Tag Archives: aop-1

contrasts # 2 – ideas & approach

rejected internal contrast - large and small

rejected internal contrast – large and small

At the start-of-course chat with my tutor, Dave, we talked about putting additional constraints on this exercise, which seemed like a good idea. Thinking later, I also thought it would might also help if I established some extra contrasts between the two pictures of a pair and one way of doing this would be to choose two locations where all the pictures would be taken.

So, one picture of each contrasting pair has been taken in the area around Oxford Circus, representing the area I move in when I am at work and one has been taken in Walthamstow, the area where I live and am not at work. I don’t think it’s made the contrasts any more contrasty, but it did impose a discipline on the exercise and will have had an effect on the subject matter.

Further to this, each pair has one picture taken in landscape format and one in portrait (cropped down to a ratio of 5×4, following the advice on page 15 of The Photographer’s Eye (Freeman, Ilex Press, 2007) that vertically, 3:2 can seem “a bit extreme” due to a tendency to ground the subject nearer the bottom of a frame, regardless of orientation; also, I reckoned that there would be less of an onscreen clash of picture size moving from one image in the pair to the other). This meant that for at least the first picture of each pair, I had to take one in portrait and one landscape.

Lastly, I had hoped to get some sort of further technical contrast between pictures such as one taken with a wide lens and the other with a long lens or one stopped down and the other with the lens open. I didn’t manage to stick to this one for many of the pairs but I didn’t worry too much about it.

Then, to help come up with ideas for the pairs, I made took a library card for each contrast and jotted down ideas for either or both concept, as I thought of them, or saw things which might fit. I tried to use things that already existed rather than needed some degree of setting up, spotting things that illustrated the state I was looking for rather than making something for the effect. Some of the pairs, I rejected outright as I couldn’t get beyond some very obvious idea into something more interesting (sweet and sour was one of these); others went through several iterations of an idea before one came up that stuck and was photographable (many and few started as a busy tube carriage and an almost empty one before I spotted the cluster of 6 “For Sale” signs on my way to the tube; then it took a bit longer to find a single sign somewhere in town) and others moved from one pair to another (the yellow and black hazard tape on the metal floor was originally “intermittent” and only become “smooth” after I’d taken some test shots and seen how the metal reflected the light in a way that suggested a high degree of polish).

Once I had 3 or so of the ideas in place I began taking photographs, getting them onto my laptop and then – usually – doing one or more re-shoots. Very few of the pictures submitted were right first time, or even first shoot, although I think I got a better hit rate as the Assignment progressed and the deadline got closer.

As I went on, I got better at planning shots and having the right equipment with me for the first go – the early pairs (High and Low, Diagonal and Curved)  went through numerous iterations as I took in a different lens, or a tripod, or a polariser on the next day and the next; for the later ones (Rough and Smooth, Intermittent and Continuous) each picture was taken on shoot one after I had worked out what I needed to fit into my bag before I went out that day. If I can carry this on to the rest of the course I will have gone a long way towards eliminating the  (ultimately) non-productive hours I have spent on this part of the course, easily exceeding the 80 estimated in the introduction…

initial contrasted pairs

I have taken all the photos (I think – I leave space for indecision or panic to prove otherwise) for the “Pairs” Assignment, but have not done any writing up on the getting there. This -four contrasting pairs I had taken before I started this course – is a start…

Busy & Quiet

london underground, 2010 – zorki-s


london underground, 2010 – olympus xa

Young & Old

moldova, 2006 – nikon d50


moldova, 2006 – nikon d50

straight & curved

liverpool street station, 2007 – pentax espio 120mi


kibble palace, glasgow 2007 – pentax espio 120mi

night & day

moscow, 2003 – fujifilm finepix s304


moscow, 2003 – fujifilm finepix s304

My first thought about these, is that they were all taken quite a long time ago. Possibly, I have stopped taking things that distil down to an opposable quality, but I doubt it. A better way would be perhaps to make other connections between the two photos in each pair: the London Underground; people in Moldova; glass roofs with iron framework; a tourist cliche in Moscow. And this then suggests that a contrast is only a contrast if it is seen in conjunction with its corresponding opposite. This seems a good place to start.

And then, there is the question of other contrasts and oppositions between the two pictures. The two pictures taken on the underground are very different by way of “feel”: one feels cramped and crushed (taken with a 50mm lens) one open and spacious (taken with a 35mm lens, which isn’t that much shorter, but I am much further away from the nearest thing you can focus on). “Young” is seen from a distance, but “Old” is a big close up. “Straight” is – just – colour and the main lines run vertically; “Curved” is black and white and the lines run through the frame horizontally.

The two shots of St Basil’s are probably the most one dimensional – what makes them interesting is that they are taken from a high viewpoint (out of the window of my room in the – now demolished – Hotel Rossiya) that is not normally available to people with cameras; I don’t think that is enough for their equivalent to be included in the assessment. Equally, Young and Old would work better as a pair, if they both weren’t standing on the right side of the frame.

So, for the assignment, where do I start? I will accept that the contrast will need more than just the subject matter to be activated, although the abstract state will not necessarily need to be obvious from just one of the pictures. Beyond this, one or more technical oppositions – long lens v short lens; portrait v landscape – will help in expressing the contrast. I will try and introduce formal contrasts to highlight the differences between each photo in a pair.

Other things that may not be necessarily obvious – each photograph in the pair being taken in a place with different connotations, say – can also help with this. I shall take one photograph of each pair in one of two locations. I shall try and ‘rhyme’ elements of various pictures, giving some idea of a series of connections greater than just the contrasting states depicted. I hope overall there will be some unity that ties the whole assignment together.

Let’s see shall we…

the frame # 5 – different focal lengths & changing viewpoint

Taken on the way back to work after lunch one day, as I passed Oxford Circus tube and then walked up to the front of All Souls’ Church.

nikon d50; nikkor af-g 70-300mm len @ 70mm/105mm equiv; ISO 200; f8; 1/320th sec

nikon d50; nikkor af-g 70-300mm lens @ 70mm (105mm equiv); ISO 200; f8; 1/320th sec

nikon d50; kaleinar 16mm/24mm equiv lens; ISO 200; f8; 1/320th sec

nikon d50; kaleinar 16mm (24mm equiv) lens; ISO 200; f8; 1/320th sec

Again, while I knew what to expect, I hadn’t actually done this systematically before. And while some of the difference between the two pictures can be put down to the first being taken with the lens pointing fairly close to straight ahead, while the second was pointing seriously up (it would have been nice to have been able to float 20 feet or so up, but levitation wasn’t possible that day and I don’t know anyone who owns a tilt/shift lens) the difference in the sense of space is still quite remarkable! The openness of the second contrasts strongly with the flatness of the first; claustrophobia gives way to a sense of space dominated by the sky behind the church.

the frame # 4 – different focal lengths

Shot during my walk in Glasgow necropolis 3 weeks ago and described in that post. To recap, I was using a Pentax Spotmatic F loaded with Fuji Superia 400 asa. The negatives were scanned at Snappy Snaps on Byres Road and aren’t that high resolution, but are adequate for on-screen use or making 6 x 4 prints. I have not spent too long trying to get the colour balance the same across all 6 prints, as this is not what the exercise was about (said he, by way of excuse).

Here are the pictures:

In all cases (apart from the last which was shot a couple of stops more open, to allow for the teleconverter) the pictures were all taken at f11 to keep everything in focus from the foreground to the far distance.

I don’t think I have ever actually done this  before (unless you count the first of the introductory exercises which involved a much smaller difference of focal length) and, although I knew in theory what would happen, it’s good to have that confirmed in practice. The things that leap out at me are both the way that detail in the background becomes ever clearer and the way the perspective flattens as the focal length gets longer. Also, the usefulness of carrying a tripod was hammered home here – it made both composition and eliminating camera shake with old heavy equipment much, much easier. And for the record, I think I like the 85mm shot best…

the frame # 3 – sequence of composition

The Indecisive Moment


Shot on a Sunday when the Walthamstow farmer’s market was taking place in the open space off the high street, by the library.

It was another bright sunny morning and with me was a Nikon D50 with a Nikkor 24mm 1:2.8 manual focus lens. This gave the equivalent angle of vision to a 35mm lens on a full frame camera – plenty wide enough to get near subject in without having to back off too far in the confined spaces between stalls, but not so wide that there was a lot of distortion around the edges. My intention was to take exposure and focus out of the equation by stopping the lens down to F11 and sliding infinity focus to the point between f8 and f11 on the lens’s depth scale. At ISO 200, this gave a useable shutter speed of 1/125th sec, if I exposed to compromise between the need to not overexpose the areas lit by the sun while still getting detail in the shaded areas under the stalls’ awnings.

Also of course, this is the classic formula since the 30s for street photography – fixed focal length 35mm lens set to the hyperfocal values. forcing you to get close to your subjects. I shot 4 sequences at the market. Below are the combined results of the middle two (which in effect ran into one another) with comments.

1 - approaching the market

1 – approaching the market

A reasonable opening – cropped for the header, above – giving a fair idea of the area covered by the market, but nothing special. The two figures moving in towards the stands are ok, but would be much better if the were slightly to the left of the first row of stalls. To get this better, I could have moved off to my left and waited for another couple of people to enter the shot, but didn’t, feeling it would be better to get in closer, rather than spend time getting a more perfect establishing shot.

2: veg stall #1

2: veg stall #1

Moving straight in towards the central stall nearest me, I took this. There is a nice array of shoppers’ faces to the left and centre, but not enough of the two stall-keepers and the fact the bigger of the two is nearer the camera means there’s always the likelihood of him blocking his smaller partner. Also, there isn’t much sense of what they’re selling. I could have gone a bit to the right, but instead went left.

3: veg stall #2

3: veg stall #2

Foregrounded vegetables and almost a nice picture with the shopper making interesting shapes as he reaches for something, while not obscuring the stall-keeper’s expression. And the background is shaded enough to fit the exposure of the people under the awning. So – not bad but, annoyingly, a leaflet pinned to stall’s upright almost does obscure the stall-keeper, and the woman with the blue dress and yellow shoes is neither there nor not there. A bit closer and more angled down from slightly to the left would have cleared the shopkeeper more and removed the woman from the frame. However, it was a fluid moment and didn’t come together like this again.

4: veg stand #3

4: veg stand #3

I skirted round the back of the stand to the other side, getting more of an idea of the produce offered but moving me too far away from the action and interposing the rather annoying and soft flowers in the foreground. The two shoppers and the stall-keepers almost make a nice diamond/square, and the timing of passing over both goods and money almost comes off, but a half step to my left would have been better.

Also, the background (the north side of the High Street) is obviously much, much more strongly lit than the stalls. #3 is definitely better, I think. I took one more shot from the same angle, moving from landscape to portrait (5) but it is no better (though might work cropped square).

6 - phone man #1

6 – phone man #1

I’d been clocked by the people at the stall, and rather than get involved in some form of interaction with them, I turned away to my right and saw this where the man on the phone in the centre and the V-shape of the two angle produce racks caught my eye.

7: phone man #2

7: phone man #2

I pressed on and took 7…

8: phone man #3

8: phone man #3

…moved in closer and – having been spotted and being unable to read whether my taking pictures was viewed as good, bad or neutral because of the man’s sunglasses…

9: phone man #4

9: phone man #4

…I pulled back again. The closer shot with him looking into the lens (8) works best, I think with the awning and the stall forming a rough oval around him.

10: phone man #5

10: phone man #5

The man finished his call and began to move away; I moved closer again and quite like the abstract planes of the over-exposed background, the array of veg and the flatness of the awning in the top left and centre, framing the three people in the bottom left of the frame. If the aluminium pole wasn’t hiding the bearded man, and the woman wasn’t leaning out of the left of the frame, it might be quite a nice picture. Half a step left?

No! – I had already noticed the jam and chutney stall in the background, and had moved off to the right and gone around the stall to get closer. If the aluminium pole wasn’t hiding the bearded man, and the woman wasn’t leaning out of the left of the frame, it might be quite a nice picture. Half a step left? No! – I had already noticed the jam and chutney stall in the background, and had moved off to the right and gone around the stall to get closer.

11: chutney #1

11: chutney #1

I took this. It’s got good clean edges and the various planes as you move away from the camera are broken enough by the numerous rectangles formed by awnings, signs and other stuff to let your eye settle on the grounp of people – 2 adults, two children and the stall-keeper – with the interaction between the keeper and the boy on the right centring the group and giving the picture obvious narrative possibility. But other than squares and rectangles, there’s nothing going on in the left half of the picture. I stepped in and round…

…and someone pushed a pushchair in from the left of the frame. I tried to compensate and 16 almost works, but the hand coming in from the left holding the pushchair distracts from everyone else’s focus on the central area of the frame.

16: chutney #5

15: chutney #5

I stepped back. Again this works, I think, with the slightly off centre grouping of red or crimson people and objects surrounded by blues and whites is quite pleasing, and would probably become more so with a slight crop to remove some of the seated people to the left and to move the main stall more off centre. I stepped back in closer, and it all fell to pieces somewhat (16).

And then – 17-20 – I moved round to the side to try and get something of everyone’s faces; it sort of worked but there was a gulf between the stall-keeper and the shoppers if the picture was portrait (although I quite like the jam-bottles) and when I tried landscape – 21 – it’s a bit better, but not lots better. Tilting down a bit might have helped here.

22: chutney #

22: chutney # 12

I went round towards the back of the stall and took this before realising the whole sequence had probably peaked somewhere between 11 and 15. Admitting this, I explained what I was doing to the stall-keeper, took a conventional portrait of the stall-keeper and left….

24: the stall-holder

24: the stall-holder

All in all then, not the best day’s shooting I’ve ever had (If I’d been Garry Winogrand, this would probably have been one of the films that wouldn’t have got developed; and I’m sure Cartier-Bresson had days when only thin boys jumped over unreflective puddles behind the Gare Saint Lazare…). Some of the results – particularly with a couple of slight crops – are ok, I suppose. I don’t think I ever came particularly close to seizing a decisive moment (and the continually changing relationships between numerous people make this harder of course), but possibly with the object of the exercise being to document the moving into position as well as the final “good” composition, that was never going to happen here.

“Good” photography was made harder by the preserve stand’s awning casting a very persistant reddish cast on everything; I’ve included some pictures as shot and some at least partially colour-corrected.

I think it is a good exercise to have done and a better one to have thought about, but the thing I always find nerve-wracking about taking pictures in public places – the spoken or unspoken negotiation that goes on between you and the strangers in your pictures – was made worse by the need to document getting into postion as this removed the ability to get in place and then take one, or two quick shots before moving away. I felt very uncomfortable and – by the time I’d gone to a nearby pub to review what I’d done over a soda and lime – I was quite drained by the experience.

the frame # 1 – fitting the frame to the subject

panorama from tyre yard set

I intended to use a corner shop with an awning and a display of fruit and veg outside for this, but on my way back from taking the movement pictures by the Lea, I noticed a tyre sales yard by the side of the road with a wild array of signage and – remembering that I’d never managed to take a satisfactory picture of it in the 4 years or so I’ve been passing – thought I’d give it a try.

tyre yard 1

Picture 1: without taking too much time over it…

I quite like this – there’s an organised chaos feel to the site and the markings on the road begin to converge on the entrance (something that could be pointed up a bit by shooting from a higher vantage point, somewhere to the right of where I was standing); the sky is a nice blue (contrasting with the yellow signs and barrier). It works as a record of a place, and you can see how the signs all are focussed on passing trade in cars.

As a bonus it has a sort of American feel, somehow which works with subject matter. Next, I crossed the road to get closer and took the next in the series.

tyre yard 2

Picture 2: more care taken to fill the frame to the edges.

There is a lot more to look at here somehow: the various lines make it difficult for your eye to settle comfortably, and you scan over the image taking in details – the text on the signs, the two stacks of painted TYRES, the railings and the vanishing point off implied off to the right contrasting with the flatness of the hoardings. I had a couple of goes at this, mainly trying to get the right balance between the bollard at the bottom right and the top of the white hoarding. I’m not sure why I didn’t take half a step back to get slightly more room for the bollard, but I didn’t; possibly I was slightly too concerned about filling the frame right to the edges; possibly I didn’t want to step backwards off the pavement into the path of a car…

tyre yard 3

Picture 3: a detail

Next, a detail. I took two closeups of a stack of tyres with ‘tyres’ painted onto it. Which of the two to choose?

The first had more sky in it and some space at the top or the bottom of the stack, but the curve at the top was burnt out in a way that wasn’t pleasant.

This one isn;t overexposed anywhere and has a simple reduced range of colours with grey white and black predominating and the blue outline matching the blue of the sky. Also the repetition with the second stack in the background works with the whole. This, therefore becomes the one to go with.

tyre yard 4

Picture 4: in its environment

Lastly, there was only the wider shot, showing the tyre yard in context. I could have gone a bit wider with this, but I quite like the road and the traffic giving a bit more of a sense of the passing trade the signs are there to alert and also of the drainage channel leading to the reservoirs further up the Lea Valley at the bottom right. The colours are nice again as well.

I made two crops from this one as well: a panoramic cut from the left of the main, yellow sign to the right edge of the frame, emphasising the relationship between the road and the site and between cars and the need for tyres – used as a header for this post – and a square crop of the signs and a bit of contrasting greenery.

It might have been an idea to include more of the road and the traffic in the original, uncropped photograph, as this would have allowed a more balanced panorama, but overall, I am quite happy with the exercise, not disliking any of the pictures.

a couple of hours in the necropolis

looking east from the necropolis, glasgow

Pentax Spotmatic F. Jupiter 9 1:2/85 1/250th sec @ f11. Fuji Superia 400 asa

(Notes on my shoot for the fourth exercise in part 1 – using different focal length lenses from a fixed position)

This weekend I had a couple of totally free hours that I filled by going to the Necropolis for the first time in around 30 years. Back then it was all fairly dilapidated – I think you weren’t even meant to go in in case a vault collapsed under you – but now it’s been cleaned up, made sound and become part of the tourist experience.

As I spend a fair amount of time in Glasgow, I keep a Pentax Spotmatic-F and a set of lenses there to cut down on the amount of luggage I need to take with me when I travel up from London. Glasgow is also where I get film developed, at the Snappy Snaps on Byres Road, so if I finished the film I already had in the camera, there wouldn’t be a delay in viewing the results.

The Necroposlis sits on a steep hill separated from the cathedral by a steep valley and if you look back as you follow the twisty path up towards the monument to John Knox, there is a fine view west. I realised that this was probably as good a place as any to work through lenses with a variety of lenses:

  • Super-Takumar 1:3.5/28
  • Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 1:2/35
  • Super Takumar 1:1.4/50
  • Jupiter 9 1:2/85
  • Super Takumar 1:3.5/135 (2 shots, the second with a x2 teleconverter)

The camera was on a tripod, but some adjustment was made for composition as the frame tightened. All exposures, 1/250th second at f11. Film used 400 asa Fuji Superia.

The picture at the top of this post was taken later, on the other side of the hill looking east. It may form part of Assignment 1.