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.

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Assignment Two – Tutor Feedback and Response

It came just a few day after I received an e-mail acknowledging receipt. Timely feedback from the tutor is always appreciated and carries more value due to the freshness of the assignment.

Here it is:

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I also appreciated the thoroughness of the feedback with clear and constructive comments on each of the photos presented. The most valuable comments, however, came in the introductory paragraph:

“…but possibly the images have missed the opportunity at shooting all at the eye level of your statues. This would make us much more of a voyeur, especially if you had shot through and past foreground objects to make the images more intriguing and ambiguous…”

and:

“Some images have a lot of ‘dead’ space which is not working as negative space as it does not enhance the composition.”

I will reshoot some of these images to address these comments and some of the specific comments made to the individual pictures.

He has also included some useful pointers to the next assignment.

His comment: “Think about calibrating your monitor as it should help with your dark prints.” was a bit baffling as the images were not processed other than to print them. I admit the prints were dark but this is how they came out of the camera so I would have thought the issue was with printer profiling. I’ll check the dpbestflow website as he suggests and do some further research.

Assignment Two: Seeing Like Your Camera

The second assignment comes after a section that explored the operation of the sensor, examined the characteristics of each end of the dynamic range and the practical implication of this in terms of the dynamic range of the camera and the scene and concluded with a discussion on white balance and colour.

This assignment was to wrap all of this up and put it into practise with an exercise to test our ability to interpret scenes as a camera would with a number of challenging lighting scenarios.

After a great deal of desktop planning while the sun was hiding from view, when it finally emerged I looked out at it shining on my collection of garden ornaments and decided to do something with them. My tutor suggested I look at the work of Chip Simon and this inspired me to tell a story and to use more props to help do so. I then developed the story, planned photos around it and, with lighting situations from the options given, decided which was appropriate to each shot. More on the planning of the assignment can be found in the log entry “Assignment 2 Planning.”

I could say that the story is an allegorical tale of discrimination and class divide, but on the other hand, it might just be a bit of fun.

The pictures are in the order appropriate to tell the story, to help navigate them this table relates each to the lighting situations:

Lighting Situation Images
3 Photographing people in the shade while the background is in the sunshine, eg a group portrait in the shade of a tree. 1, 10, 12
5 Any backlit scene, whether in direct or indirect light. 4a, 4b, 6, 9
7 Indoor scenes illuminated by a single source of artificial light of high luminance eg a desk lamp. 7, 8, 11
8 A scene with strong incident dappled light. These conditions are often found when photographing in a forest on a sunny day. 2, 3, 5

I have submitted 4 pictures for situation 5 which results in 13 overall. I felt they were all necessary to tell the story.

Note: The pictures are identified by number. I have deliberately not captioned or titled them; I want the pictures to tell the story so I am not giving any textual clues. The characters also asked me to apologise for the Heath Robinson nature of some of the sets and props but wanted me to point out that they have little education and limited resources.

Here are the photos:


1 – Situation “Photographing people in the shade while the background is in the sunshine, eg a group portrait in the shade of a tree”

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Canon EOS 40D, 28 – 135 mm at 38mm, f16, 1/30 sec, ISO200

The exposure was about maintaining detail in the shadows and the highlights. This was spot metered on the foreground, then underexposed by ½ stop to reduce the highlights in the background slightly. The dynamic range here was too great, the foreground is slightly too dark and there is excessive highlight clipping on the background. The auto white balance also was not successful with a distinct blue cast on the foreground.


2 – Situation “A scene with strong incident dappled light. These conditions are often found when photographing in a forest on a sunny day.”

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Canon EOS 40D, 28 – 135 mm at 105mm, f5.6, 1/350 sec, ISO200

I used evaluative metering for this and it seemed to have coped well with no exposure compensation. White balance was set to shade and this also looks quite pleasing.


3 – Situation “A scene with strong incident dappled light. These conditions are often found when photographing in a forest on a sunny day.”

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Canon EOS 40D, 28 – 135 mm at 75mm, f4.5, 1/350 sec, ISO200

Another scene with evaluative metering, although the ½ stop over exposure I gave it was probably unnecessary as the highlights look a bit bright and the shadows are not really so deep. White balance for this one was Auto and it seemed to have interpreted the scene quite well.


4a – Situation “Any backlit scene, whether in direct or indirect light”

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Canon EOS 40D, 28 – 135 mm at 65mm, f4.5, 1/500 sec, ISO200

This was the hardest of the set to get the exposure right. I switched to manual mode, based the exposure on a spot metered on Eeyore’s nose but then adjusted it quite heavily to produce an acceptable exposure. White balance was set to Shade and the colours it has given are quite faithful.


4b – Situation “Any backlit scene, whether in direct or indirect light”

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Canon EOS 40D, 28 – 135 mm at 47mm, f5.6, 1/350 sec, ISO200

This was another one that was difficult to get right. I spot metered on the donkey’s back and underexposed by one stop. The dark background is a nice backdrop to set off the reflection in the mirror, and the character’s back is about right, but the reflection is too washed out. White balance was set on auto as I felt a shade setting would be too blue for the reflection.


5 – Situation “A scene with strong incident dappled light. These conditions are often found when photographing in a forest on a sunny day.”

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Canon EOS 40D, 28 – 135 mm at 70mm, f5.6, 1/350 sec, ISO200

Evaluative metering has given an exposure which is about right, possibly slightly on the light side. There is good detail on the subject although the highlights are blown on the sign. White balance on shade is quite successful.


6 – Situation “Any backlit scene, whether in direct or indirect light”

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Canon EOS 40D, 28 – 135 mm at 50mm, f5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO200

I was in two minds how I wanted this to look, I took another one with the figures silhouetted but eventually chose this one. This was with evaluative metering with no exposure compensation and white balance was set to shade.


7 – Situation “Indoor scenes illuminated by a single source of artificial light of high luminance eg a desk lamp”

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Canon EOS 40D, 28 – 135 mm at 75mm, f4.5, 1/15 sec, ISO1600

This was lit by a 20w halogen anglepoise desk lamp. Evaluative metering and auto white balance gave an acceptable result quite easily, although hand-holding was quite a challenge.


8 – Situation “Indoor scenes illuminated by a single source of artificial light of high luminance eg a desk lamp”

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Canon EOS 40D, 28 – 135 mm at 44mm, f4, 1/30 sec, ISO200

The lighting here was the same as the previous one although I placed the light much closer to the subject, enabling the lower iso and faster shutter speed. I wanted the main subject to be brightly spotlit against a dark background with just a little light spilling onto the other character. The starting point for this one was a spot metered exposure on the subject but then I underexposed quite radically to get the effect I wanted. Auto white balance gave an acceptable white balance.


9 – Situation “Any backlit scene, whether in direct or indirect light”

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Canon EOS 40D, 28 – 135 mm at 50mm, f6.7, 1/350 sec, ISO200

I chose to spot meter this but evaluative metering would probably have given an equally acceptable result although it has to be said that the backlighting is at an oblique angle and not particularly challenging to expose. White balance was set to shade and worked well.


10 – Situation “Photographing people in the shade while the background is in the sunshine, eg a group portrait in the shade of a tree”

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Canon EOS 40D, 28 – 135 mm at 28mm, f6.7, 1/350 sec, ISO200

This is a similar setting to photo no 1, although the sun had moved around a bit by this time. This was spot metered with no exposure compensation and like image 1, the dynamic range is too great to capture successfully. The white balance was set to shade and this is more successful than the auto setting of the first image.

11 – Situation “Indoor scenes illuminated by a single source of artificial light of high luminance eg a desk lamp”

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Canon EOS 40D, 28 – 135 mm at 28mm, f4, 1/15 sec, ISO800

This used the same halogen desk lamp as the other indoor images, although it was located fairly high to the right of the camera to light scene as evenly as possible. Even so, the two foreground objects, Winnie and the white gnome, are receiving more light and the camera histogram showed clipping. Evaluative metering was used with ½ stop underexposure and the white balance set to auto.

12 – Situation “Photographing people in the shade while the background is in the sunshine, eg a group portrait in the shade of a tree”

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Canon EOS 40D, 28 – 135 mm at 41mm, f22, 1/10 sec, ISO200

Like image 10, this was spot metered but this time given ½ stop underexposure. White balance was set to shade.


Part Two

The second part of the assignment asked us to consider one of the lighting situations and consider how it might be done better. I have used situation 3 – “Photographing people in the shade while the background is in the sunshine, eg a group portrait in the shade of a tree”.

This is the first picture but later in the day when the sun had come round so that both foreground and background are equally lit.

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Canon EOS 40D, 28 – 135 mm at 44mm, f16, 1/90 sec, ISO200

This is better but the bright sunlight is sidelighting the characters, still a tricky scene to expose properly. The next one has relocated the characters, keeping the same special relationship but orientating them to suit the lighting better.

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Canon EOS 40D, 28 – 135 mm at 44mm, f16, 1/125sec, ISO200

This is easier to expose but it was the intent of the original image to show the gnomes toiling in the ground while the Pooh characters were swanning in the sunshine. This now removes this separation from the two groups, they are both swanning in the sunshine.

Another way of reducing the dynamic range of the scene is to fill in the shadow with flash. This is quite simple with my camera; with all but fully auto modes, the camera will expose according to the scene and provide enough flash just to light the foreground.

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Canon EOS 40D, 28 – 135 mm at 30mm, f16, 1/125sec, ISO200

This is better; it keeps to the original intent and the foreground and background are both equally well lit. White balance is still a challenge as there are now three sources; direct sunlight, shade and flash. There is also something artificial looking about fill-in flash, apart from the white balance problems, the flash lit parts of the scene are unnaturally bright (compare the flash lit parts of the “shadow” with the unlit areas.

Another, and possibly better, option would have been to fill in using reflectors.

Yet another option, and one which could be used for all the scenarios, would have been to use a grey card. This can be used both to find a suitable exposure and acceptable white balance.

Reflection

I think I learnt more about the material of this part of the course doing this assignment than the exercises. This is not meant to belittle the exercises, it is more a comment on the learning value of the assignment. On the whole I am pleased with the pictures I have produced, most are well-exposed. But there are improvements that can be made. White balance in picture 1 has been commented on, the focus field ought to be deeper in 4b and 11, the dynamic range in all the “shade” pictures (1, 10 and 12) is really too much to cope with and 4b is slightly overexposed overall.

The other thing about not being able to use Photoshop is that I could not correct other errors, typically the wonkiness apparent in 4b, 7 and 12.

I have done more preparation and research for this assignment than any I have done previously, to such an extent that this was the first for which I have done a separate post. As a result, I was pleased with the cohesiveness of the set of pictures, something I have been working on for a while.

I am continuing to try to place my photography into a broader vision. I have been to a Landscape exhibition at Somerset House and taken a quick tour around the V and A. I would like to have attended more study visits but other commitments have prevented it. I am currently reading the Liz Wells edited anthology “Photography: A Critical Introduction” and regularly review critical photographic web sites; the Guardian’s photo mini-site and the BJP in particular.

To hone my skills and knowledge beyond the course materials I have read a couple of Michael Freeman’s books, The Digital SLR Handbook and Mastering Digital Photography, as well as various web sites, notably Cambridge in Colour and dpbestflow.

Assignment 2 Planning

With the poor weather of a typical English spring, my initial planning for assignment 2 was to concentrate on opportunities for indoor lighting. Then the sun came out! I looked out of the window and thought; “why not do a set on garden ornaments?”

My tutor suggested a number of photographers to look at but the one whose work provided the most inspiration for this assignment was Chip Simons. His images are characterised by strong colours, distorted perspectives and lots of legs! But the two sets on his web site (http://www.chipsimons.com/) that resonated with me were “Bunny” and “Monsters and things”

In his own words, “My “Bunny” series is a strange and sad fairy tale about the ending of a world…for some very innocent creatures that lived along the Rio Grande river valley in New Mexico…once upon a time.” and The "Monsters" series is about “people and society and my friends…and how everyone is a monster deep down…if they are tempted.” Simply put, “Bunny” comprises a series of images of a human character dressed in a bunny costume and photographed with a series of props and in different locations. “Monsters” is similar, except substitute monster costumes.

He has his own unique style which words cannot describe but here are a few examples:

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Part of the attraction for the garden gnomes was my fascination with taking pictures of statues and trying to represent them as lifelike, I wanted to do the same with the garden variety of statues. Here are some preliminary pictures I took:

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I thought these were quite nice photos that met the brief, although it has to be said that there was not enough dynamic range to make them as technically challenging as they might be.

I also did some research into the folklore around garden gnomes. They apparently perform vital overnight gardening tasks. There are also groups that are dedicated to the liberation of gnomes, notably the French organisation, “Front de libération des nains de jardin” (The Garden Gnome Liberation Front). Their aim is to take gnomes from their captive location and relocate them in the wild. It is not known whether this is the wish of the gnomes or just the action of well-meaning do-gooders.

Of course, not all garden ornaments are gnomes. Many are based on cartoon characters or animals and they seem just to be present for entertainment.

I really connect with the whimsical nature of Chip Simon’s work but what I most gleaned from looking at it and can relate to the current assignment was the use of props to help tell the story. Whereas I was before only interested in taking nice pictures of garden ornaments, bound together simply because they were pictures of similar subject matter, after looking at his work, I developed my own story line and used props to help bring it to life.

From this I developed a shot list. The main difficulty here was to use the lighting models in the assignment to support the ideas behind the picture so I considered each shot in relation to the possible lighting scenarios.

Then I waited for the right weather!