Category Archives: Part 5 Narrative and Illustration

Update on Assignment 5 Planning (Finn Slough Project)

I have started working my Finn Slough project for assignment 5 and just completed my second visit to the place today. The light was better this time. It is such a quaint, interesting place. My husband can’t fathom why I want to photograph this place. Rather challenging to photograph though as one can’t veer off the road or clamber down the embankments. There are signs that the locals have put up warning one not to do this as it would disturb the very sensitive habit. So I am heeding the signs. I think some of the embankments consist of decayed, rotten wood covered in a thin layer of soil and I wouldn’t want to fall into that mess. To compound the issue I’m having to shoot through raspberry bushes and other lanky, twiggy shrubbery, which often detracts from the shot. But that is part of the place so I trying to work around that.

The first time I went there it was low tide – zero water in the slough at all! All the boats were sitting in the mud. The second time, the tide was beginning to come in and the boats at the entrance to the slough were bobbing in the water. I have researched the fishing tide tables for that area and have printed off March and April’s tables so that I can see on what days and what times there will be a high tide. Unfortunately I’m restricted to going there over weekends only as Finn Slough is quite far from where I live. If only there were more days in a weekend (wishful thinking).

I’m also hoping to be able to fit in either a sunrise or sunset at the location. The location is in a very flat part of Vancouver, rather like the Netherlands, with dykes. I’ll have to consult the Photographer’s Ephemeris to find the best angles.

Exercise: Rain

The brief:

Imagine a magazine cover on one subject: rain. You have the entire cover space to work in and you should produce a single, strong, attractive photograph that leaves no one in doubt about the subject. This is first and exercise in imagination, not always easy, and second an exercise in producing a photograph to a specification. If you need guidelines, here are some:

  • think of all the effects of rain that you have ever seen
  • keep it simple
  • be interesting: don’t settle for an ordinary middle-distance shot of a street in the rain
  • with some picture ideas you need not wait for a rainy day
  • If you can’t be completely original, at least make the photograph attractive
  • even if your idea is original, still make the photograph attractive.

I had to wait quite a while for the rain to show up this time. Normally I’m complaining that it is raining too much. This morning, however, as we were waiting at the border to cross over into the US, we had a bit of deluge and I quickly got out the camera and got a few images of the cars ahead of us. The water was cascading beautifully over the windscreen and out of the corner of my eye I saw a girl get out of the car just next to us. I love the abstract feel to this portrait and I definitely feel it depicts rain very well. The muted shades of greys and blacks add to the depressing mood of the rain, while the girl’s jacket adds a refreshing pop of colour to the palette. I cropped the photo to portrait format to emphasis the abstract background behind the girl. There is plenty of room for a masthead at the top of the image.


f5, 1/1000, 35mm, ISO 200

While I was waiting for the rain to materialize over the past two weeks I found this image which I had taken while working on Assignment 3. It is a photograph of Hastings Racetrack’s stables, which are covered in colourful graffiti. It also has an abstract feel to it.

Rain No. 2

Rain No. 2
f29, 1/5, 55mm, ISO 400


Ideas for Assignment 5

I had three ideas brewing for a while as potential subjects for Assignment 5 and after receiving my tutor’s feedback from Assignment 4 I ran the ideas past him.

  1. We have an elevated commuter train here in Vancouver called the Skytrain and it has 3 segments to it. The original line is called the Expo Line, then there is a Millennium Line and the latest addition is the Canada Line which was put in especially for the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. I was originally thinking of “riding the line” from beginning to end on the Expo line, photographing commuters on the train, at the station, the passing scenery and showing the different socio-economic pockets of Vancouver. However, this line has about 20 stations so it might be too much, unless I leave some of the less interesting stops out.
  2. My second option was about the new Canada Line and doing a story as a tourist’s first impression of Vancouver, basically from the airport where the line starts and culminating either at the last stop in the city.
  3. My final idea and original one was to do a narrative on a place called Finn Slough. Its a tiny enclave that Finnish immigrants settled between in the late 1800’s and just after World War II, and they built their houses literally on stilts and pilings in the mud flats next to a river. It has now become an artists’/fisher community and is pretty much a squatter town. There is also an environmental story there as there are all sorts of flora and birdlife in that area.

My tutor liked my first idea, warned me off the second one and said the last idea was the best. So I think Finn Slough it is.

Finn Slough

Finn Slough

Exercise: Juxtaposition

The brief:

For this exercise choose either the still-life approach …, or a larger scale shot, which involves choosing a viewpoint and lens focal length. If the former, take any book you like and make a suitable cover illustration using two or three relevant elements. If the latter, photograph someone with a possession, or the results of their work or hobby.

I have been horribly sick the whole of this last week so I’ve chosen to do the still-life approach (not my forte) so I can stay indoors . My all time favourite book has to be Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, probably better known as Cross stitch in the UK. I did do a book cover a few years ago when I was doing a Photoshop course and chose to do a cover for one of her books that was about to launch back then too. Needless to say the PhotoShop version is far more interesting, but I won’t show that as it consists of found images and lots of gradient layering etc. For those that don’t know the book, very briefly the heroine of the series is a nurse who just at the end of Word War II falls through a crack in one of the standing stones in Scotland. She is transported back in time about 200 odd years, before the battle of Culloden. Not revealing any spoilers here -watch the series if you don’t want to read the book :-). Because of her medical background, she becomes the go-to person for all medical issues and she becomes rather resourceful in using herbs to create her own potions and medicines.

So not having access to wonderful items, like standing stones and whisky stills, I have chosen to juxtapose this aspect for the image. So I have taken a bunch of herbs, a mortar and pestle, which I’m sure was available back in the day and a “tartanish” scarf to represent the Scottish aspect of the story. (I know it isn’t a real tartan, but it is the closest thing I have in my wardrobe).


f8, 2.5 sec, 40mm, ISO 100

Exercise: Symbols

The brief:

The idea of this project is to find symbols for a number of concepts. Complete it by listing more than one symbol for each of the following subjects, and add short notes saying how you might use them in a photograph. You do not need to take actual photographs for this, although by all means do if you feel enthusiastic about one of your ideas. The subjects are growth, excess, crime, silence and poverty.


  • Notches made on a child’s birthday against a door frame marking the child’s growth.
  • Puppies and dogs
  • Man with stubble/beard
  • Piles of coins and/or money
  • Bean sprouting
  • Tumour – external on someone’s body
  • A girl’s long hair blowing in the wind


  • Purse overflowing with money
  • Cupboard full of shows/clothes
  • Table laden with many dishes of food
  • Dumpster outside restaurant containing discarded food
  • Cup/mug overflowing with tea/coffee/juice
  • Overflowing bath


  • Gun
  • Handcuffs – someone’s hands cuffed together
  • Police mugshot
  • Wanted poster
  • Police car – with lights flashing
  • Items of crime – weapons: knives, wooden bats/poles; drugs; bottles of poison
  • Bars – person behind bars
  • Police station


  • Church – inside near the altar
  • Finger pressed against the mouth
  • Hand over the mouth
  • Calm lake/ocean or body of water
  • Forest of trees
  • Library – people reading/studying
  • Waves crashing on the rocks
  • Someone sleeping


  • Empty purse
  • Empty cupboard/fridge
  • Homeless person on the street
  • Person begging with cupped hand
  • Hat on sidewalk with a few coins inside
  • Big, sad, moist eyes gazing back at you
  • Patched, torn clothing
  • Shopping cart filled with possessions


Exercise: Evidence of action

The brief:

Produce one photograph in which it can be seen that something has happened. As a suggestion, include in the photograph something that has been broken, or emptied.

When illustration really comes into its own, however, is in dealing with subjects that are not straightforward solid objects or obvious events…. write down five examples of concepts that are regularly depicted in advertising and publicity, which cannot be shown directly.

Fig 1 - Broken Eggs

Fig 1 – Broken Eggs

Having just made breakfast, I used the broken egg shells for this example of evidence of action.

Examples of abstract ideas and concepts

  • power – could be interpreted as body strength, think weight lifter, or someone in a position of power – royalty.
  • success – products shots of sports cars with a scantily clad girl draped over the bonnet – sex sells, money, someone receiving a diploma.
  • love – colour red, hearts, kisses, couples embracing.
  • happiness – people smiling, doing good deeds, children playing.
  • health – hospitals, people exercising, vitamins.

Exercise: A narrative picture essay

The brief:

This project requires you to set yourself an assignment and then photograph it. Based on what you have learnt so far, tell a story of any kind, in a set of pictures numbering between 5 and 15. You could photograph an event that you have researched, or you could choose something closer to home and more accessible or controllable. It could even be something as simple as the preparation of some food….

The way in which you lay out the final selection of photographs is very important. In dealing with a number of photographs, it is not simply a matter of deciding on the shape and size of a single image. The whole reason for shooting a variety of images is so that, when seen together, they work together as a set….

Write a short caption under each picture, describing what it shows.

Ever since I was working towards Assignment 4, I have become so cognizant of shadows and the play of light that I have taken to photographing things I would not normally have bothered with before. Which I think is a good thing. I think Kumi Yamashita made more of an impact on me than I realised.

This past month has been rather traumatic for me for personal family reasons which I won’t go into here, but my life has been through some dark patches during this time.  I’ve chosen to do this photo narrative in an abstract form (really stepping out of my comfort zone here) to reflect this period of my life as a means of catharsis. I’m calling it “Shadow Diary of My Day”.


the day begins ...

the day begins …
f5.6. 1/500, 35mm, ISO 100

Kitchen Shadows

and so does the daily routine
f5.6, 1/500, 35mm, ISO 100

and the worries

… and the worries
f5.6, 1/250, 55mm, ISO 100

morning perspective ...

morning perspective …
f5.6, 1/640, 55mm, ISO 100

a pause - one last look back ...

a pause – one last look back …
f8, 1/200, 50mm, ISO 100

... off to the hospital

… off to the hospital
f8, 1/320, 42mm, ISO 100

an uphill battle ...

an uphill battle …
f8, 1/250, 65mm, ISO 100

afternoon perspective ...

afternoon perspective …
f8, 1/250, 110mm, ISO 100

Home at last

home at last
f8, 1/250, 145mm, ISO 100

It was my birthday last week

… it was my birthday last week …
f8, 1/60, 80mm, ISO 200

and now we wait ...

and now we wait …
f8, 1/200, 26mm, ISO 100

... the day draws to an end

… the day draws to an end
f8, 1/60, 50mm, ISO 100

I have also created a PDF book for the photo essay (Ex 41 Narrative and Illustration Shadow Diary book reduced). Its nothing fancy, but I just wanted to convey the linear flow a little better.

Very little post processing has been done. It was mainly confined to adding and/or removing a little contrast and adding some clarity. On the two images containing grass (“a pause – one last look back …” and “… the day draws to an end”) I have reduced the vibrance and desaturated the images slightly to better fit in with the muted shades of rest of the set.


Freeman, Michael (2012). The Photographer’s Story: The Art of Visual Narrative. Lewes, England: The Ilex Press.