Friday, 31 December 2010

Assignment 5: Review of Feedback–Hotel Anywhere

As with previous feedback reviews the original submission can be found here on Scribd. The overall aim of this project has been to bring together all the learning from the course into a single personal project that is carried out over an extended period of time. I have chosen a series of detail shots from the many hotel rooms I visit during the year. They are executed in black and white for reasons explained in the notes above. The notes also explain the background to this choice of project.
First up then is this picture of a toilet roll holder - the one on the left is my original. My tutor felt that the picture would be improved if the surface of the paper were also in focus – fortunately I had a version with focus on that area (but limited focus on the holder) – so I combined the two to give the version on the right. I agree with his analysis and will be going with the reworked version. Kicking myself a little here – this is the sort of fine detail I need to keep more focussed on.
My second image was this one. Peter didn’t find it as interesting as the above, but acknowledged that it added to the set when taken as a whole.

Third up was this one which I particularly like for the contrast in textures. My tutors suggestion was “To improve, trim a very small bit off the top so that you get rid of the top of the towel. This would also lift the rail slightly to bring it more on to the upper “third”.” My original version on the left as before. For the middle shot I followed Peter’s suggestion (almost – I retained the top of the towel) and for the rightmost shot I tried a crop to bring the composition into a classical ‘rule of thirds ‘ form, while removing the top of the towel. I feel this last treatment spoils the photo, with insufficient metal to balance the white of the towel. Overall I prefer the middle version and will go with that. It removes the slightly distracting  grey line along the top of my original, but still leaves the fluffy edge of the towel defined.
Hotel anywhere (3 of 12).jpg    
For the next two shots the comments were complimentary, although he felt I could perhaps have showed more of the Gideon’s Bible to provide more clue as to what it was. I’m not persuaded by this argument, as I think that making it too obviously a Gideon’s Bible would reduce its ambiguity. The Bible is quite a potent symbol, and I feel that if the shot were obviously a bible it might affect the balance of the set. In fact the comment has made me consider if it is appropriate to name the photos at all. On balance I believe it is because then a viewer has the opportunity to confirm what the object is if they really want to.
The next shot (the spyhole) was described as “for me one of the best shots in the assignment. Brilliant.” while he was comparatively unmoved by the pillow-case. Interestingly one of the comments I received on Flickr felt the pillow-case suggested a story. Perhaps one of the strengths of a series of semi-abstracts is that people can add their own meaning . This is emphasised by the final shot below – which Peter felt was more interesting because the ‘T’ of the hot tap was visible, while the person who liked the pillowcase shot felt the tap was more like an exercise in composition.
For Coat hangers (below) Peter felt I could have zoomed a little wider, or perhaps moved back slightly to incorporate more of the left hand hanger. It’s a legitimate comment but I am unsure – I have looked at other examples that I took and remain comfortable with this version largely, I think, because I would not want to significantly increase the gap between the left hand metal hanger and the edge of the photo.

Similarly in this photo below Peter feels a tighter or wider crop would have been better, rather than having the dryer cut by the frame, which he feels gives an untidy composition. Again this is a perfectly fair comment. However I have checked my files and I have three other versions of this shot – all with the hairdryer centred and slightly cropped top and bottom, which I remember thinking were unsatisfactory at the time of shooting. From my memory of the setting, I doubt a wider crop would have looked better – and while I have the option to crop smaller I think that this version has a nice balance.

As with the second image above, Peter felt that there was little of interest for the viewer in this shot of radiator fins, but that it would contribute to the overall set. For me, it is the symmetry and the dust (not visible at this scale) that makes this interesting.

Peter described my final example as ”an excellent attempt in trying to create something from nothing.” which is a nice finale, as that was part of the original intent of the set.

Overall I was very pleased with this project. There are no ‘stand-out’ pictures in the set but they work together well – I have received positive comments on the set (see Flickr here) from a number of places. In the process of putting the shots together I have made use of much of the material in the course and as I have progressed the final edit they have come together to produce a set with real meaning for me.
I’ll finish with a quote from my tutor: ”This time you have chosen an unusual subject, but you have handled it very well as usual and what appears to be mundane you have made interesting images from.”

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

DPP1: Exercise 25: A web gallery

I have had a website for a couple of years at so this exercise is mildly artificial. I’ve checked with my tutor and, having looked at the site, he does not feel that I need to produce another gallery. Even so, I thought it was worth running through the key points of the exercise against my existing site.
First up is image size. The maximum size permitted is 800 pixels on the longest edge, but I chose not to go that large to reduce the likelihood of image theft. I would probably have to concede now that this is something of a conceit, but the site works well with the existing sizing so I shall be continuing with this size.
Why do I have a website? Largely it is to show off my skills as a photographer – I admit to a certain satisfaction if I see a pulse in visitors to the site when I change the content. Recently I have linked it to my personal blog so that they support each other. The blog is for my photo-a-day project while the website provides a more permanent home for my strongest images.
Quality of images – one area I need to strengthen is putting in a proper review process so that I ensure that the site displays the quality I would hope to be recognised for.
Layout. As the site is a template site the worst design excesses – flashing buttons, multiple fonts etc are difficult to implement even if I were so inclined. The navigation menus are inherently simple and the gallery designs are tried and tested. Some significant customisation is possible, but other than changing background/font colours to match my blog I have tended to stick with simplicity. I’m not sure this would continue to be adequate if I were a full time professional as, in those circumstances, I believe the design of the website would need to be more personalised. For example, Marc Rogoff’s website is as striking as his images, while Wolfgang Tillmans’ is apparently ‘undesigned’ – which seems highly unlikely - and results in the images being the only object of interest on the screen once you scroll past the navigation menu.
Another good example of design to suit the photographer is Julia Boggio Photography where the quirky intro page is a perfect fit for her style of photography and shows a very clear understanding of who her customers are.
Searchability is another area I need to improve – the photos on the site have a limited number of keywords – most have none beyond the heading.
A final issue, and one not included in the notes is integration with social media. My website itself does not have any obvious integration tools but my personal blog in particular has a number of share buttons, and every entry is published to my Facebook stream and to Twitter. The statistics show that these two acts alone are responsible for a significant portion of the traffic to my blog. I have also made sure that my website, my personal blog and my other learning blogs are easily accessible from this site and from each other.

Friday, 24 December 2010

The Düsseldorf School of Photography

Have come across several references to the Dusseldorf School since beginning this course, the most recent – and most thought provoking being an article in Professional Photographer arguing that, as an industry, photography needs to be careful that the Dusseldorf School does not ‘kill it’.
So what is the Dusseldorf School? As usual there’s a Wiki article here which describes the school itself , with a link to the School’s website (in German only). In photographic terms the school is famous for Bernd and Hilla Becher, who developed a style of photography which could perhaps be described as ‘photo-entomology’ which appears to have started the New Objectivity Movement. They collected, for want of a better word, images of industrial structures – water towers and blast furnaces being the two most famous examples – which they took in very flat lighting and in very similar perspective and composition. The aim was to capture as objective an image as possible so that when displayed side-by-side the photos would allow viewers to compare the design and functionality of the individual buildings.
A number of their students have also become (very) famous photographers in their own right – Andreas Gursky, famous for very large . dead-pan, photos of large architectural spaces, Thomas Ruff who initially gained a reputation for his architecture and portrait photos, done in a dead-pan style, but has more recently been noted for a series of very large pixelated images originally lifted from the internet. There’s an interview here that will bear further reading when I get a chance.
Another photographer of the Dusseldorf School, Candida Hofer, also produces large scale images of interiors which could perhaps be described as sumptuous but soulless. Even her zoo animal photos give the impression that the animals themselves are stuffed.
The Professional Photographer article mentioned above (it’s not on the net so I can’t link to it) argues that because this movement has produced some exceedingly well paid photographers, many students of photography faced with looming deadlines resort to ‘objective’ photos of supermarket car-parks, give them pretentious German sounding names and hey presto – they’re part of a movement with artistic credentials – without actually having some any thinking for themselves. How much this is a fair assessment is largely conjecture for me.
I do know however, that it is difficult to avoid being influenced by this school of photography as it is widespread in ‘photos as art’ books, as opposed to the consumer photo mags. For example – my Assignment 5 – could perhaps be seen in this context, although in truth I had not heard of the Dusseldorf School, or New Objectivity, until I was almost at the point of submitting the project. Whether this is good or bad is really a matter for my tutors and the assessors – but I’m fairly certain that I was not attempting a totally objective view of the objects I photographed for that project –initially I was more concerned with developing something visually interesting from the relatively unpromising surroundings and over time this developed into a more personal reaction to the similarity of the locations.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Final assignment sent off today

A good feeling. Apart from writing up exercise 25 and my previous 2 assignments that’s the coursework finished. I still have some book reviews to add to this blog and a few other bits and pieces that I’ve found useful on the way – and then it’s forward to the assessment.
Assignment photos here (Hotel Anywhere) if you want to see them

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Assignment 4: Review of feedback

This module appear to have two threads running through it – the first is about developing the skills needed to manipulate digital images, the second to consider the ethical implications of these manipulations.
My original submission is here and for simplicity the end result is shown below:

Comments from Peter include:
“This one is going to be very difficult to comment on because it is so very well done. The book cover, as you say in your notes, is obviously fake because you have added later members of your family to the original image dressed in modern dress and in color.”
“For me, the photograph itself could be tidied up around the edges to make it look as though it has been kept in perfect condition over the years. The fraying corners are a bit distracting although it does emphasize an old photograph. However I would crop off the border area of the image so that the viewers eye concentrates on the subjects themselves, then it would appear that you have an old photo on a modern book cover. As it is it looks like you have glued the image onto the cover. I would also add a bit more contrast to the color bits, particularly the mans blue shirt on the right so that it catches the eye of a potential buyer.”
Initially, in responding to these suggestions, I tried simply removing the soft white border from the photo, and retained the corner fixings, but it looked unconvincing, so in the end I went for a much more formal crop, as follows:

As I was unable to crop the layer which contained the photo I simply selected it using the rectangular selection tool, inverted the selection, and deleted everything on the layer within the inverted selection. This is a useful technique as the non-selected area is not deleted so you get a nice clean edge to the deletion.
On reflection I think I prefer this later version, and it will be included in my final assessment submission. My initial thought was that it lost the ‘family album’ feel I was attempting to produce, but it is certainly more like a book cover, so I’ll stick with this version.
I conclude that other than potential copyright issues there was little of ethical concern in this image – it is clearly a fake aligned with the title of the book – which was the intended result.
For the record – the small boy in blue is my son at age 5-6, the gentlemen in the blue shirt is my Dad, I’m in the red footie shirt, my granddad is 2nd left on the back row in the military uniform and my great-granddad is seated in the centre.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Assignment 3: Review of Feedback

This module examines the introduction of personal interpretation post capture – in particular as the file is developed from the RAW (ORF in my case) file. The assignment requires a submission in black and white. For reasons explained in the submission I chose a series inspired by Ansel Adam’s Rose and Driftwood.
My original submission is here and the first of the six shots was this one:

“There is lovely detail and texture in the rose and the image is very sharp. However the top right hand corner of the frame needs toning down to show a bit more detail in the petals. Also you could afford a crop off the left hand side and a smaller crop off the bottom so that the rose fills the frame more.”
I agree with all of this but unfortunately the exposure is such that no more detail can be extracted from the file – all I succeed in doing is producing flat grey. I discussed this by e-mail and Peter advised leaving the top right corner as is, so the final version becomes:

The second image was a closer shot to start with:

“Again you have lovely detail in the rose and the sandstone texture is more attractive than the fabric and this time the rose fills more of the frame. As the previous shot it is a touch light in the top right hand corner, but this time it is more acceptable. From your notes you say you used ISO 100 so is noise reduction really necessary?”
The reason for the use of noise reduction was that I did some fairly hefty post processing on this image, (as noted in the submission) and I felt it was needed to improve the overall quality of the image. Again the exposure meant I did not have the option to produce significantly more detail in the top RHS, so after discussion with Peter I decided cropping more tightly on the right would improve the image overall, as follows:

I nailed the exposure more effectively in image 3 – perhaps because I moved away from a pure white rose to a peach one.

“The exposure on this one is very accurate and the subject is nicely placed within the frame so your technique is spot on. However, for me, the wire grid is a bad choice of background and gives the image an “untidy” look.”
I am in two minds about this one – the ‘untidiness’ was deliberate and if anything my concern is that it as not enough of a contrast – perhaps barbed or razor wire would have been better for this particular effect. I also struggled to get the luminosity of Adam’s Rose – perhaps because the tone of the rose was too similar to the colours in the background. On the other hand a number of friends and at least one fellow student thought this was the best of the six, so there is clearly a measure of personal taste in this discussion.
The 4th image uses the same rose, and again on a similar colour background, but is more attractive in my tutors view. I tend to agree and suspect this is at least partly because of the more effective contrast between the rose and the strong geometric pattern.

The actual comment reads: In contrast to the previous image this one is more pictorially attractive. The tiles form a very nice background and run diagonally across the frame which adds interest for the viewer. The rose itself is also nicely placed within the frame and again there are no burnt out high lights. Nice one.
For the 5th image I chose a red rose, which I contrasted with some pale wood shavings. This tonal separation allowed me some leeway to try to increase the apparent luminosity of the petals while still retaining some feel for their rich tones and textures.

“The shadows on this one are just a touch too dark, but the subject fills the frame nicely and the wood shavings make an attractive foreground.”
I have produced a version with the deepest shadows lifted slightly, which, as Peter suggests is an improvement on my original. I notice also that there is an important typo in my submission. The diagonal of the composition runs bottom left to top right not bottom right to top left as written. The final version for assessment is here:

And so to the last shot, and my overall favourite.The deep red of the rose and the dark blue of the denim in this one gave me the most opportunity to use the sliders to separate the rose from the background, and adjust its tonality and luminosity without significant impact on the rest of the image.

Peter agreed with my choice of favourite: “According to your notes this is your favourite image from the set and I whole heartedly agree with you. The rose is placed just a fraction too much to the right of the frame, but the texture and detail in this image are lovely. Even the highlights are not burnt out. The curvature of the denim from the right leads the viewers eye to the rose itself making an excellent composition. Brilliant.”
A good way to finish.
I had never tried serious black and white photography before so I found this assignment challenging to start with. I understood the theory of different coloured filters well enough, but had never attempted a practical application before. My overall aim was to capture something of the spirit of Rose and Driftwood – I’m not vain enough to think that I could replicate an Adams photo.
So, what have I learned:
  • black and white photos can take more ‘abuse‘ in post processing than colour photos before the quality begins to suffer. Not sure this is a good thing to take away, but it is undoubtedly useful knowledge.
  • the filter sliders in Lightroom provide a very powerful tool for separating tones, but it certainly helps if you think about the colours and the desired effect before you set up the photo.
  • stripping away the colour can provide an interesting interpretation of even the most colourful subjects.
  • black and white is worth further exploration.
Did I succeed in my aim? Well I think I did. The final photo is very different to Rose and Driftwood, but I do feel I have reproduced something of the luminosity of the rose which attracted me to the shot in the first place.
Footnote: I put my learning from this assignment to further use in Assignment 5 which is also Black and White – this is not something I would even have considered before starting this course.
As a further aside I was also quite pleased that I managed to avoid any ‘attention to detail’ points such as those highlighted in the previous two assignments.