Aspicus and the Art of Photography

From Snapper to Shooter (hopefully)

Assignment 1 – The Theory and Practice of Contrasts

The assignment asks the student to take 8 pairs of images illustrating 8 sets of given contrasting concepts, and 1 image of a contrast within the same image.  This gives 17 images in all.

The contrasting concepts I selected for my 8 pairs were:

  1. Hard/Soft
  2. Pointed/Blunt
  3. Rough/Smooth
  4. Light /Dark
  5. Curved/Straight
  6. Many/Few
  7. White/Black
  8. High/Low

The contrast I exhibit in a single image is Curved & Straight (I assume I can reuse a pair of contrasts from above but in a different shot).  Details below….

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16 June 2009 Posted by | Assignments | 2 Comments

Aspicus and the Art of Titling Photographs

While loading up images from today’s shooting onto this blog and onto Flickr, I realised how difficult it is to give a photograph a good name.  I’m learning in the OCA TAOP course about the elements of composition, how they balance and so on, but I doubt that this course (or any other) really covers what to call your images.

For example, here is an image I took today of a tree.  It looked like a scary monster to me which was why I took the photo.  However it may not look that way immediately to anyone else – they may wonder why I took a photo of a tree which a couple of strange holes and knots.  But calling the image “Tree monster” immediately tells the viewer that there is some connection between the image and the monster – they have an idea as to why I took it and what to look out for.  Another example is this image.  Again the title tells the viewer the theme of the image and prepares them what to look out for (along with some not so subtle image manipulation – darkening the “A” a bit just to really drive the point home. I don’t think I would do this nowadays though).  Alternatively to acting as a kind of clue, the name of an image can also confirm the point of the photo.  The second image a viewer might think “ooh – that looks a bit like an A”, see the title and think – “aah got it”.

But these examples are exceptions.  Typically I find it difficult to come up with a good title.  Examples here include a shot of a sculpture of a sycamore seed called imaginately “Sycamore” (from an earlier TAOP project), one of a swan called “Swan1” (there was once upon a time Swan2 – and no apologies for the over-saturated colours. I like blue), and one from today, a view over Claremont Landscape Garden called…. yup you guessed it –“View Over Claremont Landscape Garden”.

Titles aren’t necessary of course.  Most of the time it is good to challenge the viewer by leaving it up to them to explore the image, find its point themselves, have the satisfaction of understanding the image.  But nevertheless, in these days of Flickr photostreams, captioned images in the media, and so on, titles definitely have a role to play somewhere.  It is difficult though, and a quick glance through my Flickr page will find plenty of boring banners, painful puns, and dull descriptions (enough alliterative appellations for now I think)

I finish this post with one of the few instances where I am truly happy with a title.  It is for an image I took today.  In fact I am so happy with this one, if a pollster suddenly called and asked me what my greatest achievement was ever, I would (at the moment) give serious consideration to this title.  Don’t get me wrong – the image isn’t all that.  In fact it is average at best.  But the combination of image and title – now that is something to be truly proud of.  I’ll put a link up in a minute, but before you click on it I recommend you take a seat, and be prepared to have a cup of tea and a short lie down while you contemplate the title and all the angles it works from.  When you’re ready, click here….

10 May 2009 Posted by | General | Leave a comment

The Photographer’s Eye – Michael Freeman

I bought The Photographer’s Eye the other week based on reviews on Amazon.  I didn’t notice the author until I started reading it and:

a) recognised some of the concepts in the opening chapter from the TAOP course

b) recognised some of example images in the opening chapter from the TAOP course! (for example the boat in Project 6)

Michael Freeman is of couse the author of the TAOP course and the foundation for the course is obviously this book.  I don’t think you could just buy the book and avoid the course however.  The course is much more inclusive – it asks you to go and try things out (plus of course you get tutor feedback/assistance, assignments etc), whereas this book covers a lot more of the theoretical underpinning ideas behind the concepts.   In fact I find the book to be an excellent complement to the course – the two seem to work very well together.  The course is good for leading you through the ideas in a very practical sense, making you try things out, and come to own conclusions, while the book gives a deeper understanding of why things are so, and what Michael Freeman is trying to drive home in the course notes from his own experiences.

The book is written in a very similar style to the course (which is hardly surprising) – very accessible and avoiding any art or techno babble (well most of it anyway – lots of use of words like “dynamic” and “static” images, but these are explained, and the course practicals give a very good basis to understand what these actually mean).  I do wonder why the OCA didn’t offer this book as a complement to the course material rather than the history book?  It could be that they didn’t want people racing ahead in the reading (each chapter in the book is typically a couple of pages long), or perhaps they wanted something a bit different from the course notes.

Whatever their reasons I seriously recommend this book to anyone on the TAOP course in particular. It will help them in their coursework a lot. You can get it from the usual online shops.

Martin Freeman has quite a few books out there dealing with lighting, photographing people etc, and if they are as deep and yet accessible as this then I shall probably pick them up at some point too?

Out of interest – does anyone know whether the other photographic OCA courses follow any of the other Martin Freeman books?

10 May 2009 Posted by | Books | Leave a comment

Project 12

Positioning the horizon

What: The aim of this project is to explore the position of the horizon has on the composition of a photo.
Where: Claremont Landscape Garden – a National Trust site near Epsom, Surrey.
When: Mid morning in early May.  The weather was nice and bright at the time of shooting.
Why: Claremont Landscape Garden is a very picturesque location centred on a lake.  While wandering around I noticed the shot below and thought it would make a good subject for this project.  They aren’t strictly what the project asks for (it says “an unbroken and clear horizon”).  I had taken some shots before focused on a classical horizon from the top of a vantage point but I wasn’t very happy with the result, so I thought I would try something very slightly different – the horizon isn’t very clear in its own right, but the proportion of the image between cloud and ground does change noticably.
How: Camera settings were manual.  Focal length was at about 35mm – I wanted some sense of depth and surrounding.  I shot at an aperture of f/10 to try and keep most of the image in focus.  ISO was set to 500 as I was shooting handheld and needed a slightly higher ISO to give me a shutter speed of 1/200 to ensure crisp images.  I had to adjust the shutter speed quite dramatically between sheets.   All shots were taken in RAW and then converted into JPG.  The images were ever so slightly non-horizontal so I straightened them up a bit in software.

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10 May 2009 Posted by | Projects | Leave a comment

Early thoughts

After 10 or so projects and beginning to think about the first assignment I thought I would hack down some early impressions of the course.  Hopefully this may be of use to anyone else starting the course (or considering to start it), and I would also be interested if anyone else has had similar experiences – particular in terms of finding time.

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1 May 2009 Posted by | General | 2 Comments

Giacomo Brunelli

Occasionally I pick up a magazine while commuting to and from work (I travel about an hour day into and out of London).  In one of these magazines I spotted a review of a book called The Animals by an Italian photographer called Giacomo Brunelli.  The review contained a couple of images and they were unusual enough to stick in my head and led to me looking him up on the internet when I get back.  You can find his site here.

The thing I like about these shots are the nightmarish quality of them.  It’s a quality that reminds me of a David Lynch film called Eraserhead – very surreal and very frightening.  Some of this quality of his photos is reinforced by the subject (take for example some of his shots of dogs here and here), but others not necessarily have a frightening subject but still have this eerie quality.  For example this cat, or this bird, or even this chicken (crossing the road of course! well I smiled).  All of them have this strange, eerie, grotesque quality.

I don’t know enough about the mechanics of composition to put my finger on precisely why yet (although I feel like I’m learning), but at the moment I think it is a mixture of very contrasty/shadowy shots (get the technical lingo there!)  and that strange grainy texture to his shots (I have no idea how he did that, or even if he shoots film or digital).   Also note that the vast majority of his shots are shot with very wide aperture throwing the background out of focus, adding to the intensity of the subjects, and even sometimes throwing the subject out of focus to add to the sense of strangeness, a good example is here (if my out-of-focus shots looked so good I will be a very happy man).  I’ll come back to Giacomo’s work I think throughout the course and see if I have the understanding and words as to how he achieves the very strong sense of all not being what it should.

In the meantime you can find the full range of shots for The Animals here.

15 April 2009 Posted by | Photographers | Leave a comment

Project 10

Focal lengths and different viewpoints

What: The aim of this project is to investigate the impact on an image of shooting at wide-angle or at tele-photo focal lengths.
Where: A sycamore seed ornament in RHS Wisley, Surrey
When: Mid afternoon in mid April.  The weather was nice and bright at the time of shooting.
Why: I was taking photos related to a few TAOP projects on an afternoon milling about Wisley.  This project was on the list.  I decided to use the sycamore leaf ornament as the subject for this project as I thought the two paths to either side would make the impact of using a wide-angle/telephoto very clear.
How: Camera settings were manual.  Focal length of course varied.  I shot at an aperture of 8 to try and keep some of the background in focus to observe any differences.  ISO was set to 200.  I had to adjust the shutter speed quite dramatically between sheets.  I;m not sure if this was because of a slight change in conditions (I didn’t notice any dramatic changes at the time) or whether it is some sort of impact of using a wider-angled focal length.  All shots were taken in RAW with no additional software processing beyond converting to JPG.

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13 April 2009 Posted by | Projects | 1 Comment

Project 7

Objects in different positions in the frame

What: The aim of this project is to explore shooting a object in various parts of the frame, in particular in the middle and to the edges.
Where: A mushroom ornament in RHS Wisley, Surrey
When: Mid afternoon in mid April.  The weather was nice and bright at the time of shooting.
Why: I was taking photos related to a few TAOP projects on an afternoon milling about Wisley.  This project was on the list.  I decided to use the mushroom as a subject as I thought it was an unusual and interesting ornament, with a very definite texture.
How: Camera settings were manual.  My focal length was at its widest angle (18mm).  I shot at an aperture of 5.6 to try and add some blur to the rest of the objects in the shot to focus attention on the ornament (which it didn’t do as much as I anticipated or would have liked).  ISO was set to 200 and shutter speed was at 1/250sec.  All shots were taken in RAW with no additional software processing beyond converting to JPG.

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13 April 2009 Posted by | Projects | Leave a comment

Project 6

Fitting the frame to the subject

What: The aim of this project is to investigate the alternative ways a subject interrelates to the frame – from very close in, to very far out.
Where: A bench at Caesar’s Camp near Aldershot in Hampshire.
When: Lunchtime in early April.  A bright and sunny day.
Why: I was wandering around Caesar’s Camp with my camera on the lookout for subjects for several TAOP projects.  I chose the bench as I thought it was an interesting subject, not necessarily in its own right, but more because of its context overlooking some spectacular views over Farnborough.  I thought it would be interesting to use the bench as my subject for this project to see how different framing options changed the feel of the image.
How: Camera settings were manual.  Various focal lengths, apertures and shutter speeds (noted below), ISO200.  I used a tripod (still trying to get into that habit).  I used a GND0.6 on the skyline as some practise shots showed that they were getting blown out.  All shots were taken in RAW, and a tiny bit of software processing (mostly clipping as the GND filter seemed to appear in the corners of the frame at the widest focal length).

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4 April 2009 Posted by | Projects | Leave a comment

A Graduated Neutral Density Filter at last

I got a Graduated Neutral Density (GND) Filter finally.  In the end I went for a square type (a Lee), with a 0.6 hard GND.  I thought that the flexibility (especially for GND) overcame the faffing about with bits of plastic and the like – and having actually used it, it isn’t much of a faff at all.  In fact I found it remarkably easy to use, so easy that I’m going to have to be careful to not overuse it.  The Lee system is a bit more pricey than the Cokin, but reading around the quality is supposed to be a little better.  My thought was that I would pay a bit more, but only pay once.  Also looking at the filters on offer, you can get filters costing around £10 up to around £30, the former of which is well within my price range.

So far I’ve tried it on a couple of outings.  The first time I only used it a couple of times.  The second I used it for pretty much every shot (to reduce the glare in the sky).  I can undestand the value of these accessories now as it meant I did not have as many blown-out shots as I would have normally.

Now I just need to get the filters suggested in the course notes (the Blue, Red etc).  I think I will get these slowly – one or two a month.

So in all, if you are umming and aaarghing about getting one – I would definitely recommend it.

29 March 2009 Posted by | Equipment | 1 Comment