Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Assignment Five: Personal Project Review


Once again part of the difficulty with the final assignment is the fact the choice is so broad ie photograph anything you like but a topic about which you have a personal enthusiasm. I had a few initial ideas which I discussed with my tutor. He thought both had merit and I eventually chose my "shoe" idea. Mainly because I was not sure about gaining permission for the other project (although I still would like to undertake it) also the availability of the building would have been after the assignment deadline. Also because I felt this theme would present a larger challenge and therefore learning curve whilst being able to apply skills accrued so far.

Ideas/inspirations were taken initially from the 'Cinderella Stories' by Joy Gregory who photographed a pair of golden shoes in locations that people dreamed of visiting. My spin on this was to take shots of places where I had been, that held a memory (not always good) with shoes that I would have owned or worn at the time. Picking up a day to day shoe design calendar helped with ideas on how to stage my shoes.The lyrics of a Beatles song fitted my brief perfectly:

There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain

All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all.

So there I had it, I wanted to portray places with significance in my life and tell the story "a life in my shoes" literally. I hoped that my audience would be able to connect with the shots with a mixture of instant recognition and questions over why they are included or what it is I remember about that particular day/place/event whilst also allowing them to read more into the image than is possibly there, making their own personal interpretations.  Not a natural 'landscape' photographer I had to think about; weather, lighting, not wanting them to appear flat, suitable focal length, aperture and contingency time (some of the locations aren't that familiar) to allow for test shots, and be able to return if needs be.

For landscape lighting you need to think quality over quantity. A strong single light, such as the sun can produce light that is just too harsh, whereas light diffused through the clouds produces a softer more even light. Traditionally the best light is usually to be found at sunrise or sunset and it is always a good idea to be there before, scout about the location to choose your final location/composition and watch how the light plays across the landscape. Pre-dawn and pre-dusk can also provide beautiful results and colours in the sky or as reflected light.

So why is this? Basically because horizontal light is light which is parallel to the horizon, grazing the subject and giving it a strong three dimensional quality. The sun, being low means the sunlight has to go through layers of dust, atmospheric haze and pollution before it reaches the scene/subject.The intensity of the sunlight is therefore greatly diminished and softened. This filtering also removes the green and blue part of the visible spectrum leaving mostly the red part visible, resulting in light which is warm, tinted either pink, red or orange, depending on the particular situation on a specific day. Finally as a general rule horizontal light or sidelight, is much more aesthetically pleasing than overhead or vertical light. Due to my working hours it is handy that these times of day are recommended, however I didn't want all my images to be during "the golden hour" but avoided midday because of possible harsh, direct, overhead light.

I decided on focal length of 18mm to give a wide angle, distancing the subject from the background and providing dynamic interest, and f5.6 to give the background a slightly out of focus look you that might have with a memory. The intention was also to keep a low perspective. Not wanting to use any other specific post production technique such as monochrome or interpretative processing, I was quite happy to keep an open mind as far as removing distracting elements or merging 2 images together was concerned. As this was  more documentary in flavour I wanted to keep the final set as un-manipulated as possible, as far as 'special' effects were concerned, whilst employing other technique/skills learnt throughout the entire course. Using a vignette was taken into consideration but I felt this would be too much of a cliche.


Each image bar two, were taken on separate days and in very different locations therefore on every expedition I adhered to my workflow. It was essential to ensure memory cards were cleared, spare battery charged, correct (and clean) lens on the camera, route confirmed, health and safety taken into consideration, gained permission to photograph and also check the weather reports. On returning home I would follow my usual workflow to upload, edit and process my final images.

Final images

1) 1960's

F5.6 1/60 ISO 100 27mm

At three years old we moved into the house where my mum still lives. Living here until 23 it has a lot of memories. I must have walked up and down this path countless times! At first unsure of this idea working; the light plays down the path in the mornings only with added complications of shadows from a wall and tree, I then realised the shadows made for a more complex composition with interesting shapes. They also helped to diffuse the light, (having had to play chauffeur for my son to a rugby match I arrived later than hoped and the light was fairly strong) My original idea had been to shoot towards the front door but as this proved too difficult due to shadows created by me and too many elements distracting the eye, I then shot from the door towards the gate. The shoes are positioned slightly pigeon-toed because this is how young children tend to walk/stand. Apparently this is due to the growth of the thigh bones. as they grow they turn in and gradually rotate out! (The things you learn from health visitors as a mother is interesting) It also suggests tentative first steps whilst echoing the diamond/triangle shapes of the light,shadows and tiles.

To keep the low perspective I was on my stomach on the front doorstep, knees bent, legs in the air, getting some odd looks from the neighbours ;o) Not much alteration or manipulation was required for this shot. Contrast and curves layers were used for local adjustments and a few stones/twigs I missed on the path were cloned out. I also toned down a lighter patch of garden which caught the eye. The final image was cropped slightly for a better final composition.

Toning down the light patch

Fairly happy with this image, it is a good representation of my old front path, an audience would recognise it as such, possibly understand some of the memories attached whilst putting their own interpretation on it. I took advantage of the available elements to make an interesting shot whilst incorporating all the aspects of my brief, although I had to slightly alter the desired to focal length of 18mm to 27mm to enable me to focus on the main subject; unable to back up anymore due to my mother being away, front door locked and although in possession of a spare key I don't have one for the security chain!

2) 1960's

 F5.6 1/125 ISO 100 18mm

The green slam shut windows are gone, along with the green railings and a modern electronic entry box has replaced the always open latched gate, but the building that was my infant school hasn't changed in shape or size.

Although it is great to have bright sunny days for taking photographs, direct light can be rather harsh, I regretted not bringing an improvised diffuser due to the nylon material of the plimsolls providing quite a bit of specular light. My mum lives a fair distance away from where I now live and had gone away for the weekend so was unable to raid her house for sheets/nets/baking paper. Using the controls available in RAW, such as exposure/contrast and brightness I was able to tone this effect down in post processing. Further adjustments were made in Photoshop with curves, dodge and burn and local adjustments using a black and white adjustment layer. Once more the image was cropped for a better final shot.

Pleased with the composition, the vertical lines and frames within frames, this photograph again combines all aspects from my brief with other available elements to result in a pleasing image. I experimented with various places positions for the plimsolls but finally chose to tuck them into the railings, this gave a different perspective, allowing me to use diagonal as well as vertical lines, also because various items of lost property unceremoniously dangling on the school railings is another abiding memory as both a child and parent. I think the plimsolls and building in the background needs no other explanation and would shout SCHOOL to any audience ;o)

3) 1970's

F5.6 1/1000 ISO 200 18mm

Growing up during the 70's was an interesting time. It wasn't the 60's but ideals and ideas were still changing. The package holiday coming to the fore for some, while in other households (like mine) budgets were still tight, the three day week and other constraints on domestic finances meant as a family we did not take annual holidays. Instead we would spend the summer visiting London with Red Rover Tickets, practically living in the local parks and catching the train to Margate to dig sandcastles, go to Dreamland (long since closed down) and swim/paddle in the tidal pools. Margate features heavily in my childhood memories and every year, several times a year I still drive down the A2 either with or without my children, to take in the changes, the sea air, fly kites and go to the penny arcades.

Finishing early I drove down straight after work, taking advantage of the clear skies and pre-sunset light. The tidal pool was included within several shots taken but this final image was chosen as I felt it summed up a mixture of childhood memories with how shabby the location has become, tired concrete walls covered in green algae and seaweed with red peeling paint on the pool ladders.

The main problem encountered with this shot was the long shadows I was casting over the subject and getting the balance between the composition required whilst not blocking the light. It was also really cold! Although not a technical problem it did mean I didn't want to hang around for a long time.The golden cast gives a warm mellow feel which reflects the warm memories of Margate whilst the colours of the sky echo the colour of the clogs and harbour in the background. It's been great to see the fashionable return of 1970's wooden Scholls I loved them and still do.

Cloning out unwanted elements
To create a more pleasing image I cloned out several elements, an information pole which was framed by the pool ladder and on the far right two other poles, one information, another red stripes; they caught the eye and were distracting. Several other basic "acceptable" local manipulations were made with selective dodge and burn, contrast and curves adjustment layers.

Reflecting upon this final image although happy with their position I could have experimented with the composition of the clogs slightly to see if I could get a different result, the left side seems a little empty, the eye leading directly to the pole and the ladder only just bringing it back in. Due to the travelling involved and tight schedule for deadlines I did not get chance to re-visit. On the other hand I am still pleased with the overall effect of this shot; the lighting, DOF, complimentary and contrasting colours and the curves in the ladders echoed in the shoes themselves. Although the memories behind this shot may not be obvious, an audience should connect with and have their own memories of a day at the beach.

4) 1980's

F5.6 1/200 ISO 400 18mm

In 1982, after many years of ill health, my father died. He was cremated at Honor Oak Crematorium. I have only been back once before when my great aunt died in 1991. The weather again was an issue, but then taking into consideration the subject matter, did I really want bright sunshine? As far as I can remember the weather was fairly grey that day. Setting off one Saturday afternoon many shots were taken from different angles and positions within the grounds. I preferred the ones taken within the garden of remembrance under the pagoda and spent a while grovelling on the floor to get the frame within a frame effect, maintaining the parallels of the structures along with a pleasing composition with the shoes.

The difficulties had were mainly the feeling that I should not have been there taking photographs, although I had permission to do so, being unable to use a tripod at such a low level; when wanting to slightly amend the position of the shoes I had to recompose the shot within the view finder, making sure I was at entirely the same spot. This can be tricky enough under normal circumstances but when lying on the floor chin to the ground it can be even trickier! I have read that you can inverse a tripod specifically for low level shots but have yet to experiment with this.

Due to the lighting conditions different frames were shot with different exposures so when editing my shots process if needed two images could be merged together to gain the correct exposure for both foreground and background. However because of not using a tripod I eventually created two differently exposed tiffs and merged those. The other issue I had was that due to the wide exposure and focal length the framing cropped the image just above the pagoda not giving it much space above. Therefore I also shot another few frames slightly higher so I could combine them.

Adding height and space to the frame

A carrier bag in the flower bed was cloned out and other local manipulations were made using dodge and burn, a curves layer and the contrast was boosted.

Reflecting on this shot I am in two minds. Not certain that an audience would instantly recognise a crematorium I think that the black shoes and grey skies convey the atmosphere and sombre memories behind this image. The stance of the shoes seem to suggest a still quiet contemplation and stepping back and regarding the finished photograph I really like the end result. But I have a but...
Ultimately the completed photograph is a true representation of the scene but due to the amount of manipulation required to make it the shot wanted I feel it is fake? These manipulations to me are legitimate but feel uncomfortable with the compromises that had to be made to achieve the focal length, depth of field and composition. If the final image had been one single shot I would be very happy with it....odd that, when  accepting all the manipulations individually as legitimate? Interesting exercise to undertake and strange that I don't seem to mind as much removing an element which makes the scene more 'fake' and not as true a representation (for example the Margate shot) than combining another frame adding sky which was there?

5) 1980's

F5 1/1250 ISO 400 18mm

Only just in 1980's, I was married in September 1989; these are my actual wedding shoes. Once more driving to the location after work meant I could take advantage of the soft late afternoon light, not having been there for a long time I was not sure if the direction of the lighting would be in my favour; fortunately it was, but with the disadvantage of trying to keep my own shadow out of the image. Another chance to roll around in damp grass trying to keep my camera on a level plane to not distort the buildings yet incorporate all of the elements.

The other problem I had was a large hedge directly behind me that meant once I had eventually composed the shoes how I liked the shadow encroached too far in the frame and I had to move them forwards but in the same position, however I do think that the shadow included adds contrast to the white subject. Another problem was that the grass was fairly springy and the shoes would not remain upright. This issue was resolved by weighing the toes down with a spare battery and stones! The shoes being white, care had to be taken not to over-expose them and frames of different exposure were taken.

On checking the file information this shot was taken at f5. I can't remember if this was a conscious decision at the time to give more prominence to the shoe at the fore or if I accidentally altered the aperture. The late afternoon/early evening light gave a lovely warm feel to the scene and the church in the background. I changed the aspect from landscape to portrait as this allowed me to capture the church building and separate bell tower whilst cutting out surrounding unwanted structures. Not sure what it was, possibly an aerial/lightening conductor was cloned from the top of the bell tower. Apart from the combination of the two separately exposed frames other minor local adjustments were made with contrast and curves layers.

Once more fairly pleased with this shot as it has all the elements required from my initial brief. Unlike some of my other final images this feels more like a record shot, it is what it is and there was not much scope to add dramatic emphasis beyond the composition low perspective and wide angle approach. Or reflecting even deeper has what has happened to my marriage since coloured my approach to taking this shot? Would an outsider know from looking at this picture that the marriage ended? An experiment to undertake another time perhaps.

6) 1990's

F5.6 1/1250 ISO 200 18mm

Oooh grown-up work! 9-5 London commuting, proper pay packet, financial independence, smart office dress........

Until giving up work for the role of motherhood I worked for Nat West in London for over five years, yomping over London Bridge come rain or shine; don't miss the crowded trains and the ignorance of the throng but miss an awful lot of other things.

I didn't have many issues with taking this particular shot, the weather/lighting gods playing fair, but did take a series of shots at various London spots before deciding that this worked best for me. Once more I took my time in placing the shoes, getting the angles just right for the reflections and the buildings/elements in the background as well as suggesting strong independent woman! Red, my favourite colour and I love my red shoes...

The clouds gave shadows, a soft diffused light and interest in the sky. The buses continue the red theme beautifully. An added bonus was being able to stand up whilst photographing them. Compositionaly this maybe my favourite shot. It has so many leading lines and movement around the frame. I waited for a while taking a multitude of shots to get the timing right with the buses and passers-by. This image would not have worked as well, for example, had the man in the striped jumper, which vertical lines echo the building on the left so well, been wearing green. I like including people within my images, they weren't deliberately excluded from the other shots in this series but either were not around, or not at the time of me taking the shot, there is only so long you can lie on your front waiting without causing a trip hazard or losing the light. The final image was cropped and had a curves layer added.

On reflection I think this image works really well and sums up this period in my life whilst allowing the viewer to recognise the place and read into it what they wish.

7) 1990's

F5.6 1/200 ISO 200 18mm

Throughout the 1990's I was a regular visitor to my local swimming pool and sports centre. Both my children had swimming lessons from babies so many years were spent either in the pool or sitting on the side as an observer, once they were both at school the swimming and keep fit sessions were for me ;o) The swimming pool has been closed and rebuilt within a new building attached to the old complex. Having to return to work and the prohibitive cost of gym membership means I no longer go. I miss the casual friends I made and the exercise.

Trekking down to the centre late afternoon meant once more I had the gentle evening light giving a warm feel and creating long shadows. Whilst providing interest to the scene again  care was taken not to cast my own shadow into the frame, another roll in the grass scenario. Experiments were taken with positioning, hanging the trainers on the railings, in front of the building and finally by the tree. I liked the natural textures against the obvious smooth man-made structures and vertical lines, the shadows reflecting the natural shapes against the lines added interest to the frame as a whole. The trainers were positioned to resemble how a person would stand at rest while leaning against the tree while creating diagonal lines.

The main issues I had with this shot were with the trainers being white, the light giving them a very yellow cast and due to the light being still fairly bright they appeared "blown out" even if not over-exposed. I adjusted the white balance on my camera and took 2 separate exposures that could be merged if required. Later in post production I also corrected the remaining yellow cast slightly. Contrast was boosted and a curves layer also used. The final image was cropped slightly.

Happy with the final image it has many elements which provide interest/narrative as well as fulfilling my brief.

8) 2000's

F5.6 1/160 ISO 400 18mm

Danson Park and Danson Mansion; very local to me and a great park, with a lake, stream, rockery, formal gardens, tennis courts, putting, football pitches, firework displays, outdoor concerts and much more. Since moving to the area in 1990 and having children much time has been spent here. Until recently I worked locally and would have a 20 minute walk in the park during my lunch period.

Bearing in mind some of the positions I have got into to take my shots this one was straight forward! Late afternoon with warm sunlight giving a warm glow to the wall, trainers and building in the background, the image was taken with a sideways angle to the sun which was giving me a touch of lens flare so had to use a lens hood. I particularly liked the way the sun was reflecting on the railings which are designed to fan forwards. Once the composition was arranged two seperate exposures were taken and merged to get the correct exposure for both the sky and the landscape. Adjustment contrast and curves layers were used for fine tuning.

I particularly like the DOF in this image and the texture of the trainers and am please with the final shot.
9) 2000's

F5.6 1/125 ISO 400 24mm

My marriage broke up just before Christmas 2003; December 2004 my children spent Christmas with their father and I spent the break on my own. Christmas afternoon I went for a walk round the local park and watched the sun setting over the lake. Since then I have been back many a time to watch this tranquil scene and wanted to capture the gorgeous colours that can occur.

The difficulty with this particular shot was getting the right weather conditions. Fortunately the park is only 10 minutes drive away so I could go back any time. Visiting the lake, taking pictures from various places, trying different takes on the same shot one evening proved too grey and cold and I gave up. It was exceedingly windy and boggy underfoot, trudging back towards my car in disgust I looked back and the clouds were breaking and looking into the distance the breaks were getting larger. Quickly slipping and sliding to the lake side my boots were balanced on the narrow concrete edging, all the time thinking "don't fall in, don't fall in," I maneuvered them round until they were at an acceptable angle. The boots were positioned to provide a strong silhouette whilst being in a stance that suggests someone standing hands on hips contemplating life and the beauty that nature can provide.

Spreading out the plastic bag that was in my pocket once more I found myself prone on the ground. It was wet, muddy, geese had left calling cards and the wind was whipping across the water. At this point my sanity came into question! The breaks in the cloud and the colours in the sky were some compensation. I saw the geese swimming across the lake and holding my breath waited and hoped that they would continue in the same direction so they would be framed by the boots. Luck was on my side. The focal length had to be altered slightly to be able to focus but this was worth the compromise. On uploading my images I noted that the boots were not the sharpest area of the photograph but on reflection because they were silhouetted and the details are more in the water and the clouds, on this occasion I am more than happy for the background to be the main focus.

Due to the awkward and uncomfortable shooting conditions the horizon had to be corrected during processing, this meant the boots were no longer totally visible, to correct this another frame was created and the two images merged. Other manipulations were minimal with contrast boosted and a curves layer added.

Having made three or four trips to the lake and taking many test shots I am really pleased I remembered the advice about always looking back as well as forward or this scene would have been missed. Trying to avoid a post card sunset I hope the geese add more interest to the scene. Again happy that the final image captured "the moment" and filled my brief.

10) 2000's

F5.6 1/1250 ISO 200 18mm

For several years during the 2000's I volunteered for a major ISP monitoring their chatrooms and messageboards, every six months a one day conference would be held followed by a dinner/dance in the evening. One of these conferences was held in Brighton; prior to leaving with two colleagues the post arrived which contained my former husbands divorce settlement offer which put a slight dampener or the day. These shoes are the ones worn that evening.

The only real issues encountered with this shot were trying to keep the shoes level on the pebbles and sharp stones digging in my rib cage as once more I was flat on the ground. The sun was coming from behind which provded the direction and angle of light required to position the West Pier the left of the frame; this gave an uncluttered background. Placing the shoes in a very flat stance to reflect my mood that day, I noted whilst adjusting them slightly, that the sun was catching the sequins so turned one shoe slightly to reflect this catch-light giving some added interest to the shot. Hoping that the loops of the shoes and their shadows would reflect the framework of the pier, the pier was used as a metaphor for the state of my emotions at that time.  In Brighton for the entire day I had hoped to take another similar shot at dusk thinking that the pink glow of the sky would compliment the colour of the shoes and the mumuration of the starlings would add another interesting element, unfortunately the clouds rolled in at about 4pm and never rolled out again! I could have used interperative processing to suggest sunset/dusk colours but wanted to leave all the images in this series un-manipulated as possible.

Reflecting on this shot I am happy with it on many levels, even though the hoped for shot at dusk had been the main idea taking photographs from different angles and taking advantage of the light available during the day has shown that best laid plans go awry and contingency is a must. I think this shot has many different metaphors and meanings that can be read, taking rough with the smooth, that nature and time will continue no matter what happens in our lives, that no matter how bad thngs are there is always a sparkle of light there somewhere. 


Where to start? I guess firstly, by saying all my images met my outline brief. Really pleased that the majority of the shoes/venues in mind worked even if I had to slightly adjust the ideas as they progressed. Secondly to state this was a challenging topic in so many ways and I have learnt a lot. It was challenging technically, forced me to work within the bounds of what was there, made me focus on what was achievable, what wasn't and how much was I prepared to compromise to create a photograph, ultimately when to give up totally when it would not work at all. It was also challenging emotionally and I was surprised at how some of these places and memories tugged at my heart strings more than I thought possible after so many years. Concerned that some may not be dramatic or dynamic I have concluded that in reality do they have to be? They are autobiographical and if some of the areas in my life were mundane or normal then this should be reflected within the images. As someone said to me there can be sophistication in the tedious. Don't know if I'd go so far as to say my photographs are either but can see their point :o)

Learning by taking photographs is the only way to learn. Sometimes you can't take an entire kit of accessories with you, but when you can sling improvised diffusers, altered tripods, bean bag supports into your car boot for easy access DO SO! Occasionally it would have been handy to have an assistant to move things about while I shouted "left a bit, right a bit, back a bit" but that isn't always possible either :o/

Light....both friend and enemy, you need to have it, but oh yes the quality does matter! I now appreciate why some landscape photographers go back to the same spot time and time again, different days, different times, different seasons. The light changes so quickly from moment to moment. With some of my images I went back a few times. I now itch to return to some of these places to discover how the shots would feel at a different time of day, or with leaves on the trees. Too late for this set but for a personal exercise another challenge for another day :o) It was very interesting to note how the different colours of the shoes reacted differently in similar lighting conditions and care had to be taken not to under or over expose solid black or solid white items.

Planning, no matter how much you plan when taking outdoor shots you have to appreciate not everything is under your control, time, the light, the people, the weather, your family....compromise and flexibility are a must, if not that way lies madness (or possible filicide!).

Composition matters, whether you stick to tried and tested rules or deliberately break them for reasons you can justify, composition is what can make or break an image. Am hoping that I got this part right, although there is always room for improvement you have to have a cut off point say 'no more', and await feedback. I never realised you could imply attitude or express feelings/circumstances through how you position a first I was basing ideas along the lines of the shoe calendar purchased from the V&A, showing the heels, the patterns, certain angles working better than others, but then realised within these guidelines the shoes could convey an attitude (well hopefully?!?!?) However, like Barthes with the photograph of his mother in the Winter Garden/ realising that only he would understand the "punctum" of this image, (punctum being explained as the prick, the sting or sudden wound that makes a photograph meaningful to a particular viewer) * there is a very high possibility that only I will understand the exact punctum of mine, never-the-less I think there is sufficient narrative in each to grab the viewers attention and allow them to form their own ideas and draw on their own memories.

Inspirations, although the main idea came from looking at work by Joy Gregory, I pulled in ideas from other photographers as well, use of colour from Joel Meyerowitz and Brian Cawston, setting a composition and waiting for elements you know will eventually appear from Sam Abell, song lyrics, my own experiences and feelings all tied up in the final result. Some will argue against taking on board too much from others as it can cloud your own vision, this is true but remembering the initial idea you had and putting your own spin on it will help to retain the originality of the idea whilst learning from studying other photographers what ideas do work.

Time, allocation of time is so important. There was a topic on the OCA Flickr with regards to the amount of time allowed for the final level portoflio and some felt it excessive. However having undertaken this project I don't think it is. If a theme is set in one place or indoors where you can be in control of everything it may not be such an issue. However if you need to rely on the weather, allow for travelling time, take into consideration errors (which we all make) test shots, revisiting locations, research and eventually editing/processing time will get eaten. Even printing the final image can be time consuming to ensure the colours/brightness are true and you are happy with the sharpness of each photograph.

In conclusion I feel I have really benefited from this course as a whole, learnt an awful lot from this final assignment and the subject chosen (not just from the techicnical point of view)  glad that I challenged myself to do something slightly outside of the box and feel satisfied that the series of images has culminated in a coherent body of work that fulfilled my initial brief.

No comments:

Post a Comment