Monthly Archives: December 2014

colour # 1 – control the strength of a colour

Find a strong, definite colour – a painted door for instance – and choose a viewpoint so that the colour fills the viewfinder frame. Find the average exposure setting […] Then take a sequence of pictures; all composed exactly the same, but differently exposed from bright to dark.

Arrange the […] images together . Apart from the obvious fact that the […] photographs vary from over-exposure to under-exposure, what other difference is there in terms of the colour?

– AOP Coursebook.

The photos that follow were all taken on a sunny afternoon in my back garden using my D50 with a 35mm 1:2 AF lens on it. They are of a Camden Council recycling tub that I’ve used as a laundry basket ever since I moved north of the river at the turn of the century. There are seven pictures rather than five, because it was only a few weeks ago that – playing with the various menus on my camera – I realised that I could set the increments by which exposure compensation worked at anything other than 1/3 of a stop. Further evidence if it was needed that you can never spend too much time playing with your camera…

All h-s-l values were calculated in Photoshop Elements 6 for Mac and were based on the centre of the embossed cross.

From looking at the the pictures, I can see that the lightness (brightness in Adobe-land) does indeed decrease quite dramatically as the sequence goes on; the saturation likewise increases and the colour temperature (hue) moves up from being closer to cyan to a much more obvious blue and end almost in the region of violet. The truest blues seem to be in the three pictures starting with the one shot at the meter reading and continuing into slight underexposure.

Likewise, doing the same thing with a red storage tub and a yellow council grit container showed similar results, although the red showed a slight drop off in saturation below an average exposure and yellow seemed most saturated either at average or slightly higher.

I’ll have a go with some pictures containing more than one colour, to see if I can emphasise a particular colour by choosing the correct level of under (or over) exposure while reducing the impact of the others.

(Postscript – I have also played with one of the standard exposure pictures and have found that  – providing the highlights or the shadows aren’t clipped – a raw image can be moved up and down the exposure range in Lightroom, creating the same colour effects to my eye as can be created in camera by altering the exposure; another thing to try while editing, I guess …).

assignment # 3 – colour: pictures and commentry

Take about sixteen photographs:

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…that illustrate the following colour relationships:

1: Colour Harmony through Complementary Colours

I spotted the building while I was walking from the subway on my way to a meeting at Pacific Quay. On my way back, I had enough time to loiter, waiting for people to walk by in both directions. The pale orange of the brick is matched by the reddish orange of the trim to the gable and the door and contrasts nicely with the pale autumn blue of the sky to the north; I like the tiny bits of colour reflected in the gutter. A very flat image (with flat lighting – it was taken at noon)  with a lot of horizontal lines running through it: the kerb, the line in the middle of the road and the bottom of the building wall; the diagonals of the gable add interest. The eye moves between the two points made by the door and the walking man (who is surprisingly close to the wall, if you look closely).

The orange and blue of the sign stands out strongly here and there’s lots more of both colours in the traffic and the pedestrians who occupy the space round it. Your eye moves then to the green and red barriers that enlose the sign, making an inverted vanishing point in the centre bottom of the image, with the red also turning up as highlights in the fragments of distant buses on the road and reflected in the plate glass of the window on the right.

An astonishing corner on the Lea Bridge Road, composed as four quadrilaterals united by the sense of movement provided by the striding man in the jersey that managed to be a gloriously matching blue to the door.  There’s a minor violet and yellow thing going on in the upper right quarter as well. There is an interesting absence of any scale to the various bits of the building too.

Essentially a diagonal band of orange, a diagonal band of blue and a second diagonal band of orange, with your eye drawn to super-bright highlight of the central streetlight, which is casting all the yellowy-orange glare in the street. I’ve been walking on my way home from the tube at dusk a lot these past few weeks, and this is probably the best representation of it that I’ve managed to take.

2: Colour Harmony through Similar Colours

Lots of lines pointing in towards a vanishing point on the platform, held together by the overall warmth of the colours in the station. The lightness of the yellow contrasts to the dark orange-brown of the tiles where the stair dips down to the platform while the brigthness of the orange (sort of) cross formed by the sign, its reflections and the train give a focus and depth to the picture.

Reflections after rain stop this being boring, while a walking man (central and pulling the attention in from the edges of the frame) gives the composition focus and a point of balance. The violets in the this are very cold somehow, with the reds providing no sense of warmth.

Despite the sense of forward movement into the space between the nearer two buses here nothing was moving (possibly a faster shutter speed might have spoiled this while sorting out the slight sense of softness across the image) and I was safely stood on a crossing in the middle of Walthamstow Bus Station. Again, there is something quite cold about the image, despite the warmth of the colours.

More streetlight, mostly a rather bilious yellow provides an out-of-focus backdrop for the leaning sign. Despite the possible depth off to the left and the right, a rather flat image.

3: Colour Contrast through Contrasting Colours

Red and blue fighting one another with the orange relating to both (opposite to blue and comfortably similar to red) and so making it less uncomfortable somehow. compositionally arranged around the triangle betwen the seats occupied by the man and his rucksack.

A striking yellow gable end with the shadow of a perpendicular row of houses cast on it by the late afternoon sun. The blue of the eastern sky contrasts with the yellow strongly.

Nice shapes at the entrance to work. For some reason on the day I took it, I was able to notice the strong contrast between the yellow of the artificial light inside and blue light coming in from the windows to the west. Compositionally a mass of quadrilaterals, capable of further abstraction.

An objet trouve. A strong colour contrast between the red of the flowers and the blue of the rubbish sack and the lighter emphasises the softness of the abandoned roses and the hardness of the plastic; the light green of the leaves’ underside contrasts with the red of the flowers while stopping the blue jarring as much as it might. The lines between paving slabs and the stems of the roses adds a sense of movement through the frame.

4: Colour Accent using any of the above

A very centralised composition with the cyclist frozen within a a central diamond formed by the cars’ slanting windscreens, the roofs and the tree. An obvious orange point amongst the blues and greens of the foliage and the sky’s reflections on the shiny surfaces of the cars.

Taken through a 1 inch square mesh, covering a window on the hoarding that surrounds this building site, hence the vignetting at the bottom of the image. I got the lens in a better place for this with a second shot, but the man’s legs were no longer in a perfect inverted ‘V’… The picture is further held together by two triangles (or one quadrilateral) formed by the man and the two orange-red bands above him on the building and the orange net at the bottom left.

If William Eggleston can do pictures with their composition based on the confederate flag, I can take a picture composed like a saltire. Particularly when I’m in Glasgow. The greenish-blue of the building, the sky and its reflection in the puddles along with the green of the leaves contrast strongly with the red of the no entry sign.

The sight-lines of the woman at the bottom left and the man taking up the whole of the right side of the frame all point in towards the woman in the red coat, with the colour hopefully stopping the tall man in the hat being the sole focus of the picture.

All pictures taken with a Fujifilm X-100s apart from Fig 3 which was taken with my Nikon D50 and a Nikkor 24mm 1:28 lens. All editing on the main images done in Adobe Lightroom 5.

More general thoughts on these pictures and how they relate to my reading will be contained in the next post.

Assignment 3 – Getting There…

For some reason, I’ve found part 3 amazingly difficult. If part two fell into shape around my day on Flotta, this all felt remarkably unfocussed somehow. I was taking pictures – some for the exercises; some which could be considered for the assignment – but none of this seemed to cohere into a theme or to even to start showing the way towards one.


I have now got the pictures for the exercises, I think, but I still need to make a final selection and write them up. I have a set of photographs edited and printed for the assignment. Yet somehow it all feels a bit wooly. However, I think if I press on and do the writing, submit the assignment and write up the exercises, start on part four and carry on reading and thinking, it may all become a bit plainer. An optimistic reading would be that any sort of learning involves stepping into areas of uncertainty and that the way I feel about this now is simply a sign of progression. I shall therefore try to be optimistic and assume that I am still progressing…

Anyway, buoyed up by David, my tutor’s, feedback on my second assignment, I cracked on with part three. I’d generally felt comfortable with colour, and there weren’t many exercises. Surely this should be relativeIy straightforward. So, I quickly took the pictures for Exercise 1 and began to build up a selection of dominant colour pictures for Exercise 2. I began seeing things which would possibly work as part of the assignment and started to take pictures.

At this point, I started trying to reconcile the course notes’ instruction to:

Try to vary the subject matter, including both arrangements (such as a still-life) and found situations.

with my desire to try and develop a coherent theme for this exercise. Not easy.

I came up with 4 subsets for the pictures I would take: at night; on public transport; Walthamstow; fruit and veg as still lives. It almost came together…

But then I had a weekend in Glasgow and managed to take some pictures that seemed better than the ones I’d taken previously but they didn’t fit into the categories; and I hadn’t managed to set up and take the still lives, despite spending a long time in the greengrocery aisle in Sainsbury’s wondering about colour rather than recipes; and certain colours and combinations of colours were proving easy to find (it’s amazing how much orange and blue there is out there) while others were really quite elusive.

At this point, I sort of ground to a halt in terms of completing the assignment, although I continued taking pictures. Some things though began to stand out.

Orange rainwear/hi-viz bibs make a good highlight:

It’s relatively hard (but not impossible) to isolate natural colours, if you’re in a city:

It’s even harder to narrow down the number of colours that are in the frame into something you can classify in the terms of the assignment:

I also began to realise that something was altering the way I took pictures in London. In Orkney, on holiday, I’d been comfortable with the location; Assignment 2 bears this out. London, on the other hand, is a place I haven’t quite worked out how to photograph yet. This may be changing. Certainly, I hope it is.

Orkney has occupied enough of my head – there are views that are burnt onto the inside of my skull somehow, like the stretch of hills beyond Finstown when you round the shoulder of Wideford hill on the road to Stromness. I am aware of how much sky there is above me. I “know” what it is I’m looking at.

I don’t think I have ever quite reached this point in the 17 years I’ve lived in London (I’m not sure if I managed it in Glasgow either). However, this may be changing: the pictures I’m taking now in London are less tightly composed; there is more context around the isolated detail I might have been content with earlier; I’m possibly more comfortable with finding a composition that suggests what lies outside it than I was before. All this is progress.

And so, for the assignment, I think the unifying theme can be no more narrow than “In passing” or “This is what I see, when I think about colour around me”. The things I’ve been reading or looking at are changing what I notice and how I process that. I’ve come up with 16 pictures for the assignment and they may not be perfect; they work however, and I like them all to a varying degree (some are really super, I think).  Anyway, time to offer up a final sixteen. Time to move onto the next part of the course…


the nature of photographs – shore

after kenneth josephson

after kenneth josephson (on the ferry north from Aberdeen, july 2014)

I have read through this, thought about what it contains and read through it again several times now. I have found it very useful in bridging the gap between Freeman’s practical writing (the course book and The Photographer’s Eye)  and the much more theoretical writing in Clarke and in Wells; as such it has allowed me to think about what I am trying to achieve by way of an end result when I’m out taking photos either for the course or just for the picture-iness of it. I can remember many of the pictures in this, helped I think by how well they are reproduced here (in stark contrast to my Vintage edition of Barthes’ Camera Lucida where you can scarcely make out the surface of the pictures, let alone pick out the punctum).

The book splits into 4 sections or levels taking you from the photograph as an object through to the way the mental process of the photographer can affect the picture and guide the mental process of the viewer.

First you have the Physical attributes of pictures (when printed – I don’t think the book really has managed to take on board the experience of viewing digital/digitised pictures on a screen; and the pleasure that I managed to get from the 12 x 8 prints I had made from the files created by my D50 for assignment 2; even the simple pleasure of shuffling through a pack of 6x4s from Snappysnaps, walking to somewhere where I can sit and have a proper look at them, running the risk of being run down, crossing the road) – the 2-dimensional nature of the photograph which still – just – remains a 3-D object; the effects of black and white or colour, the quality of the paper the picture is printed on – glossy as in the Shore book, on newsprint, contrasty or an infinite number of tones; whether it’s in a book or in the paper or in a box with a pile of other family pictures…

Then comes the Depictive level (imposing order on the world in front of the lens): Flatness – such fun to play with, shifting planes to line up with one another!, love Du-dubon-dubonnet! and the Friedlander with the cloud perched on the roadsign… The Frame – what’s in, what’s out, what’s only just in if you want to, active frames, passive frames; Time – best description of the Decisive Moment I’ve read anywhere in the description of the Winogrand of the wrangler and the cow’s tongue, moments in history, length of history; Focus – creating hierarchy, sense of  depth, of the sensation of changing focus while looking at the picture. I have found myself doing this much more actively over the past couple of months. It feels like a step forward…

…and so, onto (into?) the Mental level which elaborates upon and changes our reaction to the depictive level; I can understand the way the black hole at the centre of Annan’s Glasgow Close sucks your mind forward through the narrow alley and into the void or how my eye seems to rack focus as I move my gaze over Adams’ picture of the drive-in, but find it harder to get to grips with the concept of Mental modelling – the process you can follow from the physical through depiction and into the mental space created by the picture; it seems to be what someone at the top of their game does…

So, who is interesting, who provide the key images for the book, the ones that stick in my head? There’s Shore himself, Robert Adams, Walker Evans, William Eggleston, Friedlander… I need to go back and re-re-re-read the mental stuff again, and maybe again after that – I can cope happily with the physical and the depictive, but here I begin to frown with the effort of thinking. As Shore himself says, the Depictive level is where “a snapshooters mistakes” take place: “a blur, a beheading, a jumble, an awkward moment…” I believe I have moved past this point (most of the time…) but, to get truly good, I need to engage with the mental levels more frequently, more thoroughly and with more understanding…