Assignment 2 – Initial thoughts

Collecting – initial testing

In order to decide the preferred focal length and point of view for this assignment, I took a series of pictures with various cameras and lens combinations over several days. All the lenses used were primes, and ranged from 28mm to 100mm equivalent in full frame format.

I started with a 18mm prime lens on an APS camera (equivalent to about 28mm). This allowed me to include a reasonable amount of background. I was using a moderate aperture of f/5.6 (equivalent to a depth of f/8 in full frame), which considering the fact that most of the shoots I took with this were at relatively long distances, allowed me to have most of the people in the scene in focus. I quickly decided this focal length was not going to work for what I wanted, because the distance with the subjects was too great, and I did not want to be too close to the subjects to avoid perturbing their behaviour. This focal length was also only going to work with large crowds, as otherwise there were going to be too many gaps, as in the picture below

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Pic 1 – 18mm (28mm equiv) at f/5.6 (equiv f/8)

I subsequently moved to more normal angles and tried both a 40mm equivalent and 43mm prime lenses. These were tested again at the moderate aperture of f/8 (equivalent). As the focal lengths increased from wide-angle, maintaining moderate apertures while focusing in nearer subjects resulted in a “layering” effect, with objects further away from the focus point becoming slightly blurred. I tried both portrait and landscape orientations with these lenses

 

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Pic 2 – 43mm at f/8

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Pic 3 – 43mm at f/8

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Pic 4 – 43mm at f/8

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Pic 5 – 43mm at f/8 (walking closer to the crowd in picture 4)

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Pic 6 – 20mm (equiv 40mm) at f/4 (equiv f/8)

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Pic 7 – 20mm (40mm equiv) at f/4 (f/8 equiv)

The normal focal lengths were working better for me in terms of the prominence of the crowds than the wide-angle, but I was still needed to be too close to the subjects in order to achieve the desired proportionality between subject and background. Pictures 6 and 7, for instance, were taken almost from within the crowd. This was not what I wanted, as I intended to portray the subjects as an outsider.

At this point I decided to take all subsequent pictures on a landscape orientation. Crowds seem to spread naturally on a horizontal way and many of the pictures I took on a vertical orientation looked strangely unnatural to me, as if they had too much unnecessary information at the top and on the bottom (compare pictures 2 and 3 above, for instance). Besides, I am more naturally inclined to take vertical shots, so sticking with the landscape orientation was also in part to challenge myself to look at a scene differently.

I finally moved to telephoto prime lenses. I used both 90mm (equiv) and 100mm lenses, but reduced the aperture to the equivalent of f/5.6. The compression of the view combined with moderate to wide aperture accentuated the “layering” effect, particularly when the subjects were relatively close.

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Pic 8 – 45mm (90mm equiv) at f/2.8 (f/5.6 equiv)

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Pic 9 – 45mm (90mm equiv) at f/2.8 (f/5.6 equiv)

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Pic 10 – 100mm at f/5.6

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Pic 11 – 100mm at f/5.6

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Pic 12 – 100mm at f/5.6

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Pic 13 – 100mm at f/5.6

At this stage I also tried different points of view, both elevated (eg pictures 1 and 11) and from below (eg picture 10). Most of the pictures, however, were taken straight at eye level, and in the end I felt that this resulted in the less “menacing” representation of crowds, so I decided to stick to this point of view.

In the end, I believe the best approach was for me to carry out the shooting sessions using a telephoto lens at a moderately wide aperture. This enabled me to maintain crowds as the focal point of the image while keeping some elements of background for reference. More importantly, it enabled me to maintain a reasonable distance from the crowd and remain as an anonymous outsider most of the time, in satisfaction of my previously stated objective of trying to capture the social identity elements of the crowd.

Collecting – initial thoughts

For the second assignment, I have decided to work on a collection of crowd pictures. The majority of my pictures contain a human element, but it is usually an individual or a small number of persons. I normally do not shoot crowds, so this is both a challenge to my shooting approach and an opportunity to develop my visual palette.

If you Google the definition of crowds, it gives you the first entry from the Oxford dictionary: “a large number of people gathered together in a disorganised or unruly way”(1).

Crowds and their behaviour have long been the subject of theoretical study by psychologists and sociologists. Early theories in the late 19th century tended to de-contextualize crowd behaviour and assumed that individuals, when being part of a crowd,”…lose all sense of self and all sense of responsibility. Yet, at the same time, they gain a sentiment of invincible power due to their number”(2). In the context of these theories, crowds are seen as irrational, uncontrollable and violent. This conceptualization of crowds seems to be somewhat aligned with the definition of crowds as “unruly” from the Oxford dictionary. Yet in casual observation, one sees many cases of crowds acting in a rational and controlled way.

Latter approaches to model crowd behaviour tended to be built around the concept of “social identity”, which refers to “…an individual’s self understanding as a member of a social category”(3). The behaviour of crowds in these theories was more a function of the self-classification of individuals in social identity groups, where actions in context were determined by either norms and routines known to all class members, or derived from observing the actions of those considered typical group members.

Living and working in London, I have experienced crowds on a daily basis, from commuters to pub-goers. These crowds can seem unruly, but often times they have their own rhythm and find a way to peacefully coexist with the city. In many cases, they exhibit the behaviour and inferred norms of the “social identity” models for crowd behaviour. It is this group identity concept that I would like to explore with this collection of images.

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(1) Crowd (no date) Available at: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=crowd&rlz=1C9BKJA_enGB708GB708&oq=crowd&aqs=chrome..69i57j69i61j69i65j0j69i59l2.2333j0j9&hl=en-GB&sourceid=chrome-mobile&ie=UTF-8 (Accessed: 11 September 2016).

(2) From The Psychology of Crowd Dynamics, by Stephen Reicher, as published in: Hewstine, M. and Brewer, M.B. (2001) Blackwell handbook of social psychology: Group processes. Edited by Michael A. Hogg and Scott Tindale. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers. pp 186.

(3) Stephen Reicher, op.cit. pp 194.

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