ASSIGNMENTS

Assignment 5 – self assesment

Looking at the end result of my fifth and final assignment submission, I summarise in the following table some personal notes in relation with the course’s assessment criteria:

Assessment criteria Personal views
Demonstration of technical and visual skills In general I believe the final selection of photographs continue to demonstrate reasonable levels of competency in terms of framing and composition. This assignment was a bit of a challenge technically as I was not too familiar with multiple exposure in camera and I did not knew what I was going to get out until the end, but I believe I have managed to ensure that the final pictures were sharp when needed and have the correct clarity and exposure.
Quality of outcome I feel generally satisfied with the connection between the various photographs in terms of their theme, and I believe it shows what I wanted to convey about the subject. The main challenge I faced here was to try to show something different on each picture while still maintaining the overall theme. I believe I have reasonably succedded at that, although there are pictures that come quite close in terms of similarity of information (eg pictures 4 and 8 both show greenery, although from different parts of the estate and on different perspectives)
Demostration of creativity The experimentation in this assignment came from the use of multiple exposure. I tried different approaches to this, combining different incongruent parts together (as in pictures 4 and 7), puting together elements that were next to each other (as in pictures 1, 3, 6 and 8) or simply moving the camera around the same scene (as in pictures 2, 5 and 9). I tried these approaches with several pictures and also experimented with the number of exposures for several scenes until I found the look that I wanted. It was refreshing to see something new and completelly different come out of familiar, sometimes uninspiring scenes.
Context The main source of research for the assignment was observations made in the subject of context by Terry Barrett, as I wanted to explore how the amount and fragmentation of information could affect our perception of meaning. I tried to achieve that by scrambling the internal context (ie what appears in the picture) and provide limited, deliveratelly confusing information about the original context via the title of each picture. I did not undertake any significant reseach on the Barbican itself because it was a subject I was familiar with, and I wanted that familiarity to guide me through the process in the interest of time. I did not do any research on the technique of multiple exposure either, other than reading my camera manual on it (2 pages), because I wanted the outcome to be experimental and unbound from any external aesthetic influences. Had I researcher more about the subject or the technique employed, the results would no doubt have been different, perhaps more elaborated, and undoubtly achieved on a more economical scale in terms of the number of pictures taken.

Assignment 5 – Final selection and presentation

Out of the 120 pictures taken, 21 were shortlisted from which 10 were selected, one for each of the number of exposures that were taken to produce them. The annotated contact sheet can be found here.

For the final selection, I tried to find photographs that showed different aspect of the Barbican, both in terms of the space itself, but also of the activities undertaken within it by its inhabitants as well as the numerous daily visitors. I tried in as much as possible not to repeat elements in the pictures and as a result, some pictures had to be re taken, at a different exposure overlap level in order to accommodate another picture that I felt stronger about. The final set was arranged in decreasing order of multiple exposures, and this is the way I envisage them being presented, with the amount of fragmented information included in each picture decreasing over time. Some of the final pictures are confusing in the information they present, and I wanted to add some additional context by making the title out of two items: the number of exposures and a single word related to the original context (ie, something to do with the process of taking the picture). Some of the words are not evidently related to what we see in the pictures, and as such I do not see this process as helping the viewer to discern what my intention was, but merely to experiment with the obfuscation created by too much fragmented information.

The final pictures, with a brief explanation of where the title comes from, are shown in the table below.

IMGP4204

1/400s at f8. ISO 320. 43mm. 10 exp.

10 – Window

The title comes from the area in the Barbican from where the picture was taken, a covered corridor with large openings, resembling window frames. The church and tower partly visible are from St Giles-without-Cripplegate, and date from the XIV and XVI century, respectively.

IMGP4162

1/100s at f8. ISO 400. 43mm. 9 exp.

9 – Lunch

Framed between two concrete pillars, this picture includes people having lunch in front of one of the artificial lakes, something that many city workers do here regularly when the weather is right.

IMGP4218

1/80s at f8. ISO 100. 43mm. 8 exp.

8 – Middle

The title comes again from the area of the Barbican from where this picture was taken, the covered corridor between (in the middle) of two block of flats.

IMGP4219

1/200s at f8. ISO 100. 43mm. 7 exp.

7 – Privilege

The Barbican has many inner gardens that are only open to residents. The title makes reference to the private areas of the estate, which are photographed here from the public walkways (like the one shown on the left hand side of the frame) which run above them.

IMGP4286

1/40s at f8. ISO 100. 50mm. 6 exp.

6 – Strip

The Barbican has many covered corridors and this one is one of my favourite ones, as it does look like a tunnel with no end. When I first saw this image coming out of the camera, the first thing that came to my mind is how much it looked like a strip of motion picture film. Hence the title.

IMGP4227

1/200s at f8. ISO 400. 43mm. 5 exp

5 – Parts

The many covered walkways in the Barbican have cuts in their walls to allow light in, and on certain times of the day this creates interesting strips of light on the floors. The title here simply makes reference to the fact that the strip shown here, which was about 10 meters long, had to be cut in various parts (ie exposures) before it could fit into the picture.

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1/30s at f8. ISO 100. 50mm. 4 exp

4 – Off

While it is common to see visitors having lunch in the common areas of the estate, residents are usually seen “switching off” from reality either by finding a hidden corner to read a book and have a smoke or just taking a nap on the grass. This picture’s title makes reference to these activities.

IMGP4351

1/320s at f8. ISO 400. 50mm. 3 exp

3 – Communal

Another interesting aspect of the residents life is that they have allotments (pictured here), something rarely seen in modern blocks of flats, but more common in suburban parts of London. This adds to the sense of community in the place, and hence the title.

IMGP4343

1/50s at f8. ISO 100. 50mm. 2 exp

2 – Enclave

This image is composed of one of the private playing grounds of the estate and the busy street just outside. The middle of the picture gives the impression of a wall separating the estate from the rest of the city. I always found the Barbican to be a space of calm away from the noise of cars and people that surround it. Hence the title.

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1/250s at f8. ISO 100. 35mm. 1 exp

1 – Obstructed

The title here comes from the fact the picture I wanted to take for the 1 exposure shot, including the estate towers, was obstructed by features or objects and then, frustrated by my lack of success, I took this shot from a location I had not though about in the first place. After correcting the verticals, I ended liking this picture very much, as I believe it summarises the architecture of the place very well.

I envisage the final shots being shown in a book, with one picture on one page and the title on its opposite page. As the order of the pictures is meant to be descending in terms of the number of exposures, from 10 to 1, I set the book to open from right to left rather than in the traditional way. A PDF version of the proposed book can be found here.

Assignment 5 – The shooting process

The assignment was shot over 5 days. In total 120 pictures were produced, but many of these were made with several exposures per image, so the total number of shutter actuations was much higher at 586.

The approch taken was to take the shots and combine them in camera. Three  prime lenses, all of them close to normal perpective, were used: a 35mm, a 43mm and a 50mm lens. They were all set to f8 (except one shot that was accidentally taken at f9) to ensure optimal sharpness. The camera used has three blending modes for multiple exposure, one of which is “average” (in which all exposures are even out to the same level), the second is “additive”, in which pictures are added up at the same exposure they were taken, and “bright”, which replaces the bright exposure areas of the first image. I used the “average” method for all pictures in which the elements were similar and there was no particular one that I wanted to emphasize, and then used the “additive” method whenever I wanted to have more control over which exposures to emphasize. The “bright” method was not used.

Pictures were taken combining between 2 and 10 exposures. The camera builds a final image with all the exposures and discards each of the intermediate pictures, for which it is not possible to replicate or tweak the end result in post processing by blending each exposure again separatelly. The camera here is faithful to the truth that it sees, and does not allow the photographer to reinterpret it. The only post-processing done was to correct exposure, lens distortions, to add vignetting when appropriate, and to crop.

Because I was not able to see the results before all the exposures were taken, the process was largely down to trial and error at first, with some of the images having to be retaken at different exposure and point of view levels before satisfactory results were attained. As I was appoaching a final selection, some pictures were retaken and reinterpreted at different multiple exposure levels in order to get the final collection of images I wanted to show.

Assignment 5 – What is it about?

The final assignment is about the Barbican estate in the City of London. I have been photographing in the Barbican regularly for nearly 10 years now and wanted to revisit this subject with a fresh photographic approach for the final assignment, perhaps closing the circle opened by the first assignment, which was about an unfamiliar place photographed in a conventional way.

The Barbican is not particularly large (c.40 acres), but the fact that I have been taking pictures here for so long and always find something new is a testament to the interestingness of the place. It has striking architecture, with beautiful clean lines and rich textures from the raw concrete of its walls. It also has lots of hidden views and little corners that reveal new perspectives if you are careful to spot them. More importantly, to me the place is like a condensed version of aspects of today’s society, with a veneer of a sense of community and a subtle but firm segregation between the public and the private. In this series I wanted summarise all I liked and resented about this place to date, full knowing that this series would never be complete. Some of my favourite Barbican pictures fromg the past 10 years are shown below.

When I looked at the brief, my initial tests were based on a straight series of pictures on various elements of a selected subject, each picture building up on the ideas I wanted to convey. But following those initial explorations, I decided to opt for a technique I had just started to use, multiple exposures in camera, both to allow myself to see familiar subjects on a new light but also because I wanted to explore the ideas of context exposed by Terry Barrett (1) and how the amount of information could affect our perception of meaning.

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(1) Barrett, T. (1997). [online] Available at: http://www.terrybarrettosu.com/images/pdfs/B_PhotAndCont_97.pdf [Accessed 8 Apr. 2017].

Assignment – Preliminary ideas

My first idea for this assignment came from a late evening shoot-out session in St Albans, Hertfordshire. I was staying in a country hotel for a work related event and decided to go out after dinner with the intention of finishing a roll of black and white film I had on my Nikon FM. My favorite resulting images are shown below:

FM00167_0010

10s at f4. 40mm Kodak TMAX 400. HC-110 dilution b 9:55 min at 19.5c

FM00167_0012

30s at f5.6. 28mm. Kodak TMAX 400. HC-110 dilution b 9:55 min at 19.5c

FM00167_0018

1/60s at f2. 40mm. Kodak TMAX 400. HC-110 dilution b. 9:55 min at 19.5c

FM00167_0020

1/30s at f2. 40mm. Kodak TMAX 400. HC-110 dilution b. 9:55 min at 19.5c

FM00167_0032

1/60s at f2. 40mm. Kodak TMAX 400. HC-110 dilution b. 9:55 min at 19.5c

FM00167_0038

1/60s at f2. Kodak TMAX 400. HC-110 dilution b. 9:55 min at 19.5c

The pictures were taken quite late at night, most of them after midnight and there was nearly no one on the streets. As I walked around the town taking pictures, I was feeling an inner sense of calm. At some point, street lights were switched off and I had to use my phone to illuminate the pavement briefly while my eyes adapted to the total darkness, yet somehow I did not feel scared of being in such remote place completely alone. It was at that point that it occurred to me I wanted to based my final assignment on suburban areas at night.

In the following nights I went out around my house to repeat the experience I had in St Albans, also late at night. This time equipped with a digital camera, I captured similar pictures (shown below) as well as other new ones that came to my mind as I walked, mostly alone.

DSC00027

1/40s at f2.8. 35mm. ISO 6400

DSC00033

1/5s at f2.8. 35mm. ISO 6400

DSC00040

1/20s at f5.6. 35mm. ISO 6400

DSC00051

1/6s at f5.6. 35mm. ISO 6400

DSC00057

1/60s at f5.6. 35mm. ISO 6400

As I looked at the requirements of the brief, I was not convinced I could build a successful series of pictures that I liked and that did not have elements in common or were sufficiently different from one another. There was also the issue that these pictures were also similar to the ones I took for my first assignment, which was also based on suburban life. In view of this, I decided to change track and put aside the project of suburbia at night for the time being and try a different subject for my final assignment.

——————– ooo ——————–

In parallel with the above, I started another project. This involved taking multiple exposures on a film camera, which I had never done before. The location I chose for my first test was the Barbican estate, in the City of London, a place I was familiar with and conveniently located near where I live. I divided my metered exposure by the number of exposures in each shot, but other than that did not make any adjustment. Some of my favorite shots are shown below.

FM00168_0001

10 exposures. 1/1000s at f22. 40mm. Kodak TMAX 400. HC-110 dilution b. 5:16 min at 23.5c.

FM00168_0022

2 exposures. 1/500s at f22. 40mm. Kodak TMAX 400. HC-110 dilution b. 5:16 min at 23.5c

FM00168_0031

5 exposures. 1/500s at f16. 40mm. Kodak TMAX 400. HC-110 dilution b. 5:16 min at 23.5c

FM00168_0007

4 exposures. 1/125s at f8. 40mm. Kodak TMAX 400. HC-110 dilution b. 5:16 min at 23.5c.

Some of the pictures were not correctly exposed and ended up giving very thin negatives. In other cases one exposure clearly dominated the rest. But I was pleased enough by the results I got to take this idea forward. It was at this point that I decided to base the final assignment on the Barbican estate, using multiple exposures as a way of constructing a new point of view on the place different from what I have done before.

Assignment 4 – self assessment

Looking at the end result of my fourth assignment submission, I summarise in the following table some personal notes in relation with the course’s assessment criteria:

Assessment criteria Personal views
Demonstration of technical and visual skills In general I believe the final selection of photographs continue to demonstrate reasonable levels of competency in terms of framing and composition. This assignment led me to deepen my exploration of techniques and ways of visual presentation that I did not have a great deal of experience with, such as off camera flash illumination, and the modification of artificial light, both in shape and colour. While I am satisfied with the end results in terms of technique at the time of submission, I was left intrigued by some of the results I got (particularly in the picture of the shed door, which I was initially expecting to look a little less natural) and I can see myself revisiting some of the techniques used in future projects.
Quality of outcome I feel generally satisfied with the connection between the various photographs in terms of their theme. Although the end results are not entirely homogeneous in subject and sometimes diverge in  the quality of illumination, I am satisfied that they conform to the main idea of being ordinary, mundane objects that I have attempted to portray under a different light. One of my ideas with this project was to achieve the correct balance between the light falling on the main subjects and that of its surroundings. While in some cases the main flash also provided some degree of fill light for the background, for most pictures my approach could only be attained by increasing ISO, and this inevitably led to some pictures exhibiting relatively high noise levels, which are thankfully not particularly noticeable at the size of the submitted pictures, except perhaps for the second picture, when there is clearly some noise visible on the sky.
Demostration of creativity Leading to the look of the final pictures, I took a number of shots under several combinations of flash, artificial and ambient light, both as part of exercise 4.4 and in subsequent experiments (see for instance exposing for the highlights, combining natural and artificial light and flash in daylight). Ultimately, I believe whatever creativity can be attributed to the final shots comes from that experimenting, which was primarily aimed at finding a look that expressed what I wanted to achieve: giving a platform to the ordinary and the neglected. In this process, the initial ideas came from pictures and photographers mentioned in previous blog entries, but the final look is primarily derived from the empirical process of throwing my subjects under what I believe was a similar light – ignoring in many cases what the original lighting arrangements were – and then changing the conditions until achieving something which hopefully was sufficiently different to stand on its own. In some cases, this involved trying different angles for the flash, in others changing the colour of the flash to try to match that of the ambient light or the subjects.
Context Compared with previous assignments, the theoretical research in this case was particularly limited. I did some initial search work and looked at some of the names mentioned in the course guide, some of which partially influenced the final look of my pictures, but I actually ended up doing a lot of exploratory work with the camera itself, looking at issues such as under exposure, exposing for the highlights, the combination of natural and artificial light and the use of flash to complement available light, prior to deciding which of exercises 4.2 to 4.4 I wanted to explore further. Once I settled on 4.4, I did a bit more of theoretical research, primarily around the names included in an exhibition on flash photography held in the Photographer’s Gallery in London in the early 1980s, and then tried to adjust the techniques used in exercise 4.4 to the look I felt more comfortable with from the photographers I had looked up. In the end, however, I wanted this assignment to be a personal journey of discovery of light and what the camera could do, and this is reflected in the predominantly empirical approach I took to give context to the project.

 

Assignment 4 – Shooting and selection

Shooting was completed in three separate sessions, all of them outdoors at night. Lighting was provided by the ambient (a combination of artificial and natural moon light) and an electronic flash strobe mounted on a light stand capable of being raised to about 2 meters. Three light modifiers were used: a conical snoot, some 30cm long with a front opening of about 1 cm, a cylindrical snoot some 23 cm long (both of which were hand-made with black card board) and a yellow colour gel filter for the flash (only used in one of the three sessions). I used two different cameras for this assignment (one of them weather resistant because it was used under sleet), but both of them were equipped with 41 ~ 43mm equivalent lenses.

All photographs were taken in my garden and in the driveway in front of my house. The idea was to identify items that I would pass on a daily basis and then try to photograph them under strong flash light to see if they could be made to look differently. A total of 173 photographs were taken during the three days, of which 12 shoots were pre-selected and a final of 7 photographs were chosen for final submission on the basis of their consistency of look. The annotated contact sheets can be found here.

The photographs were only adjusted for light (black / white point and shadows), noise reduction/sharpening, vignetting and cropping. It was necessary to colour correct a couple of photographs that were taken with the yellow filter gel on the flash (more on this below).

The final 7 photographs are shown below, together with a brief discussion of the shooting set-up

dscf3409

Image 1 – 1/8s at f16, ISO 6400. 27mm (equiv 41mm in full frame)

 

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint

side view

The first photograph is of a small weed plant growing next to a pond. The flash was set with the cylindrical snoot about 1 meter above the floor level and some 2 meters in front of the subject. Shutter speed was set low in order to allow in as much ambient light as possible, but the floor in front (the plant is on a step) was rendered pitch black. There are still some details on the periphery, some of which were darkened down slightly in post-processing with a vignette. Schematics are shown to the right.

 

 

 

 

dscf3474

Image 2 – 1/4s at f5.6. ISO 6400. 27mm (equiv 41mm in full frame)

 

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint

side view

In this photograph, I tried to highlight the end of a tree branch. The flash was set again with the cylindrical snoot at a height of about 2 meters and pointed directly at the relevant branch. The exposure was set so that the ambient light, coming from street lamps shining at a distance, would illuminate the background clearly. Schematics are shown to the right.

 

 

 

 

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Image 3 – 1/8s at f5.6. ISO 6400. 27mm (equiv to 41mm in full frame)

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint

side view

This image of an old shed door was taken with the flash pointing downwards from its stand at about 2 meters high. The flash had a cylindrical snoot on, and a yellow gel filter, which gave a warm tone to the light (later brought back slightly to balance it with the slightly cooler ambient light). The light was placed in front of a small pine tree that grows next to the shed, with the tree branches blocking and modeling the light in some areas. The flash was moved slightly over several shots to ensure that the door handled was fully lit. Schematics are shown on the right.

dscf8037

Image 4 – 1/8s at f5.6. ISO 6400. 27mm (equiv to 41mm in full frame)

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint

side view

The image of this abandoned football (left by the previous tenants and never disposed of) was taken with the flash at about 1m height over the ground and some 1.5 meters away. The flash had a cylindrical snoot on and was feathered towards the brick wall, thus minimising the highlights in the shiny ball surface. The ball is naturally yellow and the flash was equipped with a yellow gel filter which gibe the slight warm tone to the light (it was later balanced back in post processing to bring it closer to the cooler ambient light). Schematics are shown on the right.

 

imgp3928

Image 5 – 1/20s at f11. ISO 6400. 43mm full frame

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint

side view

The next image of a dead shrub was taken under sleet, which wan be seen falling against the dark background at the top. The flash was set at about 0.5 meters high and some 0.75m away from the subject, with the head covered with a cylindrical snoot and “feathered” slightly to the front and up, so that only the top of the shrub was illuminated, with the ground below only being hinted by the effect of the ambient light (mostly from street lamps). The camera was set almost from the top. Schematics are shown to the right.

 

 

 

imgp3964

Image 6 – 1/25s at f22. ISO 100. 43mm full frame

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint

side view

In this photograph of a wild shrub growing in my driveway there is almost no impact from the ambient light but the reflections from the flash provide some background texture. On this occasion, the flash, with a cylindrical snoot on, was set about 30cm directly above the shrub, while the camera was shooting from the front. Schematics are shown on the right.

 

 

 

 

imgp3969

Image 7 – 1/25s at f22. ISO 100. 43mm full frame

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint

top view

The last image selected was of a plastic bag in the middle of the garden. The flash was set just 15cm above the ground level and its light was modified by a cylindrical snoot. It was placed less than a meter away from the subject and iso was set relatively low because I wanted to minimize the details away from the beam of the flash, providing a faint sense of directionality. Schematics are shown to the right