Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Project 9 - A comfortable situation

For this particular project I chose a busy area of Cambridge. I needed to find a comfortable situation in which to photograph strangers. I happened to be in the town for a long weekend and it seemed like a good place to ease myself into photographing "people unaware."  The area is usually packed full of tourists with cameras and I was able to use mine easily without being observed 

I noticed these men adjusting the clock outside one of the colleges and took the opportunity to capture some images. I was completely at ease taking these shots as they had their backs to me. I took a number of images and I don't think they turned to look around once.

I stepped closer for this shot and was still completely unobserved.

Photographing workmen in the street is an easy way to get used to photographing strangers. I've done this before in London and they usually just glance across and then carry on with what they are doing. This time, because I was facing them, I was eventually spotted. Again, I was comfortable in this situation - mainly because the subjects were three floors up from were I stood!

I decided I needed to get closer and challenge myself a bit more. Along the riverbank are areas where a lot of students can be found taking time out from the more crowded places in the town. I sat down on the bank and waited. I wiled away the time by photographing punts as they floated past and it wasn't long before other people began to find their own spots on the grass. Because I was photographing boats they ignored me and didn't notice that I had swung my camera around to face them.

I took this shot but then decided to try and get a more interesting composition and moved further down the bank.

The man in the hooded top and the woman in the background are unaware that I have taken their picture.  I did feel my level of anxiety begin to rise purely because I was in close proximity and they could easily have looked around and seen what I was doing. I was prepared to explain that I was working on a project and if asked to stop I would have done so. My conclusion is that taking risks can certainly increase the chances of getting a better image.

My last shot is of a woman eating her lunch on the other side of the bank. She glanced up once while I was photographing the punts but then continued with what she was doing. My lens was at 200mm and I couldn't get any closer. I am aware that I need to be able to take pictures much closer than this so that the subjects expressions can be read more easily. At the moment I am shooting at safe distances and I need to definitely challenge myself more.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Assignment 1

I posted off my assignment to my tutor this morning. I'm so relieved that it's finished. I am three months behind in my work for this module - not a particularly good start to the year. It's my own fault. All my procrastinating with the portrait section has taken me well off target. I realise that because I am out of my comfort zone with photographing people that it will take me longer to absorb the skills required. It's not that I wasn't thinking about the projects and assignment all the time though. Perhaps I thought about them a bit too much (agonised over them in fact.) I should probably have just got on with them. Easier said than done though when there is so many good portrait photographers out on the Net to research and you're not confident about your portrait abilities. And of course, the degree is not a race to the finish. But some sense of discipline is required to complete a module in a year and not get bogged down.

Here are my five portraits. As usual with my assignments I have some images that I really like and others that I procrastinate over and think should I do another re-try? At some point though I think it is better to move on and wait for my tutor feedback. Then, if required, I can do some re-shoots or, god forbid, redo the whole assignment.

Image 1 - Gerry.

Image 2 - Clarinet Player.

Image 3 - Theatre Steps.

Image 4 - In the Dark.

Image 5 - Last Coffee Before the Train.
Tutor Feedback:

Feedback from my tutor on my first assignment has been very encouraging. Her advice to just relax is definitely something I need to take on board. I knotted myself up over the portrait assignment and my lack of skills in this area. I now realise that most people feel like this when they begin the course and my tutor has assured me that I do have the necessary technical and image making skills. I need to take this advice and move forward. My tutor really liked the final portrait in my sequence - so much so that she flagged it up to Gareth Dent at the OCA and it is currently displayed on their homepage. The image is my favourite too. As I noted in the accompanying assignment essay I am drawn more and more to narrative images and this was my attempt at making one. It is interesting to note that my other images in the set were fairly well planned in advance. This one, "The Last Coffee before Catching the Train," was purely inspirational and thought up and put into action within minutes. It does have some technical issues due to very low light and no forward planning but in my opinion, from a creative aspect, it stands head and shoulders above my other, more formal, portraits - I guess that when working on a project technical knowledge and planning can go a long way to smooth the issues but creativity will trump them most of the time.

My tutor noted that she thinks that I worry about too many aspect of photography at once (technical, compositional, pose) and that this tension can communicate to my model. It was noted that my model does not smile in any of the images. That was under instruction from me. I was so conscious that my images not look like smiley snapshots that I edited out any that had a hint of a smile. I realise now that I moved too far in the other direction and I need to address this by re-shooting or re-evaluating some of my earlier images in the session.

I was given a list of photographers to research and I'm looking forward to seeing where this direction will take me:

Annie Leibovitz
Richard Billingham
Fred Herzog
Wolfgang Tillmans
Barry Whittaker

In conclusion I am relieved and happy that the assignment was received so well. I feel very encouraged by my "pep talk" and will definitely try to relax more and try not to let my creative side become hindered by technical worries.

Revised Final Images

Here are two images from one of the earlier shoots for this assignment. I have re-looked at them in the light of my tutor's comments about the tension and non smiling in some of my images. Both of these pictures had made it to my first selection stage but been rejected - live and learn...
I will undertake another couple of shoots for this assignment to add some more varied shots to the set. Although this assignment appears to be exempt from the assessment I still want to try and improve my  portraiture skills.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Project 7 - Focal length and character

This project shows the results of three similar images taken at different focal lengths. They have been cropped slightly to remove extraneous detail. I've done this exercise before, early on in TAOP, I think. With portraits the focal length is even more crucial as an unflattering (or unrealistic) portrait is less than desirable most of the time.

My first two images I consider to be taken at suitable focal lengths. Compression is more pronounced at the longer focal lengths and facial features become less prominent. Unless some sort of quirky effect is required wide angle shots are best left alone.

Image 1 - 200mm.

Image 2 - 65mm.

Image 3 - 18mm.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Project 6 - The best of a sequence

For this project I took advantage of a portrait session set up by my local camera club. Lighting and models had already been supplied. I was glad about this as it allowed me to concentrate on taking test exposure shots, making adjustments, my interaction with the model, and choosing the poses that I wanted to try out for this exercise. 

There is no denying that I still feel awkward doing portrait work. But I am getting better and I don't feel quite so much like a rabbit in the headlights anymore.

I have uploaded a contact sheet below for the session. The model started off with a couple of good poses unprompted and I could tell that I would like the results. I then asked her to move her head slightly and change her eye line a few times as we worked our way though the session. My instinct proved to be correct for the early images as when I got back to my computer I graded these early shots as "C=good and one of them "C/D=good/best shot."

At this point the model changed pose and put her hand to the side of her head. With my first shot of the new pose I hadn't zoomed out enough and her elbow was cropped from the picture. I re-framed the shot and took some more. Again, I asked her to move her head and change her eye line a few times. I have graded "A=not good" because of the cropped elbow or the eye line is wrong and the others as "B=acceptable" or "C=good."

A longer shot that I took is okay but the plain background adds nothing of interest to this image. "B=acceptable."

We then incorporated a chair into the shoot and played around with several poses - some in the chair and others astride it. I quite liked this chair pose when we set it up but when it came time to grade the images the models hips look wrong due to the lower viewpoint and her leaning back in the chair. "A=not good." It is not a flattering image. When we turned the chair around and begun to experiment with the hands I asked her to clasp her hands together but straight away I could tell this did not work and didn't bother to even take the shot. The model also looked slightly puzzled by my suggestion and she obviously felt the pose not suitable. This is probably why the very next image was graded "A=not good" - the model has a slightly bored look in her eye!

I then zoomed in on the face and single hand for the next few shots and have graded all of these as "C/D= good/ best shot."

The last two images I thought looked good in the camera but when it came time to grade them they did not work. The shot with the hands draped over the chair back are too prominent in the shot and the clasped hands in the chair looks ungainly and contrived. I graded both "A=not good."

Of the images marked as "C/D=good/best shot." I chose these two as the overall best shot (I know, I cheated by picking two.) I liked the quizzical expression in the first and the shape of the hair as it frames the face and mirrors the hand in the second.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Project5 - Eye contact and expression

I have discovered that when taking portraits a constant dialogue between the photographer and model is crucial. A stream of instructions on how to sit and where to look delivered in a casual confident manner needs to be maintained - on top of all the technical considerations if any successful images are to be achieved.

Here are some images from two separate sessions. I have used them to illustrate the different looks that can be achieved through eye contact or lack of it. Expression is also key to achieving a satisfactory image.

Image 1. Direct eye contact. No smiling please!

Image 2. The model is occupied with an object that I gave him to stop boredom setting in. His expression is unguarded and more natural looking.