Category Archives: Assignment 4

Assignment 4 – tutor feedback

I received my feedback on my fourth assignment very promptly as always from my tutor at the end of March and I was again very pleased with his comments.  As always I have tried to read between the lines and on this occasion I did ask my tutor to clarify one of his comments.  I will now highlight below the salient points from his report and provide my thoughts.

My blog post and images for Assignment 4 can be found here.

I took the opportunity with this assignment to push myself right outside of my comfort zone.  Having built up my confidence over the past three assignments I saw this assignment as a good time to experiment with no harm done, apart from to my ego, if it all turned out to be a colossal disaster; the bottom line being that I could always reshoot with a different idea if need be.  However my tutor’s first comment allayed my fears:

‘This assignment has given you an opportunity to stretch your ability and step outside your comfort zone with lighting techniques that you have not experienced before using indoor tungsten lighting.  You have coped with this extremely well and the resultant images are a testament to the determination and hard work given to this project’.
 

My tutor then suggested that when I had the time I could try different types of lighting, such as daylight, flashlight and candelight, to replicate the results.  When I read this my heart sank as I wondered whether this was a hint for me to reshoot the whole assignment for assessment.  Happily, in response to my questioning, my tutor has since clarified that there is no need for me to repeat the assignment but that ‘it will be interesting for me to experience the subtle differences that different sources of light play on a subject’.  I will therefore try and find the time to do as he suggests and will attach the results as an appendix to my assignment when submitting my work for formal assessment.

Overall I felt that the feedback was very positive.  I won’t discuss my tutor’s thoughts on each image here in detail here but will comment on a couple where he has made salient points.

Colour (i)

When choosing my first image to demonstrate colour I was torn between the two images above, eventually selecting the one with some black background as I felt it fitted in better with the set of images.  My tutor agreed with my decision as he felt the background colour gave the image some form.

Form


Whilst he noted that I had managed to create a three-dimensional effect with both images, he felt that this was strongest in Form (ii), with the lighter colours standing out particularly well from the direction of the light.

Sketchbooks/Learning Logs:

My tutor commented favourably on my blog:

Your blog is most impressive, where you show the dedication and hard work put towards this course’.

This was nice to read as I do sometimes wonder how I am going to fit in the necessary study time required to hopefully do well on this course.  With regard to my sketchbook he noted:

Thank you again for including photos of your sketchbook that records your personal notes and interesting cuttings’.

I have made more of an effort with my sketchbook for this part of the course, although it is still more of a collection-point for articles and cuttings rather than a journal for my personal thoughts.

Formal Assessment:

‘I understand your aim is to go for the Photography Degree and that you plan to submit your work for assessment at the end of this course.  From the work you have shown in this assignment, provided you commit yourself to the course, I believe you have the potential to succeed at assessment’.

It is nice to see that I’m still on track to hopefully pass TAOP as I approach the end of the module.

Pointers for the next assignment:

My tutor provided me with web links to some student examples for me to have a look at and also gave me the links to a few websites that he thought I might find interesting with regard to the next assignment.

Conclusion:

I am really pleased with the feedback to this assignment.  Of the assignments that I have submitted so far, this one caused me the most angst and I was uncertain whether my images would be met favourably.  The positive feedback that I’ve received has given me a real confidence boost for tackling subjects that are new to me and I do feel that I have moved up a notch with my photographic skills.  I felt that my tutor recognised that I had stepped outside my comfort zone into new territory and that I hadn’t found it easy:

‘Congratulations on persisting with this project that has given you an added dimension to your photographic knowledge and experience.  You have shown that you are capable of very competent and visual skills and are prepared to take risks with imaginative experimentation’.

As I have written before in this blog, I am not by nature an artistic person and I do struggle at times with my critical understanding and interpretation of the contemporary arts.  To improve this I am trying to develop my research and reflection skills as much as possible through both critical reading and the visiting of exhibitions (both photographic and other art media).  My tutor commented favourably on my efforts in this regard and it is gratifying to see my studies are beginning to pay dividends, even though I realise that I still have a long way to go:

‘Your research is wide ranging and you have an ability to develop your intellectual understanding of your studies’.

So onward now to the final section of ‘The Art of Photography’ course entitled ‘Narrative and Illustration’.

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Assignment 4 – reflection

I’ve sent off my assignment images and supporting notes to my tutor so it’s now the time to reflect on how I feel the assignment went.

Part four of the course is all about light and for the assignment we are asked to produce eight images of the same object to show, one at a time, its qualities of shape, form, texture and colour.  My assignment submission can be found here.

I started off this section being really enthusiastic about what I was learning and also about the assignment.  However, the number of exercises (fourteen) dimmed my enthusiasm a little.  I deliberately decided to push myself completely out of my comfort zone by shooting the assignment indoors using photographic lighting and I did regret this decision on a couple of occasions when things weren’t going too well.  However, I’m pleased that I stuck to my plans as I do feel that I’ve achieved a great deal in terms of learning new things and putting these into practice.

Influences on this assignment:

From the very beginning of planning this assignment I decided that I wanted to shoot a series of simple fine art style photographs linked by their format and style.  In this regard, Robert Mapplethorpe and Edward Weston were both influential in my planning and thought-processes.  I tried to look at subjects through their eyes and even though I did not end up shooting the assignment in the style of either, their work certainly gave me guidance and direction.  I also had in mind the work of Imogen Cunningham and James Thornbrook and the inspiration I’ve received from all these photographers has made me see this assignment as a springboard to continuing still-life work where their influence will play a greater part.

What went well:

  • I decided with this assignment to step well outside my comfort zone and, although I struggled on occasions, I feel that I succeeded in my aim of trying something new that was personally progressive for me
  • Although it took longer than I had planned, I feel that I have produced a set of images that I’m reasonably happy with
  • I moved away from using my usual ‘walkabout’ zoom lens (18-200mm) to working with both macro and prime lenses and although these have taken a bit of getting used to (the macro in particular), I was pleased to be able to use higher-quality lenses
  • I planned the assignment as a series of images, to be presented in a coherent set, and I feel that I’ve achieved this, both through style and a uniform image format
  • I enjoyed doing my research for this assignment and am really pleased to have discovered some new influences, in particular the striking and stylish flower photography of James Thornbrook.  My research has confirmed my liking for simple fine art images and also highlighted an interest in product photography, where again I’ve found some inspirational photographers and images.

What didn’t go so well:

  • I missed having a project to get involved with and therefore I didn’t feel that I connected with this assignment, or my subject, as much as for the previous three assignments
  • In hindsight I think I could have chosen a better object to photograph, maybe with defined edges and curves that would have been easier to light to produce the required effects.  I made life difficult for myself by using a round object, in particular with showing form, although on the positive side this made me stretch myself, which is a good thing. Maybe I would have been better to use one of my earlier ideas to incorporate the object’s shadow in my images and not used a black background
  • Whilst I made a deliberate decision not to spend money on lighting equipment that I was not sure that I would use again (the only thing that I purchased was a length of black velvet), in some ways this made shooting the assignment quite awkward and frustrating and there were a number of times that I could have done with a spare pair of hands or a lighting stand.  I didn’t really feel comfortable with the equipment that I had and I was also shooting in a fairly small room so I had to be very organised with what was where
  • I used a macro lens for the first time for the majority of my shots and had difficulty with auto-focus, particularly in low-light conditions.  I got round this by using a torch to highlight my desired focal point and then switching to manual focus once the auto-focus had locked, but this was another awkward thing to have to worry about. I did try manually focussing but wearing varifocal glasses does not make this easy and I had some mixed results when practising.

What I’ve noticed:

  • Despite the hindrances I mentioned above, I did enjoy shooting indoors and the fine art still-life concept is something that I would like to pursue.  However, if I go this route I will invest in some basic equipment, namely a couple of lighting stands and some ‘proper’ lights
  • My research on other photographers is really paying off.  I came across a number of genres in my investigation into photographers who use light and I’ve found that I’m gradually widening my outlook as to the types of photography I find interesting.

The course notes ask us to review how we think we have done against the assessment criteria so here are my thoughts:

Demonstration of technical and visual skills:

Materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills

Photographic lighting has been a huge learning curve for me, and whilst I feel that I would have probably got better results in my familiar outdoor habitat or by using natural light indoors I’m really pleased that I challenged myself with this assignment.  Yes, it’s been a struggle at times but as well as grappling with unfamiliar lighting equipment I’ve tried new technical skills, namely using a macro lens and also a 35mm prime, which for the most part have paid off, but as with most things, will improve with practice.  I shot the images in RAW with good quality prime lenses, using a tripod and wireless remote release in order to gain maximum sharpness and to also keep a low ISO to keep any noise to a minimum.  As I chose to shoot the images with a black background (I used black velvet to absorb the light) I used negative exposure compensation accordingly in order to keep the black dark and find that this is something I now turn to automatically when I feel the situation requires it.

Quality of outcome:

Content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas

At this early stage of my lighting education I’m pleased overall with this set of images and I think that they covers the requirement of the assignment brief.  I did struggle at times during the shoot and as mentioned above I didn’t make life easy for myself.  However I made a conscious effort to present the images as a coherent set rather than just a random collection and think that this has turned out well – my thought process behind this concept was to produce a series of images that could be hung in an exhibition.  I’m not sure that they are good enough for this but you get the idea.  I decided that the use of a uniform format would help to hold the set of images together and provide it with a defining structure.

Demonstration of creativity:

Imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice

Although this was in effect a technical exercise, I have tried to show some creativity in my images by showing the squash at different angles and from different viewpoints and also by using both its inside and outside in my compositions.  However, it has been a busy four months for me outside of photography and I’ve learned that when I am tired I really struggle with finding any sort of creativity.  So I think the report card here may well read ‘could do better’ on this front.

Context:

Reflection, research, critical thinking

I thoroughly enjoy researching and at times I have to rein myself in and keep on track; this is something I need to be consciously aware of going forward.  The research I carried out for this assignment was very rewarding, both in terms of the assignment itself and also for my own personal development; it provided influences on the direction in which I took the assignment and also validated my existing thoughts on my liking for fine art images and how I would like to eventually develop my own practice.

Due to the steep learning curve I found myself on this part of the course, most of my recent reading has, out of necessity, been of a technical nature and I realise that I have neglected the critical understanding side of my studies a little over the past few weeks.  However I have a couple of books that look at the conceptual issues of contemporary photography sitting on my book shelf ready for me to read and, more importantly, to digest.

I consider that my reflection and critical thinking skills are continuing to improve and the latter has certainly been helped by attending the OCA Thames Valley group study days and participating in group discussions and workshops.

I have been able to visit a number of exhibitions recently and find that I can now think about the intent and meaning of the photographer and also look for the conceptual ambition of the exhibition.  I still find it difficult to compare the work that I see with that of other contemporary photographers but this will get easier as I get familiar with more photographers and their images.

I’m enjoying keeping my blog and am happy with the way it’s developing.  My sketchbook is looking healthier since my last assignment and is also becoming a little less formal, however it is still a place where I store flyers and articles rather than being a personal journal for jotting down notes and ideas.  I’ve now begun a second sketchbook, in A4 size, to keep my larger fliers, articles and brochures.

Conclusion:

This assignment was a huge step into the unknown for me and I consciously used it as an opportunity to experiment and to step out of my comfort zone.   Whilst I have certainly benefitted both emotionally and practically from pushing against my boundaries I feel that I would have produced better assignment images had I stayed within my known (and comfortable) territory of using natural light outdoors.  However that is not what this course is about and I realise that I will not develop as a photographer if I do not stretch myself and explore new ideas, both technical and artistic.  I feel that I have learnt a lot from both this section of the course and from the assignment itself and that I now need to continue developing the new skills that I’ve learned.

Assignment 4 – light

Assignment four asks us to use the different lighting techniques that we have learnt during this part of the course and apply them to the same subject. We are to produce at least eight photographs to show, one at a time, the following qualities of our chosen subject:

  • Shape
  • Form
  • Texture
  • Colour

I much prefer to shoot images outdoors and I am not really comfortable taking photographs indoors, even family snapshots, so I saw this assignment as an opportunity to challenge and stretch myself and learn how to use indoor lighting effectively.  I therefore decided to completely step outside of my comfort zone and shoot the assignment entirely indoors using photographic lighting as this would be personally progressive for me and also interesting, even if a little daunting.  After some deliberation I chose an onion squash as my subject for the assignment images as I felt that this showed the qualities required as well as being a little unusual.

Research

From the very beginning of planning this assignment I decided that I wanted to shoot a series of simple fine art style photographs, linking them together by their style and format.  I looked at a number of photographers and how they used light and my research has confirmed my liking of simple fine art images and also my interest in product photography, where again I’ve found some inspirational images and photographers.  On a technical front, ‘Lighting’ (Prakel, 2013) and ‘Light – Science & Magic’ (Hunter et al, 2012) were both incredibly useful books (the latter in particular with regards to lighting set-ups) and there is a wealth of information on lighting to be found on the internet.

The outcome of my research can be found on my learning log at the following web addresses:

https://carolstreetphotographytaop.wordpress.com/2014/03/04/research-light/

https://carolstreetphotographytaop.wordpress.com/2014/03/14/assignment-4-research-photographers/

Influences

Both Robert Mapplethorpe and Edward Weston were influential in my planning and thought processes whilst I worked on this project.  I tried to look at subjects through their eyes and even though I did not end up shooting the assignment in the style of either, their work certainly gave me guidance and direction.  I also had in mind the work of Imogen Cunningham and James Thornbrook and the inspiration I’ve received from all these photographers has made me see this assignment as a starting point, a springboard for me to continue with still-life work where their influence will play a greater part.

The images

Shape (i)

40mm, f/13, 1.3 sec, ISO 100, tungsten bulb

40mm, f/13, 1.3 sec, ISO 100, tungsten bulb

Due to the style of this assignment, I decided to shoot the two images lighting-diagram Shape 2ademonstrating shape by using front lighting, rather than the often-seen method of back-lighting the image to create a silhouette.  In order to make this first image as flat as possible I lit the squash from the front, holding the light next to the camera and also using a diffuser.  I placed white cards to the left and right of the squash and also a small silver-foil card at the front of the image, out of view of the camera, all to bounce back the reflected light and fill in the created shadows to give a flat image.

I am pleased with this image as I have achieved the vision of the shape of the squash.  Looking at this image critically, there is a slight shadow on the right hand side of the squash although I did try to remove this as much as possible by positioning a white card to create shadow-fill.

I shot in RAW and processed in Lightroom 5.  As with all the images in this set I used exposure compensation to keep the black velvet background black; in this instance I dialled in -2 EV.  I tidied various spots in the background in Photoshop Elements.

Colour (i)

40mm, f/16, 1.3 sec, ISO 100, tungsten flood bulb
40mm, f/16, 1.3 sec, ISO 100, tungsten flood bulb

lighting-diagram - Colour 1

I decided to photograph the bottom of the squash to show its colour.  I used overhead lighting for this image and, after trying out different high lighting angles with an anglepoise lamp, I found I got the best result by angling thespotlight in the ceiling with a ring reflector bulb shining down on and slightly in front of the squash.  I used a diffuser to soften any glare.

This is one of my favourite pictures of the set; the green base of the squash and the radiating lines of softer yellow against the orange lend themselves to a pleasing composition.

I shot in RAW and processed in Lightroom 5.  I used -1 EV when shooting to keep the black dark.  In post-processing I reduced highlights and increased vibrance slightly.

Colour (ii)

3. colour (ii) sRGB

40mm, f/14, 1/2.5, ISO 100, tungsten bulb

lighting-diagram - Colour 2

Looking at the squash for my second image to demonstrate its colour, I could see that if I was not careful I would end up with just another orange shape.  I therefore decided to cut the squash into two and show the colours of the inside – the yellow of the flesh and the light beige of the seeds – as well as the orange of the outer skin.  I positioned a light fairly high up on the left-hand side and slightly behind the squash and used a diffuser to soften any glare.

This is another shot I am pleased with as I think the varying colours and shapes make it an interesting composition.  There is some shadowing which I wasn’t sure about at first but decided not to retake the shot as I think it gives a little depth to the image and doesn’t take away from the viewer’s perception of the colours.

I shot in RAW and processed in Lightroom 5.  I shot with -1 EV to keep the blacks dark and in post-processing I cropped in to tighten the composition and also boosted the vibrance and clarity.

Texture (i)

4. Texture (i) sRGB

40mm, f/16, 4 sec, ISO 100, tungsten bulb

lighting-diagram - Texture 1I tried a number of ideas for shooting texture.  My original plan was to shoot a close-up of the skin of the squash but try as I might I could not produce an image that I was happy with.  I then decided to show the texture in the stalk.  I positioned an angle-poise lamp to the left of the squash and at roughly the same height as the stalk to cast a raking light across it so as create shadows and highlights in the texture.  Although from my reading and also my practice in the section exercises I understood that a naked light would show the most definition, I found that using a diffuser produced the best result.  To lift the shadows on the right hand side of the squash I placed a white card opposite the light source to reflect the light back into the im- age. I had to be careful with the positioning of this white card as I found that at first too much light was reflected back and I lost the texture of the skin on the right-hand side of the squash.

I am pleased with this image.  As well as capturing the texture of the stalk it also shows the texture in the skin of the neck of the squash. I also like the flowing shape created by the outline has created.

I shot in RAW and processed in Lightroom 5.  I cropped in to tighten the composition and increased shadows and clarity.

Texture (ii)

40mm, f/22, 1.3 sec, ISO 100, tungsten bulb

40mm, f/22, 1.3 sec, ISO 100, tungsten bulb

lighting-diagram - Texture 2For my second image to show texture I thought it would be interesting to show the inside of the squash, in particular the texture created by the seeds.  I positioned a desk lamp to the left of, and level with, the squash so that the light beam raking across would create the shadowing needed to show off the texture.  I found that in this instance a naked light produced a harder set of shadows (which suited this image) than a diffused light which, following my research and practice, is what I would expect.

I am pleased with this image, although I did debate as to whether to crop in and remove the black area at the top left as it is a little distracting.  However I decided to leave it in as it helps tie the image in with the others in the set.

I shot in RAW and processed in Lightroom 5.  Again not much post-processing was needed; I tweaked the shadows and contrast and also reduced the highlights slightly.

Form (i)

40mm, f/18, 1/1.6 sec, ISO 100, tungsten bulb

40mm, f/18, 1/1.6 sec, ISO 100, tungsten bulb

lighting-diagram - Form 1The aim is to demonstrate the form of an object though the use of light and shadow.  I positioned an angle-poise lamp at a 45 degree angle above and to the side of the squash, also slightly in front of it, with a white card placed opposite the light source to lift the shadows on the right hand side slightly.  I also placed a piece of white paper flat on the table at the front to lift  the front shadows slightly and reveal more detail.

This is another image that I am pleased with as I feel it demonstrates the form of the squash well, giving the required three-dimensional look to the image.

I shot in RAW and processed in Lightroom 5.  I shot with -1 EV and in post-processing reduced exposure slightly as well as lifting the shadows and deepening the blacks.  I also had to carry out some spot removal on the background.

 Form (ii)

35mm, f/16, 1.3 sec, ISO 100, tungsten bulb

35mm, f/16, 1.3 sec, ISO 100, tungsten bulb

lighting-diagram - Form 2

I wanted a different look for my second image showing form and decided to use the squash once it had been cut in half.  I positioned the light at a 45 degree angle above and to the side, however this time slightly behind the squash.  I placed a white card at the front, slightly left from centre, to bounce light back and lift the shadows.  I tried this shot both with and without a diffuser and preferred it with a naked light.

I really like this image as I feel it is a slightly unusual composition and I’ve shown form in an unexpected way.  The light and shadow show the form of the squash and the way the light has captured the lines in the skin, curving around the squash, accentuates the three-dimensional feeling.

I shot in RAW and processed in Lightroom 5.  I shot with -2 EV and again in post-processing reduced exposure slightly as well as lifting the shadows and deepening the blacks.  I also had to carry out some spot removal on the background.

 Shape (ii)

40mm, f/14, 1/3, ISO 100, tungsten bulb

40mm, f/14, 1/3, ISO 100, tungsten bulb

lighting-diagram Shape 2aFor my second image showing shape, I decided to photograph the squash once it had been cut as this not only shows the shape of the squash in outline but also the shape of the interior seed cavity.  I lit this image from the front in a similar manner to my other ‘shape’ image, using a diffuser to soften the light and reduce the glare on the shiny seeds.

This is my least-favourite image of the set.  I am not really sure why, but it just doesn’t appeal. I think it is because I find it a little botanical in nature to look at as opposed to having a creative feel.  I struggled a little to think of how best to represent the shape of the squash in a way sufficiently different from my other ‘shape’ photograph yet so that it fitted in with the style of my other images.

I shot in RAW and processed in Lightroom 5.  I shot with -2 EV to keep the blacks dark and increased exposure and clarity slightly in post-processing, also cropping the image.

Image gallery

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Conclusion 

Light has been a vast section of the course for me in terms of the amount of learning to do and the new concepts that I have come across.  In this regard, this assignment was a very large step into the unknown for me and I deliberately used it as an opportunity to experiment and to step out of my comfort zone.

Being a complete lighting novice before I started this part of the course, I am, in the main, pleased with these assignment images at this early stage of my lighting studies.  I feel that I would have probably got better results in my familiar outdoor habitat or by using natural light indoors, however I am really pleased that I challenged myself with this assignment.  It was a struggle at times, but as well as grappling with unfamiliar lighting equipment I’ve also tried new technical skills, namely using a macro lens and also a prime lens for the first time.  These for the most part have paid off but, as with most things, will improve with practice.

As I had no lighting equipment, apart from a couple of lamps and two A1 pieces of black and white card, before starting this section of the course, I made my own diffusers, snoot and reflectors which served their purposes well for the exercises and assignment.  However, I found I could have done with a proper lighting stand as this would have made life easier on a number of occasions and I certainly will consider buying some basic lights and lighting equipment should I carry on with my plan of shooting still-life indoors.

I feel that this assignment and its associated techniques have added an important building block to my photographic knowledge, although I am aware that there is room for improvement, both on the technical and creative fronts.  I’ve also enjoyed the research aspect and have discovered some new photographic influences with regards to fine art still-life images.

 The ones that got away …

Images that I rejected for this assignment, together with my reasons why, can be seen on my learning log:

 https://carolstreetphotographytaop.wordpress.com/2014/03/18/assignment-4-rejected-images/