Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Artificial light: the problem - and an alternative solution

When I started this course I was delighted by the opportunities it gave me to take thoughtfully composed shots, perhaps of things I wouldn't normally take pictures of, but it made me think. I loved it. I still do. But I've tried a few times with this artificial light thing and just can't bring it to life. I seem to need so much extra equipment - lights, diffusers, large bits of card, some backdrop - and somewhere to put it - that isn't creased and doesn't create its own shadows. The problems went on, meanwhile the summer was here and I wanted to be outside taking pictures, not waiting for nightfall with the iron in hand.

So I've effectively decided to dip out of this part of the course. For the first time in my life I'm going to be radical and not follow instructions so my responses to these projects are a bit few and far between, and the assignment reflects that as well. So I'm going to set myself up to fail. According to the BBC's Big Personality Test I have high levels of conscientiousness so this makes me feel very guilty. I have therefore been compensating in my own way by using environments already illuminated by artificial light. And of course I can always come back to it later when things are less pressurised.

Inside the windmill at Bursledon in Hampshire there were a few things to rest the camera on and some natural light, but most of the light came from a tungsten bulb and a slow shutter speed. I do love that effect of blurriness you get when the subject is moving and so made things particularly difficult for myself in these dim conditions, but I did enjoy the shapes of the cogs and the texture of the wood as well as the sense of craftsmanship in this beautifully restored mill.

This brightly lit shot shows the different materials and elements used in constructing the milling parts.
F5, 0.4 sec, ISO 400 handheld
Colour and form
The unaltered white balance does give a tungsten-y yellow tinge to this image but I think this brings out the warmth of the wood and rope, complemented by the red.
F4, 1/5 sec, ISO 400 handheld
Adjusting the white balance to compensate for tungsten lighting makes a big difference.
F5.6, 0.6 sec, ISO 400, white balance - tungsten adjustment
Using the flash stopped the movement of the cog and also enables the dust and nails to be seen clearly, although admittedly in a functional rather than artistic way with shadows. The straight-on direction of the flash consistent with a landscape orientation pretty much avoids any shadows...
F5.6 1/125 ISO 400 flash
...In comparison to this version, in which the flash would have come from the left hand side, by holding the camera portrait style, creating significant shadows and thereby emphasising the shape of the individual cogs.
F5.6 1/125 ISO 400 flash
Being very keen on bracketing my exposures I was slightly startled to see this underexposed version had made it through the final cut as I might have expected it to be too dark. Instead, I think it shows a degree of interesting texture.
F5.6 0.6 sec 0.7 underexposed ISO 400
And this flash-assisted close-up shows the detail of the cog in all its glory, complete with what looks like a bit of a wallpaper wedge.
F5.6 1/125 ISO 400 flash

Monday, 30 August 2010

Fitting it all in

Over the last few weeks I've been conscious I haven't spent as much time on this as I should have, largely because of the artificial light projects blocker. But with a new learning challenge ahead, this time a professional one - I'm taking a postgraduate diploma in Internal Communications Management to help support my new self-employed career - I need to reach some closure on TAOP before becoming totally overwhelmed. I will then return to the photography, which I love, at a later stage. Two assignments being submitted together then, and I will post them here when I have worked out the technology.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Project 63: a narrative picture essay

Climbing Kilimanjaro

In 2009 I was lucky to have the opportunity to climb Kilimanjaro and documented the journey. I don't feel particularly happy with the images from a technical perspective although they evoke for me great memories and, I think, also tell a story.

Our porters were absolutely key to the success of our trek because they did practically everything for us: carried our bags, our food., our water, our shelter, and even our toilet. The weight they can carry is limited to 20kg so they'd take our bags and, say, a bag of potatoes. Here, their loads are being distributed equally and they are queuing up to have their loads weighed after putting the bags into protective bags.

Rosa was the only female porter out of the team of 20 and was on a sort of "work experience" - she usually worked in the offices. Here, she takes a well-earned break from carrying the load and the company of the guys.

With Kilimanjaro in the background we took a gradual zigzag route to give us the best chance of going to the top. Our porters took it all in their stride with their heavy loads perched on their heads. I like the sense of movement on the left hand side to show progress being made.

The route to Kilimanjaro is busy. Here you can see the constant trail of porters snaking up the mountain.
Summit night was extraordinarily tough; at 5500m altitude, an angle of what felt like 45 degrees and freezing temperatures there was little energy left for photography until the sun started to rise over Mawenzi in the distance. The porters remained at our Kibo huts base camp awaiting our return later that day.

We made it! Here, my brilliant tentmate Sandra who'd coaxed me up to the top.

The Kilimanjaro song; an important ritual that the porters entertain all climbers with at the end of the trip and before clients give them their tips.

Project 64: evidence of action

In producing an image that suggested something has happened it was necessary to visit a rather special pub in Brussels, La Fleur en Papier Doré, which used to be the meeting place for the Brussels' surrealists including René Magritte, and drink some rather special beer. Here, while the drink that has been drunk is key to the sense of activity, the background pictures on the wall are key to the location and indicative of the atmosphere in which the beer was consumed.

Examples of concepts that cannot be shown directly in images include peace and quiet and other sensory delights such as the smell of a flower (or a sewer, for that matter) and what something feels like to touch. While photographs can show the visual interpretation of those concepts they cannot communicate the effect of the senses.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Project 62: Researching an event

I am very lucky in Brighton in that there is a huge number of things going on, perhaps the most lively is the Pride event which provides vast scope for interesting photography for anyone with an enquiring mind.

Participants start arriving in Maderia Drive early on the Saturday morning where they apply make up, sort out their dresses and generally schmooze for quite some time before the parade actually gets going. They then move slowly through town with thousands of people thronging the streets before heading towards Preston Park for a great party.

The spectators tend to be as outlandishly dressed as the participants providing equally interesting photo opportunities, potentially focusing on size and shape. Colour too is important with many of the floats being carefully coordinated with the outfits.

The setting - right next to the sea - is important, along with Brighton's ever-present turquoise railings, particularly at that end of town. Also intriguing, I think, is the way that national - and international - business has embraced the value of showing local support by participating in the parade, doubtless trying for some rainbow-friendly points among local audiences.

Unfortunately I was unable to attend this year but the BBC provides the sort of photo essay I aspire to - see their gallery here.

In addition I would have liked to have included more of the context - the sea, the spectators, the railings; one or two close-ups of either participants or onlookers; evidence of the party in full swing and an interesting juxtaposition of, perhaps, something unexpected - child and drag queen or "national treasure" type organisation being promoted, apparently, by unconventional characters.

Narrative and illustration

What a relief it will be not to see those damp images every time I launch the internet and my homepage blog.

Life has been busy: left old job, started new business and contract, living away from home during the week and fitting in a new man as well. It has all taken some readjustment.

While I've taken plenty of images en route I've also got stuck in the artificial light projects, which has caused a major blockage in the system. Then I decided to stop giving myself a hard time - I'm doing this for fun, after all, not assessment - and thought I'd just move on and do what does interest me.

Above, two photos. the first, in which the subject is all important - a participant in Brighton's naked bike ride - and one in which the image is critical: interesting shapes, colours and reflections. Where it is doesn't really matter, but for the record it's inside the old lighthouse in Dungeness.