Assignment Five – Tutor Feedback and Response

I put more effort into assignment 5, did more research than for any previous assignment and I was generally pleased with the results. There were images I thought were stronger and one I felt I should not have included. I was interested to see of my tutor felt the same way. His feedback is here:

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Main comments to take note of are level of sky detail and sharpening for print and I’ll consider these later but first I’ll look at his detail comments on the images.

View from the West/View from White Rock Interestingly, I felt the second of these was the better. I understand where his comment about the grey band is from though. In fact it was not introduced as a separate design element, it is in fact the sky that he suggests I should have included. This demonstrates how insufficient sky texture has led to misunderstanding of the picture. I plan to rework this to bring out more sky texture and make the insets slightly smaller so as to show more sky.

Apron Buildings This was one of the images I thought strong and emotional. I did try to reduce the size of the inset so that it did not intrude into the main picture but this lessened the impact of it, that’s why I tucked it behind the dome.

The Boat Dock I agree that this was the least successful and one I considered reshooting. However, I like the sneaky peek between the buildings and I like the contrast between the pier and the building to the right. I agree it is cluttered and will experiment with different layouts, possibly including just one inset.

The Pier Ballroom This was my favourite of the set and was pleased he liked it.

Throwing Stones Whereas I understand his comment around including more of the pier, this was composed around the chap throwing stones with the pier as an incidental backdrop. It was framed to give him space to throw into. Perhaps if I had pulled back I could have achieved both.

Passer-By Considering this was seen and snapped in an instant, I was pleased with his comments. I think there are issues with sharpness, quite apart from the slight blur from his movement, and I nearly did not include it.

Chatting Another one I was pleased with. This was framed to place them in relation to the pier so the placing of the seat in relation to the railings was incidental. But it’s good to get comments like this and the one on “Throwing Stones”, they are pointers to elements of composition that I would not otherwise consider,

Anglers I realise there were other pictures that showed the pier substructure better but in this section I wanted to include people interacting with the pier, or rather not interacting with it.

The Pier Today This was the one that a few days after I sent the assignment off, it was added as an afterthought and I wished I had not included it. As said above, this section was about people not interacting with the pier and this one did not fit. I fully expected him to pick up on this but he did not. With this in mind it’s difficult to comment on his observations. It’s interesting that he thought the vignetting was a paradox of a cheesy seaside fish and chip shop menu. I wish I could say that was meant, but it was not! He made some good tips about using grids in Photoshop, I did not even know the feature was there. Even though this particular picture will be removed, I will do as he suggests and experiment with using the grid.

Showing Interest/New Pier The main comments here relate to sky detail.

Most of the pictures carried a comment about bringing out more texture in the sky. In fact, it was a very dull, grey day with a particularly featureless sky. Following the feedback, I did try to bring out more texture. One some images, this had some success but even working on a RAW image the amount of processing required was excessive. I did think of photographing a suitable sky and blending it in, we’ll see how that works out.

He also made a lot of useful comments about sharpening for print, giving much more detailed instructions than the course notes. I will have to work through them and reprint the assignment following them.

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Assignment Two Reworked

This reshoot was a long time coming. Family and business commitments prevented any work on it for a month or so, then when I had time the sun didn’t shine. Such is the difficulty of part-time study.

I had prepared a table of comments with a summary of how I planned to address them, then waited for the sun to shine.

This is the revised set. For the sake of completeness I have included the original images where I did not reshoot them.

1

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Tutor comments “Good control over metering with a pleasing result, some shadow detail has inevitably been lost but this is a reasonable compromise. If the group had been real people then the loss of shadow detail may have been more significant? As previously pointed out watch out for unnecessary items included in your framing such as the branch sticking out next to the wall and the hint of table legs. A tighter composition may have benefitted here as there is lots of dead space”

Notes for reshoot “reshoot at eye level and tighter composition, attention to unwanted detail”

The high dynamic range has resulted in blown highlights in the background figures, especially Eeyore’s nose, but I wanted to retain shadow detail in the foreground as I thought this was the more important.

2

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Tutor comments “Good choice of meter and white balance settings. This image demonstrates the limited dynamic range of print as your print shows much deeper shadows than the digital version. I prefer the tighter composition of this image.”

No action

3

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Tutor comments “Similar scene to the above image but with ½ stop over exposure. I imagine your comments refer to the digital image as the print looks much better than (2) due to the less heavy shadows, even with a slight loss of highlight detail. The auto setting for white balance has produced a colder look to the image so consistency is appropriate here as the image is part of a series then ‘shade’ may have been a more suitable choice. This does illustrate an advantage of shooting in Raw as the camera white balance setting becomes less important as this can be handled accurately and without loss of image integrity during post production. It is still good practice, however, to have the correct white balance setting enabled.”

Notes for reshoot “reshoot with warmer colour balance”

In a way I wish I had chosen a less brightly coloured subject for this, the dynamic range would have been more manageable! As it was it was tricky to retain shadow detail without blowing the highlights

4a

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Tutor comments “Exposing for the subject has blown the sky, this also has the effect of causing a slight ‘milky’ quality to the image due to the lens and flare occurring. A good image to illustrate the importance of using either fill in flash or a reflector to help balance the extremes of light. Balancing the light would enable a darker overall exposure which would help to lessen the flare aspect.”

Notes for reshoot “reshoot with fill in reflector balancing the light”

I was surprised at the difference a reflector made to this one, using one made the exposure much easier to manage.

4b

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Tutor comments “As (4a) but without the strong sky element. Look at the overall composition, some objects in heavy shadow are they deliberate or accidental and incidental? Tilting table I guess is deliberate but the tight crop makes this lose context somewhat.”

Notes for reshoot “reshoot with less or more appropriate background detail”

As 4a, using a reflector made the exposure much easier to manage. The specular highlight on the frame of the mirror adds a nice touch so I was keen to retain this. Depth of field was tricky, I would have liked to have kept the whole image in focus but settled on focussing on the face.

5

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Tutor comments “I like the table causing the dappled light here, good decision to include the rim of the table shadow as this helps to identify the shadows source. A more suitable choice of white balance as it is more consistent with other similar images.”

No action

6

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Tutor comments “Similar to (4a) with the strong sky causing a ‘milky’ flare and also some flare from the iris within the lens, this can sometimes be avoided by use of a lens hood and also by holding your hand, or piece of card, just above the lens on the edge of the frame (often called flagging or using a flag). Print quality is very dark compared to the digital version.”

Notes for reshoot “reshoot with fill in reflector balancing the light, ensure no lens flare”

This was the hardest to get right. Using a reflector did not work because it was in the shade of a tree so no (or very little) light to reflect. In the end I had to resort to using fill-in flash. This is not the best method as it always looks artificial. Flare was easily avoided by using my hand as a flag.

7

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Tutor comments “Did you try white balance on tungsten as a comparison? Overall the image colour and light are pleasing, by varying the distance of the light source to the subject you can control the quality of the shadows. Much further away the light source would create harder shadows that may have been effective with the bars on the background. Very tight crop at the bottom, your comment concerning hand holding is a bit of a giveaway! You should have used a tripod!”

Notes for reshoot “reshoot with more distant light source, use tripod”

I used a tripod for this. My tripod is cheap and it is almost impossible to adjust it to the correct shooting angle, hence the wonky image. I experimented with moving the light further away but it did not make much difference.

8

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Tutor comments “Inventive use of light and good to retain some foreground shadow detail in the print, although the floor has nearly disappeared. When dealing with dark moody subjects with digital cameras sometimes it is good practice to shoot a lighter exposure or with more fill in then will be finally required. This is due to noise issues and contrast range. The final moody effect can then be achieved in post production with the knowledge that you will not have lots of noise appearing. I realise that this does not apply to this assignment.”

No action.

9

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Tutor comments “As you point out this is not truly back lit but more ¾ back lit, and as such the contrast range of the scene is easier to manage. Tilting table and odd crop as you lose just the edge of the table on the right. With this type of photography where you are in control of the elements you need to aim for precision as in the work of Chip Simon. The print here is quite dark compared to the digital version.”

Notes for reshoot “reshoot more at eye level and careful about composition and crop”

This is my least favourite of the reshoot. There is a distracting background (which I tried to blur with depth of field) and the colour balance is not satisfactory. The exposure has resulted in blown highlights on the signs but they are (mostly) readable.

10

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Tutor comments “Here the contrast is more noticeable, slightly blown highlights (255, 255, 255) in some of the signs and some almost black shadows. When shooting an arranged image then a photographer has the ability to adjust the image elements to work within the restrictions of equipment and lighting. In this case it may have been possible to angle the signs to avoid the direct sun just enough to remain within the dynamic range of the camera, I realise that was not the point of this image – just an observation! The shade white balance setting has produced a warmer overall result, remember when shooting just Jpeg then white balance setting is fairly critical due to the inability to alter this satisfactorily in post production. If shooting a series of images using Jpeg then it is important to have the white balance set appropriately to achieve a consistent look. Look at the framing again, is the fallen leaf in the centre of the shot important? It is central so it becomes fairly dominant.”

Notes for reshoot “as 1”

I worked hard for this composition. With the three very similar pictures (1, 10 and 12) and in the light of tutor comments to assignment 3 (regarding variety of viewpoints) I wanted something different. I thought this was quite amusing with Eeyore looking straight at the camera with his grumpy expression at having to do some work.

11

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Tutor comments “Fairly even lighting shows how a Jpeg can handle low contrast scenes easily. From a compositional perspective the still life group would benefit from some foreground interest (right or left) that you could have shot past, possibly out of focus which would lead the eye into the image.”

Notes for reshoot “reshoot with foreground detail”

There are blown highlights on the gnomes on the right, they were closest to the light.

12

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Tutor comments “Appropriate meter setting and exposure compensation to hold onto highlight detail. in film days most professionals shot colour transparency, this required very accurate exposure usually within 1/3 of a stop to hold highlight and or shadows. A compromise was usually required and a decision made what was important – shadow or highlight. The one big advantage of this relates to print as the dynamic range of print is similar to colour transparency film so you were fairly certain that what was recorded on the transparency would print correctly. This comparison also applies to a certain degree to working with Jpeg and print. The Jpeg will not hold as much information as a Raw file and, as long as the image is correctly exposed, is more likely to print fairly well straight from the camera, your prints successfully retain the shadow and highlights as recorded on your digital files, although there is a slight further loss of shadow detail.”

Notes for reshoot “as 1”

As mentioned earlier, I wanted three different viewpoints for the three similar pictures so went for an elevated view for this one. The signs are blown and unreadable but in this case, shadow detail was more important.

This was an interesting assignment first time round. Doing it again towards the end of the course provided an opportunity not only to reinforce the message of the assignment, but also to incorporate things I have learnt in the rest of the course.

Assignment Five – Research and Planning

I started with three ideas for the final assignment of this course. The first was toying with drinks, but pictured in a surrealistic way, next was to symbolise the telling of a story, the idea was to use roses of different colours to tell the story of Romeo and Juliet.

The idea that stuck however was to do a series on Hastings pier. This would have the greatest personal connection and the tutor agreed it would be the most appropriate.

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5th August 1872 was a notable date: it was the first bank holiday in the UK, established as a result of the Bank Holidays Act 1871. It was also the day a 910 foot pleasure pier opened at the south coast resort of Hastings, in East Sussex.

Seaside piers are a typically Victorian, English curiosity which delighted holidaymakers during trips to the seaside. Around the turn of the century almost a hundred piers existed, now only about half that number remain, victims of poor investment and increasing sophistication of the travelling public.

Hastings pier boomed from the time it opened, through the heydays of the 1930’s and became a mecca for pop bands in the 60s and 70s. The decline started in the 1980s when lack of investment failed to maintain the structure in a serviceable and safe condition, storms in 1983, 1987 and 1993 took their toll and the pier closed in 1999. It was then bought by a private investor who refurbished the visible superstructure and reopened it in 2001, on May Day bank holiday. But much needed structural repairs were never carried out and it closed again in 2006, this time by the council on health and safety grounds. A local charity was formed to raise the funds to repair the pier but to little effect.

On Tuesday morning, the 5th October 2010, the pier was subject to an arson attack. Two youths were seen jumping from the pier. They were arrested and later released due to lack of evidence. The fire was quickly spotted and emergency services were soon on the scene but due to the unsafe structure, they were limited in their ability to fight what was at the time a small fire. As a result 95% of the pier’s superstructure and decking were lost.

The devastation galvanised attempts to save the grade II listed structure. The council has successfully pursued a compulsory purchase order, lottery funds have been granted and in August this year, work has started to restore it. Like a phoenix, a brand new 21st century pier is rising from the Victorian ashes and the efforts of the charity behind it are being heralded as an example of what can be done by local community power to save this part of the country’s heritage.

I grew up in Hastings and spent much of my time in, on or under the pier. I took speedboat rides from the pierhead and saw my favourite bands performing in the ballroom. I’ve swam under it at high tide and walked around it at low tide. It formed a central part of my formative years and I cannot describe the loss I felt when I heard the news of the 2010 fire.

This series of pictures is intended to describe some of the history of the pier, some of my personal nostalgia and loss and give a sense of hope for the future.

Influences

Simon Roberts – The idea for this project came from looking at Simon Roberts’ work “Pierdom”. By pulling back as he does from many of his subjects he shows the subject in its context and takes a lot of emphasis from it. This can result in a detached style and can lack intimacy. In many of Pierdom’s photos the pier is in the context of lots of sea, empty beaches or emerging from rooftops.

Saltburn is pulled back so far, the pier is almost lost:

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St Annes has a massive swathe of empty beach as a foreground:

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Clevedon is a pierhead surrounded by sea and sky which blur into each other with no clear horizon:

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Although some context will be required, this impersonal feel is not really what I am looking for with what I want to say.

Helene Binet – A lot of her work is dominated by geometric shapes and patterns. In contrast to Roberts, she will often get in close and create a geometric shape out of architectural details. A lot of her work also uses shadows and reflections to paint a picture with tones.

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Eric De Mare – Evidence of activity brings his photos much closer, often there are people as an integral part of his composition but where there are none, there is evidence of human activity eg sacks, machinery. His influence on architecture is still felt today.

The photos show very much the use of architecture, especially the series on the functional tradition where he found aestheticism in plainness.

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John Davies – The series British Isles 1979 to 2009 contains panoramic vistas of cityscapes and industrial landscapes characterised by a high viewpoint. The Metropoli project has a similar high viewpoint. It’s not for him to get down and dirty and crawl through the grime of the city streets, he’d rather stand aloof and take in a vista like a visitor from another planet. But whereas Simon Roberts’ detachment is enhanced by the muted tones and dreaminess, Davies’ are sharp as a knife.

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Whilst these examples have informed this work in a general sense, there are a couple of specific influences to mention.

I was struck by similarities between Binet and de Mare, for example:

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This led me to working under the pier to explore similar possibilities.

John Davies’ use of an elevated viewpoint is echoed to an extent by Binet. I had also found some archive pictures of the pier from a higher perspective. Hastings is a town of many hills which enabled me to get a similar perspective, particularly over roofs and chimneys.

Some of my responses to these influences that did not make the final selection are:

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Planning

As well the research described above, I also did an internet search of pictures of the pier before the fire. This gave me a library of images to draw influence from and to direct my own picture taking.

I wanted to show a sense of loss; that the pier was a place for fun and amusement, attracting a lot of people of which now it is just a ghost. But with the proposal and funding in place for the refurbishment there is a nod to a hopeful future.

I decided to think in terms of three:

1 – The Past

Old pictures of the pier “juxtaposed” with as it is today, not exact copies, but showing the “feel”. Part of my library consisted of pictures of newspaper adverts for bands appearing on the pier and I thought it would be a telling picture to include these in some way with the fire ravaged ballroom.

2 – The Present

I originally thought of this as being a catalogue of the current state but decided to make it more personal by generally including people. This would be them going about their daily business with the pier as a backdrop. When something gets familiar, you ignore it; I wanted to show that the dilapidated pier has reached this status.

3 – The future

A couple of pictures to show the possibly bright future.

Assignment 4 Reworked

My tutor picked up on the colour I changed the water to and I admit I was not happy with it. My intention was to make the water more inviting by changing the muddy brown colour to a more attractive blue. As he pointed out, all I did was t change the colour of the material that was making it brown. So instead of bits of earth suspended in the river water, I had bath salts.

He suggested another couple of approaches. The ideal he said was to take another picture under similar conditions of a nicely coloured river and use that. I did not have such a suitable picture and was not able to take one with the right lighting conditions so I experimented with his other method. This was to combine a hue shift with desaturation and a contrast boost.

Working further on the final image with just the water selected, I changed the hue to a slightly deeper blue and almost entirely desaturated it. I then used levels not only to increase contrast, but also darken it. This is the result:

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I think the result is more realistic, still not perfect but an improvement over the previous attempt.

And I’ve learnt a new Photoshop technique which has deepened my understanding of the software, especially hue and saturation.

Assignment Four – Tutor Feedback and Response

Within a week of receiving it, my tutor sent me his feedback to assignment four. I’m getting used to his thorough feedback but continue to value it. It’s in full here:

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I expected to get some useful advice on how I could have achieved the results I got in a better way so I was very pleased with “Technically you have done well, The majority of your techniques have been handled soundly…” yet I was well prepared for what came next “…apart from the water colour change.” This is one manipulation I was not happy with although I could not explain my dissatisfaction as pithily as he did, “The water looks like it has blue bath salts in!” I made several attempts to get it to look how I wanted it but never really made it. He has given me another avenue to try.

I should point out that his comments about submitting a final print were rescinded in a later e-mail. I did submit one but it had apparently got stuck to the hard copy of the assignment when I posted it. The lesson is to keep them separate, either in a separate envelope or with a divider sheet. Aside from sending assignments to the tutor, there is an obvious lesson here when I send everything for assessment.

The other main learning to take away from the feedback is really to continue on the direction I am going, especially with regard to researching, using that research to inform my own work and documenting it. This is particularly important as I start on assignment five, the personal project.

A couple of other gems of useful advice:

“Garry Winogrand is often quoted about how the photographer can ‘transform’ a situation by the way that four edges are used to select and arrange the elements within the photograph, and perhaps more importantly by what information the photographer decides to exclude from the framing.” – I was thinking along the same lines when I was looking into photographic truth but could not find a suitable quote.

“Commercially the less a photographer has to process and correct within an image the better, mainly down to time involved in post-production.” – Time is of lesser consequence to an amateur pursuing a hobby in his own time but to a pro, time is money! The consequent tip of shooting a straight image as well as a tilted image is valuable.

Assignment Four: Real or Fake

Boats and Boating

The fourth part of this course was taught on two levels. Firstly there was an increasingly invasive set of Photoshop “manipulations”. Then at a deeper level we were invited to consider the ethical implications of what we were doing. The purpose of the assignment was to demonstrate my stance on these ethics by taking and manipulating an image for an imaginary book or magazine cover.

A lot of my thinking on the subject is in the posts “The Camera Never Lies” and the “Photography of Truth” and summarised in the research to this assignment. Therein I concluded that my stance could be best demonstrated using documentary photography or photojournalism. A hypothetical magazine cover could represent documentary photography so this is what I used.

I will first of all show the picture I used, then the adjustments I made, and follow this with a discussion on the ethics of it.

My starting image for a publication on boating is on the next page.

Apart from the obvious defects, the tilt of the image and the sensor dust midway between the swan and the boats, a number of “improvements” can be made to make the image better suited to its intended purpose. The muddy colour of the water is not especially inviting, the swan could be repositioned to close up the dead space between it and the boats, the building at the top left is a local riverside pub. Its partial inclusion does not enhance the composition but detracts from the rural scene and there is not enough dead space at the top of the picture for the magazine’s title.

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1 – Correct Tilt

When I took the shot, I wanted to place the swan in the corner of the frame to create a diagonal between the swan and the boats, hence the image was tilted. Seeing it later I don’t think it worked as the image looks messy and contrived. This was a straightforward correction using the straighten tool. I used the verticals of the hut on the jetty as a reference. The result was cropped to the dimensions of A4 at 300 dpi.

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2 – Remove blemish

This was another straightforward correction using the clone stamp tool. A patch of water alongside the blemish was chosen as a sample point.

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3 – Change colour of water

I made a careful selection to avoid unwanted details (eg the swan), then tried two techniques for this. “Adjust Hue and Saturation” did not give me enough control so I used “Replace colour”. I had to make sure that the selection of colour to be replaced included all the muddy brown. Some attempts were not successful, leaving out some ripples or the shadow of the main boat. It was also difficult to get the colour looking right and natural.

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4 – Move swan

The swan was selected fairly easily but so that it would blend in with its new surroundings when moved, I expanded the selection and feathered the edge. Then it was a simple copy, paste and move. I did not delete the original swan yet, preferring to leave it until I had moved the whole image down. Also, the new swan was kept on a separate layer to await and facilitate final positioning.

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5 – Delete pub

The pub was selected and deleted. My first attempt was to add some foliage in the gap and blend it with a gradient layer mask. This proved difficult as the blending was taking place in two distinct directions so in the end I feathered the edge of the pub selection and placed the replacement foliage behind it.

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6 – and replace with foliage

The foliage came from another picture taken from the same viewpoint and using the same exposure. This also had a feathered edge to enable blending with the final image.

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7 – Masthead text added

This was added now so that I knew how much room would be needed when I made more room for it. This was easily done with the text tool.

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8 – Create more room at top for masthead

The added foliage and background layer were merged, then converted to an ordinary layer so it could be moved. Note the swan is on another layer, this will be moved later. As it happened, I moved the image sufficiently for the original swan to disappear off the bottom, relieving me of the need to delete it.

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9 – Gap at the top filled with foliage

The foliage again came from a donor image, the same as the one used earlier. It was added as another layer and merged using a gradient mask.

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10 – Moved swan to final position

This was moved to a position to make a neat triangle with the boats and to attempt to merge the ripples.

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11 – Add supplementary text

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12 – Final tweaks

Looking at the overall final image, the boats seem a bit over exposed. The scene behind them is nicely exposed and a suitable backdrop to them so I did a local level adjustment. Unfortunately the tops of the boats were unrecoverably over-exposed (even working on the RAW file). The swan looked a bit big in its new position, I hadn’t allowed for perspective when I moved it further from the viewpoint, so I made it smaller. All through the process I was unsure what the small white dot to the right of the swan’s head was but looking at the final image, I decided it did not look right so removed it with the clone stamp tool.

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Ethical Considerations

Taking each step in turn:

1 – Correct Tilt

I don’t think there is anything wrong with this, it’s correcting a fault from when the picture was originally framed. Had I done this more accurately when taking the shot, the question would not have arisen. It is not changing reality in any way but excluding a bit more of it.

2 – Remove blemish

Similarly, this is simply correcting a defect, rather than altering reality. It could be argued that I am taking something from another part of the picture to make the correction, but I don’t think this would be particularly strong argument.

3 – Change colour of water

Water’s blue isn’t it? Everyone knows that! Actually water is colourless, it’s typically thought of as blue because it reflects the colour of the sky. In this case, it was a muddy brown colour because of the suspended solids in it. That is the reality, and if it appears uninviting, that is the way that it is. In this case, changing the colour is distorting reality. It might make it a more attractive picture, it might encourage people to buy the magazine when they see it on the shelf of their local newsagent but the fact remains that it is deception and done for purely commercial interests.

4 – Move swan

This is on the borderline for me. One the one hand, in moving it I tampered with reality. On the other hand, it was moving anyway, I might have waited until it was in a more suitable position before clicking the shutter. But then, the swan was not under my command, he might have turned around and gone in totally the wrong direction. I’m reminded of the paper bag in Preparing for Prayers by Harry Fisch. He could have waited until a gust of wind blew it away but he didn’t, he used Photoshop and was excluded from the competition. Moving the swan would have resulted in my removal from a competition but this is not a competition entry. In the context of a magazine cover, I think this is acceptable – just!

5 – Delete pub

6 – and replace with foliage

I wonder how the landlord would react if a bulldozer came along and wantonly destroyed a corner of his building, so that my picture would be more suitable! That is what I have done; not physically destroyed (the pub is still there) but removed an element of its virtual or pictorial existence. Perhaps more so than changing the colour of water, this is tampering with reality.

7 – Masthead text added

I don’t think there is any challenge with adding text over an image.

8 – Create more room at top for masthead

This is simply another way of cropping an image. It’s not changing anything at this stage, just reframing and removing some of the scene…

9 – Gap at the top filled with foliage

…however it’s made different when I add the foliage. Perhaps not in the same league as demolishing half a pub, it’s still changing what was in front of the camera. In this case, it is ameliorated somewhat by acting as a backdrop to the text.

10 – Moved swan to final position

See 4

11 – Add supplementary text

See 7

12 – Final tweaks

The Reuters handbook says “No excessive lightening, darkening or blurring of the image. (thus misleading the viewer by disguising certain elements of an image)” A level adjustment as performed here would probably be acceptable in these terms. Regarding the size adjustment of the swan, the sin was already committed when it was copied in step 4. The removal of the unidentified white dot might correspond to Harry Fisch’s paper bag, depending what it is. Even so, I think compared with the other indulgences this is fairly trivial.

Summary

I have mentioned elsewhere that to determine the acceptability of this kind of intervention one has to judge it against the context in which it is viewed. The context here is a magazine cover, the purpose of which is to make the edition stand out on a newsagent’s shelf, to advertise its contents, to encourage people to buy it. In this context, it is not a picture of a specific location, but instead symbolic of what this particular edition represents. I have commented elsewhere how liberal fashion photography can be; this is of specific, well-known and recognisable people. The Boats and Boating example is symbolic so the ethics become more dulled. The other side of the coin is the viewers reading of the image. This is a “River Thames” special edition, is the Thames really that colour? That boat looks appealing and the location is so idyllic; someone wants to hire it, does a bit of research and tracks it down; only to be ultimately disappointed. Does the commercial interest and the need to sell the magazine justify the deception? In my opinion, the answer is no. Changing the colour of the water and removing the pub each is a step too far.

Analysis of Picture

The boats, pointing as they do out of the frame say they are ready to head off into unpictured waters. Within themselves they form a triangle, with another triangle heading down to the swan. The swan in the foreground is in a dominant position but his head is pointing towards the boats so it naturally leads the eye to them. There is a rhythm in the row of punt poles, also leading the eye to the boats. The presence of the two people on the landing stage makes the image more personal, it would be a bit soulless without them. The colour scheme of largely blue and green is restful and harmonious, engendering a feeling of serenity which is fitting with the notion of lazy days on the river. The choice of colour for the text was deliberate so as not to clash with this. Against this the two orange life belts, although small, stand out without spoiling the feel.

Reflection on Assignment

When I set out on this assignment, I had a number of ideas to follow (these are discussed in my research post). In addition to the research suggested by my tutor, I found the work of Sarah Small and Wang Quinsong relevant. But these were all surrealistic and I did not feel I could demonstrate where I stood on the ethical continuum with a surrealistic image. I was at a loss what to do and my indecisiveness was to an extent compounded by only having one image to submit. Where the assignment asks for a collection of images, there is the feeling that any weak ones in the set can be carried by the strong ones. In this case, however, I had to commit to one image; all my eggs had to be in one basket! Even when I had the Boats and Boating example in mind, I was riddled with doubt, whether it would be suitable and show sufficient research.

I eventually went ahead with it for two reasons. Firstly, there would be a number of manipulations of varying degree. I thought this would make it a suitable vehicle for demonstrating where I stood on the ethics of each manipulation which collectively would summarise my stance on the issue. Secondly there was the learning value.

I had to determine what techniques would be suitable and learn those that I had not used before. These were:

Gradient mask layer – Elements does not support layer masks but there is a well-known and widely publicised work-around, using the layer mask attached to an adjustment layer. I needed to do this to merge the added foliage for the background to the masthead. It was surprisingly straightforward when I discovered that the merging had to be against the background layer.

Refine edges of selection – I have always shied away from the refine edge dialogue, not really having an understanding of what it does and how to use it. I found here it was useful when selecting the swan, the pub and its replacement foliage, to expand the selection and feather the edge made the join with the final image more invisible. The amount of expansion and degree of feathering was a matter of trial and error.

Creating layers from background and vice versa – There are things you can’t do with a background layer so it needs to be converted to an “ordinary” layer, equally there are times when a layer has to be converted to a background. It’s a simple menu item, but I didn’t know it could be done.

Replace colour – I’ve dabbled with this before but never had a good reason to learn it properly.

I am fully aware that some of the techniques I have used were executed a bit clumsily, I am also aware that there may be other, better ways of achieving the results I got here. I’m still learning and I am working through two books by Philip Andrews: Adobe Photoshop Elements 7: A Visual Introduction to Digital Photography and Advanced Photoshop Elements 7 for Digital Photographers. Together these provide a comprehensive handbook to the software and its capabilities.

The sequence presented here is the result of a number of practise attempts to see what worked, what did not, what depth of manipulation I could get away with, what order to do them in. even the final result took three versions to get right. As a result, the whole assignment has been an immense learning experience.

Assignment 3 Reworked

Although I received generally favourable comments on my submission for assignment 3, there were a number of things that needed addressing. The overriding issue was that I arrived at the final result without recording what steps I took along the way, therefore it would not be repeatable. In the meantime I have also started to use Lightroom. The original images were worked up in Photoshop and to redo them would give me additional practise with the new software. Lightroom also gave me three further advantages in that it would automatically record my work steps, give me greater control over the conversion with more colour channels and enable me to save versions (or snapshots) along the way.

Another comment John made was that I did not experiment with key. In fact I did, but discarded the results as I did not like them as much as the more conventional treatment. As such I did not record what I achieved and this exercise will also address this.

John also commented that “Footpath” and “Untitled” were conveying the same message as others in the set so this rework will concentrate on the remaining four.

The Hay Wain

Original image:

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First I increased contrast by 0.24:

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In the Black and White conversion, auto settings gave this result:

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I then made coarse adjustments with each slider to get a feel for the effect each had, returning the sliders to auto after each adjustment:

Red – Slight effect on the edges of the trailer (a rusty colour in the original).

Orange – Slightly stronger effect on the bed of the trailer, the pile of sand behind it and the flowers on the right.

Yellow – Quite a strong effect on the foreground grass and leaves, the ground between the rows of vines. Less effect on background trees.

Green – Ditto for the foreground, less effect on ground between rows of vines, stronger effect on background trees.

Aqua – Effect limited to drivers window of the car.

Blue – Darkened the sky but made an odd interference effect with the leaves around the sky when used to excess.

Purple – Very slight effect on car.

Magenta – no noticeable effect.

Firstly I wanted better definition of the stuff on the trailer so I reduced red and orange to darken the trailer.

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To make the rows of vines stand out a bit, I darkened yellow, compensated for the darkening foliage by lightening green:

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Image was now slightly darker with some shadow clipping so I lightened blacks so they were not clipping and lightened whites to just short of clipping, then gave it an overall contrast boost:

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There remained a small amount of specular highlights on the car.

Finally I applied sharpening:

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I then created a snapshot of this version.

Then I tried a high key version

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and saved this as a snapshot

Bed and Breakfast

Original image:

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First I corrected the obvious wonkiness:

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The blacks were adjusted to just avoid clipping, the whites so that the walls of the building were at 95% on all three channels:

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Auto black and white conversion gave this result:

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And experimenting with the sliders had these effects:

Red – Profound effect on the framework of the right hand roller.

Orange – Ditto, plus profound effect on both rollers themselves

Yellow – Big effect on foreground grass, less so on background foliage.

Green – Similar to yellow but slightly more so.

Aqua – Noticeable on end and frame of right hand roller.

Blue – Similar to aqua but more so, darkened sky.

Purple – Slight effect on end of left hand roller and roof.

Magenta – No noticeable effect.

Firstly I wanted to create some contrast between the rollers and their frames so I darkened red, aqua and blue and lightened orange:

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Then to increase overall light level, I lightened green:

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Next came sharpening:

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Finally I tweaked contrast, lowered black point, and lightened shadows slightly:

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Checking the white walls of the building they came out at about 97%

This was saved as a snapshot

The high key one was created by increasing exposure and reducing the white point to ensure there was some exposure headroom over the white wall:

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Vines and Wire

Original image:

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First, I increased contrast:

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The auto Black and White conversion gave this:

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Checking the effect of each colour slider:

Red – Little discernable effect.

Orange – Noticeable effect on path, ground between vines, pulley bracket, frame and bed of trailer.

Yellow – Noticeable effect on path, ground between vines and area under trailer.

Green – Effect on foreground grass, distant trees and ground between vines.

Aqua – Slight effect on front panel of trailer.

Blue – Effect on sky and front panel of trailer.

Purple – No noticeable effect.

Magenta – No noticeable effect.

The auto conversion is quite good in this case but I wanted to darken the sky and increase the contrast between the vines, the ground and the trailer. First the sky with the blue slider:

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Then I lightened green, darkened aqua, yellow and orange:

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Finally, there was a small amount of black clipping so I adjusted the black point to remove it:

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This was saved as the first snapshot.

The high key version was created by increasing exposure and highlights:

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Surrey Hills

Original image:

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First I lifted the contrast

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Conversion to Black and White on auto gave this:

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The effect of each colour channel was:

Red – No noticeable effect

Orange – Path, around the vines

Yellow – Just about everything

Green – Foreground foliage and background trees

Aqua – Background trees

Blue – Sky, shadow detail of background trees

Purple – No noticeable effect

Magenta – No noticeable effect

Green and aqua between them were useful to increase contrast of background trees:

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And blue darkened the sky:

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This was saved as snapshot 1

The high key version was made simply by increasing the exposure until I just retained cloud detail in the sky:

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I struggled with sharpening in Lightroom. Having got used to the Photoshop method of applying an unsharp mask, I could not see how the settings in Lightroom made any difference. I have noticed however that you can apply sharpening at the printing stage so I will see how that goes.

I am also experimenting with different ICC profiles when printing. Although these are Black and White images, the profile seems to make a difference as coloured inks are still being used. Amongst the profiles available to me, the most promising in terms of offered image quality were “Canon iP4600 series GL2/SG2” and “Canon iP4600 series PR1”. The former was the appropriate one for the paper I was using but printed with the green cast. I printed “Hay Wain” using both the settings and I experimented with perceptual and relative rendering intent. Examining the prints under diffuse dayight showed that “GL2” had the green cast whereas “PR1” was more neutral. There was not much difference in intent; relative gave slightly richer contrast. This determined the settings for the final prints.

Finally, I was thinking more in terms of “Monochrome” rather than “Black and White”. Monochrome means one colour. The range of tones does not have be shades of grey, what if they were shades of another colour?

I experimented with split toning in Lightroom using “Bed and Breakfast” and using yellow for the highlights and blue for the shadows, came up with this:

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Assignment 4 – Research and Planning

I worked through part 4 rather quickly, mainly because I found it so interesting! Apart from the range of image adjustments covered, which in themselves were fascinating, the challenge to question the ethics of what we were doing provided an additional intellectual stimulus. The assignment picks up on the ethical question, inviting us to illustrate an idea or concept by designing a book or magazine cover (real or imaginary). This post shows some of my thinking and research.

For research my tutor suggested a few areas I could look at.

3-D rendering and CGI is used extensively in new car advertising. Taking a library backdrop and placing a CGI image of the car onto it, the rendering engine then creates realistic reflections and shadows. The cars do not exist except in the virtual reality of the CGI, yet the resulting image is made to look as lifelike as the software and artist can make it:

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https://www.moofe.com/#/gallery

For me, all these do not look real, everything is too clean, even clinical. Perhaps that is the intent, to hide the fact that they are unreal, the reality is made a little too real; or perhaps it is the limitation of the software.

I considered the possibility of using CGI and rendering software and looked at the open source “Blender” program but decided the challenge of learning a new tool would be too great. Thinking about what I could do in Photoshop I came up with this:

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The spiral galaxy was created entirely in Photoshop, the planet was a map of the world but distorted to make it look spherical and alien, the astronaut was found on the internet. It would be easy to add a blanket of stars in the background.

I like the bold, graphic simplicity of this and the design allows each element to move in relation to each other to adjust and fine tune the composition. Is it real or fake? It’s fake, quite obviously so and I do not think there could be any confusion so there is no ethical justification required.

John Stezaker won the prestigious Deutsche Borse photography prize in 2012 for his cut and paste collages. He uses pictures from old postcards, film stills and books and magazines, to create collages that are often witty and sometimes disturbing. There is no denying his eye to pick up the arrangement in seemingly disparate photos, and skill to cut them precisely and paste them to make something meaningful. Whether he is a photographer in the purest sense of the word is open to debate and perhaps this is where the ethical issues lie with his work. There is also the issue of him using other people’s work and whether adequate credit is given to the original artist.

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http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2012/sep/03/deutsche-borse-prize-john-stezaker

My possible response to the assignment brief is something along these lines:

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Here the original images are mine but the skull and stoney face were found on the internet. Is this ethical? The pictures are obviously fake, no-one can be imagined to have a stone head or have a skull headed alter-ego following them. But what would the original subjects say to being exploited in this fashion?

Larissa Sansour is a Jerusalem born Palestinian whose work is inspired a lot by the tension that understandably arises from that, although this is not manifested in a conflictive or judgemental way. Nation Estate for example offers a solution to the Palestine deadlock by suggesting the state is housed in a high rise building, with a floor for each city.

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http://larissasansour.com/nation_estate.html

Her work is highly sensitive, very imaginative and extremely well-crafted. Like the car adverts above, the reality is a bit too real, it seems a bit plastic. But I get the impression here that it is deliberate.

One thing these three examples have in common is their surreal edge. Perhaps that is a consequence of the heavy manipulation involved, perhaps it was the main influence my tutor had mind when he suggested them.

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My last experiment as I explored some ideas for this assignment was “Champagne Production.” This was not really inspired by any of the examples above but I wanted to push the ethical boundaries a bit further. This is an imaginary book on making champagne. The background picture is original, the glass of champagne is obviously added (the vine it is sprouting from less obviously). What about the chap walking up the hill towards the refreshing drink at the end of a long day? He was added! In fact, he is not even a worker in the vineyard, he is a visitor. So is this ethical manipulation? When I took the picture, there was no-one there but what if I had this shot in mind and arranged for a model to be present during the shoot and arranged him accordingly? Is this any more ethical? So the question about ethics is really nothing to do with Photoshop. In my view, in this context this would be perfectly acceptable. The book is about making champagne and the addition of the person does not detract from that. If it had been about working conditions in the vineyards it might be a different matter.

So this leads me to the subject of the assignment. In my entry “The Photography of Truth” I looked specifically at two genres of photography, photojournalism and fashion and an earlier post “The Camera Never Lies” looked at documentary photography. The ethics involved in fashion photography are there, but often ignored but it’s possibly in the area of photojournalism and documentary that bring ethics into a sharper focus. This is where I should look in this assignment if I am to demonstrate my stance.

Assignment Three – Tutor Feedback and Response

I have never got comments like this before, “High quality set of prints, they have a considered and precious worth to them…”, “…starting to exhibit a painterly quality…”

John’s comments to assignment 3 were very informative, instructive and encouraging. Arriving on the same day as I received a slightly disappointing mark of 54% for TAOP, it gave me a bit of a boost.

His full feedback is here:

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Once again there is a lot to digest. As well as the positive and flattering comments, he has provided an abundance of pointers to improve. Some key comments and my responses are:

You note that you arrived at the final images without fully noting down your technique and therefore they may not be repeatable, year one is very much about experimentation so this is good to experiment but it is essential that you record how you arrived at the final outcome as this is what DPP is all about, Creating usable and repeatable workflows and understanding how you achieved the result!

Good point, well made. It was a bit hit and miss, even though the result was okay, the journey was arduous. I will rework the images, this time noting the work steps I take to get there and using Lightroom with more control over the conversion. Also, I will include more detail in the exercises.

Several of the prints however change colour! Some exhibit a green cast while some are fairly neutral…

I made the first three prints and ran out of paper. When I printed the rest they came out with the colour cast. It was the same paper, Canon Pro Photo Paper II, and printed with the same inks and ICC profile so it’s a bit of a puzzle why they came out a strange colour. Ideally, I should have printed them all again and got them right but I wanted to get the assignment sent away and get the tutor’s feedback. Something to be investigated!

Most are taken from a similar height which adds to the uniformity, this dilutes the effectiveness of the assignment in terms of visual interest.

I’ve been criticised in the past for too much variety, even stylistically so I have tried to present a set with a degree of consistency. Now it’s not enough variety! There must be a balance between cohesiveness and sameness which I am missing

Michael Freeman suggests experimenting with ‘key’ these images are really all the same ‘key’ which is working and appropriate to the subject matter but again it weakens the assignment in terms of experimentation.

I did experiment with key and some of the submissions were adjusted as a result. In the end though I wanted the overall set to be of a similar feel and texture.

1 The Hay Wain I am thinking that the inclusion of the car is deliberate / juxtaposition? But as this is the only image in the submission that uses such observations it becomes somewhat weak and may start to appear as not a deliberate decision.

The car was a deliberate inclusion. It’s true that it is the only one with a car. Also, Surrey Hills is the only one with people, Bed and Breakfast is the only one with a building. Together they help to tell the story and I don’t think the car’s inclusion detracts from anything but strengthens the composition of the particular photograph.

2 The Footpath…So for me a slight missed opportunity as the path is slightly incidental running along the right hand third. It may have been more effective to shoot further to the right and allow the path to sweep invitingly into the frame.

The pictures are really about the farm equipment so I didn’t want to focus too heavily on the footpath, but I take his point about a slightly different viewpoint might have strengthened the composition.

2 The Footpath. …This print is slightly darker than image 1 and as such a little oppressive in its atmosphere, the blue sky tone is heavy and appears storm like.

I’ll take this into account when I rework the images.

3 Bed and Breakfast “…when using the ‘Info’ tool and you have 255 in all three colour channels, or single monochrome channel if Grey Scale you have achieved pure white…”

I checked and the file I printed the image from showed 255 on all three channels whereas the original jpeg had values from 242 to 247. Again, I’ll rework the image and watch out for this.

4 Vines and Wire.

Generally nice comments on this one. It was one of my favourites, particularly for the texture of the rows of vines as they recede into the distance.

5 Untitled. Not sure why ‘Untitled’? OK similar shot as (4), different take. This does not need to be in the assignment, I would suggest either (4) or (5), for me (4) is a stronger composition.

It was untitled because I could not think of a title! That probably sums it up as this is the weakest in the set.

6 Surrey Hills. …Good …texture, pattern and also rhythm occurring by the repetition of the fencing

This is my favourite of the set, for the footpath and the people on it although I admit I hadn’t noticed the pattern on the fencing.

The rest of the feedback contains some really useful advice:

• Develop more of a critique of your own work…

• …combine this with introducing examples of other practitioners work and commenting upon them, mentioning how they may have started to inform your own work.

• record more detail at how you arrive at the final outcomes,

• In your assignment annotation you say: ‘I have noticed many successful black and white pictures have punchy contrast’ Excellent point and it would be highly relevant at this stage to comment further along the lines of ‘As in the work of…’ and include some examples. This will really start to get your research and blog heading on track for the degree.

All in all, very pleasing comments and some very useful feedback.

Assignment Three: Black and White

Part three of the course taught us image processing with a large portion devoted to conversion to black and white. I haven’t used black and white since I packed away the darkroom many years ago and have never touched it since I went digital. I am an unashamed colour photographer and considered the discarding of colour information unnecessary and wasteful! This meant I was starting from scratch in learning the adjustments involved in the conversion and what made a good black and white image.

I thought a suitable subject for black and white would be something around abandonment. The thinking was that this would be a subject for which the removal of colour would add to the mood of the image. My first ideas were abandoned or empty buildings or discarded items (the kind you see by the side of the road for anyone to take when people refurbish their houses or disused pieces of equipment being thrown away).

I finally settled on this set from our local vineyard. Denbies in Surrey is the country’s largest single vineyard and one of the largest privately owned in Europe. It’s output accounts for about 10% of wine produced in the UK. There is also a small bed and breakfast cottage. It is a well managed, well kept and successful vineyard.

But they have a small collection of farm equipment lying unused by the side of the path surrounded by unmown grass! The contrast between these and the well kept vineyard with the prim bed and breakfast should make a good subject for what I wanted to show.

As suggested by my tutor, I looked at the work of Simon Roberts (see separate post) and Edward Burtynsky. I related to the former (hence he gets a post to himself) and whilst I found the ship-breaking pictures of Burtynsky useful, they did not speak to me in the same way that Roberts’ work did.

My aim when processing these images was to produce a set with a timeless feel to them. The first wine was thought to have been produced about 9000 years ago, the world’s oldest known winery was probably established about 5000 years ago and it was possibly the Romans who defined the process. I don’t imagine these pictures will conjure up images from such ancient times but I wanted to convey a sense of unchanging rural peaceful France, a country now associated with the craft.

Processing steps were firstly to process the colour files in the RAW editor to correct any exposure errors. I wasn’t concerned with white balance as any colour cast would not affect the final result. The file was then opened in Photoshop for the conversion to black and white. My version (Elements 7) only allows adjustment of the blue, red and green channels. It was a sunny day so one of the first editing decisions to make was to darken the sky where appropriate. This was achieved by darkening the blue channel, this had to be compensated for by lightening the other two. Green had a tendency to make the foliage look unnaturally light if used to excess so I was careful to watch for this.

I worked up two or three versions of each image, each time starting from scratch with RAW file and each one was slightly different, with some subtle variations of tone between the same parts of each version. I admit to resorting to some cutting and pasting from one version to the next on a few of the images.

I have noticed many successful black and white pictures have punchy contrast. One thing I wanted to avoid in the submitted images was turning in pictures which were a dull muddy grey. With this in mind, I experimented also with making them lighter using the levels control.

Here are the photos:


1 – The Hay Wain

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Canon EOS 40D, 28 – 135 mm at 28mm, f19, 1/45 sec, ISO200

2 – The Footpath

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Canon EOS 40D, 28 – 135 mm at 28mm, f19, 1/45 sec, ISO200

3 – Bed and Breakfast

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Canon EOS 40D, 28 – 135 mm at 28mm, f19, 1/60 sec, ISO200

4 – Vines and Wire

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Canon EOS 40D, 28 – 135 mm at 28mm, f19, 1/45 sec, ISO200

5 – Untitled

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Canon EOS 40D, 28 – 135 mm at 70mm, f19, 1/60 sec, ISO200

6 – Surrey Hills

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Canon EOS 40D, 28 – 135 mm at 65mm, f19, 1/60 sec, ISO200

Reflection

The assignment brief asked us to discuss to what extent I achieved what I set out to. In one respect I think this set is successful. I find an element of timeless peace in these photos. One person I showed them to commented that they could have been taken in France (they had just returned from a trip touring the Champagne region). I put them on the OCA Flickr web site and someone commented that there was something Constable-esque about some of them. This was pleasing.

How do they measure up as a black and white set? I said at the start that I am not used to making black and white imagery, I don’t really know how to shoot and process a picture for best effect in black and white. I think this shows to certain extent here and it shows more in the way I arrived at these. Whilst this is to a certain extent successful, I arrived at it in a very haphazard and non-repeatable manner. There are no accompanying notes to the pictures explaining how I arrived at the final result; this is simply because I made multiple versions, each with multiple iterations; I cannot describe the ingredients that went into the final mix.

Time has prevented much work outside the course material. I have finished reading the anthology “Photography: A Critical Introduction” and started on Susan Sonntag’s collection of essays “On Photography”. My copy of the DAM Book by Peter Krogh has just arrived so I am dipping into that. I continue to monitor the Guardian’s online photo pages and the BJP site, I dip into dpbestflow and I have started to appreciate 1000wordsmag.com.