Category Archives: Introduction

Introduction – reflection

I started ‘The Art of Photography’ course on 01 January 2013 and have now completed the introductory exercises of the coursework so I thought this would be a good time to reflect on my progress to date and identify what I need to work on going forward.

What I’ve done:

  • read though the introductory sections and part one of the coursework and also the various study guides provided by OCA
  • drawn up a rough study timetable as a guideline
  • made contact with my tutor
  • set up my blog
  • introduced myself to other students on the OCA student and other forums
  • read the book ‘The Photograph’ (Clarke, 1997) which came with the coursework and have written a review
  • completed the introductory exercises

How it went:

Distance learning is not new to me as I studied for my banking exams a few years ago in the same manner, along with the occasional group workshop.  However, my studies then consisted of factual learning whilst the requirements of this course emphasise the need for reflection, critical thinking and creativity as well as good technical skills.  I admit that I am finding it difficult to write reflectively and critically as opposed to just recording what I see and do in a factual manner.  Hopefully these skills will improve as I continue with the course.

Having set up my blog (and that was a learning experience in itself), I still haven’t decided how exactly to organise my paper-based material.  I enjoy reading and research but I need to organise the information that I collect.  I recognise that I also need to jot down my thoughts and ideas before they hit my blog in final form (at the moment they remain in my head or as a note on my mobile phone prior to being posted online!) so I’ve now bought a sketchbook for this purpose and will make a start.

The exercises, which on paper looked easy, required more thought and planning than I originally envisaged as I decided to try and create images which went further than just meeting the exercise criteria.  Whilst I was, in the main, happy with the end results I struggled with the first exercise Focal length and angle of view due to my initial poor choice of composition.  I also had difficulties with the exercise Focus at different apertures – try as I might, I just could not get my pictures to show the various bands of sharpness as required, although they do show the change in depth of field in a more subtle way.  For a full review of these two exercises please click on the links above.

It took me longer to complete the introductory exercises than I originally planned. This was due to other commitments (which have now finished), bad weather and daily life getting in the way.  It may also be that the timetable I drew up at the start of the course is a little unrealistic.  I will see how the next few weeks go and then revise it if necessary.  I also need to see if I can manage my study time better.  Although I would like to finish TAOP within a year I need to be realistic and allow myself enough time to try to do myself justice and also not put too much pressure on myself – at the end of the day I need to enjoy the course too!

What I’ve learned:

  • it has been useful to have a quick refresher on some of the basic photography skills and to practice using them in a creative way
  • I’ve realised the importance of having some sort of plan before undertaking a set exercise – and of having a Plan B to fall back on
  • the exercises take far longer than I thought to write up – writing reflectively and critically does not come easily to me although I hope to get better with practice
  • through the exercises I have got to know my camera better and have tried out functions new to me such as using the electronic remote release
  • after reading ‘The Photograph’ (Clarke, 1997) I realise that I am drawn to shape and form rather than to the documentary and social aspects of a scene.  So I plan to investigate the genre of fine art photography further as this is a direction that I am now interested in finding out more about

What I’ve noticed:

  • I now make a conscious effort to slow down when taking photographs, putting more time and thought into a picture than I did previously.  I feel that my images are improving as a result
  • I’ve started planning my shoots more carefully (it was a bit hit and miss before) which has given me confidence, even though my plans don’t always work out as I expect the first time
  • I’ve started to look at creative photography and art journals rather than just the mainly technical photography magazines
  • I’m much more aware of my surroundings; I’m now always looking for ideas for possible pictures
  • I prefer to ‘find’ pictures outdoors rather than create still-life pictures indoors
  • I’m becoming slightly OCD-ish with regards to composition – symmetry, object placement etc.  I’m not sure yet whether this is a good or bad thing
  • I’m becoming aware of the similarities between photography and art and hope to explore this further, for example Rothko’s use of blocks of colour
  • I really don’t like taking photographs outdoors in the cold weather!

What I could do better:

  • organise myself more efficiently, particularly as I have limited time
  • research other photographers’ work.  This is an area that I’m pretty sure that I will enjoy but I need to get started
  • improve my reflective writing and critical thinking skills.  These areas are new for me and I am aware that I need to work on my lack of expertise in both
  • evaluate my work in a deeper way. I struggle with this at the moment but I am hoping that I will find it easier when I am more familiar with other photographers’ work and have researched other photographic theories and concepts.  Currently I feel that I do not have much knowledge to evaluate my work apart from against basic photographic skills
  • get quicker in writing up exercises and other blog posts
  • think ‘creative shot, not snapshot’ every time before I press the shutter release. I’m getting better at this but some horrors still get through
  • not to beat myself up if I get a little behind with my study timetable

What I plan to do next:

  • complete the exercises for part one
  • begin planning assignment one
  • re-read ‘Understanding Exposure’ by Bryan Peterson (2010) to reinforce and extend my knowledge of what I have learned so far.  Peterson looks in greater depth at many of the topics covered in the course introduction exercises
  • organise my off-line research material and start a paper-based learning log to complement my blog
  • start carrying out research into photographers that interest me. Having read ‘The Photograph’ (Clarke, 1997) I now have a list of fine art photographers to investigate
  • visit some exhibitions and galleries to broaden my knowledge of other photographers and artists
  • participate more actively in the various student forums and attend the next OCA study visit that’s of interest to me
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Exercise: Panning with different shutter speeds

As in the previous exercise, find something that moves several times or continuously across your view.  This time follow the movement with your camera so that the moving subject stays in the centre of the frame.  This technique is known as panning.  Compare the results of different shutter speeds.

Assess your images from both this exercise and the previous one (‘Shutter speeds’) in a technical way.  Now choose the photograph that you actually like the best from each series and write down your thoughts.

Planning:

I planned this shoot in advance and wrote out a list of criteria for the location, also thinking about which shutter speeds to use.  I wanted a fairly busy road to ensure a constant stream of cars and also with either a 30mph or 40 mph speed limit so that hopefully the cars would be travelling at around the same speed. I decided that I would have more chance of successful panning if the cars were not being driven too fast (memories of Formula 1 and lots of photos of grey empty tarmac still haunt me) and I felt that a fairly constant speed would be helpful when later comparing the amount of movement in my images.

I also wanted a background that would look interesting particularly when blurred by a low shutter speed, such as a hedgerow rather than nondescript buildings.  Finally I wanted to be able to stand back from the roadside (even hide if possible) so as not to prove a distraction to the drivers.

What happened:

I decided to shoot in shutter priority mode and to switch focus mode to continuous-servo autofocus.  I use single-servo autofocus mode for the majority of my shooting although I do venture into the other auto-focus modes when I feel it is appropriate.  I also shot in RAW and processed the images in Lightroom.

The road that I decided upon is one of the main roads leading out of Newmarket and has a 30mph speed limit.  The road was fairly busy and I managed to stand back from the roadside in the entrance to a sports ground to try and be discreet , although I did get asked by one passer-by whether I was using a speed camera!

1/1000, f/5.6, 55mm, ISO 500

1/1000, f/5.6, 55mm, ISO 500

1/1000:  The fast shutter speed has ‘frozen’ the details of the image.  The car appears to be stationary.

1/800, f/8, 48mm ISO 400

1/800, f/8, 48mm ISO 400

1/800: The same applies at the slightly lower shutter speed of 1/800.  No movement of the car is apparent and the leaves in the hedge are still well-defined.

1/500, f/9, 50mm, ISO 250

1/500, f/9, 50mm, ISO 250

1/500:  The car still appears to be stationary.  The details of the hedge and the road are not as sharp as in the previous images.

1/320, f/8, 50mm, ISO 125

1/320, f/8, 50mm, ISO 125

1/320:  The car still seems stationary although on closer inspection the wheel hubs are slightly blurred, evidencing movement.  This is more noticeable when the image is viewed at 100% size.

1/250, f/8, 50mm, ISO 125

1/250, f/8, 50mm, ISO 125

1/250:  The car still appears still although the wheel hubs seem slightly more blurry.  This may just  be an impression created by  the fact that there are more spokes on each wheel than in the previous image.

1/125, f/13, 50mm, ISO 125

1/125, f/13, 50mm, ISO 125

1/125:  Overall the car is still sharp although there is slight loss of sharpness at the very front.  There is obvious blur on the wheel hubs which gives the idea of motion.  Both the background and the foreground are beginning to appear streaky.

1/160, f/11, 50mm, ISO 100

1/60, f/11, 50mm, ISO 100

1/60:  Whilst the car is still sharp the wheel hubs are now more blurred with the individual spokes just about distinguishable. The background and foreground are more streaked than in the previous images, appearing slightly abstract.

1/30, F/22, 50MM, ISO 100

1/30, F/22, 50MM, ISO 100

1/30:  The tyres as well as the wheel hubs are now blurry.  The front of the car is also soft and the background looks more streaky than before.  To me this is the first picture that reflects speed, as opposed to just movement,  although I wonder whether the streamlined sporty shape of the car helps gives this impression too.

1/25, f/25, 50mm, ISO 100

1/25, f/25, 50mm, ISO 100

1/25:  Although only slightly slower than the previous image at 1/30, the wheel hubs now look like circular discs; the individual spokes are not visible.

1/15, f/29, 50mm, ISO 100

1/15, f/29, 50mm, ISO 100

1/15:  At this lower shutter speed the car is blurred although the driver is fairly sharp.  I suspect this is because he was my point of focus.  The colours of the hedge in the background  have now merged to form broad streaks and the tree at the top left has taken on a painterly appearance.

1/10, f/32, 50mm, ISO 100

1/10, f/32, 50mm, ISO 100

1/10:  The car and driver are now blurred.  As the wing mirror is fairly sharp I think that this was (erroneously) my point of focus instead of being on the driver.  The streaky background and foreground have lost most of their texture.  This, together with the blur of the car and the wheels reflects speed as well as movement.

1/5, f/32, 50mm, ISO 100

1/5, f/32, 50mm, ISO 100

1/5:  The car is blurry although still clear.  The wheel hubs (and the front one in particular) now look like spinning discs.  The background and foreground have now lost all texture, just appearing as broad streaks of colour.  All these factors  give the impression of fast speed.

Reflection:

This was another exercise that I enjoyed.   As in the previous exercise, it demonstrates the effect of using creative shutter speeds whilst still obtaining a correct exposure.  Generally I don’t tend to photograph subjects that involve following movement with the camera as the majority of my photographs to date have involved static subjects. I did have a go at panning a couple of years ago as part of a beginner’s photography course but had not revisited it until now.

On the whole I am pleased with my series.  After a couple of test shots I got the hang of the panning motion although now having evaluated my images some of them could have been better executed. The idea is that the subject is in the centre of the frame and in some of my images it is noticeable that I pressed the shutter slightly too early, resulting in cars that are positioned to the left of the frame.  So this is something I need to work on.  At the time of shooting I was just pleased to get the whole car in the frame!

I could also have been more selective with the cars that I picked to photograph;  most of the cars in the series are either silver or grey so a variety of different coloured cars would have added extra interest to the set.

I have never been a great fan of seeing movement in pictures, preferring sharp images. However, having carried out these exercises I can see that showing motion blur in a photograph conveys the impression of movement and aids the context of the image. Having looked again at my first panning image (1/000 second), it is impossible to see from the picture whether the Mini is moving or whether it is parked by the roadside.   At the other end of the scale I don’t particularly like the images I shot at the shutter speeds of 1/25 second and slower as there is too much blur for my taste.  I prefer seeing the cars more sharply defined,  however I can see that some very creative and artistic results could be achieved by incorporating a high amount of blur into an image.

In the past I have tried vertically panning static subjects by pointing the camera at the base of the subject and moving it upwards at a fast speed in order to get interesting effects from movement blur. This gave an abstract take on Christmas tree baubles and also a forest of pine trees as in both images it created a mixture and blend of vertical streaks and colours.  Lee Frost (2010)  in his book ‘The A-Z of Creative Photography’ describes how horizontally panning a static scene which contains defined layers of colour such as a field of yellow oil-seed rape or poppies under a blue sky can give very effective abstract results.  In his examples he suggests using a tripod to pan, also ensuring that the camera is level, in order to achieve even bands of colour that are horizontally straight.  I haven’t tried Frost’s technique yet, but it is on my list of ‘to do’s as the abstract aspect appeals to me

My favourite images from the ‘Shutter speeds’ and ‘Panning with difference shutter speeds’ exercises:

From my ‘Shutter speeds’ series the image I like the most is the one shot at 1/15 second.  I like the soft look of the water, both coming over the weir and in the pool below that the slower shutter speeds produce.  However I prefer this image to the ones shot at shutter speeds slower than 1/15 second because , whilst the water in the base pool is starting to look milky and has a cotton wool effect, there is still some texture retained in this image which adds detail and interest.

1/15, f/9, 75mm, ISO 100

1/15, f/9, 75mm, ISO 100

The image I prefer from my ‘Panning with different shutter speeds’ series is the one shot at 1/60 second. The car is sharp and you can see the driver and passenger in detail yet there is enough blur in the car wheel hubs to show movement.  The feeling of movement is reinforced by the slightly streaked background and foreground, giving a sense of speed.

1/160, f/11, 50mm, ISO 100

1/60, f/11, 50mm, ISO 100

Exercise: Shutter speeds

Find something that moves several times or continuously across your view.  Make sure that the setting, in particular the background, is simple and plain. Set your camera on a tripod so that the flow of movement is across the view.  Make a series of exposures from the fastest shutter speed on the camera to a very slow one. Adjust the aperture so that the exposure stays the same.  Find the slowest speed at which the movement is sharply frozen.

The aim of this exercise is to see how different shutter speeds can be used to freeze motion or record movement whilst still recording a ‘correct’ exposure.  In order for fast movement to appear sharp, a fast shutter speed must be used.  Conversely, a slower shutter speed will blur the part of the scene that is moving.  Using various shutter speeds in conjunction with aperture and ISO settings allows the photographer to produce images that are creative yet still correctly exposed.

Planning:

For this exercise I decided to photograph the weir above Silver Street bridge on the river Cam in Cambridge.  I picked a view where I could see both smooth and turbulent water in order to see the effects of varying shutter speeds on different types of movement- the water flowing calmly over the weir and the effervescent pool at the bottom.

Before the shoot I did a little general research on the internet about photographing waterfalls so that I had a rough idea of what to expect and at what point the shutter speed would start to blur the water.   I also wrote out a list of the shutter speeds that I wanted to use.  I decided to shoot in manual mode to give me more control, also using a tripod and electronic remote release to avoid camera shake at the lower shutter speeds.

What happened:

I started the exercise using an aperture setting of f/8 and a shutter speed of 1/2000. The afternoon was grey and overcast so I found that I needed a high ISO when using the faster shutter speeds in order to expose correctly.  I shot in RAW and processed the images in Lightroom.

_DSC5000-1

1/2000, f/8, 75mm, ISO 5000

1/2000:  The water coming over the weir looks solid and lumpy and the individual water droplets at the bottom appear frozen. The ripples in the water at the top of the picture are clearly defined.  Due to the high shutter speed and the gloomy conditions I used an ISO of 5000 to obtain acceptable exposure and noise is very apparent when the image is viewed at 100%.

1/1000, f/8, 75mm, ISO 3200

1/1000, f/8, 75mm, ISO 3200

1/1000:  The water is still frozen and the water coming over the weir is still dark in colour.  The image still very noisy due to the high ISO.

1/800, f/8, 75mm, ISO 2500

1/800, f/8, 75mm, ISO 2500

1/800:  Although the shutter speed is coming down, the water droplets are still frozen.

1/640, F/8, 75mm, ISO 800

1/640, F/8, 75mm, ISO 2000

1/640:  At a lower shutter speed of 1/640, the individual droplets in the pool are now starting to blur.

1/200, f/8, 75mm. ISO 800

1/200, f/8, 75mm. ISO 800

1/200:  The water coming over the weir is starting to look more fluid and the droplets in the pool are blurring more,although are still individual in places. The ISO required to maintain the exposure is reducing sharply as the shutter speed slows, reducing noise.

1/200, f/8, 75mm, ISO 500

1/100, f/8, 75mm, ISO 500

1/100:  At a slower shutter speed of 1/100, the water coming over the weir is becoming smoother and the water at the base of the weir is now starting to look foam-like.

1/60, f/8, 75mm, ISO 250

1/60, f/8, 75mm, ISO 250

1/60:  The water coming over the weir is yet again smoother and starting to look blurry whilst the water at the bottom is becoming foamier.

1/30, f/8, 75mm, ISO 160

1/30, f/8, 75mm, ISO 160

1/30:  The water coming over the weir is now starting to look lighter and more glassy and the blur of the water movement is now apparent. The water in the bottom pool is now starting to take on a cotton wool effect in places.

1/15, f/9, 75mm, ISO 100

1/15, f/9, 75mm, ISO 100

1/15:  At a shutter speed of 1/15, the water coming over the weir is starting to look more even and the water in the pool is more foamy than before.  Due to the lower shutter speed the ISO is now 100 (the lowest on my camera) and I had to reduce the aperture by 1/3 of a stop from f/8 to f/9 in order to maintain exposure.

1/5, f/14, 75mm, ISO 100

1/5, f/14, 75mm, ISO 100

1/5:  The water coming over the weir is softer and the water at the base of the weir has much more of a cotton wool effect albeit with a texture. The flowing water at the top of picture has also changed; the reflections are less defined.  Due to a further reduction in shutter speed, I had to decrease the aperture size in order to maintain exposure, this time to f/14.

1 second, f/32, 75mm, ISO 100

1 second, f/32, 75mm, ISO 100

1 second:  At a shutter speed of 1 second the water coming down the weir is softer still and there is still some slight definition in the water in the pool. The water at the top of the picture is now taking on a painterly look. Although I reduced the aperture size to the minimum available, this image was overexposed and I corrected this in Lightroom.

2 seconds, f/32, 75mm, ISO 100

2 seconds, f/32, 75mm, ISO 100

2 seconds:  At a shutter speed of 2 seconds the water coming over the weir is now like a curtain and the water at the base is very milky in appearance with no real definition.  The water at the top of the picture now has a flat and uninteresting glass-like appearance.  This picture also had to be rescued in Lightroom due to overexposure.

Reflection:

I found the exercise straightforward (apart from my fingers nearly falling off with cold) although I struggled with noise on the images shot with the highest shutter speeds. This was due to having to use a high ISO setting to obtain a well- exposed image.  I began shooting with an aperture of f/8 as I wanted a reasonable depth of field in the images although in future I would consider using a wider aperture which would allow me to reduce the ISO.

I was also aware of overexposure when taking the final two shots of the sequence (1 second and 2 second exposures respectively). I was able to rescue these images later in Lightroom but using a polariser when shooting would have been a better solution.

The slowest shutter speed at which the movement was sharply frozen was 1/800. Looking at my sequence of pictures I prefer the softer-looking images taken with a slower shutter speed.  I am not a fan of completely ‘milky’ water and like to see some texture remaining, as captured by the image taken at 1/15 second.

Working on this exercise reminded me of the photographer Xavi Fuentes, whose work I had been introduced to by a previous photography teacher. Fuentes specialises in long exposure images which are dominated by the sea.  His use of slow shutter speeds reduces the movement of the water to a smooth blur.  Although at first glance the water  is too flat for my taste, I love the simplicity of his images and his use of  light and space as well as the strong lines and shapes he depicts.   The atmosphere and soul that exude from his work suck me right into the core of his images; I no longer see flat water, just fine art.

This exercise has taught me that the use of different shutter speeds can be a creative way of showing movement in an image.  The photographer has the choice of picking a creatively correct exposure as opposed to an exposure that is purely correct.  The amount of movement shown in an image is purely a matter of personal choice and depends upon the mood that the photographer wants to convey to the viewer.

Exercise: Focus at different apertures

Find a similar subject to the previous exercise such as a row of things seen from an angle. Take three identical pictures.  Focus on an obvious point somewhere near the middle of the picture.  Take the first picture with the lens at its widest aperture, the second at midway on the lens scale and the third at its smallest aperture, keeping the exposure for all three pictures the same.  Print the images and compare them; there should be an obvious difference between at least the first and the third.  Draw a band on each picture where you see the limits of sharpness.

Planning – and failure:

I planned to use the same row of motorbikes from the previous exercise (‘Focus with a set aperture’) using a tripod and my 18-200mm lens.  Using a focal length of 18mm, I took pictures at f/3.5, f/10 and f/25.  However, despite a couple of attempts, I could not get the differences in sharpness to show greatly; a slight difference was apparent between my pictures shot at f/3.5 and f/25 but certainly not as much as I expected and not enough to mark the limits of sharpness on the images.  I tried again with a different subject, this time a row of neatly parked ‘Boris Bikes’ (aka the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme in London) with the same result.  This baffled me for a while until I remembered that I had encountered a similar problem when doing a basic depth of field exercise in my beginners’ photography course two years ago, albeit with a different camera (Samsung NX5).  The solution then was to use a longer focal length when taking the pictures. So it was back to the ‘Boris Bikes’, this time using the full focal length available to me.

What happened next:

I shot all three pictures using a tripod and my 18-200mm lens, using a focal length of 200mm and aperture priority mode. I also used my camera remote release to avoid any camera movement when taking the pictures.   I kept the same focal point for all three pictures – the rear brake light of the fourth bicycle from the front, near the centre of the picture.  I shot in RAW and processed the images in Lightroom.

200mm, f/5.6, 1/10, ISO100

f/5.6

With a wide aperture of f/5.6 (the widest available on my 18-200mm lens for the focal length of 200m) the area in focus is very narrow and the only parts of the image that are in sharp focus are the fourth bicycle tyre and brake light, thus showing a very narrow depth of field. The bicycle tyre at the front is very out of of focus and the writing on the sign on the wall at the back of the picture is not readable.

200mm, f/16, 1/2, ISO 100

f/16

With a mid-point aperture of f/16 the area in focus is much greater (the depth of field has increased). More of the bicycle tyres are in focus (although some of the saddles are not) and the sign at the back, although blurred, is now legible.

200mm, f/36, 2.5 secs, ISO 100

f/36

With the smallest available aperture of f/36 the picture at first sight seems to be in focus from from to back, showing a much greater depth of field. All the bicycles are now in focus and the tread patterns on the tyres are sharp.  The writing on the sign at the back is clear.  On closer inspection however, it is noticeable that the stonework and other details at the very back of the picture appear slightly soft and focus seems to have been lost a little.

Key learning point:

As the aperture gets smaller the area of the picture in focus becomes greater and gives a wider depth of field.  As the aperture gets bigger the area in focus becomes smaller giving a narrower depth of field.

Reflection:

I have used different aperture sizes in the past to produce different depths of field, but this exercise has helped me better understand the principles and it was interesting to see the different depths of field produced from the use of different apertures.  However, I was still unable to produce images showing ‘bands’ of sharpness, so if I was to repeat this exercise I would try a simpler composition with fewer subjects that were further apart to see if that would make the focus bands more obvious.

Having found that shooting with a longer focal length produced far better results for the purpose of the exercise I looked into this further and the basic idea seems to be that the the longer the focal length is, the shallower the depth of field will get. I’m not sure that I understand why, so I will just remember it for future use.

I tend to use a smaller aperture for a greater depth of field when taking pictures of buildings and landscapes which benefit from front to back sharpness.  When using a smaller aperture I am aware of the need for a lower shutter speed so I try to use a tripod or other support to avoid camera shake.  I am also conscious of the problems of diffraction that can arise from using a very small aperture (see link here for a good explanation of this)  so I try not to use an aperture smaller than f/16.

This exercise has reminded me of the value of using depth of field to create interest within a picture so I will try to incorporate this when planning images in the future.

Exercise: Focus with a set aperture

Find a scene which has depth and from the same place take two or three pictures, each focused on something at a different distance.  The lens aperture should be wide – at its lowest f-stop number.  Compare the three images and notice that the sharp focus draws the attention and that a sharp subject stands out very clearly against the out-of-focus surroundings. Note which version you prefer and why.

Planning:

For this exercise I chose a row of motorbikes parked in Finsbury Circus in the City of London as I thought the colours and details of the motorbikes would add interest to the pictures as well as evidencing the exercise.

What happened:

I shot in aperture priority mode using a tripod and my 18-200mm lens.  I used a focal length of 75mm and the widest aperture available at this focal length on my lens, which is f/5.  I shot in RAW and processed the images in Lightroom.

Picture 1 - focus near the front75mm, f/5, 1/13, ISO 100

Picture 1 – focus near the front
75mm, f/5, 1/13, ISO 100

I focused on the disc brake of the the yellow motorbike, second from the front.  The focus at the very front of the picture is slightly blurry, becoming sharp at the point of focus and then gradually becoming out of focus as you look through the picture to the back.

Picture 2 - focus mid-way.75mm, f/5, 1/13, ISO 100

Picture 2 – focus mid-way
75mm, f/5, 1/13, ISO 100

I focused on the fairing to the side of the headlight on the red motorbike, fourth from the front.  The focus at the front of the picture is less sharp than in picture 1.  The red motorbike in the middle of the picture is in focus, the picture beyond this point gradually becomes out of focus, although the car at the very back is clearer than in Picture 1.

Picture 3 - focus near the back.75mm, f/5, 1/20, ISO 100

Picture 3 – focus near the back
75mm, f/5, 1/20, ISO 100

I focused on the mirror of the furthest motorbike.  The front of the picture is out of focus, gradually becoming more into focus through the picture until it is sharp at the point of focus.  The focus then drops off slightly as the car at the very back of the picture is still blurred although it is clearer than in Pictures 1 and 2.  My view is that I now find it a little distracting.

My thoughts:

I prefer Picture 1 with the focus near to the front as I feel that this concentrates the viewer’s eye on the yellow motorbike and then draws the eye in an orderly manner along the line of motorbikes through the picture.  Choosing a focus point near to the front of the picture also gives more of a sense of distance due to the blurred background.  To me it seems logical that in this series of pictures the most sharply-focused part of the picture should be at the front, grabbing the attention of the eye and taking it through the picture.  I can see that in some instances I might want to focus on a particular point to draw attention to it and that this point may not necessarily be at the front, for instance if I wanted to highlight a certain car in a row of parked cars or a particular tree in a wood. Portraits are another example where photographic practice is to focus on the eyes.  So before selecting the focus point, the planned position of focus should be judged against what the subject is and what effect is intended from the image.

Reflection:

I found this a useful exercise in refreshing the basics on focus and using the focal point of the camera to highlight the point of interest in the picture. It would be interesting to try to isolate the point of interest, such as a flower in a field, by using a very wide aperture such as f1/4 or f1/8 thus keeping the surroundings out of focus, although currently  I have not got a lens this fast.

I chose the row of motorbikes for this exercise as I thought the details and colours would add interest to the pictures whilst also meeting the exercise criteria.  In hindsight I think that choosing a simpler subject such as a row of coloured pens or a row of dominoes against a plain background would have shown clearer results for this exercise.

Exercise: Focal length and angle of view

Take three pictures from the same spot using three different focal lengths with the objective of one image being as close as possible in size to the view from my eye.  Another image is to be taken using the lens at its widest view and the third using the furthest telephoto setting possible.

The aim of this exercise is to find the standard focal length for my camera and to show that the angle of view of my camera is dependent upon the focal length of my lens.

Standard focal length is defined as the length of the lens in mm which produces an image roughly equal to the view from your eye.  When using a full-frame camera, 50mm is considered to be the standard focal length.  The course text states that as a useful guide the focal length is roughly the same as the diagonal measurement across the camera sensor.  A full-frame digital camera has a sensor size of 36 x 24mm with a diagonal of 43.3mm, whilst according to the manual my camera has a smaller sensor size of 23.6 x 15.6mm and has an effective angle of view of ‘approx. 1.5 x lens focal length (Nikon DX format)’ (Nikon Corporation, 2010, p309)  This is known as a 1.5 ‘crop factor’.

Intrigued that Nikon used the word ‘approx.’, I set out to calculate the ‘actual’ effective angle of view, recalling from my school days that we used Pythagoras’ Theorem to determine the longest side (i.e. the diagonal length or hypotenuse) of a right-angled triangle.  Pythagoras’ Theorem states that in a right-angled triangle, the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides:

a^2 + b^2 = c^2, where “c” is equal to the length of the hypotenuse and “a” and “b” are the lengths of the other two sides.
(23.6 x 23.6)  + (15.6 x 15.6) = c^2
556.96  + 243.36 = c^2
800.32 = c^2
Therefore c = 28.29 (the length of the diagonal of the D7000 sensor)

28.29mm compared to the 43.3mm diagonal measurement of the full-frame sensor therefore gives an effective angle of view of 1.53 x lens focal length.  According to this calculation, the relative standard focal length for my camera should be 32.7mm.

Planning – and failure:

I decided that I needed to find a distinctive focal point in order to make my images, in particular the one taken with a telephoto setting, as interesting as possible.  Wet and misty weather on the day of my shoot meant that my original plan to visit my local town went out of the window and I ended up using the bird-table in my garden as the focal point.  Whilst the pictures that I took met the criteria of the exercise, I was not at all happy with two of the three images from a compositional point of view (more about my thoughts on this  in my reflections below) and decided to re-shoot the exercise.

What happened next:

Having thought  about how I could take more care with overall composition for all three images, I re-shot the exercise in Postman’s Park in the City of London using a tripod and my 18-200mm lens.  This time I felt much more comfortable with the images that I produced.  I shot in RAW and processed the images in Lightroom.

In order to find the standard focal length for the first photograph, I used the zoom until the image through the viewfinder was equal to the image through my other eye.  The exif data showed the focal length to be 46mm (equivalent to 69mm on a full-frame digital camera).  This was longer than I expected as based on my above calculations I thought it would be around 33mm.  My camera manual states that the viewfinder has a magnification of 0.94 x (50mm f/1.4 lens at infinity, -1.0 diopter).  I don’t understand this completely, but I can see that an image size multiplied by 0.94 will appear smaller to the eye, which maybe is why I need a longer focal length to bring the image size up to real life.  On the other hand it could have something to do with the fact that I’m shortsighted and wear varifocals!

46mm, f/13, 1/2, ISO 100

46mm, f/13, 1/2, ISO 100

The second photograph, below, was taken at 18mm, the widest angle on my 18-200mm zoom lens.

18mm, f/13, 1/2, ISO 100

18mm, f/13, 1/2, ISO 100

The final photograph was taken at 200mm, the furthest telephoto setting.

200mm, f/13, 1 second, ISO 100

200mm, f/13, 1 second, ISO 100

I then printed the images onto A4 paper and went back to stand in the same spot. I held each photo in turn out in front of me until the printed image seemed to be the same size as my view of the actual scene.  I then measured the distance from my eye to the printed image.

My findings:

18mm:  Distance was approximately 15cm from my eye, which was very uncomfortable to view and hurt my eyes trying to focus on the picture.

46mm:  Distance was approximately 37cm from my eye, which was not quite a full arms-length away.  This was comfortable but a bit further away than my normal reading range (I am shortsighted).

200mm: Distance was approximately 205cm from my eye. As this was too far away for me to hold the image, I had to improvise and use my tripod as an impromptu photograph holder.

My thoughts about how the different focal lengths affect the images:

18mm: This picture gives a lot of information to the viewer about the surroundings of the fountain.  My view is that there is too much paving in the foreground for my liking, although the paving stones provide a lead-in line to the pond and fountain. The image is sharp from front to back.

46mm:  This picture focuses on the pond and fountain but also provides some contextual details and interest.  Again the image is sharp from front to back.  Of the three, this is my favourite; I like the symmetry of the pond and fountain and the added interest of the bench behind.

200mm:  This picture focuses on the fountain and doesn’t provide any further information about the location or surroundings.  The background behind the fountain is blurred which helps focus the attention on the subject.   Normally I would have cropped the bottom of this picture to remove the railing, which I find distracting, but on this occasion I left it in so as to keep the three pictures the same size and not change the point of the exercise.

Reflection:

I already knew that a focal length of 18mm will give a wider angle of view than a focal length of 200m but it was interesting to compare images with three different focal lengths side by side and see how the different focal lengths affected the composition and context of each image.  I also found it useful to learn about different sensor sizes and how to calculate them.

I thought this exercise would be very straightforward but I was unhappy with the first set of pictures that I took:

18mm, f/13, 1/2, ISO 100

18mm, f/13, 1/2, ISO 100

48mm, f/11, 1/2.5, ISO 100

48mm, f/11, 1/2.5, ISO 100

200mm, f/11, 1.6, ISO 100

200mm, f/11, 1.6, ISO 100

Whilst they met the criteria of the exercise I was dissatisfied with the composition of the 18mm and 48mm pictures. In hindsight I did not do sufficient planning in order to create an interesting set of images as well as fulfil the exercise. In order to get the bird table in the frame at 200mm I had to position it centrally in the viewfinder. This means that the composition of the other two pictures is poor and I feel distinctly uncomfortable every time I look at them. The bird table in the middle of the picture stops the eye and I would prefer it to be positioned to the right to draw the eye around past the log pile on to the willow tree.  I also think that there is too much foreground with little/no interest in the 18mm picture. So I guess some of the rules of composition – Rule of Thirds, lead-in lines and foreground interest are ingrained in me which maybe is not a bad thing.

With this in mind, I set about finding the location of my re-shoot with much more care. I remembered Postman’s Park from a visit last year and thought it worth a return trip.  I realised straight away that there would be much more interest for the viewer at all three focal lengths. I also managed to satisfy my composition OCD by placing the park gates and the bench using the Rule of Thirds.

My take-away from the above is that I need to look for stand alone images that will engage and interest viewers, not just undertake an exercise in a ‘tick the box’ fashion purely to demonstrate the intent of what the exercise demands.

Revisiting my camera manual

The first project in the introductory section to the coursework is entitled ‘Getting to know your camera’.

The brief: Put your camera in front of you on a table.  Read the camera manual from cover to cover and familiarise yourself with your camera’s functions. 

I am usually pretty diligent in reading equipment manuals,  however when I bought my Nikon D7000 in May 2012 I deliberately only read what I considered to be ‘the need to know now’ sections and left the chapters on the more advanced functions for a later date. The reason for this was that I upgraded (more of a quantum leap really) to the D7000 from a Samsung NX5 (compact system camera) and then had a ‘oh goodness, what have I done?’ moment, overwhelming myself in the process.  I have continued to dip into the manual from time to time either when I’m doing something new or when I come across buttons or display items on the camera that I’m not familiar with.

Anyway, eight months on I’m getting along fine with the D7000, although I’m aware that I do not use it to its full capacity.  So this exercise was a good opportunity to have a refresher course on the basics and also to explore other functions of the camera that I have not yet used.

The manual is well laid out and easy to read with good cross-referencing to the various buttons/functions.  It is in the main well-written, although I think that photographers with little experience could struggle on occasions as a certain amount of technical knowledge is assumed by the author.

Following an introduction on getting to know the camera basics, including the layout of the camera controls and displays, the first chapter covers basic photography and playback, including ‘point and shoot’ photography and the Auto and Scene Modes. The latter are considered ‘creative photography’ modes by Nikon but are not ones that I have used to date as I prefer to choose my camera settings myself.  Subsequent chapters explain the basic and more advanced functions of the camera as well as a comprehensive menu guide and technical notes.

My take-aways from this read-through are as follows:

  • The camera has an image enhancement system which includes sharpening, contrast, brightness, saturation and hue, as well as a retouching menu allowing you to modify images in-camera. However as I shoot mainly in RAW, I prefer to edit my images after shooting using Lightroom, together with Photoshop Elements if needed.
  • There are two release modes for shooting continuously – continuous low speed (1 – 5 frames per second) and continuous high speeds (up to 6 frames per second).  Both mode settings are situated on the release mode dial.
  • There is also a quiet shutter-release mode which I will find helpful when taking nature images.
  • I am very lazy with metering, using matrix metering almost all of the time. Note to self; other metering modes do exist – use them when appropriate!
  • There are three Remote Control release modes available to use – delayed remote (a two-second delay), quick-response remote (immediate release) and remote mirror-up (two button presses needed to release the shutter).  I have started to use a Nikon ML-L3 remote control to fire the shutter remotely so found this information helpful.
  • There are two user setting modes where frequently-used settings can be assigned to the U1 and U2 positions on the mode dial. These are settings I have not felt the need to use yet although I can see that they could be useful for setting up ‘shooting modes’ customised to my preferences –similar to a ‘Scene Mode’ I imagine but allowing me to have full control over aperture, shutter speed and ISO settings.

Reflection:

I found this a very useful exercise as it reminded me of basic functions that I had forgotten about and I also explored more advanced functions that I hadn’t considered using before.  A lot more fell into place reading through the manual again after having used the camera for a while although I feel that it would have benefitted me to have done a complete re-read earlier.

I have noticed that I tend to stick with the settings that I am comfortable with so I need to make the effort to try to use and practice with different settings so that they become second-nature and I can find them instinctively when preparing to take a picture.

I find it useful to read Mastering the Nikon D7000 (Young, 2011) as an additional resource when I need further explanation or commentary on a particular point addressed in the manual.

I will continue to visit the manual as and when I need to but I will schedule another full re-read in six months or so.