Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Project 27

As discussed in the text book circular forms are generally formed artificially and do not occur very frequently naturally, especially within a city environment.  I can think of a few exceptions, the moon, even the sun would work as circles, with good weather and a long enough lens.  Implied circles formed via arrangement are also fleeting in existence, from the right viewpoint groups of people will form circles as they stop to discuss or listen to one another, an example would be a tour group.

In working up images for this project I found many round objects, but was unable to present them as circles due to perspective and lack of a viewpoint square onto the subject.  Some examples are

Tables at a cafe - this group of tables formed a great example of rhythm and pattern

Another common subject is the humble man hole cover - this one was too big to image as a circle

The following two images are circular features in walls, again my angle was unable to avoid the elliptical profile

The next image is the use of a circle, a watch, used in a traditional watchmakers shop sign

The next image provided a better opportunity to image the circles in proper proportion, the hint of red is provided by a brush hidden behind this board.  The repetition of the circles and the ropes attached make this visually interesting, but I have no idea what it is

Finally I managed to find a number of circular objects that permitted a photograph without any perspective distrotion.  The first image is a light set into the cobble stones of a pedestrian shopping street.  This image might have been better with the light actually on, to create more contrast in the image

The following image combines three circles, a modern sign, an historical relief and the front wheel of a bicyle chained against the sigh post.  As the sign post is declaring that bicycles have priority on the path to the left, the bike is part of the message

My third image is another architectural circle, but this time formed by the brickwork in a domed roof in Munich's Glyptothek museum of Greek and Roman art. This is a repeating circle and avoiding any perspective shift needed careful placement of the camera

My final circle is a shop display, which combined a ball made of wound rope and a snake, an interesting display, but am not sure what the message was intended to be

I can conclude that circles are pretty common in a city environment, but almost all are artificial in origin.  As compositional elements they are powerful, especially when repeated such as the blue board or the cafe tables.  I did not find any implied circles or circular arrangements, so must draw my inspiration from the text book:

96 - I have already referred to this image as containing a clear triangle, but one formed within the circle of the models arms.
18 - In this still life my Roger fenton, he has arranged the fruit in a broadly circular composition
37 - the garbage in this very real image by Martin Parr forms a neat circle around the overflowing rubbish bin from which it has probably tumbled

Within the text book there were many images using a circle as a compositional element, but few that used a circular arrangement of separate items

Non OCA Photo Projects

In addition to the AoP course I have been working on a few of my own photo projects, which I would like to briefly discuss as they add to my portfolio and influence my participation in the course.  My current problem is that I have so many ongoing ideas/projects I am not sure how to fit them all in.  However, I prefer this situation to a lack of inspiration.

Underwater Books

I just completed a Blurb book following my last 2 week dive trip to the Maldives.  This wasn't a great holiday, the weather was bad all through, we were forced to cancel diving for a couple of days due to the choppy sea.  The island also had a major industrial dispute limiting room service and we even missed our flight home due to a problem with the airport ATC system.  Having said that I got some good images, although far fewer than I hoped.

My goal was to create a set of photo's that really typified the marine life of the Maldives, with a strong focus on illustrating the sheer volume of fish and the dramatic colours.  My personal preference has always been macro imagery typically shooting subjects no more than 5cm long using either a 60mm or 100mm macro lens on an APS-C camera.  On this trip I forced myself out of my comfort zone and tried to image larger subjects and in particular schooling fish.  This meant using either a 10-22mm or 17-40mm zoom lens.  The former is better underwater, but you have to get awfully close to fill the frame.

I worked all of this into the following book using Blurb's 12x12 inch large format.  With 160 pages, high quality paper and postage, these cost around 100 pounds a copy, so I only create 1 at a time.

Following are a few sample images from the book, a mixture of wide angle and fish portraiture:

60mm, f/11, 1/125s, ISO 100

60mm, f/11, 1/125s, ISO 100

60mm, f/5.6, 1/125s, ISO 400

17-40mm, 17mm, f/4, 1/125, ISO 100

17-40mm, 17mm, f/4.5, 1/125s, ISO 100

17-40mm, 17mm, f/8, 1/125s, ISO 100

Having completed this book, I am now working on a retrospective collection looking back at my best images from the past 5 years and presenting them in a series of portraits - planning to give as Christmas gifts.  My tentative title is "AquaChroma".  This has been partially inspired by the colour wheel presented in Johaness Itten's treatise on colour theory.  I am going to try to walk around the colour wheel using highly coloured underwater imagry to complete a spectrum.  Much of my reading at present is about classic photography or portfolios by famous artists such as Annie Liebovitz, Richard Avedon, and Don McCullin.  What they all have in common is a preponderence of B&W imagry, I need colour in my photographic life!


For the last two weeks I have been spending about an hour every two days walking around the neighbourhood taking photos as the trees slowly change colour.  I have also risen early and headed down to the main city park to do a few landscape shots.  There is a small hill, called the Monopteros, which offers great overlooks of Munich.  I plan to pull together the best images and add them to my blog once finished, here is an early sample of a few promising shots:

I also plan to work some of these images into upcoming projects and assignment 2


My final personal project is going to be a long term one that I will work through the winter whenever the weather allows.  I recently sold some shares earned in an employee purchase scheme and used the proceeds to invest in Canons new 24mm tilt shift lens.  I have been fascinated to read about this lens and intrigued about its capabilities.  I have a good lens collection, but nothing that compared with the tilt-shift.  I am planning to build a collection of images of Munichs most impressive architecture.

I took it for a trial run this weekend.  My first impressions are of a difficult but extremely rewarding lens to use.  Each shot needs careful planning:
  1. Camera position must be careful chosen as this is a prime, so fitting the subject into the frame requires much personal movement
  2. Once the view point is good the camera must be perfectly level prior to shooting, a tripod is essentially, but also a hot shoe mounted spirit level is required
  3. Exposure has to be determined before any manipulation of the lens as the tilt/shift mechanism confuses the cameras built in exposure meter.  I have a separate meter, which helped a lot.
  4. Once all this is done, the lens can be shifted to bring the subject into view, preserving the correct perspective. 
  5. Final action is to focus the lens (no autofocus here) and fire the shutter, preferably with a cable release
I really enjoyed this, it seemed to be very reminiscent of the process of photography before the invention of auto everything cameras with megazooms and anti-shake devices.  This process also really slows me down and makes me think very carefully about each exposure, great!

Here are the initial results, I was impressed, I printed some of these as A3's and they look fine.  Some are a little soft, mostly because I was adjusting tilt and shift at the same time, playing with my new toy.  I later learned that architectural shots should be made without any tilt, just with shift.

Assignment 2: First Thoughts

Now that Assignment 1 is complete and graded I am turning my thoughts to Assignment 2 and colour. I have read ahead a little and also gained insight from Johannes Ittens book, The Elements of Color.  The brief asks for 16 images in roughly 4 groups of 4 images:

Colour harmony through complementary colours
Colour harmony through similar colours
Colour contrast through contrasting colours
Colour accent using any of the above

My first thought is once again to try and provide some structure to the assignments.  In theory I could treat this as 16 separate images and spend time looking for combinations of colour that work within the guidelines, I spend at least 8-10 hours a week camera in hand, walking through the city.  However, this seems to lack purpose and even if I planned each shot in advance and carefully composed them, I would still end up with 16 highly colourful, but individual unrelated images.  Instead my plan is to work around a number of subjects, and within each subject illustrate the 4 separate contrasts

Currently I have 4 master themes in mind and within each theme subjects that could be the basis of the assignment, ideally one subject from each theme, unless there is a major problem with one of them:

The Natural World

  • Close ups of autumn leaves
  • Autumn trees on a larger scale
  • Plants
  • Zoo Animals

  • A Church
  • A Modern Building
  • One of Munichs Museums - the BMW museum would be a good choice
  • A Shop or Shopping Arcade

Created - i.e. a still life that I put together under controlled lighting, etc.
  • Coloured Glass
  • Cut Flowers - Macro close ups
  • Herbs and Spices
  • Food in General - Fruit&Vegetables

Found Situations
  • Market Stalls - Fruit, Veg, meat, ...
  • The Christmas markets - very colorful, open just the end of November
  • Garbage/Detritus of life - discarded paper, packaging
  • Shop arrangements - especially heading into Christmas
  • Christmas - maybe focusing on the gaudy end of things

My plan would be to create 4 images with each of the colour combinations for each subject.

The first one I have been working on for some time are Autumn leaves and I use this as an example.  From a colour point of view I have a limited palette, but a one rich in tone:

Leaves: Orange, Red, Yellow, Green, Yellow Green
Tree: Brown, Black, Moss Green
Sky: Blue, White

I have been experimenting with shooting vertically upwards into the trees trying to image the colour formed by the light passing through the leaves and framed against either the blue sky or other similarly coloured leaves.  This intensifies the colours and creates stunning images.  The fact that the light is transmitted also balances the contrast against the blue sky and avoids washing out the sky, reflected light can be much stronger and leads to a less strong image.  The following image illustrates colour harmony through complimentary colours, in this case orange and blue, although there should ideally be more blue in this image

I am also very fond of this image as it was included in a best of readers image gallery in the Guardian today, the first time any newspaper has used one of my images.

The complete 4 images would then build around this one, with e.g.

  1. colour harmony coming from lime green leaves with no sky
  2. colour contrast coming from red leaves on green or very yellow leaves on the blue sky again
  3. colour accent, perhaps a single leaf on the end of a branch against the blue sky
In this way I would have 4 images all of the same essential subject, leaves, but providing all of the colour pairs.

The reason why I am starting so quickly on this assignment is that the leaf concept is time critical, I have maybe another 2 weeks to complete the image sequence.

Assignment 1: Tutor Feedback

My tutor provided valuable feedback and very timely, for that many thanks...

Overall the assignment was well received, comments being in the good to excellent range, so I am happy to have gotten a good start to the more formal aspects of the course.

The weakest of the 9 pairs were:

Hard-Soft: The contrast was not immediately visible from the image pair, it need the commentary to explain why the images represented hard and soft.  I agree, I pushed the concept to far, and got carried away in the story rather than the imagery.  A closer crop of the bags would yield a softer image.  What I wanted to show here was how the passage of time can transform a hard unyielding object into something soft and pliable.  The back story to this made it more compelling to me.  A better selection of subject would have been to take an apple and photograph it as it slowly rotted.  I did originally think of this, but rejected it due to the time commitment and that my concept would have attracted the flies

Smooth-Rough: The weakness here was more in the execution and perhaps poor choice of subject.  The concept was good, but I struggled to find pebbles/stones that looked soft in the large and rough in detail.  I did think about using soft focus or very shallow DoF to smooth the pebbles, but felt this would have been a cheat.  The final smooth image worked OK, but the rough image was too fine a detail

Much-Little:  Here the concept was strong, timing was the limitation.  I made multiple attempts at this combination, photographing a variety of situations, however, at a certain point I needed to complete the work and call it a wrap.  This is one where I really was frustrated by the lack of subject matter.  Normally the city is full of people asking for a coin or two.  The image I used was the best of a limited selection, now that the Oktoberfest is over the city is once again full of people asking for money, grrr....

The real pity was the following image:

When I took it, my thought was YES, got the image, on the camera back it looked fine - when I got home it was blurred.  This was exactly what I wanted from Much/Little, the guy playing guitar had no socks and was really run down (the music was scary) and the man with the kids had so much.  This was what I wanted, but it was a fleeting  moment and my technique really let me down.

Otherwise my tutor was of the opinion that I do not have enough comment in the blog around my thought process and also what didn't work and why.  I am trying to work that in now, although in some of the projects the brief is very simple and it can be hard to talk around the subject.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Project 26

Triangles, easily found, not so easily framed as a simple triangles.  Roof lines provide the most obvious candidates and plenty exist close by to my house, however, I wanted to head into the city as I would need a fairly tall building to achieve the converging verticals composition.  Heading into the city centre I found the following shape in the Hofgarten, it is a conical cover for a fountain to protect it from the snow and ice in the upcoming winter.  It looks like a medieval flying saucer.  I chose to centre the shape in the frame and by hiding the edges of the lower cone focus attention on the upper cone as my triangular shape.  I also used a med-range telephoto to try and preserve the regular outline of the cone.

135mm f/2, f/2, 1/800s, ISO 400

For converging verticals I switched to my 24-105mm wide angle zoom and hunted down the tallest building in the city centre, in this case the city cathedral, one previous bishop of which now has a somewhat better job in Rome.  The extremely long windows on the side are better viewed from the interior of the cathederal, but provided a good pair of converging lines.  I would have preferred to have used a wider angle 17mm lens for this subject, but I did not have it with me at this time.  This image also suffers from barrel distortion, typical in a wide angle zoom lens, I could have corrected this in Photoshop, but chose to leave it in this image as it illustrates one of the challenges in producing such extreme angle photograhs

24-105mm f/4, 24mm, f/4, 1/125s, ISO 200

An alternative image is the following, which I took a month ago as part of another project, this one uses the wide end of a 17-40mm lens to really exaggerate the perspective:

17-40mm, 17mm, f/4, f/11, 1/60s, ISO 100

The final element of the real triangles, perspective with the point at the bottom was more of a challenge.  The easiest way to produce such an image would be to go to the top of a high building and point the camera down, reversing the effect of the two previous images.  The problem was that I don't have easy access to the top of a high building.  However, there are other ways of achieving this effect with a camera, the one I chose took advantage of my new present to myself, a 24mm tilt shift lens.  I bought this as I want to start creating quality images of Munich's many landmark buildings and want to avoid exactly the subject of this project, converging lines.  A lens that straightens lines, can be reversed and used to the exact opposite effect.  By pointing my camera up and pushing the tilt/shift as far down as possible I obtained the following reverse perspective image, fun, but not a great photo

24mm TS-E, f/11, 1/45s, ISO 100

Using the same lens, but correctly applying the shift to straighten the verticals, this is what that image should have looked like (taken from almost the same location with the same focal length):

I did have one other idea for this reverse perspective that came to me whilst standing on the station platform, just photograph my shoes, my legs become the inverted triangle

24-105mm f/4, 85mm, f/4, 1/30s, ISO 1600

Moving to the implied triangles created by still life to group photography.  For the still life component I thought I would go with a photographic theme and photograph part of my lens collection, mixing shapes and sizes to create a triangular composition.  I used a light tent and used a pair of fluorescent desk lamps for illumination, hence the long exposures.  I used a wide angle for the shots to force the perspective and selected a look down angle using my tripod.  Here are the two images:

17-40mm f/4, 33mm, f/11, 0.7s, ISO 100

17-40mm, 36mm, f/11, 2s, ISO 100

I used two different exposures more than an eV apart, the brighter image is better.  For the final image I took advantage of a visit to two great friends, who only 13 days ago brought Clara into their lives.  We have always been close, my wife even helped to deliver Clara, so this was a special moment for me, as it was the first time I had seen her. I also took their wedding photos and was present the day they met.

I have to admit that the grouping could have been better and that focus is not perfect, but it is such a happy photo, and the triangle is there even if it is rather an acute one.  We have already made arrangements to do a session with the three of them to create some formal portraits.  I have cropped this very close to emphasize the grouping and to correct for very poor framing in the first place.  When I have a better image I will post it to this blog

24-105mm f/4, 80mm, f/4, 1/60, ISO 100 - with bounce flash

Looking through the textbook several photographs utilize triangles as structural elements, these caught my attention:

75 - the girls legs form a triangle as she pulls her stockings up
91 - This may not be the intent, but whenever I look at this image by Don McCullin I am drwan from his eyes to the barrel of the gun, creating a triangle of fear and violence
96 - This image contains many different forms, but the most obvious are the tirangle formed by the models legs and the circle of her arms around her body
97 - This image by Ansel Adams has a series of repeating triangles formed by the end of the stakes that make up the picket fence

Project 25

As suggested in the text, finding rectangular objects in the city was fairly easy, windows, doors, brickwork, buildings are everywhere.  The challenge here was to find interesting compositions with sufficiently varied subject matter and then to produce images in which the outlines remained completely square.  Perspective is a clear issue, however, this could be managed by careful selection of subject matter that had a centre of gravity at or around my eye level.  Another issue came about due to my use of a zoom lens for this project, a 24-105mm f/4, even if I could get the perspective right barrel or pincushion distortion in the image became obvious.  I tried using a prime telephoto lens, but this was too restrictive from a compositional standpoint.  In the end I found that selecting a focal length around 70-80mm minimized the unwanted distortion and squared up the objects.

The first subject I chose is commonplace in Germany, a sign informing the passer by that something is forbidden.  A standard joke here is the everything is forbidden unless explicitly permitted.  I also liked the detail of the spiders web on the sign.  For those interested the sign is basically forbidding feeding the ducks in the nearby pond, universally ignored by one and all!

24-105mm f/4, 80mm, f/4, 1/125s, ISO 400

The next image is a windows in the walls of the Bavarian state court.  This image is almost entirely composed of perpendicular lines and so lining up the shot needed great care to avoid converging verticals.

24-105mm f/4, 70mm, f/4, 1/320, ISO 400

My final selection is the very present street side cigarette machine.  These are all over the city and it is only recently that mechanisms have been added to ensure that purchasers are over 16.  So many people smoke here that these machines make a good income for their owners:

24-105mm f/4, 82mm, f/4, 1/80s, ISO 200

Project 24

Moving to shapes, this project had an odd brief, photograph 2 shapes with simple outlines, seemingly very simple.  Initially I just hunted down a few very simple, circular or rectangular shapes in the two cases below formed by light coming through a window and emphasizing the window outline:

Another shape that I found was the edge of a bench in the park, a classic design object.  In the following image I tired to emphasize the shape of the cast iron frame by using a very shallow depth of field, not entirely sure that this has worked:

Finally my selection of shapes for this particular project has both a simple and complex outline. The statue outside the Max Plank institute has a simple shape - the human face, but represented in what is effectively a physical negative and positive:

Maybe not quite as simple as intended in the brief, but a beautiful use of shape and form in sculpture

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Museum Visit: Neue Pinakothek

The Neue Pianakithek is Munich's gallery dedicated to 19th century art, containing a particularly strong collection of work by the impressionists, such as Monet, Gaugain, Van Gogh, as well as painters from the England such as Turner and Gainsborough.  This period saw rapid developments in how colour and in particular light are represented in art.  These painters also worked at the same time as the early photographers, experimenting with how light influences an image was a shared motivation.

The museum has a wide range of works, many famous and influential, but also much work that appears documentary in its presentation, offering a view into times past, mush in the same way that the literalism of photography offers.  Clearly the artist has time to consider what to include and indeed how to include temporary objects within the image, however, the impression is one of a photographic representation versus a painterly one.

The following painting is by Johann Christian Reinhardt and is  view of Rome painted in 1831.  What is striking is the positioing of the horizon almost exactly half way up the frame.  This was one of a sequence of 4 paintings on each side of a room, providing almost a panorama of 19th century Rome

The next painting by Leo von Klenze from 1858, immediately attracted our attention across the room, the positioning of what is in effect a giant bullseye drew the eye into the painting, without it we would probably have passed by without pausing, great use of shape in a composition:

Painted by Ferdinand Georg Waldmueller in 1840, the following painting has a very simple framing device and composition, very similar to one of the photographs in the course book.  The framing and especially use of light seem very reminiscent of a photograph

In the last art gallery I visited, the Alte Pinakothek, the portraiture was very flattering of subjects and seemed to be an exercise in enhancing the ego of the sitter rather than representing the person as they truly are.  The next paining, but Lovis Corinth in 1900, is quite the opposite, the sitter is still a rich man (Eduard Count von Keyserling), however, the portrayal is very much of the man rather than his title.

As mentioned earlier the Neue Pinakothek has a large collection of works by the Impressionists, artists whose work is now so ubiquitous reproduced via posters, calendars, post cards,  that it loses its impact and we forget that these representations of the world were as scandalizing/dividing in the 19th century as Damien Hirst or Banksy are today.  I have selected 4 paintings from the collection that struck me for their use of colour and light:

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec 1882

Edouard Manet 1874

Paul Gauguin 1896

Vincent van Gogh 1890

One of the aspects of late 19th century art that I find most remarkable was the development of pointillism with  the realization that colour could be repesented by spots of different huses combining in the brain of the viewer to a single colour.  This also provided texture to the images and in the following quartet by Paul Signac  (1899) yields a powerful impression of sunlight dappling the landscape

My final selection from the Neue Pinakothek is the following painting by Giovanni Segantini (1890) titled "Ploughing".  This huge canvas is tremendously evocative to me, I can really feel the strain of the horses pulling the plough under direct sunlight, with the framer encouraging them, almost pulling them along:

What was really remarkable was the brush work within the painting as the following detail illustrates.  Not quite pointillism, however, the variation of colour within the textures of the grass and stubble gives the painting much of its visual appeal.

Finally as with all other galleries the internal architecture is powerful, I have already used some images from this gallery within my lines projects: