Assignment 1

The brief:

Make at least eight pairs of photographs from the list below. Note your thoughts at the time of taking the pictures in your notebook and your intentions with regard to each of them.

Choose from the following list of contrasts:

Contrasts TableChoose 16 photographs from your final results, group them in eight pairs, clearly marked with the contrasts they aim to demonstrate. In addition, produce one photograph that demonstrates contrast ‘in one picture’.

The assignment stems from the preliminary foundation course taught at the Bauhaus by Johannes Itten. The purpose of this exercise was to engage students to use their senses, emotions and intellect with the purpose of learning about themselves before specializing in a particular direction. Itten was of the opinion that “imagination and creative ability must first of all be liberated and strengthened”1 and once that had been achieved then one could introduce them to commercial and technical aspects.

In preparation for this assignment I looked through my collection of images and selected four contrasting pairs. I found this relatively easy to do and these images can be viewed on my Assignment 1 – Planning page. As can be seen from my initial list of contrasts, I did change my mind about some of the sets that I did.

Some of the combinations were relatively easy to come up with ideas, others not so. It proved to be rather taxing to find the appropriate matching pair in some cases and I have been hampered by inclement weather and had to resort to doing more still lifes than I had originally intended. Although I have not worked to a theme, I have confined each pairing to a similar set. All photographs were shot with a Nikon D3000 camera.

Diagonal/Rounded

I noticed these stairs (figure 1) when I was out shooting my Vertical and Horizontal exercises and thought that they would be perfect to demonstrate diagonal lines. I particularly like the way the diagonal orientation of the stairs and railings at the diagonally opposite corners of the frame (top right and bottom left) also form a visual diagonal to balance the image symmetrically. The points of the zig-zag diagonals of the main stairs fall on the horizontal rule of third lines, balancing the image vertically as well. The only post processing done was to tidy up the corners and straighten the horizon line of the stairs and a bit of dodging to deepen the shadows on the stairs as this was shot at around 1:00 pm when the sun was directly overhead.

For the contrast pair “rounded” I decided to photograph the Vancouver Public Library (figure 2). The architecture of the building was inspired by the Roman Coliseum. The library takes up a whole city block and is composed of two separate buildings – the main part is elliptical in shape and is flanked by a semi-circular office block on the side. I decided to make this photo at sunset as the building can look quite lovely when the interior lights are on. I set up my tripod across the busy street and used a slow shutter speed to include light trails of the traffic rushing past as extra visual interest. In hindsight, it would probably have been better to do this during the week as there would have been more office lights on in the building.

Figure 1 - Diagonal

Figure 1 – Diagonal
f8.0, 1/400 second, 55mm, 100 ISO

Figure 2 - Rounded

Figure 2 – Rounded
f8.0, 1/3 second, 18mm, 200 ISO

Many/Few

I wanted to do something a little outside the box with this combination. I initially had the idea of a container holding a few items for the “few” image (figure 4) and while I was out shopping for some props for one of the other combinations I was planning to do, I came across these alphabet tiles. My idea was to do a play on a literal and figurative depiction of the words at the same time. For the “many” image (figure 3) I created a word search puzzle with the alphabet tiles ensuring that the only visible word is “many”. For both these images I did a custom white balance as I had a mixture of natural and artificial light to contend with. My artificial lighting consisted of a reading lamp. I had decided to use a shallow depth of field for both images, focusing on the word “many” in figure 3 and on the “f” in figure 4. I used a tripod in both instances.

Figure 3 - Many

Figure 3 – Many
f1.8, 1/200 second, 50mm, 100 ISO

Figure 4 - Few

Figure 4 – Few
f1.8, 1/125 second, 50mm, 100 ISO

High/Low

My “high” image (figure 5) was totally unplanned. I was out shooting the vertical and horizontal exercise and came across this scenario of the tethered man on the ledge talking on his phone. My humorous side itches to add a title to this photo in the lines of “I’ll just step outside to take this call …”. I took this image from a bridge looking slightly down on the man. The only post processing I have done on figure 5 is a slight crop to get rid of the bottom frames of some windows above the ones you see on the photo and a bit of burning to deepen the shadows of the corrugated iron cladding.

I struggled a bit to find a corresponding contrast for my “low” image (figure 6). However, I managed to take a photo of a dock worker who was standing next to an oil tanker at the dry docks. The man is low down in comparison to the gigantic structure he is standing next to, as well as being placed low in the frame. This image was also cropped a bit to bring more focus to the area of the ship’s hull.

Figure 5 - High

Figure 5 – High
f8.0, 1/400 second, 55mm, 100 ISO

Figure 6 - Low

Figure 6 – Low
f8.0, 1/80 second, 70mm, 200 ISO

Light/dark

I decided to use the projection of light to display colour for the “light” component of this set (figure 7). I set up a projector and displayed a variety of fractal and modern art images on my colleague’s face to see what the effects of the patterns and light would be. Unfortunately I had no background light to eliminate the shadow that her body cast on the projection behind her, so I had to do some fairly tight cropping and blended the background into the shadow. Notwithstanding this, I was quite pleasantly surprised how well the images turned out.

Initially I had planned to do a backlit setup with just a rim light around the subject, but that didn’t quite pan out the way I hoped mainly due to lack of proper equipment and stands. My makeshift stuff didn’t work well at all. So I did a split lighting (figure 8) on the subject, which was my plan B. I do think it conveys the sense of “dark” as well. A tripod was used in both instances.

Figure 7 - Light

Figure 7 – Light
f1.8, 1/50 second, 50mm, 100 ISO

Figure 8 - Dark

Figure 8 – Dark
f1.8, 1/8 second, 50mm, 200 ISO

Broad/Narrow

Vancouver is a city of bridges. You can’t get anywhere without having to cross at least one bridge on your journey. I decided to photograph two of our quite famous bridges for this assignment. Lions Gate Bridge (figure 9) is a two kilometre suspension bridge which was financed by the Guinness family (yes, the Irish stout family) and completed in 1938. It links the Downtown area with the North Shore suburbs. I chose this bridge for my “broad” image. It was taken from another bridge that crosses the causeway where I set up my tripod. Taken just before sunset, I slowed my shutter speed down to 1/5 second to get a slight blur from the cars traveling along the bridge. Post processing involved straightening the image slightly and a bit of burning on the sky, and some dodging on the two lion statutes at the foot of the bridge.

For my “narrow” image, I chose another suspension bridge, the Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge. This is a foot bridge which spans Lynn Valley Canyon and is suspended 50 metres above waterfalls and a river. I have no head for heights so was not planning on taking any photos from the actual bridge deck, which sways terribly.  I believe this image conveys the feeling of narrow well as the people have to squeeze by each other to get past. Post processing just involved a slight crop to get rid of some empty space next to the tree trunk on frame left.

Figure 9 - Broad

Figure 9 – Broad
f16, 1/5 second, 60mm, 100 ISO

Figure 10 - Narrow

Figure 10 – Narrow
f8.0, 1/125 second, 55mm, 100 ISO

Light/heavy

My initial idea around the “light” part of this pairing was to create an illusion whereby a feather was hovering in the air (figure 11) and this would be emphasized by two spirals of smoke “holding the feather up” all done without the aid of Photoshop. I fashioned a background and draped a piece of black velour over it. With my son’s help we tried blowing the feather into the air, but keeping it there was rather tricky. Eventually I decided to let the feather drift down and see where it sat on the velour. Then we lit two incense sticks and I had my son wave them around to create spirals of smoke. Even though I had cranked up my ISO to 1600 my shutter speed was still very slow, so the smoke spirals smoothed out a little too much. My son then added coloured finger LED lights to his fingers and coloured the smoke. This emphasized the smoke better and created the illusion that I was after – well pretty close anyway. Post processing was limited to removing a few specks of fluff on the background.

I’ve tried to stay within nature’s elements for the contrasting pair, namely a stone sculpture to depict “heavy” in figure 12. I headed down to one of the displays of public art in North Vancouver and took a few photographs with different focal lengths and viewpoints of this sculpture. The sculpture is quite low so I was not able to get as strong a perspective as I would have like. Also the viewpoint access to this sculpture is rather limited by walls along the right angled footpaths to it so one can’t really back up at an angle. Notwithstanding that, I feel the subject conveys the sense of heaviness.

Figure 11 – Light

Figure 11 – Light
f5.6, 1/13 second, 50mm, 1600 ISO

Figure 12 - Heavy

Figure 12 – Heavy
f5.3, 1/60 second, 45mm, 100 ISO

Still/moving

I chose water for this set. Figure 13 shows the clear, still water of a marsh, while figure 14 shows water raging over rocks and boulders in a river. For figure 13, I positioned myself so that the fallen logs create diagonal leading lines at the bottom right of the frame, while the marsh forms a natural S-curve which leads the eye through the image. For figure 14, using my tripod, I slowed my shutter speed down to 1/8 second and set my aperture to f25 to blur the motion of the water.

Figure 13 - Still

Figure 13 – Still
f3.5, 1/400 second, 18mm, 100 ISO

Figure 14 - Motion

Figure 14 – Motion
f25, 1/8 second, 125mm, 200 ISO

Pointed/blunt

For this set, I headed down to my husband’s tool shed to see what I could find to fit the brief. The sharp noised pliers seemed to fit the bill for “pointed” (figure 15) and the hammer for “blunt” (figure 16). Because of the rather messy background in the shed, I used a large aperture in both photos (f2.5 for the pliers and f1.8 for the hammer) to blur the background, but at the same time still providing a bit of context for the tools. I only performed a slight crop on figure 15 for post processing work.

Figure 15 - Pointed

Figure 15 – Pointed
f2.5, 1/125 sec, 50mm, 100 ISO

Figure 16 - Blunt

Figure 16 – Blunt
f1.8, 1/160 second, 50mm, 100 ISO

Single Image Contrast – Black/White

I chose to do Black/white for the single image exercise. For this image I used black velour as my background, positioned the white bowl and took an exposure reading. I then performed a custom white balance on the bowl to ensure I would have bright white and dark black. I then added dark blue coloured water to the bowl as it look black and did another exposure reading. I then added the candles (unlit) and did another exposure reading. Once I had lit the candles I had to play around with the reading lamp I was using as my lighting source to light up the underside of the bowl sufficiently and to get the rim of the bowl white as it kept on picking up tinges of blue from the blue water. I then added another lamp and a flashlight. Eventually I elevated the bowl onto a stand to raise it up to get to the light as my light could not go lower. I ended up converting the final image to black and white as the blue water, sadly left a dark blue rim around the far edge of the water. I would have preferred to have the image in colour.

Figure 17 - Black/White

Figure 17 – Black/White
f5.6, 1/30 second, 50mm, 100 ISO

ASSESSMENT CRITERIA

Demonstration of technical and visual skills (materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills)

My observational skills, especially checking the edges of my frame, have improved tremendously. When I am out in the field I sometimes have a Eureka moment, but I am still working on seeing beyond the obvious. I have slowed down when taking photographs thinking my options through first rather than just pressing the shutter and hoping for the best. I tend to shoot at a shallow depth of field a lot of the time, but I have made a conscious effort in the assignment to extend the range and shoot more often with a deeper depth of field and I feel I have made good progress in this regards. I’ve noticed that I have produced a fair amount of vertical images for this assignment, more so than I would normally produce during a shoot, so I feel I have made some progress here.

Quality of Outcome (content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas)

I feel my blog is presented in an easy to follow and coherent manner and my coursework is laid out fairly simply.  I still struggle to conceptualise my thoughts, but found with this assignment where I preplanned the shots in greater detail I was more successful in conveying those ideas. This is, obviously, something that I will try and develop in future coursework and assignments. Perhaps, if I immerse myself in John Berger’s work, the communication of ideas will come easier to me.

Demonstration of Creativity (imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice)

I have really tried to think outside the box during this assignment. I have experimented with light projection, weightlessness and smoke and tried to be creative with all my photos. Have I succeeded? I think I may have in some instances, in others I know there is room for improvement. I do know I have definitely gone outside my comfort level in quite a few instances and I found it quite frustrating at times, yet also exciting. With regards my personal voice – it’s in there somewhere, whispering to me, but it’s not quite loud enough for me to hear it yet.

Context (reflection, research, critical thinking)

I am still coming to grips with keeping a learning log and notebook (which is my secondary log). I am not a ‘diary’ person, so I often find myself leaving my notebook behind when going out on shoots. I can see the purpose of using it when I’m doing lighting exercises or planning a landscape, but it is rather extraneous when doing street photography. However, I will continue to make the effort of being more reflective and use my notebook more often. I feel I have been quite reflective thus far in the course, slowly opening up on a public forum, but obviously there is always room for improvement. I have made a good effort to start doing research early on to get into the habit. To begin my critical thinking and research, I undertook a visual literacy exercise on Jack Delano’s Women Workers at the Chicago and North Western Rail Road. I have been to three exhibitions and reviewed four photographers, namely Edward Burtynsky, Ansel Adams, Rodney Graham and Leonard Frank, and attended a lecture by Steve McCurryJohn Berger has swayed me with his philosophy and eloquence in his TV series “Ways of Seeing”, so much so that I have obtained a copy of his book “Understanding a Photograph”, which I will review once I have read it; however, my humble words will pall next to his. With regards to critical thinking, I feel that I have made a start. I found that while I was reading Charlotte Cotton’s “The Photograph as Contemporary Art” I was rather puzzled how some of the photographs could be regarded as “art”. That is until I went to my first exhibition, where I was lucky enough to see a couple of the works mentioned in her book. I have discovered that it does require an in-depth analysis (albeit at a rather ‘junior’ level right now) to appreciate the work in its entirety. One has to break down the image into little parts in order to appreciate the whole.

Reference

  1. Johannes Itten. Design and Form; the Basic Course at the Bauhaus,Trans. John Maass (New York: Reinhold Public Corporation, 1964) 10. Cited in Saha, Bini. (2005) Porosity and Participation: The Architecture of the Canadian Institute of Design, School of Architecture, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, 2004-2005, p 13.

Bibliography

Caruana, Natasha and Fox, Anna (2012). Behind the Image: Research in Photography, AVA Publishing. Lausanne, Switzerland.

Cotton, Charlotte (2009). The Photograph As Contemporary Art (2nd revised ed), Thames and Hudson. London, United Kingdom.

Freeman, Michael (2007). The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and design for Better Digital Photos, The Ilex Press. Lewes, England.

Saha, Bini. (2005) Porosity and Participation: The Architecture of the Canadian Institute of Design, School of Architecture, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.


 

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