Category Archives: ASSIGNMENT 2

Reflecting on Part two – Imaginative Spaces and Assignment two…

As with my previous post “Reflecting on Part one…”, this post summarises what I have learnt from part two and Assignment two of the course, with the aims: 1) to embed the learning for future courses and projects and 2) to act as a review and reflection tool which gives ease of reference to the learning points.

So to summarise the feedback received:

  • check images by laying them out upside down; this will highlight any light spots,
  • focus on the eyes in a portrait and ensure the focus is pin sharp,
  • take care with the details and consider what to clone out,
  • experiment with different printing papers,
  • use the course exercises and research to inform the final work,
  • include information on key influencers: photographers, artists etc, and
  • explain the context and theoretical meaning behind the work more.

Looking back at this part of the course, I can see in particular my Assignment Two – Collecting was hampered by focusing and ‘possible’ attention to detail (depending on the intention and interpretation) issues.  With the aim of improving technique I have been carrying out studio portrait sessions and some of the images from these sessions I have entered into the 2017 LensCulture portrait competition.  I posted a blog on my entry and subsequent feedback received which can be found here.

With regards to research on “Selfies” and smiling for the camera, I attended an exhibition as part of an OCA Study Visit called Performing for the Camera which had a lot of interesting commentaries on this subject in particular about the online selfie generation (being Insta-famous i.e. famous on Instagram).  I also watched a documentary on the history of photography which covered Kodak’s advertising campaign in the early 1900s.  Kodak were trying to get their Brownie camera’s, which aimed at bringing the snapshot to the masses, in to the homes of families to record their ‘special’ moments and smiling for the camera was born.  Amazing that such a campaign still influences us today 100+ years on.

On the subject of selfies and instantly sharing yourself online with the world, I decided to open an Instagram account in October last year (2016) as this seems to be the new forum for sharing visual updates of one’s life and loves, and for a photographer the visual medium is key.  That said, I am using the site primarily to document my life as opposed to my photography.  I always worry with any online sharing platform about the rights to images once they have been posted online and whether I am inadvertently signing the rights to my work away when posting.

I had a situation a while back where one of my images was changed and re-posted online by a friend of a friend (quite innocently) without any comment on the source.  Since then I have been a bit wary about sharing my work online.  I don’t mind if my images are used and credited but most people outside of visual media do not think twice about sharing images that they find online.  It doesn’t occur to them that there may be subject to copyright or that the images are owned by someone.   This then leads you as a photographer to consider whether you watermark everything that goes on the internet to ensure the images are credited if shared, although this doesn’t stop them from being altered in Photoshop or with Instagram filters of course.

So images online are free? There are always debates on forums and in the photography community about whether photographers should provide their work for ‘free’ (or for mates rates), watermarked or not, at reduced quality to prevent the selling of prints etc.  I am in two minds about this whole subject and it probably needs another blog post to properly discuss and debate these aspects of the sharing of this creative medium I now find myself part of.

Also as part of my tutor feedback I was provided with a link to the Inside Out project set up by the photographer JR:

On March 2, 2011, JR won the TED prize at the TED Conference in Long Beach, California, and called for the creation of a global participatory art project with the potential to change the world. This project is called INSIDE OUT.

Put simply:

It is a global platform for people to share their untold stories and transform messages of personal identity into works of public art.

The project encourages the submission of images which reflect personal identity and/or a cause for Group Action.  These images are printed on a very large-scale and then distributed and displayed to raise awareness.

I guess my question to this is, can a large-scale global art project really result in change?

JR is a fan of large-scale imagery and has had a number of projects where large scale images have been used to cover buildings and rooftops, which in some cases can only be seen by an aerial view.

I particularly like his Wrinkles of the City project which in 2011 he brought to Los Angeles.  In South Californian beauty is now part of its cultural identity and where plastic surgery is now a lifestyle, rather than a luxury, and socially accepted.  This is a juxtaposition to the older generations whose wrinkles of old age represent their life / their life story, a bit like the rings of a tree. The visible marks and wrinkles on their skin act as a record of their good times and their bad times etc., with both internal and external influences affecting their outward appearance.

There was one particular quote which resonated with me:

“We don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are.”

The Wrinkles of the City/Los Angeles/2011 video – time 4m:50s

As photographers we capture an image of a subject but how we portray that subject is impacted greatly by who we are inside; our influences, our experiences, our values etc.

An interesting project for me as when I take portrait photos my aim is to bring out a person’s beauty.  Sometimes that is not ‘beauty’ in the most common interpretation. It’s to capture the true essence of that person, their true nature from within, the inside projected externally.

This now completes my work, re-work and reflection of part two/Assignment two.


LensCulture 2017 Portrait Awards

I have been taking a greater interest personally in portrait photography more than any other genre of photography since I have started the course, in particular A2 ‘Collecting‘ of Expressing Your Vision, so I have pursued this aspect further in my own time and dedicated a fair bit of resource to it and am posting this as a partial ‘reworking’ opportunity for A2.

The main ways I believe you can improve yourself is to try new things, open yourself up to critique and to challenge yourself to perfection.  As a result I decided to enter a portrait competition with LensCulture

There are so many competitions out there for photographers, I now realise, so you need to be selective with which you enter otherwise you could be throwing money down the drain.  A lot of the competitions you have to pay for entry so you need to be sure that what you are entering is worth your time.  I specifically chose the student 5+ single image package so I could get critique on my images.  I was using the submission more as a learning opportunity than a chance to win a competition.  I paid $35 USD (£29.67 GBP) to enter.

I had been receiving emails from LensCulture which were very informative and seemed to cover a wide range of photography related issues, so I decided I would enter my images to this global competition.

The images I entered are below:

LensCulture Feedback

Needless to say I didn’t win (the winners can be found here) but all the communications I received from LensCulture have been professional, encouraging and supportive.  I didn’t feel I had ‘lost’ more that there were just better entries on the day.  I was surprised as I thought it would be more dog-eat-dog.  For this approach to their communications I give total respect to Lens Culture.

And it didn’t stop there the critique I received yesterday was in the same vein and is pasted verbatim below.  I am really pleased with the encouragement given to me to improve, which will drive me on, together with links to further reading and other photographers to research.  If you are thinking of entering a competition then I would highly recommend Lens Culture for sure.

Additional Recommendations

Recommended Books & Photographers

Photo Competitions

Portfolio Reviews & Festivals

Recommendations for Gaining Exposure

Other Resources

Relevant Quotes from Past Jurors

  • “Editing is essential and good sequencing certainly helps with my selection. My mantra is less is more. Include only your best pictures — anything else will weaken the submission.” — Elisabeth Biondi, Visuals Editor, Indepedent Curator, New York City, USA
  • “All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.” – Marcel Duchamp
  • “When I judge a contest I look for photographs that make me feel something. Anything. I also look for stories that are original. I see thousands of stories a year and most are sadly quite similar. So a story that I haven’t seen before, or a unique approach to a story that I have seen before goes very, very far. Take chances!” — James Estrin, Co-Editor, New York Times Lens Blog, New York City, USA


(2017) LensCulture, Available at: (Accessed: 01/05/2017).

(2017) LensCulture 2017 Portrait Awards Winners and Finalists, Available at: (Accessed: 01/05/2017).

(2017) A2 Collecting, Expressing Your Vision, Available at: (Accessed: 01/05/2017).

Assignment two – ‘Collecting’ – Tutor Feedback

Course:  Expressing Your Vision

Assignment two – ‘Collecting’ – Tutor Feedback

Please find below my tutor feedback which has been provided in full as instructed by my tutor.
My responses to the points raised will be in square brackets to differentiate between the two.

Overall Comments

It was interesting to see your submission of a collection of heads, given some reading and research I have recently been doing in respect of a French photographer called JR (more on him later).

I have laid all six ‘heads’ out on a table in order to look at them holistically and I recommend doing this whenever you have taken a series of shots. I then advise walking around the table so that all the heads are viewed upside down. This enables you to see if anything stands out, especially regarding colour and tone. Your images stand up well to this, although I can immediately identify that in image 2 of 6, Lynne has some harsh lighting on several areas of her face which is inconsistent with the lighting on all the other people’s faces.

Overall, I like your choice of composition for the heads and the fact that you have chosen to have a shallow depth of field, which is more difficult to achieve, however I would have liked a little more context around the border, as the heads appear a little crammed in to the space without an opportunity to breathe. Some of the images do not appear to have the eyes in focus and I will comment on this in more detail below.

Assessment potential

I understand your aim is to go for the Photography Degree and that you plan to submit your work for assessment at the end of this course. From the work you have shown in this assignment, providing you commit yourself to the course, I believe you have the potential to pass at assessment.  In order to meet all the assessment criteria, there are certain areas you will need to focus on, which I will outline in my feedback.

Feedback on assignment

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity

Image 1 – Gordon
You have captured a good expression on this man’s face as it makes him appear thoughtful and inquisitive. I am pleased to see you are looking at colour theory in all your photographs, although because you have photographed him up close and personal, there is very little room to fully explore the other items in the image, other than his face. I do not feel that you have got this image pin sharp. I would expect his eyes to be sharp. Are you using automatic focus? This can often be the problem and it is important to use manual focus on the eyes in this instance, as you will find that the camera can focus on the end of the nose or the eyebrows instead. Focusing is a fundamental skill in portrait photography therefore it is important to get this right, or the image should be edited out of the set. You may be able to see more clearly what you have done and where the camera has focused if you enlarge your image on the screen at 100%. It also helps if you use a monitor, rather than a small laptop screen as these issues can be missed. I have identified this is a problem on some of your other images so I will briefly comment on that when I come to each photograph in the portfolio.

The photograph overall is not particularly flattering to the gentleman. This is not a criticism! It may have been your intention that we see his broken veins in his cheeks, his nose hair, his dry skin and dandruff on his shirt. Of course, if this was not your intention, you need to inform your sitters what is required of them before the photo shoot, in order for them to look their best.

[I agree with all my tutor’s comments above and will rework to cover off the focus and cropping points raised.  

I did use automatic focus and after some experimentation across my lenses I have found inconsistencies in the quality of the focus points.  Now that I am aware of this issue it is something I consider each time I work with a particular lens to ensure I get the best results from it.

It was my intention to produce an ‘honest’ record of the subjects in a more documentary recording style.  Since this assignment I have gone deeper into portraiture and can appreciate even more the comments made.  I will post links to a couple of my recent portrait sessions at the end of this post for reference.]

Image 2 – Lynne
Again, I am not convinced the eyes are pin sharp in this image. The focus appears to be on her hair and fringe. I like the colour combination of her top and the flowers in the background, complimenting the colour of her eyes, as you have suggested. Her mascara has smudged a little, particularly underneath her right eye, which is not very flattering and attention to detail is important. The sitter has a pleasant expression and creases in an older person’s face work well (although again, this is not very flattering particularly for a woman!).

[This comment highlighted to me that, unless it is your intention to produce a ‘warts and all’ image, that you should be particular about your output.  Some people, ref. Henri Cartier-Bresson, find their pleasure in the immediacy of the capture; however, if you are taking photographs for the purpose of producing the images especially in print format, you do have to be fastidious with the whole process.]

Image 3 – Poppy
I can see why this is your favourite image. The girl looks very natural in her pose and the eyes are pin sharp. There are some light areas in the image, in the bottom right hand corner (her light-coloured top) and also a white stripe on the left hand side a third of the way down the picture. If you were to cover up these parts with your thumb, you can see that overall it makes for a stronger image as we are drawn to look at her face rather than the white areas surrounding it. Her hair looks particularly greasy in this image which lets it down.

[Comments noted.]

Image 4 – Fiona
The sitter’s hair and teeth are sharp in this image, but the eyes are not. You have some well-considered natural lighting on her face. The smiling expression fits her personality but does it fit with your overall theme and intention?

[I think the subject’s smile captures her nature so I think it is representative of a ‘record’ image.  Other comments noted.]

Image 5 – Craig
The impressive beard is sharp and the hair, however, the eyes are not. I am questioning if he is related to Fiona due to the similarity in the teeth and the freckles! This can be a controversial area to research in portrait photography for clients – what to clone out? This has caused several areas for debate on the Internet and would be worthy of some extra research.

[I have seen a few articles, including one particular one on LinkedIn, where the girl had all her freckles removed in Photoshop.  The person who posted it, who honestly thought he had done a good job came in for some very harsh criticism from both men and women.  I was surprised but also pleased at the amount of feedback he got. 

We seem to have moved away from a time when a photograph provided an honest and true record of somewhere / something / someone i.e. the camera never lies, to one where photographs are often manipulated in some way that people in the main do not trust them.  Probably a subject for a whole separate blog post!]

Image 6 – James
Again, an interesting expression which makes me wonder what he is thinking and this is far more thought-provoking than a portrait of someone smiling – or perhaps you may want to prove me wrong! There is a lot of research that can be done at the moment looking at people smiling and ‘selfies’ and the element of narcissism that this brings with it. The photograph of this sitter has very similar aspects to the comments given for Image 1. Overall, your print quality is good for this set of images, however, you may want to experiment with different papers to see which you prefer.

[On the first study visit I attended there was discussion amongst the students about posing for the camera and whether it was possible to take a photograph of someone without them performing or ‘presenting’ themselves in a certain way.  Since children we all get in front of a camera and are told to ‘smile’ and this is what we are conditioned to do from there on in.  I agree this is definitely a subject for another blog post and further research.]

Coursework – Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Demonstration of Creativity

It is good to see how the exercises have informed this assignment with regards to the technical aspects; however, some of your research does not seem to ‘flow’ enough into your final project. I am seeing; a shed, a snail and reference to Guy Bourdin but none of these really link to your series of portraits. Consider exploring your subject more fully (rather like having a ‘sketchbook’ of relevant photographs which, in this case, would be photographs of people), rather than having a vision of what your final work will look like and jumping to this. You may well find that this will bring you more exploratory results, long-term.

[This is an area that I think will improve as I research other photographers; continue with the further reading around the subject and attend exhibitions.  I am also trying to incorporate more references (direct or otherwise) in to my writing which can only happen through doing more research and understand the connects or disconnects.  I also need to develop my opinion / voice rather than just dealing with facts.]

Research – Context, reflective thinking, critical thinking, analysis 

You have clearly done a lot of research on different photographers, along with primary evidence visiting galleries. Although this is well written and well reflected upon, some of it does not go into enough depth and does not sign post how the photographer’s work may have influenced your own. You have mentioned several photographers who you have looked at in your research, but then come up with your own vision and I would like to have seen more analysis into why you have this set of criteria and who has informed this and why.

[Comments noted, see above.  I can be pretty ambivalent about art at times.  I know what I definitely don’t like and then everything else is just accepted.  If I’m honest I get more pleasure out of creating my own work than I do from looking at others.  Not sure what that says about me, something bad I’m sure.]

Learning Log – Context, reflective thinking, critical thinking, analysis

I would have expected more written analysis on your intentions with regards to photographing this particular set of people. You seem to have concentrated a lot on the technical aspects of the work (which is great!), however, this needs to be balanced with the meaning behind what you have photographed and why. I would like to have known the intentions behind photographing the people i.e. are they friends/family? Why are most of them of a certain age and one is a young girl, why are some smiling for the camera and some quite serious? Were you conscious about photographing them ‘warts and all’?

[Comments noted and are fair.  I need to look at my work from a strangers perspective, what questions would they ask that are a given to me.  I cannot expect someone else to know what’s going on in my head, although I can become very absorbed in my own thoughts at times.]

Suggested reading/viewing – Context

As per my comments above, you may want to look at the work of French photographer JR. He has travelled around the world, working with people in the community, taking close-ups of their faces and printing the images on poster-size sheets of paper, then pasting them onto the homes, trains or walls in the city. The images are very striking. They may also be controversial, in that some of the people are ‘at war’ with their neighbours, so he makes a point of pasting these people side by side and asking people to identify their nationality. You can view his work here:  There are also documentaries viewable on YouTube.

[The inside out project looks interesting and I presume it is an ongoing project without any deadline.  I have also taken a look at JRs work and will be doing a separate blog post on his work as part of my follow-up work.]

Pointers for the next assignment / assessment

  • Focus on the eyes
  • Ensure you have a theoretical meaning behind your work, rather than just considering the technical aspects

 [Comments noted and I will consider these on my follow-up work and future assignments.

Overall I am pleased with my feedback and note that I have some areas to improve on and consider if I wish to improve.]

Links to Portrait Sessions as promised above under feedback from Image 1:
Pinup Doll Alice Oxley
Brandon Baily
[Added 12/05/2017]

Assignment two – ‘Collecting’ – The End

Course:  Expressing Your Vision

Assignment two – ‘Collecting’ – The End (following on from Assignment two – ‘Collecting’ – The Middle)

Please note: My tutor requests that my final Assignment image submissions are provided as A4 prints so the jpegs below are only of web quality. 

So here are my final selected images for my Collecting – Heads series, together with their technical specs (the text beside each image accompanied my A4 prints):

Image 1
Technical Details: ISO 100 1/400 sec. f/5 190mm
Gordon is an intelligent, patriarchal and reserved character, so I feel this image reflects his nature well (albeit he looks a bit serious).  I like the contrast of his red shirt against the green foliage and the separation between the dark foliage and Gordon’s white hair.  Although the lighting looks reasonably even I feel it was a bit too bright for the subject.  The shot was taken in the shade with a reflector but in hindsight I could have chosen a different time of day and/or used a diffuser to ease some of the brightness.


Image 2 
Technical Details: ISO 100 1/640 sec. f/4 80mm
Lynne is fun and young at heart and I think her smile in this image gives you that sense.  [Note: she can also be serious, as you will see from my blog exercises.]  I took this shot in front of a bush with blue flowers as I felt complimented Lynne’s eyes and top.  I think the level of detail in this image is good.  The combination of settings for this particular lens works well.  If I was to change anything it would be to have considered the dappled shade more.



Image 3
Technical Details: ISO 160 1/125 sec. f/5.6 100mm
Poppy is a natural beauty and she is very comfortable in front of the camera which I think comes across in this image.  I used earth tones in the background to compliment her hair, which was improved further by the light coming in from the top rear forming a natural hair light.  I used a slightly higher ISO to make sure I could use the camera hand-held at 100mm.

See Note here.



Image 4 

Technical Details: ISO 100 1/1000 sec. f/4 70mm
Fiona is a smiley, caring person who enjoys a life of laughter and good times with family and friends.  I took this image on a bright day and although I used a reflector to help with the shadows, possibly a diffuser would have improved the outcome.  The problem with using too many accessories is that you run out of hands to hold them, especially whilst shooting hand-held.  The shutter speed was high so I could have increased the f-number i.e. a smaller aperture.



Image 5 

Technical Details: ISO 100 1/125 sec. f/5.6 80mm
Craig is very proud of his 6 month beard that he has managed to grow, so was happy for me to document his achievement with some amusement.  This image was taken towards the end of a day when the lighting was more even.  I think the contrast of Craig’s hair against the dark background makes his head pop from the image.





Image 6 
Technical Details: ISO 320 1/800 sec. f/6.3 115mm
James normally wears Reactolite glasses.  We took some shots with them on but they soon turned black in the sun and we couldn’t see his eyes, so he removed them.  This image was taken on a bright day in the shade.  I had a higher ISO than I needed for this shot (by accident) but I don’t think the detail in the A4 print has suffered.



Further Development:

“How might the series be improved in the future?
I think I would like to take this into the studio and try the assignment in a more controlled environment using studio lights, or use natural light plus some off-camera flash to even out shadows and get more of a ‘zing’ into the subjects eyes.  I could also do with getting some stands to hold reflectors and diffusers so that I can concentrate on operating the camera and directing the model, instead of trying to balance a reflector whilst shooting.  I guess this is all a learning curve and is one of the aims of the course; to improve your technical skills (as well as developing your understanding of photography as an art form).”

This completes my Assignment two submission from a course requirement perspective and I now await tutor feedback.

Assignment two – ‘Collecting’ – The Middle

Course:  Expressing Your Vision

Assignment two – ‘Collecting- The Middle (following on from Assignment two – ‘Collecting’ – The Beginning)

Self Assessment / Strengths and Weaknesses:

It’s always hard to judge the strength and weaknesses of your own images as you place a degree of protectionism on them, maybe because it was a technique you hadn’t used before and we’re pleased with the outcome or the subject matter was/is close to your heart.  I do ask my family and friends for constructive feedback, however, for them it’s more about the aesthetics rather than the technicalities of the image they assess, so it’s difficult to get a rounded critique of an image as a whole.  That said by using the specific criteria as set out within the course material you can get some guide as to how you measure up and what is required.  Part of the Assignment requests a self assessment against the course objectives and you will find this towards the end of this page.   I guess experience plays a large part as well in ones ability to critique ones own work, after-all we are all only the sum of our own experiences which could be the biggest limiter.

Now back to the Assignment text, as submitted:

The photograph I like the most from the collection, from an aperture, focal length and composition perspective is Image 3.  It appears to be the most natural using an aperture of f/5.6, a focal length of 100mm (full frame c. 160mm) and a close viewpoint.  These settings give a good depth of field, with the face and fringe in focus and blurred background, and I think it looks like a reasonable representation of face shape and size.  I think all the images in the collection are representative of the people I photographed but as I did not use any extremes of aperture or focal length I expected them to be representative.   As discovered in the exercises for this part of the course, a wide-angle lens used close up for a portrait would have been very unflattering.  If at the other end I had used my lens at 300mm, camera shake may have been an issue.  In aperture priority mode you do not have any specific control over the shutter speed, the only way you can affect the camera’s shutter speed in this mode would be to increase (or decrease) the ISO.  Using a well-lit position would help maximise the shutter speed used in any given situation.

What worked well?  I think the compositional aspect worked well.  I wanted to achieve:  a blurred background and managed this in all cases, natural looking subjects and believe that in the main I have achieved this and, a consistent look and feel and believe the colouration and composition are consistent.

What didn’t work so well? I think I needed to explore taking images at different times of the day or employ another pair of hands to help hold a diffuser.  When the sun goes in and out behind clouds the lighting conditions can change a lot and in a short space of time, so being able to control light and knowing your equipment so you can make quick adjustments is key to working with natural light.

So now to the course criteria:

Demonstration of technical and visual skills:
I think I provide back up to technical exercises: confirming the materials and techniques used, what I observed and the potential reasons why outcomes are such. I try to keep responses concise in relation to the practical tasks set but where a more rounded explanation is required this is also provided. I do find I am a bit more controlled when working through the specific course instructions compared to the work I produce for non study ‘for fun’ projects. I think this will change as I become more comfortable with the style of study, understand what is required and learn more about what my camera can do and how I can control it.

Quality of outcome:
I learn quickly from what has not gone well in the past and work to put it right and improve for the next time. I take pride in my work and aim to provide a quality submission for my tutor to assess. Ultimately if the tutor can understand what I have done, the thought process I have followed and can see the results from that process easily, that makes the tutors assessment process more effective. I  think where I am going to struggle is that I do not have anyone at the moment, apart from my tutor, who can give me feedback on the quality of outcome especially when quality relates to physical prints.  This issue comes with distance learning, not having other students or a mentor on hand who understands photography, what is required from it and can help you to navigate any uncertainties face to face. In time I will ask my photography club members to critique my work and although I have entered digital competitions I have not yet entered any print competitions, which I will when the new season starts again.   Saying that the critique is generally more geared to individual images as opposed to a series which seems to be the preference for the coursework on this course.

Demonstration of Creativity:
I felt this instructions for this Assignment were a bit ‘straight’ up.  The parameters to work within were quite specific and I’m not sure there was a lot of scope for creativity, maybe I’m wrong.   I felt I executed the brief as written.  Did I do it creatively?  I’m not sure.  I certainly feel that at the moment I bring more creativity to my non-course photography because it feels freer.  I certainly know what I like in my work when I see it and know I have a lot more to give in respect of imagination and creativity.  How I present this within the confines of a brief, however, is still largely untested.


I am finding it more difficult than I thought I would to juggle the time I need to do my research and the time I need to write it up on my blog. So far I have prioritised my reading and research as opposed to providing a demonstration on my blog that I have done this. I completely understand that from my tutor’s perspective all they know is what they can see. I have read so much at times my head hurts but I think that’s how study goes. Since February I have been to more exhibitions than I have been to in my whole life to date and have read more about any art practice than I have ever done before.  The problem comes with demonstrating that I have done this and the value which I have no doubt got out of these new experiences and further reading. The next challenge for me in this area is to do more of it so I can improve on the critical thinking and reflective areas that the course requires.

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

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.