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:


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.


Study Visit: Current Conflicts

I was not really sure what to expect from this study visit. The cover picture on the entry on WeAreOCA appeared to be of a soldier asleep, grabbing a few moments rest from the stress of warfare, the description spoke about the constancy of war, the essay linked from it had as its subject how the castration of war zone photojournalism has diluted its effectiveness almost to the point where it is merely part of the propaganda machine. What attracted me to the day, however, was the promise of the artist’s talks and the seminar.

The exhibition gave us a view of war from a number of different perspectives. None of the contributors were front line photojournalists but each had a contribution to make. Here is a summary of their exhibits and the talk they gave.

Matthew Andrew – Constructs

Matthew described how his interest in photographic truth has led his photographic journey. He opened with a slide showing this famous photo by Roger Fenton (was it or was it not staged?):


He then went on to describe some of his staged photos, recognisable objects made from alternative materials. He showed a picture of personnel controlling drones, drawing an analogy to computer war games, then arrived at the subject of his contribution to the exhibition. “Constructs” is a project documenting war games, not the computer kind but real life simulations. He portrays the landscapes and people involved and describes how realistic they can be made to appear. To my untrained eye, they could have been from a front line war correspondent. He pointed out that some of the landscapes can appear boring but have a hidden and subtle meaning.

It was a trigger to consider how endemic war is hardwired into the human psyche, that adults can find war games and simulations so interesting.

Olivia Hollamby – Homefront

Olivia’s contribution was a collaboration with her partner. When he was posted to Afghanistan, she armed him with a camera and gave him a short briefing. He was to photograph his surroundings, simultaneously she was at home photographing his belongings. The result was captivating. She commented on the contrast between his snapshot aesthetic and her more considered staged works. She had published a photobook on the project and this was available for review.

I found, the more I looked at the pictures, the more I was drawn into the concept. As well as the obvious anxiety, there was estrangement on both sides.

Richard Monje – Bullets

Unfortunately Richard was not present to talk through his display of retrieved bullets from Afghanistan. These pictures of distorted ammunition had been photographed to be aesthetically pleasing. Being carefully lit against black backgrounds to an extent hid their brutal purpose and there was some debate about whether this was an effective way of showing them.

Les Monaghan – From the Forest

Les explained how he grew up in a forces environment and decided the regimented, institutional life was not for him. But he explained that you “shoot what you know” and showed us pictures of forces cadets that supported his decision.

In the project “From the Forests”, he followed services personnel on extreme survival training. The prints are very dark, the dark physical space leaves room for the viewer’s mental space.

In his talk he discussed the difference between photography for newspapers, where the subject has to be very obvious, and art photography, where the meaning can be ambiguous.


Jamie Simonds – In-transit

Jamie is a commercial portrait photographer. It was while he was on his way to his honeymoon that he was grounded for 6 hours in Atlanta airport in company with some US soldiers en route to Iraq and Afghanistan. He only had a compact camera with him, but asked if he could take their portraits with it. The result is a set of pictures of a group of people on a very different journey to his own. Their faces tell their own story.

Jamie explained his approach to portraiture where he typically takes his subject against a plain background. In this respect he is heavily influenced by Rineke Dijkstra. This removal from context places the focus on the subjects and allows them to express themselves better.


Christopher Down – Visions from Arcadia

Arcadia – a mountainous district in the Peloponnese of southern Greece. In poetic fantasy it represents a pastoral paradise and in Greek mythology it is the home of Pan.

Chris followed three real soldiers, either preparing for a tour or during rest and relaxation breaks. By contrasting these soldiers with idyllic pastoral scenes through four seasons, he is exploring the paradox of trying to obtain peace through war. Stylistically, it is a melding of two genres, landscape and portraiture.

I admit that at the exhibition I did not understand the message, but on researching what Arcadia means, I can now thoroughly connect with it.


I had two main points to take away from this study visit.

Firstly, it showed that you do not have to be a front line photographer to picture war. There were 6 different photographers, all with something slightly different to say and all providing more background to the act of going to war, and what war can mean. Together, they showed a picture of war that is never reported in the media. At times, this was a much more personal picture, with an impact much closer to home, with a potential to carry more meaning to us who are so distant from the “theatres” of war.

Secondly, I found it most instructive to hear direct from the artists, their thought processes, their work process, explaining how they came to the particular project, what it means to them, what difficulties they faced.

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.



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.



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



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



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.



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.



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



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.


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.


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:


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


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


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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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:


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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


11 – Add supplementary text


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.


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.


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.

Looking at Pictures – Kenneth Clark

It was through thinking about how to analyse pictures that I came across this book by Kenneth Clarke. This is not Kenneth Harry Clarke, the conservative MP, but Kenneth McKenzie Clark, the art critic who came to public prominence with the BBC series “Civilisation” in 1969. By this time, this book had been nine years since first publication.

In the introduction, Clark describes his way of looking at pictures, whilst acknowledging that it might not be the only way “No doubt there are many ways of looking at pictures, none of which can be called the right way.”

He follows this with some pithy, but profound advice:

“I believe that one can learn to interrogate a picture in such a way as to intensify and prolong the pleasure it gives one.”

“Looking at picture requires active participation, and, in the early stages, a certain amount of discipline”

“First I see the picture as a whole, and long before I can recognise the subject, I am conscious of a general impression, which depends on the relationship of tone and area, shape and colour…”

“…followed by a period of inspection in which I look from one part to another…and naturally I become aware of what the painter has intended to represent…”

“…quite soon my critical faculties begin to operate, and I find myself looking for some dominating motive, or root idea, from which the picture derives its overall effect.”

“In the middle of this exercise my senses will probably begin to tire, and if I am to go on looking responsively I must fortify myself with some nips of information.”

There follows a collection of essays that first appeared in the Sunday times describing, in Clark’s own style, 16 major works of art. The paintings covered include Titian – The Entombment, Raphael – The Miraculous Draught of Fishes and Turner – The Snowstorm.

Each description follows Clark’s pattern of analysis described in the introduction: leading from and initial impression into more detailed perception, punctuated by forays into the background of the artist and the picture. Clark’s knowledge is immense and he uses this to place the picture into a context, so he explains how the picture means so much more than what it is portraying.

Kenneth Clark has an easy going, easily-read style that makes this book a delight. There is nothing pompous or stuffy about his descriptions; instead they are very warm and genuine. This is a reminder that any critical analysis of a work of art should be honest and as much a reflection of the critic as it is of the artist.

So what do I get from reading the book:
1. an overall impression, leading into closer scrutiny is a good start,
2. to understand the picture at a deeper level it is necessary to know something of the artist and the context in which it is produced,
3. I might not know the context of someone else’s picture but a bit of research will help,
4. Be prepared to commit time and effort to the process, go away and come back refreshed if necessary,
5. stay honest and be prepared to say what the picture is saying to me.

Project Finishing: Sharpening

This exercise is in the section on finishing and looks at the how sharpening requirements differ, whether the intended output is screen or print.

My starting image was this picture of a proud Bedouin:


I used the sharpening tool in Photoshop, set to remove Gaussian blur. I chose this over the unsharp mask as it is a simpler and slightly more intuitive tool. I prepared 4 further version, with the radius set to 2 pixels, at 50%, 100%, 200% and 300% amount. I was particularly interested in the area around the face, including the red and white scarf (which would have some good detail), the chromatic aberration above his head scarf and the open sky. A4 prints at 100% were made of this area and compared with the on-screen image at actual pixels.

Crops of this area at the various degrees of sharpening are here:


No sharpening









Looking at these on-screen, the original looks quite soft. 50% is better but at 100% that the image acquires some crispness, especially noticeable around his glasses and the red detailing on the scarf. This is at the expense of the flesh tones, which are starting to look blotchy. At 200%, the red scarf is looking nice and crisp but the flesh tones are poorer and the image noise in the sky is getting magnified.

In contrast the print at 50% still looks unacceptability soft, 100% is much better and the blotchy flesh tones are not so noticeable. The scarf detailing does not get its crispness until 200%. At 100% the red tinge to the turban is clearly delineated. This is not nearly so noticeable on the screen.

Clearly, this shows that an image destined for print needs more sharpening than one for screen, so we need to know the final intended purpose before sharpening is applied.

Cambridge in Colour [i] has this to say on the subject:

“After capture and creative sharpening, an image should look nice and sharp on-screen. However, this usually isn’t enough to produce a sharp print. The image may have also been softened due to digital photo enlargement. Output sharpening therefore often requires a big leap of faith, since it’s nearly impossible to judge whether an image is appropriately sharpened for a given print just by viewing it on your computer screen. In fact, effective output sharpening often makes an on-screen image look harsh or brittle.”

Further advice on judging print sharpening can be found on dpbestflow [ii]

“How to judge sharpening for output (it’s tricky).

When judging sharpening for print, the image should be viewed at 50% or even 25% (if is a very large image), and not at 100%. Viewing at 50% gives a much better approximation of the actual effect of the sharpening whereas the 100% view will be largely misleading. Appropriate sharpness is definitely a subjective decision. Our advice is to try many techniques until you find one that gives good results and is repeatable. Keep a record of what you like best so you do not have to recreate this part of the wheel each time. Remember that different output devices as well as different substrates may each require very different approaches and levels of output sharpening.”



Looking at Pictures

The reading list for the courses I have done so far contains books like “On Photography”, “Photography: A Critical Introduiction”, “The Photograph as Contemporary Art”. Reading these makes me think that this is the kind of artistic criticism I should try to emulate when I am looking at pictures and trying to read them. However, they uncover deeper meaning and hidden contexts which I simply do not see (often even when pointed out to me!) and when I try to write like that, it sounds like pompous nonsense!

This post was prompted by two influences. My tutor in his feedback suggested (more like commanded) that I start to develop more of an aesthetic critique of my work. Then on the OCA forum there was a thread started on “Analysing Work”. It seems there is some transcendental force at work, pushing me in a certain direction!

To counter my misgivings expressed above, there was some good advice posted:

· To learn how to analyse your own work you need to begin by analysing the work of well known and well regarded artists,

· You need to learn how to sort out the good points from the bad (composition, use of form, colour and so on).

· Analysing is not really any more than putting into words the reasons why in image speaks to you (or not I suppose!), what it says and how.

· There’s no real mystery to it, you just start off ‘saying what you see’, as in Catch Phrase, hahaha, and take it from there!

That’s advice I can relate to, “say what you see.”

There is an OCA study guide on “Looking at Other Artists and Photography” which contains lots of words and exhortations to visit exhibitions, buy or borrow art books and look at pcitures on the internet but not a lot of advice on what to look for in those pictures.

Another student posted a link to something he found useful ( This contained a 7 step guide to building visual literacy.

This started me on my quest. My view was that if I could develop a workflow for my photographic processing as taught right at the beginning of DPP, I could do the same for analysing pictures.

Searching on “Analysing Pictures” in Google produced a multitude of hits, including:

Written for Media Studies students at GCSE and advanced level it has an image analysis page which talks about deconstruction (denotation and connotation), mise en scene, organisation, composition, framing, lighting and colour with links to more in-depth articles.

provides a useful vocabulary to described photos, grouped under Basic Vocabulary, Visual Elements and Composition

Contains seven categories which can be used to describe photos

Contains a ten step guide to producing a picture analysis

Analysing pictures –

a four step analysis guide.

Putting all this together and trying to make sense of it we have:

Step 1

How does the picture makes you feel?

(Do this before you make any intellectual analysis of the picture. Immediate, unprepared and unguarded observation will often tell you more about the content communicated than rigorous analysis.)

Step 2

Describe the picture in terms of concepts from TAOP

(Points, lines, shapes, rule of thirds/golden section, colour, lighting, rhythm and pattern, how these lead the eye, balance)

Step 3

How does step 2 reinforce and/or contradict step 1

Step 4

Then with that in mind and at a deeper and more analytic level, (this is lifted directly from

Building Visual Literacy

Level 1A: Building observation skills

What do you see in this picture?

Can you describe it more?

What else do you see?

What is going on in this picture?

What information in the picture makes you say that?

Level 1B: Building vocabulary

Can you guess where the photographer was standing when he or she took the picture?

Above the subject, looking down? Or below the subject, looking up? This is called point of view.

What is included in the picture frame? What is not included? This is called framing.

Describe the composition. What shapes do you see? What other patterns do you notice?

Level 2A: Building technical knowledge

What techniques did the photographer use?

What is the point of view?

How is the picture framed?

Describe the quality of the lighting. What direction is it coming from? Does it create a pattern of light and shadow?

Level 2B: Building an understanding of the choices photographers make

What choices did the photographer make?

Why did the photographer choose to use that technique?

Why did the photographer choose to compose the picture this way?

What is the photographer’s point of view? What effect does it have?

Why did the photographer choose to frame the picture this way?

What does the composition emphasize?

What does the lighting draw your attention to?

Level 3A: Understanding the context and intended use of the picture

What was the photographer’s purpose or the intended use for this image (e.g., magazine assignment, photo essay, fine art exhibition)?

Can you tell what genre of photography this is?

What do you know about the time period in which this photograph was made?

What does the photograph communicate about this time period?

Can you make comparisons to other photographers or artists working in this time period?

Level 3B: Relating context to subject and meaning

What choices did the photographer make? Can you guess why?

What is the photographer drawing your attention to? How is this accomplished?

What is the photographer’s point of view? What effect does it have?

What do you notice about the subject? Or the people in the picture?

Do you have any questions about the subject? Or the style of the picture?

What is the photograph saying? Does anyone have a different interpretation?

Level 4A: Finding meaning

What choices did the photographer make?

Does this element contribute to the photograph’s meaning, or is it distracting?

What was the photographer’s purpose in creating this image? What was the intended use of the image? How well does it work in this context?

What is the photograph saying?

Level 4B: Relating meaning to creative choices and larger issues

What is the impact of this image?

What are some issues it raises?

How might you approach this topic matter?

Level 5: Discussing what the image communicates

Which technical or formal elements work well in this photograph?

What do these elements draw your attention to?

What is the photograph saying?

What is the impact of this photograph?

How does the picture make you feel?

What does it make you think of?

Does it inspire you to work creatively in any way?