Monthly Archives: June 2016

Assignment two – ‘Collecting’ – The Beginning

Course:  Expressing Your Vision

Assignment two – ‘Collecting’ – The Beginning

Fragments of a vessel which are to be glued together must match one another in the smallest details although they need not be like one another.”                            (Walter Benjamin, [1936] 1999, p79)

“Create a series of between six and ten photographs from one of the following options, or a subject of your own choosing:

Heads [my choice]

Use the exercises from Part Two as a starting point to test out combinations of focal length, aperture and viewpoint for the set.  Decide upon a single format, either vertical or horizontal.  You should keep to the same combination throughout to lend coherence to the series.

Heads: Frame a ‘headshot’, cropping close around the head to avoid too much variety in the backgrounds.  The light will be paramount and a reflector is a useful tool… throwing light up into the face, especially the eyes.  The Classic headshot is buoyant but neutral which is quite difficult to achieve, but try to achieve a natural rather than an artificially posed look.”

Format of my Blog response:
As with Assignment one, where text from my official response to my tutor has been included I will highlight this to enable you (the reader) to distinguish between what is just ‘chat’ i.e. my ‘thoughts’, and what has been ‘submitted’.  This will help contextualise my tutor’s response/critique and any rework that is/has been requested.

Initial Thoughts:
I thought about choosing Crowds and Views but from reading the specific write-ups on these I didn’t think they were for me, well not at this stage in my photography learning curve anyway, so I chose ‘Heads’.

For this assignment the requirement was to set the camera to aperture priority mode and to submit a collection of 6-10 photographs on one of the set topics; crowds, views, heads (or a subject of our own choosing).  I chose ‘heads’ for the collection of 6 images I submitted for this assignment.  I am interested in portraiture photography and it is an area I want to practice and improve in further.


Since being on the course I have researched a fair number of portrait photographers.  Some of the ones I have found to be interesting include: English fashion/portrait photographer Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) who famously took glamorous photographs of celebrities and notably the royal family; American fashion/portrait photographer Irving Penn (1917-2009) who liked (as he put it) “…to photograph people at rest, in a state of serenity.”; the garish portraits taken by American photographer Cindy Sherman (1954- ), the gritty LGBT portraits taken by American photographer Nan Goldin (1953- ), the earlier ‘soft focus’ looking portraits taken by British portrait photographer Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) and the creatively lit portraits taken by Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002), to name a few.  All these photographers have their own identifiable style, technical merit and narrative which they bring to their work.  For my headshots I wanted to use colour, use natural light and keep them as natural looking as possible.

There are so many photographers to research and lots of subject matter reading suggested for the course that at times my head has hurt.  There is a steep learning curve entering into the degree process/framework but it is getting slowly easier like the pieces of a jigsaw starting to fit together.  Going to OCA Study visits has helped with putting these pieces together, with access to knowledgeable tutors, other students from all levels and of course some amazing works from photography practitioners.  I think the thing to do is to keep going and see, experience and practice whatever you can, when you can to make sure you are always moving forward.

Technical Approach and Techniques:

Sometimes I feel a little held back by my equipment.  When you start out in photography you think to yourself I need a camera and lens.  Simple right?  You might not know what type of photography you will ‘get in to’ so you buy more generalist equipment.  At some point an area of specialism or interest will become apparent and then further equipment is put on a ‘to do list.  Anyway before I knew it I had several lenses, lighting, lots of accessories etc.  That said I still didn’t feel I had the ‘right’ lens for this Assignment, although the results were ok.

From a technical perspective I used a Canon 70D and on this assignment I used a Canon 70-300mm f/4-5.6 lens.  My camera has an APS-C sensor which means this lens is equivalent to a focal length range of approximately 112-480mm on a full frame camera.  The normal full-frame range for portraiture photography is usually 85mm to 105mm so my lens is at the long end of this but I personally find it produces a pretty good portrait image up to 300mm, taking an appropriate viewpoint.  Quite a lot of photographers are now using a 50mm lens for portraiture, so I think it’s whatever works for that particular situation/photographer and there are no hard and fast rules.

For my assignment I used a number of different settings: apertures in the range of f/4 to f/6.3.  I generally find this range to be the best for getting sharp focus on the eyes and to achieve some fall off towards the ears; shutter speeds which were determined automatically by the camera in the range of 1/1000 sec. down to 1/125 sec.  1/125 sec. is probably the lowest comfortable shutter speed for taking images hand held with this lens; ISO ranged from 100 to 320 (the 320 was an error but the result at A4 is acceptable (there is no noticeable grain) and, I also employed a range of viewpoints to ensure that for a chosen focal length the subject was framed closely and in ‘portrait’ orientation.

Please follow this link for the next section – Assignment two – ‘Collecting’ – The Middle.


Part two – Project 2 – Research Point

Project 2 – Lens Work

“The most political decision you make is where you direct people’s eyes.”  [Wim Wenders (1997) quoted in Bromberg & Chanarin, 2008]

“Deep focus gives the eye autonomy to roam over the picture space so that the viewer is at least given the opportunity to edit the scene himself, to select the aspects of it to which he will attend.”  [Bazin (1948) quoted in Thompson & Bordwell, 2007)

Research Point – Brief:
‘Do your own research into some of the photographers mentioned in this project.

Look back at your personal archive of photography and try to find a photograph that could be used to illustrate one of the aesthetic codes discussed in Project 2….  Add the shot to your learning log and include a short caption describing how you’ve re-imagined your photograph.’

Ansel Adams (1902 – 1984), was notably one of the most famous American landscape photographers of the 20th century.  Adams primarily used large format cameras for their high-resolution.  He co-founded a group called f64 formed of 7 20th century San Francisco photographers, developed the Zone System and was one of the founders of aperture magazine.

The Zone system provided photographers with a systematic method of precisely defining the relationship between the way they visualize the photographic subject and the final results, and co-founded aperture magasine.  Put simply the system renders light subjects as light, and dark subjects as dark, according to the photographer’s visualization.

Adams used deep depth of field in his photography and on accessing the OCAs Bridgeman Education Library I came across this image which caught my eye,  “Farm workers harvesting with Mount Williamson in background, Manzanar Relocation Center, California, 1943“.  This image uses deep depth of field, you can see from the nearest worker in the foreground, right back to the majestic mountains in the background.

In contrast, Gianluca Cosci’s (1970 – ) series Panem et Circense, as referenced in the course, is an example of images that use shallow depth of field and mostly from a low viewpoint.  You can see this series from the photographers  website.  I particularly like the images where he has used a very low viewpoint and focused on small areas of the road, selecting only a small specific area to highlight to the viewer – ‘Senza Titolo #9’ and ‘Senza Titolo #10’.

‘In my practice I strive to obtain an emotive response from the viewer to highlight the increasingly oppressive presence of corporate power over not just our every day life , but also its influence in the creative process itself, where art can be perceived by corporations as just another sophisticated and subtle instrument of propaganda that can be used and manipulated at will, according to their own agenda.’    Gianluca Cosci

Going off on a bit of a tangent warning!!  This quote reminded me of when I heard Edward Burtynsky talk at Photo London this year (2016) where he acknowledged that his images potentially could serve a dual purpose: 1) the Corporate to represent their achievement, in scale and size.  An image of their ‘success’, in their particular field of expertise, possibly hung proudly in their boardroom, And 2) used by environmental campaigners to show the negative impact that these companies are having on the environment with their large-scale man-made transformations of the landscape, most of which cannot be seen in their entirety except from a helicopter (which has been granted permission to fly over these sites).  All his images are impactful, his OIL series shows the scale of man’s endeavours to extract earth’s natural resources from it in an aggressive way.  Burtynsky’s images are quite often taken from a helicopter where using a large aperture doesn’t have much impact on depth of field as the photograph is being taken from so far away.

Lastly I wanted to mention Guy Bourdin (1928 – 1991) a French artist and fashion photographer, who used deep depth of field to create some strange but thought-provoking images.  You can find a wide range of his work on the internet and of the images I have seen, I note that he likes to photograph legs and shoes.  Having a person’s legs in frame in the way that he does (wearing shoes) gives a sense of unease.  There is a real body disconnect within the image because you can only see the model’s legs.  You cannot understand what the model is thinking or gain any context about this from the image, although I think that is the point and Bourdin’s images are more about aesthetics rather than the ‘why’.

Here is an image which I took using the shallow depth of field aesthetic and taken from a slightly less obvious viewpoint (ref: Cosci).  It looks like the snail is about to slide over the edge and end it all – suicide snail, and I could image the photographer (me) trying to talk the snail out of it but instinctively we know that snails are not consciously suicidal animals, but the image could also represent loneliness as he’s turned his back on the world….

_MG_0595This concludes my exercise submissions for Part 2, next stop Assignment two ‘Collecting’ – The Beginning…

Bibliography/References: 2016. – Visual Art Encyclopedia . [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 29 June 2016].

Gianluca Cosci – Panem et Circenses. 2016. Gianluca Cosci – Panem et Circenses. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 29 June 2016].

Edward Burtynsky OIL Web Gallery. 2016. Edward Burtynsky OIL Web Gallery. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 29 June 2016].

Part two – Project 1 – Exercise 2.7

Part two – Project 1 – Exercise 2.7

“Use a combination of small apertures and wide lens to take a number of photographs exploring deep depth of field.  Because of the small apertures you’ll be working with slow shutter speeds and may need to use a tripod or rest the camera on a  stable surface to prevent ‘camera shake’ at low ISOs.  Add one or two unedited sequences, together with relevant shooting data and an indication of your selects, to your learning log.

Achieving deep depth of field might appear easy compared to the difficulties of managing shallow depth of field.  We’re surrounded by images made with devices rather than cameras whose short focal lengths and small sensors make it hard to achieve anything other than deep depth of field.  The trick is to include close foreground elements in focus for an effective deep depth of field image.  Foreground detail also helps to balance the frame, which can easily appear empty in wide shots, especially in the lower half.  When successful, a close viewpoint together with the dynamic perspective of a wide-angle lens gives the viewer the feeling that they’re almost inside the scene.”

Sequence 1 :
I wanted to use somewhere which had quite a bit of depth but which also had some foreground interest.  So I chose my back yard which is currently in flux pending a new shed (I’m sure some of you can relate to home projects which have taken a little longer than planned).  I used my Canon 70D with Sigma 17-50mm lens at the short end 17mm.

I initially set my focus point on the wood up against the house on the right and that gave a pretty good result being that it was in the right place to ensure most of the foreground and back ground was in focus.  I then set the focus to infinity and that worked well.  I think using infinity focus primarily takes the guess-work out of where to place the focus point to ensure deep depth of field is achieved.  I did not use a tripod as suggested but steadied myself against a wall.  I was at 17mm and had Image Stabilisation (‘IS’) on so I managed to get the result I needed for this exercise.  See ‘Results 1’.

Sequence 2 : same as above but this time I hung myself out of my bedroom window, good job I have sash windows eh?!, and explored the effects of changing from f/16 in increments to f/22.  See ‘Results 2’.

Results 1:


_MG_3854 _MG_3857 _MG_3862

Technical data:
ISO 100
Shutter speed range : 1/5 sec. to 1/8 sec.


Results 2:

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For sequence 1, I used f/22 and tried both auto focus and infinity focus.  Do I get a feeling from these images that I am in the scene,? Well, I did take this sequence from a lower viewpoint than what is natural for me but yes, if you were short, a child maybe I think you do feel like you are in this scene.

For sequence 2 I used f/16 through to f/22 on infinity focus and couldn’t see a lot of difference between the results, using the wide-angle lens pretty much meant most of the scene was in focus.  Do I feel like I am in the scene?  Do I feel from the images that I am outside of the window looking down the street, yes I think I do.

This is an area I think I need to research more about as I was expecting to see more discernible differences between the images in sequence 2.  Maybe working from a laptop screen does not show me the nuances I need to see.

Deep depth of field is not a technique I would use much in my photography as I am a fan of shallow depth of field, which usually goes hand in hand with portraiture so this exercise pushed me down a path I would not ordinarily have ventured.  However, I’m glad I have tried this out, as I can see the potential for using this in certain types of photography where you need everything to be in focus mixed with the quality you get from a DSLR.

My initial inclination is to do something different to that which can be achieved easily by anyone with a ‘device’, however, to understand shallow depth of field it is important to also have an appreciation for the other end of the spectrum and understand deep depth of field, and who knows I may well use this technique in a future assignment.

This completes my submission for Exercise 2.7.  You can access my Project 2 Research Point here.

Part two – Project 1 – Exercise 2.6

Part two – Project 1 – Exercise 2.6

“Use a combination of wide apertures, long focal lengths and close viewpoints to take a number of photographs with shallow depth of field. (Remember that smaller f numbers mean wider apertures).  Try to compose the out-of-focus parts of the picture together with the main subject.  Add one or two unedited sequences, together with relevant shooting data and an indication of your selects, to your learning log.”

I carried out this exercise hand-held using a Canon 70D with either a Canon 70-300mm lens f/4-5.6 or Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens.  The 70-300mm lens meant I was restricted on the aperture I could use at the long end, the minimum being f/5.6.  Saying that I think I managed to achieve the shallow depth of field required for the exercise but could not demonstrate in the extreme the effect of a long focal length with a wide aperture but could with a close viewpoint.  As a result of this restriction, for the aperture test, I switched lenses so I could achieve a wider range of apertures.

For the first sequence I varied the focal length from a static position.  The subject was approx. 3m from me and about the same distance from the background…

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For the second sequence I varied the aperture using a fixed focal length of 50mm (ff 80mm).  50mm on a cropped sensor being just at the shorter end of the range for a portrait.  I was closer to the subject for this exercise approx. 1m and the distance from the background was longer at about 4m…

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Just for fun I made some ‘improvements’ in Lightroom and added a filter….


For the final sequence I varied the focal length AND varied the viewpoint to try to keep the subject in a consistent position…  .

_MG_9903 _MG_9907

Both images used a shutter speed of 1/160 sec. and an f-number of 5.6 but the first image was at 70mm framing head and shoulders and the second at 300mm using the same framing.

I noticed from my experimentation that to achieve a shallower depth of field the subject benefitted from being a distance from the background and closer to the lens, in combination with a longer focal length and wider aperture.  This conclusion supports the course text.

“Wide apertures create shallow depth of field, especially when combined with a long focal length and a close viewpoint.  In human vision the eye registers out-of-focus areas as vague or indistinct – we can’t look directly at the blur.  But in a photograph, areas of soft focus can form a large part of the image surface so they need to be handled with just as much care as the main subject.”

It is worth noting that “…the camera’s viewfinder image is obtained at maximum aperture for maximum brightness and therefore at the shallowest depth of field.”  So using the depth of field button on your camera can give you a better guide as to the depth of field which will be achieved at any given aperture.

This completes my submission for Exercise 2.6.  You can access Exercise 2.7 here.

Part two – Project 1 – Exercise 2.5

Part two – Project 1 – Exercise 2.5

“Find a subject in front of a background with depth.  Take a close viewpoint and zoom in; you’ll need to be aware of the minimum focussing distance of your lens.  Focus on the subject and take a single shot.  Then without changing the focal length, set the focus to infinity and take a second shot.”

I wanted to find somewhere with more background depth but the park had to do for this exercise.  I used a Canon 70D (not sure why I always state this as it is the only camera I own, hopefully one day I might expand) and a Sigma 17-50mm lens.  Both images were taken on ISO 100, shutter speed of 1/1000 sec. f/8 at 50mm.  The only thing that was changed was the focus, the left image focussed on the chain and the second image had the focus set to infinity.


ISO 100 1/1000 sec. f/8 50mm  ISO 100 1/1000 sec. f/8 50mm

“The closer you are to the subject, the shallower the depth of field; the further from the subject, the deeper the depth of field.  That’s why macro shots taken from very close viewpoints have extremely shallow depth of field, and if you set the focus at infinity everything beyond a certain distance will be in focus.”

“As you review the two shots, how does the point of focus structure the composition?”

The point of focus in the image on the left (focus = f/8) is very much on the ‘in focus’ chain.  Your eye follows the path of the chain off-frame and re-enters the image again at another point where the chain meets the frame.  Your eye looks around at the other elements within the frame but because they are out of focus the eye has nothing to anchor itself on, so returns to the chain again.

In the image on the right (focus = infinity) your eye is drawn to everything but the chain, which feels like a bit of an obstruction which you want to move aside so you can see the rest of the ‘in- focus’ areas better.  The eye is drawn to the centre point to see what there is.  It feels like you are looking through a window, a frame within a frame.

“With a shallow depth of field the point of focus naturally draws the eye, which goes first of all to the part of the image that’s sharp.  It generally feels more comfortable if the point of focus is in the foreground, although there’s nothing wrong with placing the point of focus in the background.”

This completes my submission for Exercise 2.5.  You can access Exercise 2.6 here.

Part two – Project 1 – Exercise 2.4

Part two – Project 1 – Exercise 2.4

“Find a location with good light for a portrait shot.  Place your subject some distance in front of a simple background and select a wide aperture together with a moderately long focal length such as 100mm on a 35mm full-frame camera (about 65mm on a cropped-frame camera).  Take a viewpoint about one and a half metres from your subject, allowing you to compose a headshot comfortably within the frame.  Focus on the eyes and take the shot.”

I used a Canon 70D and Canon 70-300mm f/4-5.6 lens.  It was a bright day so I did not need a tripod and opted to use my camera hand-held and I also used a reflector.



ISO 100 1/500 sec. f/4 70mm

I like a blurred background and out of all the lens I have I prefer this one for portraiture because of the overall look and feel of the images.  The model does stand out from the background but I think a different background colour could have improved this shot.  Choosing a more contrasting colour to the model’s hair and clothing  can improve separation further.  Here my location meant that the colours were all quite similar to the model’s own colour palette, however, the lighting of the model’s hair by the sun meant that parts of her outline was been lifted and therefore works nonetheless.

“Longer focal lengths appear to compress space, giving a shallower depth of acceptable sharpness, which is known as depth of field.  This makes a short or medium telephoto lens perfect for portraiture: the slight compression of features appears attractive while the shallow depth of field adds intensity to the eyes and ‘lifts’ the subject from the background.”

This completes my submission for Exercise 2.4.  You can access Exercise 2.5 here.

Part two – Project 1 – Exercise 2.3

Part two – Project 1 – Exercise 2.3

“Choose a subject in front of a background with depth.  Select your shortest focal length and take a close low viewpoint, below your subject.  Find a natural point of focus and take the shot.”

It was raining when I carried out this exercise so I came inside to take these images, in my hallway.  Using a Canon 70D with my widest lens  a Sigma 17-50mm at the shortest focal length 17mm (APS-C), with the model standing and me on my knees looking upwards with the camera hand-held….  [and on aperture priority mode s requested for this part of the course].


_MG_3722 _MG_3723 _MG_3725

I couldn’t get to a better location (due to the rain) to take the images for this exercise, which were to be taken at a location with depth.  My hallway does have depth but this was irrelevant when employing a ‘looking up’ position, which captured mostly the ceiling.  From this position it was difficult to capture any background elements due to the angle of view from which the image was taken.

That said, I agree with the course notes, definitely NOT the basis for a portrait photo shoot.  The face is distorted unflatteringly outwards (image 1 – f/2.8 1/13 sec.) when close to the subject.  With a viewpoint further back the chest and body are over emphasised compared to the face (images 2 and 3 – f/2.8; 1/15 sec. and 1/6 sec. respectively), when it is the face you want as your main focal point in the frame for a portrait shot not the body.  Also from this angle if you want eye contact with your subject, the subject has to look down which creates a double chin so again not a good look.  I doubt I would have any recommendations or repeat bookings if I produced these to a client (thank you to my daughter for agreeing to be photographed in such a manner), so if nothing else this is a lesson learnt not to be repeated.

“You’ll see that a very wide lens together with a close viewpoint creates extreme perspective distortion.  Gently receding lines become extreme diagonals and rounded forms bulge towards the camera.  Space appears to expand.  The low viewpoint adds a sense of monumentality, making the subject seem larger than it is, and tilting the camera adds to the effect as vertical lines dramatically converge.  Not the ideal combination for a portrait shot!”

This completes my submission for Exercise 2.3.  You can access Exercise 2.4 here.