The Art of Photography: course reflection

I finished ‘The Art of Photography’ course in mid-June and straight away moved on to my next Level one module ‘Context and Narrative’.  I’ve now sent TAOP off for formal assessment in November and decided that it would be useful to look back over my progress since I started the course in January 2013.  I won’t go into specific detail here about each section as I feel that I’ve covered these on my blog already but will discuss my thoughts in more general terms.

I started the course with a reasonable technical knowledge of how my camera worked and which buttons to press, but what was sadly lacking was any knowledge of contemporary photography and the theories that underpin it.  Visiting exhibitions, looking at the work of photographers and other media artists together with a lot of reading and internet research has started to address this and I’ve now moved on from superficially looking at an image and taking it at face value (do I like it? – yes/no – move on) to being able to see at least some of the questions that the photographer is asking the viewer and to formulate a considered response.

Progress:

I had originally aimed to complete TAOP within a year but soon realised that this was an unrealistic schedule given the amount of time I had available for study; in fact the course took me nearly a year and a half.  Looking back I see now that I spent too much time on the exercises, in particular writing them up – all I really needed to do was to be able to recognise – and hopefully achieve – the relevant point that they were making and then move forward.

Reflection against the course outcomes:

Use the principles of composition when planning and taking photographs using suitable cameras, lenses and other equipment

Having a reasonable understanding of how my camera worked definitely helped as it meant that I could concentrate more on the course content rather than worrying too much about the technical bits.  Yes there were some areas where I was a bit sloppy in the beginning (I nearly had ‘check shutter speed against focal length’ tattooed on my forehead at one point) but by making a conscious effort to slow down when taking photographs and run through a mental checklist I found that these things improved.  I feel that my compositional skills have developed through what I’ve learned but also by looking at the work of other photographers and being brave enough to try out new ideas, even if they weren’t always successful.

Demonstrate skills in the control of qualities of light, and colour, and demonstrate creative outcomes using these skills

Using artificial lighting in photography was a new concept for me and one that I struggled with at first.  To be honest, I found this part of the course the least enjoyable and it turned into a slog by the end, with assignment pictures that were not particularly creative.  However I feel that my lighting skills have improved (from a starting point of zero I guess the only way was up) and I can now see myself shooting artificially-lit still life at some point in the future – something that I would not have contemplated prior to the course.

Working with colour was a revelation; similar to light, there was a lot of theory but I find that this has stuck and looking for the ‘correct’ colour proportions when I’m out shooting seems to have become an ingrained habit, even if on occasions I ignore it completely.  It was this section of the course where I realised I had the confidence to let go of the assignment brief at its face value and to turn it into what I wanted it to be.

Demonstrate a basic knowledge of the principles of graphic design in photography through a single photograph or a series

Learning to tell a story in Narrative and Illustration had a huge impact on me as I finally realised how to bring expression into my work, something I had wanted to do in my mind for a while but seemed unable to transfer to in-camera.  Although my layout skills leave a lot to be desired, this is something that will be useful to learn at a later date when my time is not constrained by an assignment deadline.

Reflect on your learning experiences

At the start of this course I was painfully aware that both reflective writing and critical thinking skills were new areas for me and therefore things that I would need to get up to speed with as soon as possible.  To a certain extent these have developed over time and it has been helpful in particular for me to look at how students at the higher levels structure and present their written work.  The research element of the course I have thoroughly enjoyed but am aware that I can get carried away and lose direction if I’m not careful; I have limited study time available and need to use this wisely so this is something I will try to address in my next OCA course.

I also struggled with my lack of knowledge of art and photographic history and practitioners which made it difficult for me to contextualise my own work as well as compare the work of contemporary photographers with others.  However I have been able to visit a number of exhibitions as well as carry out some fairly extensive reading and I feel that this area has improved greatly.  Attending the OCA Thames Valley Group meetings has also helped here and it has been useful to discuss photography on the online forums.  I now feel confident enough now to discuss and debate other artists’ work (albeit currently at a fairly superficial level – I am expecting this to improve as I move on up through the course levels) and I’m finding it easier to analyse different photographs and artists although I still do get a little stuck from time to time.

Reflection against my aims for the course:

I also looked back at my very first post on my blog where I had outlined some general aims that I had for the course:

To find and develop my photographic artistry and creativity; to create pictures (‘Pictures with Soul’) rather than just take them

I think the turning point here was my project on the Ipswich Waterfront for the final assignment. I became emotionally involved with the story and I think that this showed in my images.

To try and find my style and be able to put my own individual stamp on my work so that, good or bad, my images are recognised as mine

I’m not so sure that I’ve achieved this, but I don’t see this as a bad thing, more that I’m still experimenting to find ‘me’.  At the start of TAOP I did feel lost regarding a style (or rather a lack of it) and felt I was searching for something but was just not sure what.  The second section ‘Elements of Design’ reinforced my love of images with strong graphic elements and I then felt that I had permission to follow this path.  This direction continued through to Part Three ‘Colour’ and it is here that I think a style was coming through.  However my Ipswich Waterfront project changed my vision and for the first time I was conscious that I had moved on from taking ‘pretty pictures’ to creating images with expression and that were not purely descriptive.

To move away from just taking images that I’m comfortable with

A big tick in the box for this one. This I think is partly due to the course requirements but also to a concerted effort on my part to stretch myself by experimenting with the unfamiliar.

Areas for improvement:

Apart from continuing to develop my photographic skills generally there are a couple of specific areas that I feel I could work on in particular.  My post-processing skills are fairly basic and I have started to address these – I now have Photoshop CC and am doing some self-study with the help of a book and exercises in order to improve.

Printing was a concern for me leading up to assessment and I became quite worried about it as I wanted to send some quality prints for assessment in order to strengthen my submission.  I decided from the outset that I would get my printing done by an outside lab and with some help from Peak Imaging and a few test prints I am now able to produce prints that I am pleased with.  I included a sample of prints in my assessment submission and it will be informative to see the comments I get from the assessors on these.

Where am I now as a photographer?

I’m not sure really.  I started this course with a love of modern architecture and felt comfortable that this was the direction that I wanted to pursue.  However Assignment Five was a huge turning point for me – I became emotionally involved with the project and realised that I had crossed the line from taking purely descriptive photographs to creating images with expression, which is something I want to continue.  I’m not quite sure how modern architecture fits into this so I think that I will be following two paths at least in the short term.

From the very beginning of the course I realised that working on projects really suits me.  I enjoy the research and planning as much as the shooting and I now much prefer to see photographs presented as a coherent body of work rather than singleton images.  I’m still not a lover of having people in my images, but have grown to realise that the odd person in the picture can enhance it in certain situations.  However the idea of portrait/wedding/new-born photography really does not interest me.

I’m also aware of a developing interest in spatial awareness, of having and using space in an image, although at the moment this is something that I appreciate in other people’s work rather than being able pull into my own.

What next?

After finishing ‘The Art of Photography’ course in June I started my second OCA module ‘Context and Narrative’ so this will be my priority in the short term.  At the moment I am unsure of my final Level One module; when I signed up with OCA back in August 2012 I registered to study People and Place as my third course but I’m not sure now that this appeals so I may look at Understanding Visual Culture.

On a personal level I will continue with the Ipswich Waterfront project I started in Assignment Five.  I’ve also realised that through my TAOP work I now have the beginnings of a portfolio so I am considering setting up my own website in order to showcase some of my images. Another area that I am currently looking into is submitting some of my images for stock.

Conclusion:

For the most part I’ve really enjoyed TAOP.  Yes there has been the odd sticky moment and it has been occasionally hard to find the time but overall I am really glad that I signed up for it. I’ve found that I need something to focus on with my photography, some sort of direction, otherwise I flounder and TAOP has provided this.  Distance learning suits my lifestyle and I am also lucky in that I enjoy working independently; thanks to the purchase of a netbook I’m now able to use my weekday commuting time for study, freeing up precious family time at home.   I realise how much I’ve learned over the past year and a half and I am certainly now a more confident photographer.  Has my photography improved?  My gut feeling is that it has, but I think the final say on this has to come from the assessors in November.

To finish this post I would like to give my grateful thanks to my tutor Norman Moulsley who has been extremely supportive throughout, quietly encouraging me in the direction that I wanted to go in and always on hand to provide guidance and critique when needed.

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2 thoughts on “The Art of Photography: course reflection

  1. Carol Street Post author

    Thank you Catherine, that is lovely of you. I was surprised but really chuffed; it’s made all the blood, sweat and tears worth it and reinvigorated me for C&N

    Reply

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