Friday, 4 February 2011

Looking Back

I given it some thought and this is going to be the last post on this blog. I have to accept that the course stops somewhen. Thanks to my followers and everyone who’s visited. I’d love it if you stopped by at my People and Place blog – link at the the top of this page.

It’s been an interesting start to a degree – it’s a while since I studied anything in any really structured way.

What did I want/expect from the course?
I didn’t have any real expectations, but I’m fairly clear that what I wanted most was a structured approach that would help me develop my photography from my starting position as a technically adequate amateur.
I think I was also after a reason to take photos There comes a point where the desire to add to the 25000 shots on my hard drive is tempered by the fact that it seems to be collecting photos for the sake of it. It’s noteworthy perhaps that I started my Photo-a-day project at about the same time.
I don’t recall this being a major driver when I signed up but perhaps I simply needed a framework that gave me an excuse to take the kind of photos I like without feeling odd – my kids used to rib me about taking ‘another pointless photo of a piece of pavement’ – and in some ways they had a point. You can be as ‘artistic’ as you like but it’s all a little futile unless you understand why you’re doing it.

So – did it deliver the goods?
On the whole yes. It seems to be a course that rewards the thought you put into it. At first sight the exercises can seem a little mechanical and the assignments a little too directed – and if you have a technical background the tendency is to take the instructions literally. In truth I don’t think I really cottoned on to this until the 5th module and assignment and then only after lots of ‘chat’ with the tutors and other course members on the various forums.

I certainly didn’t find the exercises technically challenging – whether this is a function of the exercises or my original ability I’m not sure - but it’s certainly the case that there are some technical issues I’m now much more at ease with. Part of this is down to practise – I’m using my camera a lot more – and part is down to putting some time aside to think about the technicalities.

Noise is a good example. I was aware of the issue before the course but had not really thought about it in a structured way. As a photographic exercise taking exactly the same shot umpteen times at differing ISOs is a pretty dull affair. But, and it’s a big BUT, sitting down and thinking about the results was very enlightening. I have a much better appreciation of the impact on picture quality for starters. I also have a better feel for the way in which my camera behaves at high ISOs and the compromises involved in making the choice of ISO setting. I’ve even concluded that the high ISO settings which people in other forums call ‘unusable’ are perfectly valid choices in some circumstances because the noise can be managed in a way which delivers an outcome I pre-visualised. Certainly the idea of deliberately choosing a setting and equipment which forced me to use high ISO to complete an assignment (Ass. 2) would not have occurred to me before the course.
The section I found most interesting was No 4 on manipulation and ethics. Again the exercises felt fairly straightforward – they certainly didn’t involve techniques I’d not tried before – but they were put in the context of a range of ethical issues I’d not really considered before and I’m always game for a bit of intellectualising. In this context I’ve also enjoyed the interchanges on the student forums.

The one thing I thought the course lacked was some structured reading advice. There is a reading list but the course makes essentially no reference to it, and the relationship between the course and the set books is tenuous at best. I understand that at this level of education we are expected to self-direct to some degree, but not everyone has the benefit of previous higher education experience to inform this expectation. In addition the choice of literature is vast.
Perhaps a useful addition to the course would be a requirement to produce a short summary of the work of a couple of significant photographers just to encourage engagement with the development of photographic practise. For my own part I also started to do this of my own accord relatively late in the course after seeing something similar on the blog of one of the art students. Prior to this I also found it helpful to improve my understanding of the development of modern art – just to provide some context.

The acid test – has my photography progressed
Not sure this is really for me to say – I assume the assessors will come to a view on that. However, I certainly feel it has.
My familiarity with the camera has certainly increased – it’s becoming less of an obstruction between me and the image I wanted to capture. I’ve also added another creative tool to my armoury, in the form of black&white photography – something I had never tried before.

Perhaps more importantly I can feel two distinct types of photography developing in my practise. The first is the everyday stuff that I’ve always done – holidays, family, perhaps even the photo-a-day shots. The second is, for want of a better word, ‘thoughtful’ photography. I think I’m slowly understanding why I enjoy shooting the things I do and the course has given me a reason to indulge this. The contrast between Assignment 1 and Assignment 5 is the obvious example – the former is probably best classified as everyday photography, even though I have tried to tell a story, whereas the latter is clearly different. The story has emerged as I have indulged myself, and I feel I’m left with a group of shots that ask as many questions as they answer.

On this basis I feel my photography has been significantly developed by the course – I’m going to be bold and claim that it has progressed as well.


  1. Well done on finishing the course Nigel (and on recognising its end, its easy to just keep ongoing!) I will be following your People and Place with interest since I have just signed up myself.

  2. I think your point about structured reading is a good one Nigel and will follow this up with Michael Freeman and the course leaders. Congratulations on completing the course.

  3. Thanks both. All I have to do now is pass the assessment.