This exercise is to take a fairly closely constrained portrait shot with your longest focal length and then walk forward until you can get the same framing with your shortest focal length and retake.
These images are taken with the subject standing in the same spot (note the just visible wall behind his head), however the apparent surround appears completely different. The much closer image (on the left) taken with a relatively wide-angle focal length shows much more of the background and puts him ‘in place’ while the image taken with the long focal length focuses in on him and isolates him from the background.
There is a clear difference between a close-up and a distance image even if the main subject takes up the same amount of the image.
Either may be useful depending on what is required.
Find a scene that has depth. From a fixed position, take a sequence of shots at different focal lengths without changing your viewpoint.
All images taken standing at the same spot. The only deliberate camera alteration was to the focal length however there are some slight changes to the exposure time, I assume partly due to minimal variations in the light but will also be due to the differing amounts of light reaching the sensor though the varying focal length. It was very windy and clouds were scudding over. There was also an inevitable difference to the aperture, for this set I left the aperture as wide as possible, but the maximum aperture varies with the focal length. I was curious to see how the camera would handle the long distance at this aperture, but the pictures remained sharp throughout. I assume it was because I was focused on the statue at infinity.
I then took a second set of images where there was also something (a set of bollards) in the foreground. In this case, I changed the aperture to as small as possible to maintain the widest depth of field.
In this set I was pleased to see that the depth of field remained enough to allow the bollards to be in focus even though I still had the camera focused to infinity. I was standing in a fairly shady spot, and by this point the light was changing rapidly, however I note that the camera has ‘chosen’ to vary the ISO rather than the exposure time. I assume this because the internal processor ‘judged’ that the exposure time would become too long and there would be a risk of camera shake.
The focal length most similar to my eye’s view is between 24 and 34mm for my camera (Panasonic micro 4/3rds).
Be aware of the camera changing the ISO to compensate for lighting levels, either fix the ISO in advance or use it creatively in low light situation.
At a very small aperture with this lens I get a good depth of field although the sense of distance is partially lost, there is a much greater sense of distance in the first set of images using a wide aperture.
Have projects/plans in mind when photographing. These can be short, medium or long term, but it helps to keep your focus and interest.
There is no harm in repeatedly photo’ing the same area or subject to learn about it, as long as you actually do learn something and not just endlessly repeat the same thoughts e.g. make a series over time.
Be aware of lines, both perspective and flat.
Think about framing
Learn by looking at other people’s images and then reading about them, reviewers may feel the same as you or have a very different viewpoint. Both will be valid.
Thomas Ruff’s photobook Jpeg (Ruff and Simpson, 2009) consists of images that he has both taken and found on the web which he then enlarged which ‘exaggerates the pixel patterns until they become sublime geometric displays of color.’ (David Zwirner Books, 2009)). Ruff says, ‘the Jpeg idea, in which a pixelated square is ugly, but if you present it in the right context it can become beautiful’ (Benedictus, 2009).
Campany discusses Ruff’s work in the context of the history of art and photography.
Found images have been used since 1920’s as a way of making sense of a culture with an unending amount of information. Campany points out that all images come from archives, some obvious, some less so and that within those archives there are layers of systems from the internet itself, the specific archives that are accessed, the more limited archive of the collector (Ruff) and on down to the archive of the viewer’s memory. These archives are arranged in grids, which with Ruff comes from his preference for working in series, the meaning of the image then comes at least partly from its place in that series.
Campany also discusses that all images seen now are digitised (even those printed in books) and therefore the pixel has replaced the grain of a film. Grain, with its random nature became ‘a sign of the virtuous materiality of the image’ while pixels are ‘grid-like, mechanic and repetitive …. a technological limit (David Campany 2008). He feels that Ruff images force us to look back and forward between figuration and abstraction leading to pictures with a sense of drama.
In contrast Colberg discusses the meaning or rather the possible lack of meaning behind the images. He says Ruff stands as one of the ‘most creative and inventive photographers of our time’ (jmcolberg.com, 2009). Colberg notes the extreme beauty of the images, especially when printed in book format but feels that the concept of the images relies on the technique, rather than anything else, and notes that Ruff simply describes how they were made starting from lost images of the 9/11 attack. He goes on to say that beauty in and of itself can be appreciated, ‘maybe sometimes, the medium is the message’.
saved at 0 quality compression and at 120 pixels/inch
The exercise is to use the viewfinder grid of the camera to allow you to place the subject of the image in various parts of the frame, initially concentrating on the subject rather than the whole frame.
My cameras’ grid divides the area into 9 sections. I started slightly differently by standing in one spot and simply moving the viewfinder to move the subject of my image, in this case the large glasshouse, into each of the areas, not looking at the rest of the frame, while keeping everything else the same.
It is interesting how different the images are even with only a small shift of viewpoint. Even though I was focusing on the glasshouse when taking the image it only becomes the main part of the image when it is central, top, midle or lower areas and, even then, it is most prominent visually when inthe absolute centre (middle line, centre image). In the images where the glasshouse is at the top of the frame the large plants at the bottom are much more dominant, and when at the bottom the clouds become the focus of the image. The left and right images in this instance appear unbalanced. Overall the image I like most is the centre top, where the clouds play a major role and the glasshouse is subordinate, although I was not particularly aware of the clouds while photographing. This clearly demonstrates how important it is to be aware of the whole frame and not simply your object of main interest.
The main part of the exercise is to take a variety of images where the focus is on the composition and that make a set.
I chose to use images taken on evening walks in the park with similar although not identical lighting, , and made these into a composite image.
Top left: Pidgeon – 1/320 sec, f/5.6, ISO 640, focal length 140mm (~280mm)
I was trying to vary the position of the main part of the image as I have noticed that I tend to place main point of a picture either to the left or centrally, and very rarely to the right in the image. I am not sure whether this is part of my heritage and learning to read from left to right across the page, or because my vision from my left eye was much stronger than the right as a child. (I am still left eye dominant, although strongly right-handed). On looking at the images I find that the ones where the focus is on the left (the pigeon and the statue) tend to draw my eye directly to that area and I am less likely to look at the rest of the frame, while where the focus is on the right (tree in landscape and seated girl) I look to that area and then my eye automatically scans the rest of the image. The effect of the position of the main focus within the frame also depends on whether the image is in a portrait of landscape orientation. I did not manage to take an image that I was satisfied with and which I felt fitted into this set that had the focal area in the top of the frame.
This shows how the very dominant flags immediately draw the eye, which is then led down the flagpoles, however I am not sure whether this is because the focus of the image is at the top, or because of the effect of the lines and the pattern they cause.
One of the most well-known photographic exhibitions and subsequent book is American Photographs by Walker Evans. The original exhibition was displayed in the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1938 and the book (Evans, Kirstein and Meister, 2012) is now on its fifth edition which was produced for the seventy -fifth anniversary of the exhibition in 2012.
In the accompanying essay by Lincoln Kirsten (Kirstein, 1938) Evans’ work is described as ‘straight photography… in the rigorous directness of its way of looking’ and ‘Evans work has…. intention, logic, continuity, climax, sense and perfection’.
The book consists of 87 images divided into two sections. The images are presented without titles, other than lists at the end of each section. There is no obvious order to the images but the original 1938 edition contained the statement – The reproductions presented in this book are intended to be looked at in their given sequence. The images do not show famous buildings, although those that still exist may well now be described as ‘this is the house, church, or view that Evans shot’. The people are also not famous, no actors or film stars, no politicians but are now some very recognisable, such as Image 14 – Alabama Cotton Tennant Farmer Wife. When you look at the images, slowly, in order, the overwhelming thought is ‘this is (was) America, this is (was) the depression, these are the American people’.
Meister (Meister, 2012) discusses the difficulties inherent in making new prints for the book, sourcing appropriate starting images and the use of modern duotone techniques to produce an accurate reflection of the original exhibition. Marth, who notes ‘The book, unlike an exhibition, can become a permanent venue for the photograph.’ (Marth, 2015) takes a more detailed look at this, comparing the technologies involved in all the editions. Evans was heavily involved in the design of the original book, which was then printed using the letterpress halftone process which limits the amount of detail available in the print. Some of the images for the initial edition were reworked by hand to improve the details visible. The present, fifth, edition is very similar to the first edition in size, design and sequencing, and uses a variety of sources including original prints and scanned negatives however the reproductions are ‘far superior in their beauty…. suggests Evans’s original silver prints better than ever before’. (Marth, 2015)
A recent lecture by Zoe Druik (Documentary and the Politics of Authenticity, 2016) talks about the beginning of the documentary movement and its description by Grierson (1892-1972) as ‘the creative treatment of actuality’ and places the work of Walker Evans in this context. She compares his work with the work of photographers and filmmakers of the Mass Observation Group in the United Kingdom who also looked at how ordinary people lived and what their problems were. She also looked at the influence of the work of August Sander and the similarities of his series ‘People of the 20th Century’ with Walkers portraiture, including the use of generic titles and little sentimentality or pathos rather factual representations.
If you consider the role of documentary photography and the present perceived need for objectivity, which was not necessarily originally thought of as important, for example in the film Nanook of the North (Flaherty, 1922), this leads to the present practice of non-alteration of images to show the ‘truth’. This concept is interesting as there is always a choice of which images to show, what is documentation and what is propaganda. This is dependent on the control of the images – state or private, and the historical status- winners or losers. At the beginning of the book American Photographs there is a disclaimer ‘The responsibility for the selection of the pictures used in this book has rested with the author, and the choice has been determined by his opinion: therefore they are presented without sponsorship or connection with the policies, aesthetic or political, of any of the institutions, publications or government agencies for which some of this work has been done’ (Evans, Kirstein and Meister,2012) so Evans was clearly very aware of these issues and the possible readings of his work by a public with a varying degree of photographic literacy.
Overall the book is a fascinating record of America in the Depression, which reminded me that ‘there is a grandeur in this view of life’ (Darwin, 1859).
Darwin, C. (1925). The origin of species.
Documentary and the Politics of Authenticity. (2016). [Online video] Vancouver: Vancouver Art Gallery (vanartgallery.bc.ca/videos).
Evans, W. and Kirstein, L. (2012). American photographs. New York: Museum of Modern Art, pp.191 – 200.
Evans, W., Kirstein, L. and Meister, S. (2012). American photographs. New York: Museum of Modern Art, pp.201 -204.
Framing is about choice making, what you choose to take in an image, where the edges are, do you add the whole of something or only part of it. Is the image complete in itself?
All these descisions are best made when the image is taken, although there may be times when you know you will change the image shape – for instance- the picture you visualise is a square format, but your camera only takes rectangles, or you want an very wide panorama, and need to take and join multiple shots. The important bit is that you have framed the image you want in your minds eye.
Cropping is about how you get to what you actually wanted once you have the image, a bit off here, or a bit off there.
But- cropping could be seen as taking an image that only shows part of the whole, part of a head, a suggestion of a window rather than the whole scene.
The definition of cropping from the Collins dictionary is ‘the trimming or masking of unwanted areas from a negative or a print’. – a verb, while framing is ‘the act of a person or a thing that frames’ – a noun. So cropping is something you do to an image, while framing is something that is!
The first part of this exercise is to take several shots using lines to give a sense of depth (appear three-dimensional). A diagonal line into or across the image leads your eye along it and potentially out of the image. This commonly occurs when looking down paths or roads, but can also be simulated by a line of objects such as trees.
All these pictures are comfortable to view in contrast with the one shown below which leaves you subconsciously searching for something for your eye to rest on.
The second part of this exercise is to take a number of shots to flatten the pictorial space, that is, to make an apparent two-dimensional image. One of the ways to do this is to look down on a subject, the other is to be parallel to it.
I found finding images for this difficult. One problem is that my eye is used to looking for texture and shadow to create a 3D effect, the other was purely practical, in that the area I live in has no tall buildings, and very little modern architecture to find obvious examples.
None of these images gives a very clear representation of a 2D pattern either because of cast shadows or reflections. The perpendicular or horizontal lines do not act to lead the eye out of the image, but simply make for a ‘pattern’.
This is an exercise I will revisit and look for alternative images that give a more absolute 2D, patterned effect, possibly following a visit to a larger metropolis.
The exhibition at the Stills Gallery consists of two contrasting halves.
Alan Dimmicks’ images from his studio archive consists of walls of images, 450 photographs of Glasgow life, taken over the last 40 years. People, places, portraits. The backs of people, birds on the shore, close details and broader sweeps. Some appear threatening, some banal, others amusing or sad.
Moira Jeffries says, in an essay that accompanies the exhibition, ‘an accretion of information…. four decades of social history……an accumulation and contingency……. the stories that haven’t been told, the histories that haven’t yet crystallised.’ (Jeffrey, 2017).
Dimmick said ‘It’s really always been people that have interested me most ‘(Albert Drive,2013) and ‘always have your camera with you [obviously] but also realise that images of quite ordinary things can be important in years to come, and keep your negatives neatly filed’ (Radcliffe,2012)
The overwhelming impression is of a snapshot of life, in all the grubby and fascinating details.
Photographs taken and added with permission of the Stills Gallery, Edinburgh.
The second half of the exhibition is a series of images from the private collection of Scottish photographer Davis Eustace which includes a wide range of photographs from the whole of the 20th century. Images that particularly caught my attention were the Annie Leibovitz portrait of Merce Cunningham, dancer and choreographer, from 1994, a very personal and intense image that contrasted with the Chris Blott image, ‘Farmer’ also from 1994, showing a man looking away to the distance which reminded me of August Sanders portraits of ‘types’ from the People of the 20th century series.
My attention was also caught by three Images of beautiful females by Fabrizio Gianni who said ‘I’ve never been a photographer. I was a fashion photographer. They’re two different things’ (Jamieson, 2015). I considered these in the light of the recent article by Jansen in the British Journal of Photography discussing the different ways of seeing and image making between women taking pictures of women from men’s images of women ‘In the patriarchy in which we live, photography is an expression of power. The photographic act is often viewed as an assertion of masculine dominance’ (Jansen, 2017). Although I agree with Jansen’s premise (and look forward to reading the whole book – Girl on Girl) I found these images wistful and playful rather than orientated for the masculine eye.
Salt Pan by Edward Burtynsky was one of the few colour prints on show. It shows an aerial view of a land that has been affected and changed by industry, the only sudden flash of colour is manmade, the rest grey, dead, alien. Taken in Gujarat, India in 2016 the series is an indictment on man’s treatment of our world. He says ‘(we) come from nature…. There is an importance to (having) a certain reverence for what nature is because we are connected to it…. If we destroy nature, we destroy ourselves’ (Edwardburtynksy.com, 2017). Cotton, when describing Burtynsky’s work, says ‘Deadpan photography often acts in this fact-stating mode: the personal politics of the photographers come into play in their selection of subject matter and their anticipation of the viewer’s analysis of it, not in any explicit political statement through text or photographic style.’ (Cotton, 2015). The subtle colouring and detail drew me in and I found myself searching out the remaining images of the series.
Edward Burtynsky, courtesy of Flowers Gallery, London
Overall an interesting pairing, contrasting one man’s style and thought processes of image making with carefully chosen images from a single collector. The two men have contrasting styles of photography, Eustace is renowned for portraits of the stars, but also landscape and fashion while Dimmick concentrates on an area, Glasgow, and the city life in all its facets.
Today I went out down the park, with dog in tow and managed to ask 4 total strangers if I could photograph them. I won’t suggest that these are the best portraits in the world, but they are a real achievement for me.