Monthly Archives: May 2013

Exercise: Multiple points

Set up a still-life with a background that is not entirely plain.  Fix the camera on a tripod and, using between six and ten similar sized objects, build a composition piece by piece, taking photographs as you go.  The aim is to produce a final grouping that hangs together visually.  For the final photograph sketch lines that relate the objects and any basic shapes that they form.

The purpose of this exercise is to learn how to group objects together in a way that they are linked in a relationship that is active, not static, and that is neither too boring or too ‘artful’ for the viewer.


Plan A, which I decided upon when first reading through the course notes, was to use gardener’s objects, such as seeds and tools, for the still-life.  This idea came from a display in our canteen at work where the dresser had set up an arrangement of produce and garden gear to promote the canteen’s use of fresh food.  With this idea in mind, this exercise was put on hold whilst my 18-200mm lens was being repaired (I didn’t fancy shooting this with a 70-300mm lens!).  With the 18-200m lens now back home safe and well, I then re-read the brief and noted the critical words that I had missed the first time round – ‘similar-sized objects’.  So swiftly on to Plan B – and a note to self to read the brief carefully – and more than once – for each exercise.

For Plan B I decided to use different items of sewing kit for my objects.  Any friends of mine reading this post will now be doing a double-take as it is well known that Carol Does Not Sew (apart from re-attaching the odd button now and then).  In fact my husband in desperation bought himself a Fix-a-Button kit a few years back, but that’s another story. I do have, however, my mother’s sewing box as a keepsake so it was with happy nostalgia that I rifled though this to find some suitable bits and pieces.

What happened:

I shot the sequence on the table in the conservatory using natural light (from three sides).  For the background I used a piece of curtain fabric that had a same-colour jacquard weave to provide some texture.   I shot in RAW in aperture-priority mode using a tripod and my 18-200mm lens.  I processed the images in Lightroom, converting colour images into mono by using the Black & White treatment button and then tweaking the Develop sliders.  I tried the various b&w presets which I usually find a good starting point, but on this occasion I couldn’t find one that worked.

Picture 1

Picture 1

Picture 1:

The darning mushroom is placed top-left, the idea being that the other items are positioned in front and to the right.

Picture 2

Picture 2

Picture 2:

The pinking shears and needle case are positioned so as to make a triangle.

Picture 3

Picture 3

Picture 3:

Reversed the darning mushroom and pinking shears and decided that I preferred them this way round.  Repositioned the needle case so that it sits better next to the pinking shears.

Picture 4

Picture 4

Picture 4:

Added in two cable needles to introduce another diagonal, a cotton reel and some tailor’s chalk; the latter two items were placed to the right to balance the picture.

Picture 5

Picture 5

Picture 5:

Broderie anglaise tape was added, deliberately loosely scrunched, to bring some softness to the image and also to provide weight in the bottom right.  Put some buttons to the left of the tape and below the needle case to form a triangle.  Used different colour buttons hoping this would reflect as contrasts in black and white.

Picture 6

Picture 6

Picture 6:

Decided the layout inside the frame was becoming too square.  Moved the tailor’s chalk to bottom left (think this also looks better moved away from the tape as both are light in colour) – it now forms a triangle with the needle case and buttons.  Moved the cable needles and positioned them so that they were not parallel as before; now they seem less of a visual barrier.  Repositioned the pinking shears slightly to the left to allow room for a tape measure and an additional cotton reel.

Picture 7

Picture 7

Picture 7:

Repositioned cotton reels to give them more space.  Moved tailor’s chalk nearer to the needle case and rearranged the buttons.  Slightly altered the position of the cable needles but they now look like chopsticks so will need to be moved again.

Picture 8

Picture 8

Picture 8:

Decided the set-up looks too formal and lifeless  so moved the cable needles to rest on the tape.  Rearranged the buttons into a less tight-knit group, moved the tailor’s chalk so that the layout was less square at the bottom and added another cotton reel, this time on its side to add interest and also to appear less regimented.

Picture 9 (end result)

Final image

Final image:

Moved the buttons again so they now lead into the picture.   Put one of the cotton reels at the top of the arrangement on its side to make the positioning of the three reels seem less formal (also makes a mini-triangle).

Final image showing lines and shapes

Final image showing lines and shapes


I don’t really enjoy shooting still life photography.  Although the results can be stunning, it is not really ‘me’ – way too much faffing about for my liking.  That said, I didn’t find this exercise too painful, although I did make a conscious effort to bring the session to a close without too many ‘takes’, otherwise I could have spent a lot longer (possibly days)  continuing to rearrange things and trying to create the perfect shot.

I’ve realised that creating an effective still life takes a lot of thought; the more objects that enter the frame the more complicated it becomes to form a coherent design.  I’ve learnt that multiple points can create implied shapes and lines within an image which provide interest to the viewer as well as adding movement and energy.  Simple changes to an arrangement of objects can have a dramatic effect; in the set of images above this is most noticeable in Picture 8.  Up until then the layout was formal, static and quite boring.  Moving the cable needles and buttons to more informal positions has, in my view, given the arrangement some life and makes it easier to look at.

Am I pleased with these images?  Well they are what they are.  Technically they are ok and I think they meet the brief, but in honesty they leave me cold; they are just not my style. So I could have probably been more creative with this exercise and produced a better result.

Finally, on the planning front I must remember to read the brief carefully before exploring an idea.

Exercise: Positioning a point

There are essentially three classes of position for placing a point in the frame: in the middle, a little off-centre and close to the edge. Take three photographs where there is a single point placed in a different part of the frame.

The purpose of this exercise is to show the graphic relationship that points have with the frame.

In preparation for this exercise we were asked to note down some types of situation which would make a clear photograph of a point and then to look through our already-taken images and note those that contained obvious points.

I hadn’t come across the concept of points before so started by doing some background reading. In ‘The Photographer’s Eye’ (2007), Freeman describes a point as being the most fundamental element of design in a photograph.  A point has to be small in the frame and must contrast with its surroundings in some way in order to be significant.  This all seems pretty clear although it made me raise the question ‘when is a subject too big to be a point?’

My list of ideas for possible points is as follows:

Hot-air balloon in sky
Animal in field
Bird/plane in sky
Bee on a flower
Red postbox or telephone kiosk
Spotlight shining onto floor
Splash of a different colour in a bed of flowers
Single lit streetlamp
Single dandelion on a lawn
Tractor ploughing a field
Sign/clock on wall

I then had a look through some of my images that I’ve taken since I started the course and found the three below where I think there is an obvious point.

Picture 2 - 35mm

Here the wind pump makes an obvious point, placed just off-centre in the frame.

 19 b)  Walbrook

In this image the padlock is the point.  The different colour and definite shape catches the viewer’s attention and the blue-covered chains act as lead-in lines to the point.

14 a) Outside St. Paul's Cathedral

The telephone box is the point here.  To be honest, I wonder whether it is too big to be classified as a ‘point’, but the colour makes it stand out from its surroundings and appear significant.

Now on to the main exercise itself.


This exercise is similar to the exercise ‘Object in different positions in the frame’ from Part one in that it makes us think about the placement of a point within the frame and I struggled here, as I did then, to find suitable points with an plain uncluttered background, keeping in mind my resolve to try to take interesting images that reflect ‘me’ for the exercises going forward.  Not having any ideas that sprang to mind to start with, I looked both in London and locally for possible points when I was about my daily travels so not much of a plan really.

What happened:

I shot handheld in RAW using aperture-priority mode and both my 18-200m and 70-300mm lenses.  I processed the images in Lightroom, converting colour images into black and white using the Lightroom presets with a few tweaks.

Point in the centre:

Point in the centre

Point in the centre

_DSC7201_sRGB_1000 skitch

Point in the centre

Although positioning the subject in the central part of the frame can make for a boring and static picture, the underground sign works for me as a central point as it is placed visually between (although in front of) two stone columns. It is by its nature a static composition.

Point off-centre:


Point off-centre

Point off-centre

Point off-centre

In this image the positioning of the globe to the left off-centre makes for a pleasing composition and balances the image. This positioning gives space for the viewer’s eye to move across the image and follow the upward diagonal line created by the tops of the buildings to the right.

Point close to the edge:

Point close to the edge

Point close to the edge

Point close to the edge

Point close to the edge

Freeman writes in ‘The Photographer’s Eye’ (2007) that there needs to be a justification if the subject is placed in the corner of an otherwise empty frame;  the more eccentric the position the more justification is required for such a placing.  Here the ‘stop’ sign first attracts the viewer’s attention then by both position and the word ‘stop’, pauses the eye and prevents it leaving the frame.  There is lots of empty space to the upper right of the image, however this is mitigated by the interest created by the pattern of the diagonal panes.


I found it difficult, as mentioned above, to find suitable points at first, particularly as I tend to automatically look for large bold subjects that fill the frame.  However I did discover that the more I looked for smaller subjects, the more I found; it definitely became easier as I got my eye in, although not all had the plain and even background that I was after.  I had hoped to find images that I thought would translate well into black and white, however actually finding a suitable point took precedence over this in the end.  So planning was a failure on this occasion.

I found the exercise useful as it reminded me of the importance of consciously positioning the point in the frame and for having a valid reason for doing so.  Up until now I had thought of position within the frame as being related to balance and the creation of an image that was compositionally pleasing to the viewer, however I have learnt through this exercise that points form a graphic relationship within the frame and, depending upon their placement, can imply movement and/or division.  As suggested in the course text, I have taken my three images above and drawn vertical and horizontal lines on them to show the divisions that the placement of the position implies.

Overall I am pleased with my pictures with regards to the completion of the exercise.  I feel that the images reflect ‘me’ (in particular ‘Point close to the edge’) more than in the past with regard to the exercises which is what I’ve set out to achieve going forward.  However I think that my conversions to black and white could have been better.  I don’t yet ‘see’ in black and white but I am hoping that this will come with practice.  However, I’m not really sure what to look for yet so I’ve ordered a couple of books recommended by my tutor that I hope will help.  I also think I need to improve my conversion technique; the images above were converted using the Lightroom presets together with a few tweaks and to me they are a little flat. I am aware that there are more sophisticated conversion practices that can lead to better quality images so I’m intending to do some reading and research in this area.

Part two – first thoughts

Part two of the course is entitled ‘Elements of Design’ and covers the basics of design; it will teach me how to see the graphic elements in a photograph, how to assess what role they play in the image and how to use them to create structure and movement.

I’ve now read through the course notes for Part two and have started planning the early exercises.  I’m looking forward to this section of the course as I particularly like images with strong graphic design.  I’m excited about learning how to incorporate design elements into my photographs and to hopefully get one step nearer to creating that ‘wow” factor I’m seeking.

Although I’m currently a colour fiend, I have decided to work in black and white for at least part of this module and also for the assignment. Shooting in black and white is  suggested by Michael Freeman in the course notes as a good way to focus attention on the graphic elements of a picture as colour can cause distraction from these.  As I’m aware that I am often initially attracted by bright colours rather than by the underlying elements of a potential image, I think that black and white will be a good way for me to go here. It will also be a challenge as I have not done any serious black and white photography before and will have to learn about the processing side too.  My tutor has recommended a couple of books to help  and these have been ordered, hopefully to arrive in time for the weekend so that I can get stuck in to some serious reading.

After the length of time it has taken me to complete the Introduction and Part one of the course (19 weeks) I need to speed up drastically for this section. However I also need to balance speed against not compromising my work. Part of the reason that I took so long with the previous sections was that I spent time over the exercises, looking a little deeper into the learning points and trying to take the best images possible and I don’t want to lose this aspect.

I mentioned in my reflection on Part one that I feel that most of the images that I’ve taken so far for the exercises don’t really reflect ‘me’; mostly I’ve taken photographs to fit the purpose of the exercise rather than photographs that I like that also meet the exercise criteria.  So I’m going to try to start taking more interesting and creative images for the forthcoming exercises, making them ones that I enjoy and that are more individual to me.

As part of this self-improvement plan I am already thinking about the assignment.  As I’ve already mentioned, I’m planning on shooting it in black and white and I’m considering using either London, architecture or cars as the subject matter for the series although I’m not 100% decided on this yet. I found that treating the first assigment as a mini-project gave me some direction so I may do the same for this assignment if possible.

Finally, I find it interesting that, having made the decision to shoot this section of the course in black and white, my mind has already switched from colour to mono and that when I’m looking at photographs I actively seek out, and study, those in black and white. I don’t ‘see’ in black and white yet but hopefully this will develop over the next few weeks.

Feeling lost today …

… without my 18-200mm ‘walk-around’ lens.  Yes, after my issues (for ‘issues’ read ‘minor hysterics’) with lens creep (see here) it is finally winging its way to the Nikon repair centre as I write, hopefully to be tightened and restored to its former glory.  I’ve cut it a bit fine to say the least  as the warranty expires in three days time, but it got me through my first assignment, on one occasion with the zoom ring held in place with sticky tape (tutor, look away now please).  So I’m now embarking on Part two of the course with my 70-300mm zoom – good thing I wasn’t planning on doing any discreet street photography…  Oh well, onward and upward.

Exhibition: All the World’s a Stage

The Apex Centre in Bury St.Edmunds is currently holding a fine-art photography exhibition entitled ‘All the World’s a Stage’ so I went along last weekend to take a look.  The exhibition is showcasing the work of seven UK photographers and the forty four images include portraiture, satire and rural and urban landscapes.  Two of the artists  (Paul Cooklin and Penny Morgan)  that I reviewed in the ‘Through the Lens’ exhibition I visited a few days ago were again showing their work (albeit different images), however of the images on display here, those of  Graham Portlock stood out for me. On his website Portlock states that he he takes his inspiration ‘from the  graphic and sometimes enigmatic elements of our environment, and above all, by great light’ [¹] and certainly I was struck by this aspect of his images as well as the clarity and sharpness.

Portlock exhibited nine images in both black and white and colour  however it is his black and white work that impressed me me the most with its strong graphics, in particular the lines and curves.  His scenes are devoid of people which gives a striking feeling of emptiness  to the images which really works well with the strong graphics.  A couple of his images stand out for me; each different and yet striking in their own way.  I love the cleanliness of ‘Glow of Arc‘ and the strength of the graphic elements.  I like the way that Portlock has  processed this image too and need to do some research into this as this is a look I would like to achieve.  The second image, ‘Time for a Pint‘, is different in style but I can really ‘feel’ this image; the space and emptiness create a sense of  timelessness, but not loneliness.

One thing that I’ve noticed is that now that I’m considering shooting Part two of the course  (‘Elements of Design’) in black and white, my mind has switched over from colour to monotone and in this exhibition it was the monotone images that interested me the most.


Exhibition: Through the Lens

We are lucky to have The Gallery, Highwaymans in our neighbouring village of Risby which hosts art and art-related exhibitions throughout the year.  I went along to the current exhibition entitled ‘Through the Lens’, a photographic exhibition showing the work of nine mostly local photographers around the theme of  ‘details of living interest, beautifully illustrated by photographs’ (Bell, 1902).

The genres on display ranged from architecture, macro and nature through to landscape composites and the fusion of photographs onto ceramic tiles.  A couple of the artists work appealed to me and it is these that I will discuss.

Paul Cooklin‘s images were of colourful and crumbling architecture in Old Havana, Cuba.  I’m a bit of an architecture fiend and I felt that Cooklin has captured the atmosphere and history of the buildings that he shot as well as just the structure.  In several he has included either people or animals which have added an extra dimension to the images concerned. I particularly liked his processing and his use of more pastel colours which I felt enhanced the subjects rather than competing with them – I found myself first thinking about the subject of the image rather than the colours.  When I read the accompanying catalogue it noted that the images were printed as traditional C-type prints, using the natural hues and colours of slide film.  To be honest this doesn’t mean a lot to me at the moment but hopefully as I continue with the course these things will become clearer.

Penny Morgan‘s images were completely different from my usual taste in photography but intrigued me.  Morgan has played with shadows and more specifically shadows cast by a yoga teacher in various poses.  Although taken in black and white, Morgan has made the use of grey tones which I think bring a softer, spiritual quality to her work here.  I like the fact that whilst we only see the shadow, not the subject, the shadow itself is representing a third ‘being’, that of the animal/shape that the yoga pose reflects.

This is the third exhibition that I’ve been to now with my ‘art student’ hat on and I’m finding it is becoming easier to look longer at an image and find different aspects to it as well as my first thoughts.  I now have questions, even though I don’t know all the answers, and I’m still not particularly good at articulating what I see and feel, but I feel that I have started to be more aware of the contents of an image, rather than just its initial appearance.

Exhibition: Landmark: The Fields of Photography

After a snowy afternoon in April wandering around Shoreditch on a photowalk with a friend, we finished the day by visiting the Landmark: The Fields of Photography  exhibition at Somerset House in London.

The exhibition was held by the Positive View Foundation (link here) and provided a comprehensive view of 21st century photography exploring both the realities of our changing environment as well as more traditional landscapes. It was curated by William Ewing whose aim was for people to enjoy the beauty of the images on show but also then to question and consider some of the social and economic issues which affect the environment today.

The exhibition consisted of around 170 photographs and was set out in 10 sections which took the idea of landscape (traditionally associated with beauty) and extended it into other areas covering a wide range of issues such as the wounds and damage that are being inflicted on the world, the effects of modernity and globalisation, how there is beauty in the mundane as well as showing landscapes of the universe through robot-photographers travelling into space and Nasa’s rover ‘Curiosity’ filming on Mars.

As someone who has only just started looking into the art and photographic world, many of the photographers were unknown to me, however I was pleased that I could instantly recognise the work of Edward Burtynsky. I found his pair of images ‘Nickel Tailings no. 34‘ and ‘Nickel Tailings no. 35′ (images nrs 5 and 6 in the attached gallery) stunning as a  portrayal of a bright ribbon of colour cutting through a stark landscape yet also shocking when one thinks in more depth about the image and the damage to the environment being caused by such pollution. Burtynsky has grabbed the attention of the viewer by his intense use of colour and strong line yet the simplicity and starkness of the images forces further thought into their context.

Other photographers exhibiting whose work I had come across before were Robert Adams and Simon Roberts. However, one unfamiliar name whose images caught my attention through their intensity of colour and their abstractness was David Maisel.  I immediately saw a similarity in Maisel’s style to the work of Ernst Haas (a photographer I am currently researching) in particular to Haas’ more abstract images in his ‘Creation’ series.  On closer examination however the similarity between the two photographers stops at the face value of the image; whilst Haas is concerned with beauty, Maisel is more concerned with the effects of human intervention on nature and takes aerial images of environmentally-impacted sites in order to ‘chronicle the complex relationships between natural systems and human intervention, piecing together the fractured logic that informs them both’ [¹].  His images, such as ‘The Lake Project’ at first enthral me with their beauty and then disturb me with their reality.

This was my first visit to a larger photographic exhibition with my ‘art student’ hat on (as opposed to wearing my ‘casual visitor’ hat) and I was a little nervous that I might be overwhelmed by what I thought I should be getting out of the exhibition from a critical point of view. In the event I concentrated on choosing a few images that I particularly liked and tried to analyse why I was drawn to them and also why the photographer had chosen to take that particular shot and what he was trying to say.  Small steps at this stage but at least now I have some questions even if I don’t yet know many of the answers.  Not all the images were my cup of tea (some I found a little boring) but overall I found it an interesting and enjoyable yet thought-provoking exhibition that achieved its aim of provoking its audience into raising questions about a world that sadly many of us take for granted.  I was a little disappointed that a catalogue wasn’t available on the day, however, an education pack is available at the time of writing as a download from the Somerset House website.

[¹]  Source