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,  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.
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.