull. It was taken in Aperture Priority with a 18-55mm lens at 55mm. F/11, ISO 100 and a shutter speed of 1/80sec was used. This is the only image for this assignment that I have taken from previously taken photos on file. The textures of the peeling paint and splitting wood seen on the hull were the reason I took the image in the first place and this picture immediately sprang to mind when thinking of ideas for this exercise. I particularly like the textures but also the triangular/diagonal lines created by the white stripe and wood panels.


In contrast to Rough is Smooth. Taken with a Canon 18-55mm lens at 55 mm. Aperture f/5.6, ISO 100, shutter speed 1/30sec. I used a shallow depth of field in this image as the idea was to show only a small area of the image at the tip of the iron in sharp focus. This is also where you can see that the fabric is smooth. I selected a striped fabric and placed it at angle to mirror the planks on the boats hull. The iron is placed on the top third of the image in the same way as the white stripe is present on the boat.

This image was taken with a Canon 18-55mm lens at 55mm and using a tripod. Aperture f5.6, ISO 400
and shutter speed 1/60 sec was used. Taken at St Andrews Botanical Gardens, the image shows a water drop suspended on a fern leaf. A shallow depth of field was used to blur the background.
Post Processing
The image was cropped to place the water drop on a line corresponding to the rule of thirds with the leaf itself forming a line diagonally across the frame.

In contrast to Liquid is Solid. Taken with a Canon 75-250mm lens at 75mm. An Aperture of f/11, ISO 320 and shutter speed 1/500 sec was used. This image shows frozen snow and icicles formed by dripping water drops. The blue highlights on the icicles are reflections from the sky.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010


I'm beginning to get really frustrated about my lack of progress in Assignment 1 and wish I had just e-mailed the images to my tutor and not bothered with the idea about printing them out and mounting them. I dread to think how much it has cost in ink, paper, mount board etc and, I know this is going to annoy others, but I am even more positive now that e-mailing them would have been the "easy" option. And by that I'm not suggesting that any less effort has gone into producing the images or that others are not working hard-that's really not what I mean and I don't want anyone to be offended.

It's not just the expense of it either. I can process an image on the PC and its exactly as I want it - come time to print it out and the monitor and printer need calibrating, the type of paper I have at home doesn't show off the image to its best or it's 101 other technical things. Do I print in all matt paper or glossy so that the whole assignment is cohesive and sits together as a whole or do I experiment with multiple papers on multiple images? Do I even
need to print the pictures at all? after all it says in the course notes that e-mail is acceptable.

It's not helped by the fact that both the kids have been off all week for "snow days". You try working at home with a gaggle of bored teenager friends. Can't even get out to take any pictures............... 

Why did I decide to print them out? Probably because I'm a bit old fashioned and old school and this technical thingy called the internet still gives me problems. I have no idea how I would present the images and accompanying text by e-mail. That for me is the more difficult option.

I am determined to get this assignment finished before Christmas. It was expected by my tutor in September so I'm way behind. I'll be out this week taking pictures even  if I have to dig myself out...........

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Assignment 1 - continued

These are the images for the next 2 pairs of contrasts for Assignment 1.



For this image I used a Canon 18-55mm lens at 28mm and set my camera on a tripod. A sparse bunch of grapes was suspended by a thread in front of a white card background. Only natural window light was used to avoid casting a shadow on the background. An aperture of f/7.1, ISO 400 and shutter speed 1/80sec was used.
Post Processing
The image was slightly cropped to ensure that the grapes were placed 2/3 into the frame vertically. I then used Photoshop to clone out the hanging thread. I wanted to leave as much empty space in the image as possible to accentuate the feeling that there were only a few grapes.

In contrast to few is many. This image was also taken with a tripod and Canon 18-55mm lens at 46mm. These sprats were placed end to end on a plate and the image taken using natural window light and fill in flash. Aperture f/22, ISO 100 and a shutter speed of 0.6sec was used.
Post Processing
The image was tightly framed to ensure that, in contrast to Few, there was no empty space within the image. This gives the impression that the fish continue beyond the edge of the frame and that there are more just out of view. The shadows within the image were also lightened to make the fish eyes more prominent.


This image shows upturned clear wine glasses photographed with a white card background. A tripod and Canon 18-55mm lens was used at 44mm. Only natural window light was used as using flash caused a bright spot on the glass and unwanted reflections which distracted from the transparency of the glass. Aperture set to f/5.6, ISO 400 and shutter speed 1/60sec.
Post Processing
Very little adjustment was made to this image. Only a small area of bright reflection was removed from the glass as it was important to show the glass as clear as possible. Although the image reflects transparency, in hindsight I think the image may have worked better had something been placed behind the glass e.g. a coloured card or another image to be seen through the glass.


This image represents Opaque and is a row of trees taken through heavy mist. Aperture f/10, ISO 400 and shutter speed 1/200 sec was used with careful focusing on the distant trees. As a pair of images both Transparent and Opaque have little colour and only varying tones and highlights. Although they are both colour images they appear monochrome.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Assignment 1

Contrasts - 17 photographs

This assignment involves taking 8 pairs of images which reflect visual contrasts and aim to show the essential differences. The exercise is based on the theory of composition put forward by Johannes Itten in the 1920's at the Bauhaus in Germany and was originally intended as an art exercise but has been adapted for photography.

The 8 pairs of contrasts I have chosen are light/dark, straight/curved, still/moving, transparent/opaque, liquid/solid, many/few, rough/smooth and continuous/intermittent. The final image has to show a contrast in one image.

I have decided to send the images for assessment mounted and in print form but have included them in my blog for your comments. These are the first 2 pairs.
This image was taken with a Sigma 10-20mm wide angle lens at 10mm. The camera was set to Aperture Priority - f/16 to allow sharpness from front to back. ISO 100 and a shutter speed of 1/30th sec. I also used a polarising filter to accentuate the blue sky and clouds.
Post Processing
I cropped into the foreground slightly to emphasise the long straight path and make the railings form a diagonal towards the distant vanishing point. The vanishing point of the path is set at approximately a third of the way into the frame horizontally. This was also the reason I chose to use a wide angle lens and take the image from a low viewpoint as it has exaggerated the linear perspective of the pathway and street lights.



Taken with a Sigma 10-20mm wide angle lens at 12mm. As tripods and flash photography are not allowed within this building the image was taken hand held. The camera was set at Aperture Priority at f/11 to aim for sharpness throughout the image. ISO 400 with a shutter speed at 1.3secs. With the aperture any wider than f/11 the shutter speed was too slow to allow a hand held image even with the ISO at 400. I was reluctant to increase the ISO any further as the resulting image from my camera would have had a lot of noise.
Post Processing
I cropped the handrail on the right hand side of the image which I felt dominated the area and distracted from the curve. The handrail shows a strong curve which is mirrored by the lighting along the stairway and the stairs. The centre of the tiled floor is placed as close to a third of the way into the frame horizontally as the image will allow.
This image is of a street performer at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It was taken with a Canon 55-250mm lens at 250mm. The Aperture was f/8, ISO 100 and shutter speed 1/400sec. I chose this image to represent light rather than white because of the feel I created in post processing. The image to me is light and airy and has a soft ethereal feel to it. The softening of the hair and background add to the feeling of lightness.
Post Processing
The image was cropped to give a head and shoulders view of the artist. In Photoshop I them used layers and various blending modes to removed the distracting background and apply a soft light overlay to give a high key effect and create the mood of the image. In contrast to light is.....
Again this image is of a street performer at this years Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It was taken with a Canon 55-250mm lens at 79mm.Aperture f/5.6, ISO 200 and shutter speed 1/800sec. In contrast to light above I was aiming for a dark and moody feel for this image.
Post Processing
In Photoshop the image was cropped to give the same head and shoulder shot of the artist. Then the background was removed and a texture layer used to provide a harder edge to the image which I feel makes the image appear moody and dark. The artists expression also affect the mood of the image as in "Light" above the artist has a gentle smile whereas in "Dark" the artist has a harder expression.

Anyone with any comments or suggestions on these images is welcome to post them here.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Vertical and Horizontal Frames

Exercise - 20 photographs horizontal & 20 vertical

For this exercise you have to take a variety of images in a vertical format. They can be of any situation or subject. The exercise is then repeated with the same images taken in a horizontal format.

The purpose of the exercise is to show that most subjects can be photographed vertically as well as horizontally with a little bit more thought and that taking images horizontally is a matter of habit. It will also show a tendency to place the "weight" of the main subject lower in the frame and to naturally seek out tall subjects to suit the frame.

All of which I have to agree is true. I did find myself looking for tall frame filling subjects and scenes which had enough interest both vertically and horizontally to make an image work.

These images are a few examples of the 40 taken for the exercise.

Swilkin Bridge St Andrews

Clubhouse 18th Green  - St Andrews Old Course

St Andrews University Students

St Andrews Seafront

Dysart Harbour Fife

University Student
Pitenweem Harbour Fife

Dysart Harbour Low Tide

St Andrews University Quad

Decaying Tree Tentsmuir
According to Michael Freeman in "The Photographer's Eye" there are 3 main reasons why we tend to shoot images in a horizontal format. The first is that camera manufacturers find it easier to produce cameras for horizontal use and that it would be difficult to design a camera for horizontal and vertical use. The second is that photographers find it more comfortable to take picture horizontally as turning the camera vertically is less comfortable and so rarely do so and thirdly, to me more obvious, is that as we have two eyes and binocular vision so we tend to see horizontally and therefore it is more natural.

Now, I can see how all of that is true except I would say I take just as many pictures vertically as horizontally. In fact I have been forced to take more images horizontally by these exercises than I would normally and even looking at the images I have already taken for Assignment 1, I can say that at least half are in the vertical format. Not quite sure why I am doing this especially if Michael Freeman's assertion that most photographers rarely do this is correct. I think I use this format subconsciously but maybe in future I should give it some thought.............

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Happy Days....

Am I happy today or what!

 Just got my new computer monitor which is fab. It's like being at the pictures and I can actually see my photos in full at a decent size for once. No more peering at the screen or viewing different sections at a time. Going to make editing pictures much easier...

And on that subject, I have decided to print my images for Assignment 1 to about A4 size and mount them together as contrasting pairs. I think I must be the only person sending off prints to their tutor - everyone else seems to sending by e-mail or on disk. It has taken me longer to do it this way and it's more expensive but I personally prefer to see a picture in print. Completed light/dark - straight/curved - and transparent, rough and intermittent. 
Now, just got to finish the rest .................never seem to have enough days in the week!

Monday, 1 November 2010

Graham Clarke - The photograph

The Photograph - Book Review

This book was included with my course notes when I signed up for "The Art of Photography." It's not the easiest of reads especially if, like me, you haven't done any formal studying for some time or studied art or art history before. You'll probably find yourself re-reading pages or even chapters several times until you understand the text.

The chapters are well organised starting with "What is a photograph?" which gives a short history of photography starting with the first "heliograph" by Joseph Niepce in 1826 and them continuing through the decades until 1990 and includes images by Diane Arbus, Robert Mapplethorpe, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston and Man Ray.

The introduction goes on to establish a distinction between amateur and professional photographers i.e. "between photography as an art (with the stress on individual creativity and expertise), and the photograph as a mass- produced object."  Is the author suggesting by this that only professional photographers can produce "art" ?  I think there would be many amateurs who would disagree. However he does go on to explain that in the history of photography "as few as 200 photographers have determined the terms of reference and the frame of meaning for the history of the photograph." 

The remaining chapters of the book are divided into the different genres of photography e.g. The Landscape, The Portrait, The Body photography and gives examples of how each area has developed with critiques on various photographers who have influenced the subject.

Many of the photographs contained within the book are instantly recognisable although the analysis and critique by the author may be harder to understand. The style of writing is very complex and academic - this book is not a who's who of photography and you're not necessarily going to agree with the authors viewpoint on all the images. 

The two most salient points of the book for me were that " we must remember that the photograph is itself the product of a photographer "  and that "...the photograph is, in the end, open to endless meanings."

Image reproduced courtesy of Bridgeman Education.

Thursday, 28 October 2010


Exercise - 3 photographs

The object of this exercise is to review 3 of my own images and suggest an alternative image by cropping the photograph and give my reasoning behind the selected crop.

All three images were taken with with my Canon 400d and 18-55mm kit lens. This first image was taken at Tentsmuir Forest in Fife. These fungi were perfectly formed and growing from a tree stump. The whole group was no larger than a 10p piece so ideally I would have liked a macro lens to get in closer. This is the original image taken at f/5.6, ISO 400 at 1/60th sec.
Original image
The suggested crop indicated would remove the areas in the image which are overly bright and distracting. These are the brightest white areas at the left of the fungi and the extreme upper right corner which is overexposed. The crop also places the fungi centrally within the frame and the proportion taken up by the tree stump in the lower right corner is mirrored by the size of the empty space in the opposite upper left corner.
Suggested crop.

Final image.

This second image was taken at York Railway Museum. In this instance it was not possible to get any closer to the engine as there was a 4ft perspex screen and floodlights protecting the exhibit. The original shot was taken at f/5, ISO 400 at 1/5th sec. Ideally an aperture of f/11 or above would have been better but this would have led to a longer exposure time and the shot had to be taken hand held.
Original image.
Possible crop.
 The final image cropped and rotated. The image that I would have liked to have taken in camera had it not been for the physical barriers.

Final image.

This third image was taken on a holiday in Cyprus. The image shows a local farmer and his goat herd who were some distance away from the road where we were travelling. Taken at aperture f/16 and speed 1/500 sec. This image is similar to the example image given in the teaching notes. 
Original image.
Possible  crop.

Cropped image.
The image was cropped to remove the sky which lacks any detail and the foreground which was cluttered and distracting. This crop definitely makes the image more interesting and makes the goat herd the obvious subject of the image. Before the crop it was just an image of a scene which included goats, trees, sky and field.

These are only 3 images that I looked at regarding this exercise but I had several more in my picture files which would benefit from the same treatment. Sometimes there are good reasons why an image is not framed correctly "in camera" as in the second image due to the physical obstructions but more time spent studying a scene before taking the picture can't hurt.

Focal Lengths and Different Viewpoints

Exercise - 2 or more photographs

The purpose of this exercise is to demonstrate the effect a change in viewpoint and a change in lens can have on perspective. I have taken two photographs of a car I spotted in a local car park to demonstrate the results.

The first image was taken on a Canon 70 -250 lens at 60mm. It shows a fairly normal perspective of the car although it is slightly closer than the "normal" view as our eye would see it.

Image 1. f/11 60mm.
  In the next image which was taken with a Sigma 10-20mm wide angle lens at 18mm there is a clear change in the perspective.

Image 2. f/11 18mm.

The wide angle lens has exaggerated the size of the front of the car and it now appears much broader. The front of the car is more prominent while the background has shrunk in comparison. The linear perspective has also been affected by the wide angle view.

If you imagine a line drawn along both wings of the car from the bottom corners diagonally towards the top of the car, the diagonal is much more pronounced in image 2. This image has a much stronger presence and the impression given is that this car is nearer to the camera. The exaggerated linear perspective gives the image more depth.

Focal Lengths

Exercise - 3 - 10 photographs

This exercise involves taking a series of photographs from a stationary position using different lenses to study the effect focal length can make to an image. The following images were taken on a very cold and blustery day at St Andrews beach. The lenses I used for this exercise were a Canon telephoto lens with a focal length between 70-250mm changing to a Sigma wide angle lens with a focal length between 10-20mm.

This first image was taken with the Canon 70-250mm lens at 214mm.

The same lens at 96mm.

This next image was taken at 74mm on the Canon 70-250mm lens.


As the focal length of the lens gets shorter you can see the angle of view getting wider. This next image was taken at 55mm.
 Then changing to the Sigma 10-20mm lens for a much wider view below. This image taken at 20mm.
I have moved to the right of frame slightly for this image as the waves were lapping at my feet - but even if I hadn't moved - if you compare this image to the first image at 214mm they could have been taken at totally different places. The change in lens to a wide angle lens has totally changed the feel and style of the image.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Explore on flickr

I have fallen behind with my exercises and also my assignment!

Despite thinking about the blasted thing every waking minute, time just gets in the way. I'm really enjoying this course and if nothing else it's also making me think about my style as a photographer. There are many photographers both historic and current, amateur and professional whose work I appreciate and all have varied genre.

I still don't know what my 'style' is - but I have recently uploaded a picture to flickr which has made it into 'Explore'. It happens to be an image that I am using for assignment 1 of TAOP - curved.

No pressure now of course to take another 15 images that are as good!  However, had it not been for the exercises in the course it's not a picture I would have probably taken. Think there's a lesson to be learnt there....

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Positioning the horizon

Exercise - 6 photographs

In any image with an unbroken and clear horizon the frame can be divided in a multitude of ways, but there are probably 5 or 6 obvious positions within the frame to place the horizon. Top, middle, bottom and half way between each.

When there are no other obvious points of interest in a scene where to place the horizon becomes even more important and can even become the most important element within a scene. This exercise explores alternative positions for the horizon and the following images represent what I feel are the most distinct positions.

A very high horizon.

In this example the horizon is set high in the frame. Without an interesting foreground element the image is unbalanced and the foreground detail that there is is distracting. This image doesn't work for me. The scene is empty and lacks interest. In the second image the horizon is slightly lower but the same problems apply.

With the horizon high in the frame and an expanse of water in the foreground there is a feeling of space in the image, however there is little else of interest. In the next two images the horizon is set low within the frame. This works better in this case because there are interesting details and colour in the sky. Although with the horizon set very low in the frame you begin to lose the cloud formations at the top of the frame.

Horizon very low in frame.

More interest in the sky with a lower horizon.
According to Michael Freeman in "The photographer's eye" the composition of an image with the horizon positioned centrally within the frame is static, not dynamic. To me this means it will lack any element of risk.

Centrally placed horizon.

In the image above, the sky is interesting again because of the cloud formation and colour but the foreground lacks any interest. Where the horizon is placed in an image obviously depends on the scene being viewed and the elements within the composition. Some thought should be given to this at the time the image is taken. What works in one scene may not work in another.

For me the image that works best for this scene is the "normal " placement of the horizon that conforms to the "golden ratio", purely because the foreground needs to be minimised to allow the interest in the sky to dominate the image.

Most appealing horizon placement for this particular scene today.