Sunday, 19 July 2009

Project 14 - vertical and horizontal frames

Whether to frame the subject in a horizontal or vertical frame was the subject of this project, on the assumption that you normally just use the camera horizontally. I think I do choose the vertical quite frequently but it was interesting to see the different choices and adjustments needed to make an image using the non-intuitive alignment. Here I am, still in Dungeness.

No visit there would be complete without an image of the power station, which dominates the landscape. I took this in howling wind from the top of the old lighthouse and was very grateful for the rusty barrier, my sense of vertigo having made itself felt despite my enthusiasm for the photographic potential.

This image started as a vertical, but the bottom half was mostly taken up by the unattractive railings which didn't really add to the image - but the hint of it was useful to provide the context. However, the vertical format meant I had to make widthways choices - and I wanted to show the pylons snaking out taking the electricity into the wide world, which meant the left hand side of the plant is chopped off, not particularly successfully.

The horizontal format however enabled the whole of the plant to be shown in this wide angle view, showing its size and context. The subject means that neither are attractive images although as a point of interest, really saturating the green could bring a very "nuclear" appearance to the whole place - for the purposes of this exercise I restrained myself, however.

This bitumen-covered hut does I think really suit the vertical format because you get a better sense of all the ropes spewing out of it with the additional foreground possible.

But the horizontal version gets the nearby shed in as well, giving a greater sense of perspective even though I did manage to chop the top of the roof off making the image rather cramped.

In retrospect I should have taken the vertical shot of this beached boat with its back end next to the frame so that it gave an impression of the distance it was looking out at. Again, I quite like the foreground this positioning gives however, and the way in which it's in the midst of the shingle rather than near the sea.

In the horizontal frame and with a wide angle the compression of the clouds give a sense of the space so characteristic of Dungeness and the position of the boat within the frame is better. I do think horizontal works better here.

I was particularly pleased with the bright colours of the plastic boxes here, the ladder in the foreground giving a different sort of interest, as well as the blue boat on the horizon line. In the vertical frame the ladder takes on more prominence which I like, although at the expense of some of the additional clutter. In all, a simpler shot and overall I think I prefer this one.

There's less of a sense of visual direction with the horizontal shot, there are almost too many things going on and to look at. Maybe if I had crouched down and gone for the ladder closer up it would have been more successful.

The lighthouse is an obvious contender for a vertical shot, but by standing some way back from it and placing it in the landscape (as well as some careful work with the golden mean plug-in and fairly severe cropping) it works well, and provides a great sense of location and sense of space.

Vertical on the other hand seems a little predictable... if a standard image of a lighthouse was required then fine, but the great thing about Dungeness is its openness.

The boardwalk provides two very similar shots and I'm not sure which works best, perhaps because it's so simple and I've cropped them both in a similar way. Both position the viewer right in the middle of it with a sense of being able to walk along it for some distance. Perhaps the vertical version gives a greater sense of going up hill and length?

I also took this pair of images just outside of High Wycombe on an evening walk, and particularly like the light and colours. For me, the vertical framing is the least intuitive here and doesn't work with the lines of the hills, and the smidgen of sky is hardly worth bothering with especially as the brightness doesn't enhance it, perhaps cropping it out is the answer, but even with that I think the horizontal works better, particularly following the diagonal line across the frame and giving a sense of direction.

Overall, this exercise has shown me that I should take both horizontal and vertical frames of most images and then have the luxury of choosing which works best later. It will also make me think more closely about where I stand and the position of the subject of the subject within the frame, depending on what I want to emphasise.

Project 13 - the Golden Section

So, the Golden Section, something to do with maths and proportions - and the more I looked into it on the web the more confusing it became. I can manage the rule of thirds but trying to get my head around the ratio of the smaller part to the larger part being the same as the larger part to the whole made my head want to explode when trying to put it into practice.

And the prospect of trying to find some acetate to put over the computer screen equally wasn't really going to work. I needed a better system... and found it at They have quite a few things on there which might or might not appeal, and which might or might not match whatever editing software you're using. Worth a look, anyway. Basically, you load it up (even delving into hidden files on my computer which again is a leap into the unknown) as part of Elements, open an image and apply either the golden mean or the rule of thirds, and a grid appears... as in the screenshots below. You might have to click on the pictures to be able to see this properly, unless you're working on a huge screen. There is a version of the plug-in which shows you which bits you should crop to make it fit the golden ratio - maybe something for later.

Anyway, the windmill pic... looks as if I could have done with a few more daisies at the bottom to get the proportion of this right, and I'd thought that at the time, in fact - unfortunately there weren't any more!

I'm pleased in this image to see the line of buildings is precisely along that middle section, and the detail of the railing almost entirely within "the larger section" of the image.

Not so sure about this one, there's not enough to distinguish the larger and smaller parts and probably some more sky would have enabled the image to "breathe" a little more and fitted nicely into a "larger part".

This hellebore is reasonably satisfying from a golden mean point of view, with the in-focus flower head more or less remaining within the "larger part" and the out-of-focus elements remaining around the edges.

This hilltop view also works well in that the trees on the top comprise the "smaller part" and the grass in the front the larger. There is also a golden spiral, I think, and I wonder whether the pathway would correspond to those rules.

Overall, I'm pleased to see that the images that I was instinctively pleased with in terms of the composition e.g. the hill and the seaside scene seem to some extent at least to conform to the golden section, which identifies as a useful tool to use.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Project 12 - placing the horizon

This project is all about identifying where the best place is to put the horizon and I've included some images of the Romney Marsh windfarm which made an interesting subject - although I was frustrated not to be able to get as close to it as I would have liked.

For me, the placement of the horizon depends on what else is interesting in the scene. So today the sky wasn't very interesting, just being blue with a few clouds hanging around the horizon so I wouldn't have made that a feature, but be more inclined to go with the tight views below. I've cropped the second one down to create the top and give it a more extreme appearance, but I do prefer that one best. The only difficulty is that the foreground isn't particularly exciting either. If the sky had been more lively I may well have gone with a focus on the big skies and a nice wide angle to compress the action together.

The two middle images just seem a little banal - a record of what is happening, nothing more, with no sense of interpreting the landscape or telling the viewer where to look.

Project 9 - different focal lengths

I've been thinking all week about my planned trip to Dungeness and the photographic opportunities it would provide, and was pleased that this morning at least was bright, but incredibly windy. I suspect that there is as much fishing debris on the beach as this most of the time but with the wind things were perhaps a little untidier. But it is a strange place, somehow feels that it operates under its own special laws.

Anyway, the first task was - I hope - the final one around camera familiarisation, identifying the difference between the images created using different focal lengths.
This first was taken at 70mm, the longest length on the kit zoom lens. It's good in that it's compact and that I can usually take camera-shake free images, although today's wind didn't help with this.
The next at 50mm, pretty close to standard "human" view. OK, but a bit ordinary - nothing "artistic" about this.
This is getting a bit more like it - 26mm with quite a bit of additional foreground.
And this is my favourite; I love the way the wide angle - here 18mm - compresses everything, giving a somehow more intense experience in the same space.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Project 10 - focal lengths and different viewpoints

Today was a very productive day in terms of doing some of these fairly basic projects around "getting to know the camera". While I have pretty much whipped through them I have learned things as I've gone along, and none more so than in this exercise.
Very straightforward: take one pic of something like a building, standing some way back with the longest focal length available so that it fills the frame.
Like so:

Then, with the lens set to the widest angle it can be, move closer to the building until it fills the frame again and take another picture. Like so:
I couldn't get any closer because I'd have got run over by the speeding traffic but this makes the point amazingly - what a massive amount of vertical distortion! Top tip is I guess stand as far back as possible to take pictures of this sort. Although, having said that, there is that lovely Remove Vertical Distortion tool in Elements which can help sort some of this stuff out, except that you do lose the edges - not always desirable.

Project 8 - recording a sequence

This project was about recording the moments before taking the killer shot - how to get to that moment - and also called for "a situation which involves people, ideally out in the street such as a parade or market".

Fortuitously there was a "French market" on today providing plenty of opportunities for the sort of photography this called for. Unfortunately however I'm not that interested in taking pictures of people - certainly out on the street they don't provide the shapes and colours that I enjoy so much and they also tend to be resentful of cameras being pointed in their direction.

Indeed, during the course of this afternoon one of the stallholders suggested in not particularly polite terms that it was £5 to take his pic... and he wasn't even good looking!

Anyway, I dutifully went about the task and include a couple of sequences here, final pictures first.

Sequence One: Thai Noodles

End result, cropped. I did try cutting off the chap on the end to have the three women, which would have been a more satisfying number, but he does somehow add something to the pic - perhaps just some colour or maybe some energy?

Sequence Two: Sausages
The thing that really annoys me about this pic is the thing that's dangling down from the umbrella, obscuring the stall-holder's face. I do like the crinkle of the umbrella though and the different textures of the sausages - but then we're back to colours and shapes.

Project 7 - objects in different positions in the frame

This project is about where to place the subject in the frame, and this first was the "baseline" pic - putting the subject bang in the middle with little thought for the ugly buildings or other activity going on on the beach. This next isn't much different but I did compose the shot to lose the buildings. I don't really like this partly because of the distracting person in the background but also because the mast pretty much cuts the image in half.
This is my favourite by a long way - no people, just different shapes and colours. On straightening the horizon I did unfortunately lose some of the top of the mast which crowds the boat more than I would have liked - but I think better that than tipping off the edge of the world!

Project 6 - fitting the frame to the subject

This project shows some of the different ways of locating the subject in the frame, both while composing the image and by cropping afterwards.

This was my first image which was the baseline - not very imaginative, with the shelter right in the middle of the frame, the image halved by the central horizon.

In the next image I positioned the shelter at the bottom of the frame. This was largely because the sky provided a plain context rather than the flats and other unattractive buildings which would have been included if I'd gone horizontal.

A more interesting sky would probably have livened this up a little but I'm most concerned about the couple in the background - that red top stands out too much for my liking. Post production was a little cropping to ensure the shelter was in the bottom third of the pic, and I also took some off the right hand side so that the subject was off to the side a little.

I can see now that I probably should have straightened it as well as the sea looks slightly tilted.

This is my favourite of all the images. I'm so pleased with the colours that I didn't alter in any way at all - the complementary blue and yellow work really well here and I love simple shots which focus in on details that you wouldn't usually notice. I wish that I had used a smaller aperture however, to ensure that all the spheres were in focus rather than just the central one.

I do quite like this as well, again because of the simplicity of the colours and the interesting structure, and the lines that the roof makes. In fact, I'd be quite happy to try a version which chops off everything from sea level down and just make this an image of the top half.
The shape of the shelter meant that it didn't completely fill the frame horizontally, so post-production I cut off excess from both sides. Somehow the bottom half feels more crowded to me than the top half - possibly that is because I appear to have got in a little too close and lost some low down detail.

Project 5 - panning with different shutter speeds

A quick post, this, to comment that "swing the camera so that the moving subject stays in the middle of the frame. This comes naturally as a technique to most people" is nowhere near as easy as it sounds. The results I had from this exercise were simply appalling as the subject certainly didn't remain still (doubtless because I was moving the camera around), and again at the slower shutter speeds the whole image was completely burnt out. I include just this one image taken with a 1/6 sec shutter to show that I did at least try!