Sunday, December 13, 2009

Assignment 2: Formal Submission

Assignment 2: colour


Prior to starting this course, much of my photography was focused on colour, in particular the intense hues of the tropical coral reef coupled with the fish and invertebrates living there.  After reading the course notes and Johannes Itten’s “The Elements of Colour”, I began to understand why certain colour combinations were so striking and others so calming.  Looking back on older photo’s I find I have many examples with strong Yellow/Blue contrast, schooling fish frequently combine this colour, perhaps the striking Yellow on Blue confuses predators.   Alternatively, in Scuba magazines the colour combination Orange on Blue is very frequent; the dominant colour of the smaller fish living along the reef edge is orange and when explosions of these small fish are superimposed on the azure of the ocean colour harmony through complementary colours is the result. I have noticed that many of my favourite underwater images (both my own and those of professional photographers), contain the contrasts and harmonies that form the subject for this assignment.

However, not having the benefit of a neighbourhood coral reef and possessing no interest in taking my camera underwater in a Bavarian lake in mid-winter, I needed to formulate material for this assignment.  In Assignment 1 I strove to create a sense of commonality in the paired images by using the exact same subject in each case, but varying the exposure and focal length to develop contrast.  

I have approached this assignment with a similar thought process, building from Assignment 1. The goal of the assignment is the production of 16 images illustrating 4 different colour relationships. To add some structure to the images, but also to the creation process, I resolved to develop a number of themes and within each theme produce 4 images each of which would illustrate one of the colour relationships.  This helped me to limit the scope of subject matter and focus not only on colour, but also illustration. My goal was to produce 4 images that would stand together and should be seen as a whole not simply as individual images.  As a result I have packaged the images in pairs as required, but have also produced prints with all four images together.
I worked on this assignment over a period of around 8 weeks, developing a number of different themes to different degrees of completeness, gradually homing in on the 4 themes that I present in this submission.  

The themes were:
Church – details from Munich’s churches
Chemistry – artificial compositions using chemical lights
Glass – still life compositions using coloured glass
Autumn – the changing colours of the autumn foliage
Market – fruit and vegetables in Munich’s open air market
Flowers – cut flowers in a studio setting
Stained Glass – church and museum stained glass windows
Graffiti – plenty in and around Munich

Berries – as the trees lost their leaves, a huge variety of coloured berries were exposed

I have documented the thought processes and development of each of these themes on my blog ( and so in this document will only discuss the themes that I am submitting for the assignment.  Rejection was based upon many criteria, in the case of the Flowers, it was simply too similar to what I have done in the past and not challenging enough, alternately in the case of Graffiti and Berries, I was running out of time and needed to stop at some point.  The hardest one to reject was Market, as I spent many hours photographing the market stalls and obtained some good material frequently in tough lighting conditions.  However, I had to resolve down to 4 themes and this was simply the least interesting to my eye – a purely subjective decision.

1. Autumn

I decided to produce images based on this theme very early in my work on the colour projects. Over a period of around 4 weeks the trees in my neighborhood went from the Green of Summer through to the bareness of Winter, as I write today they are laden with snow.  My desire was to illustrate the gradual change in colour and to build a natural spectrum from the colours of the leaves (this formed the content for Project 31) as well as to develop material for this assignment.

The palette available to me contained many shades of green, leading into strong yellows and oranges, with red and purple present in some of the darker foliage.  Together they provide many options, but when combined with a deep blue sky, the possibilities are almost endless.  The hardest part of this exercise was to select 4 images from the 100’s that I took.  Almost every day I would find time to go out and look into the trees and observe the colour change, taking images as I went.  For the first time in my life I really looked at the changing foliage and experienced the process of Autumn.  Prior to this the change was just a pretty backdrop to that time of the year.
Whilst I spent quite some time getting up early and heading through the city parks in the twilight with my wide angle lens and a tripod, all of the images produced for this theme were taken using a long telephoto at or around mid-day in strong sunlight. The rationale was that I wanted to image the light transmitted through the leaves, not the light reflected from the leaves.  I pointed my camera vertically upwards directly into the Sun, but with the leaf canopy between the Sun and the lens.  This added a 3 dimensionality to the images and brought out some of the detail within the structure of the leaves. 

In selecting 4 images for submission, the biggest challenge was in selecting between soft versus vibrant colour contrasts and ensuring that the images worked together.  The 4 that I have selected are designed to illustrate the change in colour over time, with a range of different vibrancies in the colour. The first pair have Yellow as a common colour, whilst on the second pair the blue sky is the connection.

 colour harmony through similar colours – Yellow : Green
This image shows foliage just in the process of changing from Green towards Yellow.  I particularly liked the way the branches of leaves overlapped one another producing a degree of pattern based symmetry in the image, accentuated by selection of a diagonal framing.  As this tree had very dense foliage I needed to increase the ISO of exposure to enable a fast enough shutter speed to hand hold the lens at 400mm.
Exposure: Canon EOS 5D2, EF 100-400, 400mm, f/5.6, 1/180s, ISO 400

colour contrast through contrasting colours – Red : Yellow
I found two trees adjacent to one another, one with very large almost canary yellow leaves, the other with delicate finely structured red leaves.  By positioning the camera so that the Red leaves provided the foreground and with the Yellow leaves backlit by direct Sun forming the background, I was able to maximize the contrast in the image.  From the perspective of the assignment I would like to have lightened the Yellow and darkened the red to push the contrast further, however, I find this the most visually satisfying of the 4 images in this theme.
Exposure: Canon EOS 5D2, EF 100-400, 275mm, f/5.6, 1/125s, ISO 400

colour harmony through complementary colours – Orange : Blue
This image moves Autumn on a week or so, with the rust orange colours starting to dominate and forming a dramatic colour combination with the blue of the sky.  From a colour theory perspective there should be more blue in this image, however, I found that around 10-20% Blue worked best, too little and the contrast was gone, too much and the image lost its harmony.  For this picture I used a shorter focal length of 200mm to get more of the leaves into the frame and also to enable a very shallow depth of field with a wide aperture of f/2.8.  This enabled me to provide detail the central branch, but throw the background into a soft blurry Orange and Blue.
Exposure: Canon EOS 5D2, EF 70-200, 200mm, f/2.8, 1/1000s, ISO 100

colour accent – Yellow : Blue
My final image within this theme took the longest to create and was the most difficult to complete.  I wanted to evoke the end of Autumn, as a few leaves hang onto a barren tree.  From a composition standpoint I also experimented with many more branches and a scatter of leaves, however, this lost the leaf structure and yielded very uniform uninteresting compositions. My approach to lighting also had to change, I could no longer use the Sun for backlighting Sun as I would get a silhouette and no colour contrast at all.  For this image I waited until the Sun was low and illuminating the leaves obliquely, yielding colour in both the leaves and the background sky.  Sadly there was some wispy cloud and the background does not have the uniform blue that would have further driven the contrast.
Exposure: Canon EOS 5D2, EF 100-400, 400mm, f/5.6, 1/2000s, ISO 400

2. Church

Having shot my first theme outdoors I now headed indoors to illustrate detail within churches.  I explored several churches and ideas.  Initially I was creating broader images, both inside and outside the Church, e.g. contrasting the strong colour of the red tiled roofs against the blue sky, or the gold leaf statuary against painted masonry.  As I continued I progressively focused on the details that make up the church, the mundane rather than the magnificent.  I also decided to apply some of the compositional techniques learned earlier in the course, diagonals, horizontals, pattern, and rhythm. 

The hardest aspect in working on this theme was the sense of intrusion in a sacred place as Munich’s churches are always occupied with people praying or simply finding a quiet place for reflection away from the bedlam of the busy streets.  I was shocked at how loud the shutter mechanism on a modern SLR could be.  I also refrained from using flash or a tripod in these pictures, all are hand held using available light. 

Finally, more than in any other of my quartets these images are designed to be viewed together as a group of 4.

colour contrast through contrasting colours – Red : Blue
This image is a detail from a stained glass window high in Munich’s cathedral. The repetitive pattern and blue-red contrast drive the composition.  I had to use a 300mm telephoto to frame the window tightly enough and ISO 1600 to obtain even a 1/10s shutter speed.  Image stabilization and a very deep breath did the rest.  Stained glass is also quite rare in Munich as much was destroyed by bombing raids and so whilst this is an essential element of a church it is also a very precious thing.
Exposure: Canon EOS 5D2, EF 300 f/4, 300mm, f/4, 1/10s, ISO 1600

colour harmony through complementary colours – Orange : Blue
Every religious organization produces pamphlets to extol their virtues or provide guidance to the congregation; the German Catholic Church is no different.  This one explains the process of marriage.  The diagonal framing and repeated Orange-Blue contrast led me to add this to my series of church details. The shallow depth of field also adds some structure to the image, emphasizing the rings at the centre of the picture.  Individually this is not a strong image, but it is an essential element of the mission of the church and combines well with the other images.
Exposure: Canon EOS 5D2, EF 200 f/2.8, 200mm, f/2.8, 1/125s, ISO 800

colour harmony through similar colours – Yellow : Orange
At the entrance and within the side chapels of every Catholic Church in Munich will be found a rack containing votive candles together with a small box to make a donation in exchange for lighting a candle in the memory of a departed loved one.  Frequently the candles are small plastic containers containing a tea light and when placed together they form a repeated pattern glowing from within.  Other than the usual challenge of shooting in extremely low light the decision point here was where to place the point of focus and how much depth of field to use.  The low light more or less mandated a shallow depth of field and after a number of different images, placing the focus at the mid-point of the image worked best.  Placing the focal point far forward or backward blurred the remaining candles too much, reducing the sense of pattern repetition.
Exposure: Canon EOS 5D2, EF 100 f/2.8 Macro, 100mm, f/2.8, 1/1000s, ISO 800

colour accent – Yellow : Red
My final image illustrates the rich colours of the alter carpeting and the brass bars holding it in place.  All around the alters in the Churches I visited there was a wealth of red velvet and gold detailing.  In this image I have concentrated on the smallest detail and produced an image with strong horizontal lines.  This is another image that only really works in combination with the other in this quartet.
Exposure: Canon EOS 5D2, EF 200 f/2.8, 200mm, f/2.8, 1/125s, ISO 1600

3. Glass

As in Assignment 1 I also determined to split the work in this assignment between found situations and studio set-ups.  I also wanted to explore different lighting situations, particularly transmitted light rather than reflected.  In Autumn I have worked with Sunlight shining through leaves, for Glass I have gathered a variety of different coloured glass objects and then shone artificial light directly through them.

These images were taken on my work bench using a black sheet of felt as a background and LED lights on flexible arms purchased from IKEA to provide the illumination.  Exposures were long and so the camera was mounted on a tripod head with a macro rail to allow maximum control over framing. My blog has more technical details.

In each of the following images I have very tightly cropped the frame to emphasize the colour contrast, eliminating as much as possible the black background – my goal was to create almost abstract colour combinations with the colour of the light rather than the shape of the objects driving the composition.

colour contrast through contrasting colours – Red : Blue
For this image I used a tall Blue bottle and a squat Red bottle. I tried a number of different framings and found that filling the frame with the subject yielded the strongest colour contrast.  In this case I divided the frame between the red and blue glass using the S-curve of the red bottle as the dividing line.  Focus was placed on the blue bottle as it had some surface detail that I wanted to use to break up the flatness of the image.  I used two lights positioned behind and beneath each bottle shining upwards to saturate the colour.  With a single light either the blue or red would be nearly black.
Exposure: Canon EOS 5D2, EF 100 f/2.8 Macro, 100mm, f/8, 0.5s, ISO 400

colour harmony through complementary colours – Green : Red
In this image I used two green vases and placed a red tea light holder a little distance in front.  In this case I used a single light to illuminate the green vases and the red glass.  I have tried to reduce the brightness of the red glass and highlight the green.  Compositionally I have placed a hard line dividing the two vases on the left with a very diffuse blurred diagonal separating the red from the green.
Exposure: Canon EOS 5D2, EF 100 f/2.8 Macro, 100mm, f/4, 1/15s, ISO 400

colour harmony through similar colours – Yellow : Orange
This was a more structured composition than the others in this quartet, using a group of 6 tea light holders in red, orange and yellow, illuminated by candle light.  Initially I placed candles in almost all of the holders gradually removing them and varying the composition of the shot.  In the end I used a highly regular triangular grouping with a single light source in the centre.  I had two reasons, firstly the random scatter with multiple light sources was almost identical to the candle photo in the Church theme; secondly the symmetrical framing emphasized the repetition of the circular shapes.  I selected a very narrow aperture to ensure front to back sharpness.
Exposure: Canon EOS 5D2, EF 100 f/2.8 Macro, 100mm, f/22, 8s, ISO 800

colour accent – Yellow : Green
I also gathered a large number of coloured glass spheres and marbles of varying sizes, colours and shapes.  The big challenge in photographing them was ensuring that they stayed where I wanted them to and getting enough light into the large glass spheres.  The solution was to place the spheres on the semi-transparent lid of a Tupperware box and light them from directly below.  In the composition I used two large green spheres to anchor each side of the frame and filled the gap with smaller green spheres.  I then added two yellow spheres to act as the colour accent.  A little experimentation with depth of field and framing yielded this result.
Exposure: Canon EOS 5D2, EF 100 f/2.8 Macro, 100mm, f/8, 20s, ISO 200

4. Chemistry

My final theme is the most experimental and the one I had to think about the most!  On Halloween, my wife Heidi bought a pack of chemical lights from a local store – it contained about 100 differently coloured plastic sticks each around 20 cm long and 5mm in diameter.  By twisting them the chemicals inside mixed together and after around 10 minutes they glowed in a variety of different colours.  The local kids loved them enough that serious disputes broke out if one was deemed to have more than his or her fair share.  The day after I headed back to the store and bought another pack, the possibilities of photographing a subject that generated its own highly colourful light was too good to miss.  My concern was that the compositions could be either too simple or too contrived – in any case I decided to give it a go and see what the outcome was.

As far as I could tell the colours available were Blue, Violet, Magenta, Red, Yellow and Green - so all the primary colours and two of the secondary, plus Magenta, enough to create the contrasts I needed.  My set up was similar to the Glass work, simply a black felt surface and background with my camera mounted on a tripod with a macro head and macro rail attached.  The main difference was the need to use a wide angle zoom for some shots and the requirement for near complete darkness for the shots as the luminosity of the sticks was very low compared to other light sources.  I tethered the camera to my computer and used an LCD screen to compose the shots.

I immediately ran into a major problem - with all colours present the camera did a good job on white balance, but, with only 1 or 2 colours against a jet black background the camera was lost.  None of the presets worked and the question formed; how to set a manual white balance?  Grey card was not going to work, I tried to use a bundle of sticks to illuminate a card, but the light level was far too low. Even with a large number of sticks the exposures were from 1s-30s.  In the end I laid out a large number of sticks with equal content from each colour randomly arranged and photographed this.  Using this as a shot for white balance was a great help, however, even after this, many of the shots needed manual modifications in Lightroom.  I tried to be faithful to what I saw when shooting, but some subjectivity is inevitably included.  Exposure was also more or less experimental, I would start with the cameras suggested shutter speed for my desired aperture, but then switch the camera to manual and start varying the shutter speed until I got the degree of contrast between the lights and the black background that I wanted.  More details are in my blog.

In the images in this theme I have tried to vary the composition, framing and colour content to create 4 very different but complementary images.

colour contrast through contrasting colours – Red : Blue
I initially started by laying the lights onto the felt backcloth with a variety of different patterns, working through, random piles, cross hatching, curves, until I arrived at this composition.  I arranged red, magenta and blue lights in a fan pattern with the point furthest from the camera.  I then positioned the camera to the front and just a little higher than the plane of the felt background. A wide aperture of f/4 forced the converging ends of the light sticks into a soft blur whilst retaining structural detail at the bottom of the frame.  This is my personal favourite in this sequence, but also the one image I wish I could improve.  To start with the red blue contrast has been weakened by the inclusion of magenta and more blue would have balanced the composition better, the red lights being much brighter than the blue.  Unfortunately I could not return and rework this the next day when I started editing the images, the glow in the sticks was too diminished by then.
Exposure: Canon EOS 5D2, EF 100 f/2.8 Macro, 100mm, f/4, 8s, ISO 100

colour harmony through complementary colours – Green : Red
In this image and in the colour accent image I bundled the lights by using a rubber band to hold the sticks together.  Sliding the band up and down the stack changed the degree to which they splayed at the end, in this case the band is very close to the front of the bundle.  I then mounted the bundle of light sticks in a small clamp on a flexible arm attached to my work bench.  This enabled me to move both the camera and the subject to achieve a very close up composition.
Exposure: Canon EOS 5D2, EF 100 f/2.8 Macro, 100mm, f/5.6, 4s, ISO 100

colour harmony through similar colours – Purple : Red
For this image I needed Heidi’s assistance.  She had been playing with the sticks and thought that a helix would make an interesting arrangement, however, there was no way to hold the sticks in this shape with sufficient force other than to use her hands.  The light caste by the sticks on her hands and the light passing through the fingers produced a very interesting effect, it almost looks as if she is holding a red hot rod of steel.  As there are physical limits to how still she could hold her hands I bumped up the ISO and went for a relatively short shutter speed of 1s. 
Exposure: Canon EOS 5D2, EF 24-105 f/4, 105mm, f/5.6, 1s, ISO 800

colour accent – Red : Blue
Finally I once again bundled a group of sticks with a band and held them in place using a clamp.  In this case I placed a single red stick within a cluster of blue sticks and tried to create a composition in which the blue lights seemed to recede into the background blackness of the image. 
Exposure: Canon EOS 5D2, EF 100 f/2.8 Macro, 100mm, f/5.6, 3s, ISO 100

1 comment:

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