Saturday, 4 August 2012

Book Review

The Photograph - Graham Clarke

This book was included in with the course notes, and I have have read snippets of it as I was working through the first module. I thought it was about time I read the book fully.

I have many photography books on my book case, however most of them are on the technical aspects of photography and not the artistic composition of a photograph. Apart from a few books I have from Ansel Adams, this is my first foray into the world of art. Initially I found the book quite difficult to read, and was reading sections over and over trying to fully understand what was being said. However as I got into the book, I found myself understanding it more and more on the first read.

The first chapter of the book asks the question, What is a photograph? it starts off with a brief history of the photograph, which I found interesting to see where it all began. The 1826 heliograph by Joseph Niepce 'View from a window at Gras' being the oldest photograph in existence. The author then takes you though many other photographers, who have helped shaped the field as we know it today.

A major problem I had prior to starting the course was ability to read a photograph and use the correct terminology in order to describe it. The book provided me with the beginnings of a vocabulary for doing exactly that. I have subsequently found this enormously helpful when viewing photographs online and in exhibitions. However it is still early days and this is something I will have to spend some time finding out more about.

The author then goes onto explain how the photographer and the viewer are both both bound by their own cultural frames of reference. This single fact made me realise how context is very important and how much our own life experiences we bring into the viewing of a photograph.

The following chapters then look into the different genres of photograph, landscape photograph, the city in photograph, portrait, documentary and fine art photography. Each chapter starts off with and explanation of how each genre has developed over the years and example photographs are discussed and critiqued. A number of the photographs and photographers are known to me would be instantly recognisable to anyone with an interest in photography. It was interesting to read the authors views and opinions on them. Some I can agree with, and a few I can not, as stated in the book," we must remember that the photograph is itself the product of a photographer" and "the photograph is, in the end, open to endless meanings."

The book has given me a great insight into some great photographers and photographs and an endless list of more to investigate. My intention is to come back to this book in a few months and read it again after I have had time to research some of the photographers and photographers spoken about in the book and visited a few exhibitions and see if my new found acorn of knowledge has started to grow!.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Vertical and Horizontal Frames

Exercise - Vertical and Horizontal Frames (20 frames twice)

For this exercise I was to take 20 photographs as vertical, as opposed to horizontal framing which for the most part is how most photographs are taken. The reason for this is as most, if not all DSLR's viewfinders and oriented in the horizontal format encouraging the user to frame the photograph in this way.

The exercise was then repeated taking the same photographs in a horizontal format. The purpose of the exercise is to show that most subjects can be photographed vertically as well as horizontal. Where as most of the photographs I took for this exercise work well in either format, some are more suited to the vertical format.

Below are a selection of photographs taken for this exercise.

Image 1

Image 1.1

Images 1 & 1.1 were taken of the 'Love Padlocks' found in a park in Budapest, Hungary. Both versions of the photograph work in either format. 

Image 2 

Image 2.1

Image 2, the statue of a rather portly Hungarian Policeman suits the vertical format. 

Image 3

Image 3.1

As in image 2, image 3 a standing human figure suits the vertical format. 

Image 4

Image 4.1

In image 4 the tall cross suits the the vertical format and is a much better photograph than image 4.1, however the horizontal format works as well due to the sunset in the background. 

Image 5

Image 5.1

Image 5 works well in either format due to the shape of the flower. 

Image 6

Image 6.1

Image 6 is more suited to the horizontal format as the 3:2 frame of image 6.1 with the horizon line and the boats encourage a horizontal arrangement.

Image 7

Image 7.1

Like the photographs of the policeman and the soldier, the vertical image suits the tall signpost.

Image 8

Image 8.1

Image 8 works well in the vertical format, but loses its punch when used in the horizontal format of image 8.1

Image 9

Image 9.1

Image 9 works well in either format, however as in image 6, the horizontal lines favour the 3:2 format.

Image 10

Image 10.1

Most landscapes favour the 3:2 horizontal format, however in image 10, the vertical 2:3 format works better, this in part due to the composition. The foreground interest with the rocks and the line of the sea leading you up to the breakwater. 

Prior to commencing this course I might have well just taken the photograph in image 10 as 3:2 format and that was it. As stated by Michael Freeman in "The photographers Eye" there are 3 reasons why we shoot images horizontally. Firstly camera manufactures make cameras for horizontal use and it would be difficult to design a camera to do both vertical and horizontally. Secondly, photographers find it more comfortable to take a picture horizontally and thirdly as we have two eyes and binocular vision so we tend to see horizontally and therefore more natural to us.  

In conclusion, most photographs work in either format however as shown in the photographs of the policeman and soldier, these only work in 2:3 vertical format. The landscapes could work with either format depending on composition. As stated in the study notes the result might not be as successful as a horizontal image, but it should make you aware that format is to a large extent a matter of habit.   

Monday, 30 April 2012

Cropping and extending

Exercise: Cropping (3 photographs)

This exercise was to take three photographs I had already taken and by cropping them, find different pictures within the photographs. Looking through photographs I had already taken I tried to find photographs that I had taken prior to commencing the course, to see if the knowledge of the previous exercises could be incorporated into the cropped photograph.

Image 1 - Original 

Image 1.1 - Suggested Crop

Image 1.2 - Cropped

Image 1 was taken of the Menai suspension bridge, which links the Isle of Anglesey to the mainland of North Wales. 

Image 1 is the full uncropped version of the image, the bridge is situated slightly above the middle of the frame.  On the day the photo was taken the sky was an all over grey colour and not very exciting, so I choose to incorporate more of the foreground into the image. Upon viewing the photograph for this exercise and taking into account what I have learnt so far, I looked at cropping the photograph as shown in image 1.1. By doing so I would cut some of the distracting foreground and by placing the bridge in the frame with reference to the 'golden section' would give the final cropped photograph a more balanced composition. 

By placing the bridge in such a way, the horizontal lines of the bridge also suggest movement left and right, but more so to the left.   

Image 2 - Original

Image 2.1 - Suggested Crop

Image 2.2 - Cropped

Image 2 was taken at the Eden Project in Cornwall, my thoughts when taking the photograph was to place the flower towards the lower half of the frame and have the Bio domes, out of focus in the background. 

The suggested crop in image 2.1 would make the frame square and the flower central in the photograph. This would give the photograph maximum symmetry as the flower petals radiate out around the frames centre giving symmetry on all axis, as shown in image 2.2.

Image 3 - Original

Image 3.1 - Suggested Crop

Image 3.2 - Cropped 

Image 3 was taken looking along Bangor pier in North Wales. My thought process when taking the photograph was to have the converging lines of the seating drawing the eye towards the cafe at the end of the pier. 

When I uploaded the photograph on the computer on my return from North Wales I was uninspired with it for a few reasons, and never really looked at it again until I was looking for images for this exercise. The large expanse of wooden decking in the foreground and bland sky coupled with the fact the camera was not in line with the centre of the pier, the converging rows of seating on either side of the pier are seen at differing angles, result in the frame being out of balance. The result of this is very unsatisfactory photograph.  

In image 3.1 my intention was to crop out some of the foreground and sky and try to concentrate on the end of the pier. By doing so I tried to create bilateral symmetry of the seating leading to the cafe, however by not having the camera in the centre of the pier to start with, the photograph was out of balance.

In the final cropped version, image 3.2, while I think the photograph is better than in the original, it still doesn't work. The moral of the story is that no amount of cropping will make a bad photograph into a good one, well not always, as has been said time and time again, there are no rules in photography!!


Only a few years behind the masses, i've decided to join Twitter, and see what all the fuss is about, so if you feel that you want to follow me......!? i'm on there as @richwickphoto

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Dividing the frame - Positioning the horizon

Exercise: Positioning the horizon (6 photographs)

When photographing most landscape scenes the the horizon is the single most important graphic element within the scene, especially when there are no outstanding points of interest. This exercise was to show how positioning the horizon at different points within the frame can have important effect on how the final photograph would look.

Image 1

In image 1, I placed the horizon in the top third of the frame. The rocky river bank and muddy water of the river create a huge expanse of area with little or no interest. The horizon placed in this position clearly does not work for this scene.

Image 2

For image 2, I placed the horizon approximately half way across the photograph. The clouds are now more visible, however there is still a large brown area in the lower half of the photograph. 

Image 2 works slightly better than image 1, and if the river had been cleaner, the contrast between the river bank and water would have created slightly more interest. 

(The river is normally a nice deep blue colour, but due to the recent heavy rain the mud and silt had washed down the river causing it to become brown and muddy). 

Image 3

The Horizon in image 3 is now been moved to the lower third of the frame. The clouds are more dramatic and less of the muddy foreground is visible. As the sky has lot more interest than the foreground, hence creating more interest in for the viewer.

Image 4

Finally the horizon in image 4 was placed near to the bottom of the frame. This has the effect of the sky and clouds dominating the photograph. The river bank is now out of view and the muddy river occupies less than a 1/4 of the frame. 

For this photograph the foreground is uninteresting and the sky and clouds are dramatic, so the middle to low horizon works best in this situation. Image 3 has the best combination of sky/clouds and foreground, whereas image 4 is dominated by the sky, this in my opinion overwhelms the photograph. Image 3 therefore is the better composition for this scene. 

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Dividing the frame - Balance

Exercise: Balance (6 photographs)

The aim of this exercise was to take a look at any photographs I've have already taken and decide how the balance works in each one of them.

When referring to balance in a photograph it applies to as much as what you see as to the actual physical objects. Therefore colour, differing areas of tone and or between an object and a background can all effect balance.

Having looked through my photograph collection I have picked the following images to, hopefully try to demonstrate symmetrical and dynamic balance.

Image 1

Image 1 has two unequal objects the window to the left of centre and the chimney to the right. As the chimney is placed near the edge of the frame it balances out the larger window. This is an example of symmetrical balance whereby everything falls equally away from the middle of the photograph. 

Image 2

Image 2 was take on a visit to the Eden Project in Cornwall, as the subject has been placed central in the photograph, creating maximum symmetry as the lines radiate from the centre giving symmetry on all axis.


After studying image 2 further, the Bio Domes that are visible in the top left of the photograph may alter the balance slightly, in image 2.1 I have re drawn the weighing scale taking into account the Bio Domes, and as the scale suggest the photograph now has dynamic balance with regard to the principles applied in this exercise, I feel that the domes in the background give the photograph depth and visual tension to the viewer.

Image 3 

Image 3 was taken on a cold February day in St Ives, Cornwall, the rear of the fishing boat in the foreground is the larger of the two subjects present in the photograph. Even though the remainder of the boat goes out shot to the right, the stern rudder is near centre of the photograph and the row of houses in the background are slightly smaller and nearer the top of the frame, thus in my opinion creating symmetry and balance in the photograph. 

Image 4 

Image 4 was taken about 3 years ago at Foggintor quarry, near Princetown, Dartmoor. The ruined building is the major focus point in the photograph. This in an unbalanced composition, as depicted in the weighing scale. In this photograph the eye would search for balance, either towards the sunset to the left or to the ridges and rocks bottom left or the granite boulders in the foreground.

Michael Freeman (2007) 'The Photographers Eye',  "This process of trying to compensate for an obvious asymmetry in an image is what creates visual tension, and it can be very useful indeed in making a picture more dynamic". 

Image 5

Image 5 was taken last year when I was practicing product photography and experimenting with off camera flash. Having looked at it with regard to this exercise, the eye is drawn to the full Bourbon glass in foreground, then as in image 4, the eye would search for visual balance, either to the bottle on its side to the left or the one directly behind it. The visual tension created in this photograph, is in my opinion more effective than having symmetrical balance. 

Michael Freeman (2007) 'The Photographers Eye', "An expressive picture is by no means always harmonious"  

Image 6

Image 6 was taken on a recent trip to Betws y Coed in North Wales, the focus points being the waterfall which is placed near the centre of the photograph and the houses and trees at the top of the photograph

The waterfall, is definitely the larger of the two subjects in the photograph and I composed it so that the viewer would be drawn to the waterfall before looking at the setting, i.e the houses and trees in the background. This is another example of dynamic balance. The eye tends naturally to look for good balance in image 6, I wanted to create the tension between the waterfall and the setting.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Focal lengths - different viewpoints

Exercise: Focal lengths and different viewpoints (2 or more photographs)

This exercise was to show how different focal lengths and a change of viewpoint can have on the perspective of a photograph.

I photographed a covered gateway to a local church to demonstrate the difference in prospective.

Image 1 - 190mm @ f10

Image 2 - 29mm @ f10

Image 1 as stated was taken at 190mm and gives an impression that the entrance door to the church in the background is a lot closer to the gate. The telephoto lens reduces the impression of depth by compressing the planes of the image. It leaves the parallel lines and right angles as they are, this gives the viewer a less involved view of the gateway, distancing them from the it, giving them a more objective way of viewing it. 

In image 2, taken at 29mm the entrance door to the church appears to be a lot further away, this is due to the wide angle lens as they change the apparent perspective and so the perception of depth. The tiled roof the entrance gates is emphasised, this again is due to the wide angle lens as they have a tendency to produce diagonals creating dynamic tension drawing the viewer into the scene, it occupies the upper part of the photograph and giving it a very strong presence. 

Focal lengths

Exercise: Focal Lengths (3-10 photographs)

This exercise was to demonstrate how using different lenses and therefore different focal lengths can have effect on a photograph. This was achieved by setting the camera on a tripod and taking a series photographs at varying focal lengths of open view with detail in the distance. For this exercise I used a Nikon D300 fitted with 18-50mm lens as well as a 70-300mm lens.

Image 1 - taken @ 29mm

Image 2 - taken @ 46mm

Image 3 - taken @ 70mm

Image 4 - taken @ 300mm

The photographs were taken looking westward from Princetown towards Merrivale on Dartmoor. In image 1, I used a focal length of 29mm and this gave a wide angle view of the moorland and houses and the old Merrivale quarry in the distance, this angle of view is quite flat and boring. 

Image 2 was taken at 46mm and gives a slightly tighter view. It gives a better impression of the quarry and surrounding area with the granite and heather moorland in the foreground. 

Moving in to 70mm in image 3 and some of the detail of quarry is lost, this is due to the increase in focal length, as the focal length is increased, so the angle of view is decreased. This is demonstrated to a greater extent on image 4 which was taken at 300mm. The detail of the quarry and surrounding farm buildings have been lost and the photograph is dominated by the large white house. In this photograph, I varied the composition slightly and placed the house the right of the photograph as the driveway goes out to the left and the parked van suggest movement to the left.