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….

1. Hard/Soft


f/9; ISO 800; focal length 62mm; 1/1600 sec

Subject: For Hard I wanted to take an image of a plate or something breaking against a hard floor – thereby (hopefully) getting across the concept of Hard.  This was quite challenging for the obvious reason of trying to catch the breaking object at a suitable point.  I did try building a noise trigger (instructions from here for example) for use on my kitchen floor but I couldn’t get it to work.  Luckily, as today was a bright sunny day I thought I might be able to get a similar effect outside in the sunshine, using the burst mode of my camera and a very fast shutter speed.  Experimenting with a couple of old mugs and some bricks I eventually managed to get a shot of a mug breaking.

Composition: Starting with the ground, I chose to use a circular area, the idea being to give a radial balance, and also perhaps to give the impression of a bullseye (although I’m not sure this comes across at all).  In terms of where to position the mug I didn’t have that much choice over what would happen to the pieces as they flew out.  I dropped the mug roughly over the centre of the circle, hoping that the broken pieces flying away from the centre would break any symmetry.

Capturing the image: I had to drop the mug, and my arms aren’t about 6 foot long, so I put the camera on a tripod so I could drop the mug and take the image through the remote shutter.  I placed the camera fairly high as I wanted to draw attention to the breaking mug, rather than capture its journey down.  I wanted to isolate the scene, but also wanted to maintain some sense of depth  Zooming in to fill the frame with the circle gave me a focal length of 62mm which I thought gave me a nice compromise between isolation and depth.  I selected an aperture of f/9 in order to keep any shrapnel in some sort of focus (motion aside).  In order to stop time in the image I wanted as fast a shutter speed as possible at this aperture.  I therefore increase the ISO to 800.  Metering from the ground gave me a shutter speed of 1/1600 seconds.  Focusing on the centre of the circle, and then turning autofocus off (to prevent the camera trying to maintain focus on flying debris), I turned the high speed burst mode of the camera on, held my finger on the remote shutter and dropped the mug.  Another mug or so later and a whole host of images (most of them of an empty circle), and I selected the image shown.  For post processing I cropped a tiny bit to remove a shadow from the corner.  I thought hard about converting the image to black and white and in the end succumbed.  The reason I converted was to remove the distraction of the green grass growing between the paving slabs, and also I thought the very small pieces in the middle of the image were slightly more apparent.

Thoughts on the image:  I managed to achieve what I set out to do.  My only reservation is the luck of how the pieces flew out.  I would have liked to get the sound trigger working to get the mug right at the point of impact – perhaps sometime in the future I’ll have another go.


f/8; ISO 200; focal length 90mm; 1/5 sec

Subject: The subject I chose for Soft was a bunch of cuddly toys belonging to my girlfriend (honest! Well the blue dog you can see is mine, as is the sheep, but apart from that they are all hers).  The intention was to fill the frame with objects that the viewer would associate with Soft.

Composition: Given the intention the composition would involve filling the frame with the soft toys and removing the potential distraction of the context of the scene completely.   I did consider including the pillows the toys were positioned on in the frame, but opted for simplicity of just focusing on the toys.  I also chose a load of toys as the subject rather than a single toy as I thought using just one toy might generate some confusion.  Shooting the sheep for example might leave the viewer with the impression of White, or even Sheep.  I decided  to have one toy in the centre of the frame – selecting the sheep as one of the more obviously soft ones.    I placed the sheep slightly to the left, looking across the centre, hopefully to encourage the viewer to follow the gazer across the image.  I set the other toys up around the sheep, trying to get most of them to look to the centre to encourage the viewer to do the same.

Capturing the image: Given that I had to spend some time arranging and rearranging the toys I put my camera on a tripod so that I had a constant frame with which to work.  The light was not that good either and so using a tripod would allow me more freedom in terms of exposure and camera settings.  Zooming into the collection of toys gave me a focal length of around 90mm.  I did not want any part of the scene thrown out of focus and so used a focal length of f/8.  Metering from the sheep and compensating by 1 stop as it is white, gave me a shutter speed of 1/5 seconds at ISO200. Post processing involved tweaking the levels, clipping some of the right hand side out and adding standard sharpening.

Thoughts on the image:  The image achieves the results I hoped it would (whether it achieves the effect on the viewer I don’t know).  There is not much I would change if I did the image again – maybe some slight changes to the pile of toys, but I could probably do that for ever.

2. Pointed/Blunt


f/5.6; ISO 200; focal length 105mm; 1/100 sec

Subject:  I happened to have an old empty syringe from some medication a couple of years ago, and this seemed a natural subject for Pointed.  I was originally just going to focus on the needle but I thought I would fill the syringe up with water and red food dye to evoke the sense of bloody and reinforce the point (pun fully intended).

Composition:  For composition I wanted to do a still life so I chose to shot the syringe against a white piece of card.  I used a white bit of card to totally remove any context or surroundings to focus on the syringe and more importantly, the point – which may not have come out very well against a background.  I wanted the syringe at a diagonal across the frame to draw the eye through as much of the frame as possible.  I decided to have the point of the needle at the two-thirds (approx golden section) across and down from the top right.  This would leave some empty space to the right of the subject.  I played with having the syringe in action (i.e. squirting the red water).  The in action shots were disappointing as the stream of water came out at a slight angle which was distracting, and the jet of water was also out of focus due to the impact of motion.  In hindsight I could have tried flash to freeze the action, but that did not really occur to me at the time in the bright sunlight.  Therefore I went with a static image.  I left the large drop at the end of the needle as I thought it would draw attention to the tip of the needle and reinforce the impression of Pointed.  The image is off balance but I did not mind that as I thought it would naturally lead the eyes of the viewer from the left to the right of the image.

Capturing the image:  Capturing the image was straightforward.  I shot the image outside handheld against a white piece of card.  My girlfriend held the syringe for me so I could take the image using both hands.  I selected an aperture of f/5.6 (widest on the 18-200 lens) to throw the white card out of focus and therefore reduce any blemishes or marks on it.  Metering off the red water gave a shutter speed of 1/100 seconds at ISO200.  For focal length I filled the frame with the syringe, keeping the tip at the top 2/3s point.  I actually shot a slightly larger scene than shown in the image as I wanted some freedom on the edges to crop the image to remove hands later.  In terms of post processing I cropped the image to remove the hands, played with levels to make the background white, and added higher than normal sharpening as the image is full of straight lines.

Thoughts on the image:  This image turned out like I envisaged.  The red water makes the image with a suggestion of blood, reinforcing the sharpness of the syringe.  I am in two minds about whether I would have liked to shoot the syringe squirting out water.  I am slightly annoyed at myself for forgetting that flash can freeze the image, even in broad daylight, but on the other hand the angle it came out at was very odd and distracting.


f/2.8; ISO 200; focal length 50mm; 1/1000 sec

Subject:  The subject I chose for Blunt was to be a crayon that had obviously been used.  The idea was to use something that was already fairly blunt, then make it even more blunt just to drive the point home.  I tried shooting several crayons, but in the end thought that the simplicity of a single crayon worked best.

Composition:  I wanted the colouring in and the crayon to complement each other in terms of composition.  I decided in the end to colour in a patch of paper horizontally and have a crayon come in from the lower right diagonal.  The idea here was that the left-right movement of the crayon markings would lead the eye across the picture to the crayon, while the diagonal of the crayon would complement this by drawing attention to the blunt tip.

Capturing the image:  I used my new 50mm 1.4 as I wanted a really sharp image to emphasise the bluntness of the tip with the sharpness of the image.  The sweet spot for this lens for sharpness is an aperture of around f/2.8, so I selected this as my aperture.  Metering off the yellow at ISO200 gave a shutter speed of 1/1000 second in natural light (it was quite sunny – you can see the shadow from the crayon).  I then took a few shots.  The minimum range of the lens is too long to get the zoom you can see here, so I took the image at the nearest distance I could focus at, and then cropped to fill the frame.  In terms of other post processing I altered the levels slightly and added standard sharpening.

Thoughts on the image:  I like the compositional elements of this image as I think the left-right of the markings and the diagonal of the crayon work quite well together.  I also like the different textures on display – the smoothness of the markings, the roughness of the crayon paper, and the crayon debris littering the place.  It’s not the most exciting image but I think it gets across the concept of Blunt quite well.  I did consider making it black and white in post processing to remove the distracting colour to focus the viewer even more on the tip of the crayon but I decided against it as I thought the fact that the image was black and white rather than the expected colour would add a distraction all of its own.

3. Rough/Smooth


f/7.1; ISO 200; focal length 75mm; 1/250 sec

Subject:  For most images for this assignment, I came up with a concept and then went about composing and shooting it.  For Rough however I had a slightly older image immediately in mind.   The subject is a statue at the National Trust Claremont Landscape Gardens near Epsom in Surrey that I photographed as I was doing Project 12.  The statue was of a bear and was extremely weathered and the texture of it just looks extremely rough to me.   I thought that this image would impart this same concept of Rough to other viewers as well so decided to use it for the Assignment.

Composition:  The composition of this shot is fairly straightforward.  I positioned the statue to the left of the image, with it looking across to the right.  The body of the statue takes up the majority of the right hand side, and there is a hint of surroundings on the left as well to give a small degree of context to the subject.  There is a fairly narrow depth of field to draw attention to the head of the statue.

Capturing the image:  The reason I originally took the image was that I thought the statue looked quite menacing from some viewpoints.  Given the focus on the head the aperture was set to f/7.1 to throw the rest of the scene out of focus to some degree.  The focal length of 75mm was chosen half out of convenience (to fill the frame) and half out of a desire to focus on the head primarily to the exclusion of any other elements.  The image was taken handheld.  Post processing involved some tweaks to levels (deepening the shadows and adding contrast to bring out the texture more) and adding standard sharpening.  I did experiment with making it black and white to try and emphasise the texture even more, however I felt that the greyness of the texture alongside the green of the grass gives the original hint that the subject is a statue.  When I made it black and wide the texture was indeed reinforced slightly, but I also felt that the image was a little confusing as it was not at all obvious that the statue was a statue.  I felt that the combination of the fact in the image that the subject is a statue, along with the texture on the statue emphasises the concept of Rough more in the coloured version.

Thoughts on the image:  I quite like this image.  I was keen to use it somewhere on my OCA work and this concept in this Assignment was a good opportunity.  The thing I like most about the image is the texture of the statue (including that dent in the nose), and the look of menace.


f/9; ISO 200; focal length 95mm; 0.8 sec

Subject: The subject I chose for Smooth was a silk nightie my girlfriend has (well polyester possibly, but it looks like silk to me).  I wanted to give a tactile impression of the concept of Soft, so rather than take a shot of the nightie itself  I wanted to capture its texture and lightness.

Composition:  Composition for this one was very easy, seeing as the frame would be filled with the material.  The only real decision I had to make was where to arrange the objects underneath to provide the highlights and shadows.  For this I simply used some of the hairclips from Many under the left hand side.  I wanted to get some form of undulations over the entire frame and after a bit of playing around I got a composition I was happy with.

Capturing the image:  Light was not very good and I didn’t want to use a flash if I could get away with it, as I thought the flash light would add harsh highlights to the image which would disrupt the smooth texture.  I didn’t want to opt for a high ISO either as I thought the noise that would be introduced in what is a very dark image would be difficult to manage.  Therefore I used a tripod facing downwards at the nightie and maintained an ISO200.  I didn’t want any part of the image to be more in focus than any other so I opted for an aperture of f/9.0.  Seeing as the material is black, I thought exposure would be quite difficult, however after a couple of test shots and experimenting with exposure, I got a nice smooth exposure of the material.  The shutter speed was 0.8 seconds.  The focal length of 95mm was decided by a combination of a comfortable working height (i.e. full tripod height) and zooming in on a part of the nightie.  Post processing involved cloning out some dust spots on the nightie so as not to distract the viewer and to spoil the smoothness of the texture.  I did not add any sharpening as I thought this would be counter to the intention of the image.

Thoughts on the image:  I’m quite happy with the image I got for this concept.  It was a very simple plan and it seemed to work well.  I think the impression of Smooth comes across quite nicely.

4. Light/Dark


f/9; ISO 200; focal length 18mm; 30 seconds (+increased exposure in post processing)

Subject: You know the bit at the end of the film Close Encounters of The Third Kind?  The bit where the aliens come out of the ship surrounded by a blinding light?  Well that’s the sort of effect I wanted to achieve in this shot.  However, there were no alien ships around, and so I had to try and achieve the same effect on a more modest scene.   I ended up trying to achieve the effect on a door in our house that goes from the kitchen to the lounge.

Composition:  In terms of composition, I wanted to give the sense of unusualness to reinforce the air of potential mystery.  I used a very low angle for the shot, common for dramatic frames in comics.  In order to give some focus and sense of proportion to the shot I used the handle of the door as the focal point of the image.  The idea was to keep the door visible, and to overexpose the light through the door in order to give that blinding light.  Given the shape of the door, and the fact that I wanted to accentuate the opening of the door it seemed pretty obvious to me to use a vertical frame.  I wanted a real sense of depth to the image to add to the dramatic feel and so a wide-angled shot seemed appropriate – also for practical reasons – a zoomed shot would have not allowed me to get more of the door in shot).

Capturing the image:  Setting the scene up was relatively straightforward.  I opened the door, turned the light off within the kitchen (the room where the camera is), and turned the lights on in the lounge (the room through the door).  The tough bit was setting the camera up.  Given the room was in darkness, and that I wanted to overexpose the light from the other side of the door a long exposure was going to be necessary, therefore I was going to need a tripod.  I set the tripod up very low to the ground and made it point up.  Now came the tough part – the camera was so close to the floor that it was very difficult to look through the viewfinder.  Luckily my camera has a Live View mode, which I could just about see – so I used this to compose the image, set the focus point and exposure and so on.  Without Live View this would have been a real pain to do. I guess I would have had to shot, looked at shot, corrected, etc.  I wanted focus throughout the image as far as possible so I went for an aperture of f/9.  Smaller apertures would have given me a greater depth of field, however I started getting underexposures on the door.  I could have increased the ISO from the setting in the image of 200 (the camera default), however I was reluctant to do so in such a dark shot as it could have introduced noise relatively early.  The setting of f/9 gave me a shutter speed of 30 seconds when metering off the dark side of the door and adding a couple of stops of overexposure (to start to get the light through the door to blow out).  Reducing the aperture would have set me to Bulb mode and I didn’t fancy playing around with timing the shot (it was about 11 o’clock at night), so I thought I would give these settings a go and compensate in post-processing.  Focal length was set to 18mm as this was the widest angle the lens has.  After setting all that up I took a few shots, playing around with how much overexposure would be required to blow out the light from the room through the door.  Post processing involved increasing the exposure some more to really blow the light out, and cloning out a light switch and handle to the right of the image which I thought proved distracting to the viewer.  I decided to go for black and white, as the light in the original colour image was very orange.  Going for black and white made the light look more blinding, and also had other benefits.  For example the pipework you can see around the door was very noticeable and distracting in the colour version, but not so noticeable I feel in the black and white version.

Thoughts on the image:  This image pretty much looks I expected it to when I conceived it.  Usually I struggle to keep images from blowing out so it was good to encourage it for a shot.  I was taken aback about what a pain composing the image was when I couldn’t see through the back of the camera (I guess the usefulness of the articulated LCD screens on some of the newer DSLRs would be handy here), but found a way around it.   If I was braver, or had more time,  I would maybe have liked to ask my girlfriend to stand the other side to see if I could get a suggestion of a silhouette through the door, but I suspect that will have several technical challenges that will take some time.  Final point on the image is that there appears to be something funny going on the door right at the bottom, with some patches of light.  I suspect this is to do with some light coming through the window at the other end of the room that is being accentuated by the long exposure and the post processing.  I didn’t fancy trying to remove it in post processing as I’m not sure my skills are up to it so in the end I left it in there.


f/5.6; ISO 800; focal length 18mm; 1/30 sec

Subject: The subject I selected here was a darkened room around Lacock Abbey.  OCA students will recognise that name from the Concise History of Photography book, as it is where William Fox Talbot lived and worked (I couldn’t find the door or the barn).  There are some very nice campsites around (we stayed at this one) and I recommend giving it a visit as with the Abbey and museum and walks and so on there is easily a long weekend of activities.  Anyway, enough of the recommendations – part of the Abbey is Cloisters.  Off these cloisters are some very old darkened rooms.  I was taking photos in each one from different angles (more on this below), not really holding out much hope of a good usable shot, but I eventually came across this scene which I thought would really match the requirement for Dark.  The room was dark, but there was just a hint of light to make out the shapes on the floor which from some angles appear very similar to coffins (I don’t think they were by the way).  My intention was to create a very dark image with a hint of light on these coffins evoking thoughts of dark places found in vampire films and the like.

Composition:  I took several shots as I was not sure how the light would behave in the final version.  However for all shots I wanted the window as the focus of the image, because it was the source of what light there was in the room and would be natural focus for any viewer of the image.  Experimenting a little I felt that having the window over to one side casting light onto the coffin, with a large expanse of darkness over to the right was the best composition.  The thinking was that the light would give a suggestion of the coffins and the expanse of darkness would suggest that there was a lot more space in the room that may be full of similar objects.

Capturing the image:  Capturing this image was quite tough as I had forgotten my tripod on our trip.   There were quite a few visitors milling around so also I didn’t want to spend too long trying to find somewhere to put my camera for a long exposure.  Therefore it was going to have to be handheld.  I wanted a real sense of context so went for a wide angled shot with a focal length of 18mm.   This had the added benefit in terms of getting a sharp shot in the low light.  I read somewhere that to get a still image you need a shutter time of the reciprocal of the focal length.  Seeing as my focal length was 18mm this would mean I would need 1/18 seconds shutter time for a sharp shot.  However, given that I am using an APS-C sensor size with a crop factor of 1.5 I suspected that I would need to factor this in i.e. my effective focal length was 27mm so I needed a 1/27 second exposure.  However, on the plus side, my lens has Vibration Reduction (VR) which is supposed to be good for 2-3 stops, so I could possibly get away with 1/6 or so exposure time (doesn’t sound much at all for handheld does it!).  To give me the best chance I upped the ISO up to 800 and opened the aperture to its widest setting (f/5.6).  I wasn’t particularly concerned about a narrow field of view given by this aperture as the vast majority of the image would be in darkness and the wide focal length would broaden the field of view more than enough to capture window and coffin.   With these settings, and metering and autofocusing on the window, I got a required exposure time of 1/30 seconds – well within my requirement for 1/6.  I waited for until there were no visitors in the way and took a shot.  Post processing involved reducing the exposure a touch, running a noise filter over the image, h and adding a very small degree of sharpening.

Thoughts on the image:  I like this image.  My printer wont and I’m already buying a vat load of black ink ready to print it off for my tutor, but I like it.  The reason I like it is that there is only any detail in about a third of the image.  But this detail is enough to suggest a whole lot more to the viewer without them actually seeing it.  I also like it because the relatively small area of detail in a large area of darkness seems the right proportion to me.  If I zoomed or cropped into the window and coffin, then it would be a shot of a window and coffin.  The fact that it is in a large expanse of black suddenly turns it into a shot of a dark room, with a bit of light exposing some strange broken coffin which invokes all sorts of questions from the image.

5. Curved/Straight


f/8; ISO 200; focal length 105mm; 1.6 sec

Subject: The subject I chose for Curved was a close-up of a bunch of bananas.  The idea was to fill the frame with curved objects and thereby impart the impression of Curved on the viewer

Composition:  I decided to fill the frame with the bananas to meet the requirement outlined above.  Given the shape of the bananas, a portrait orientation seemed most sensible. The trickiest bit of the composition was positioning the bananas in such as way that the underlying table did not show through, while at the same time keeping their curved shape in view.  I especially wanted the top of the bananas in shot at the same time as the bottom – playing around with some shots showed that if you did not get both ends in shot then the bananas did not seem very curved at all.  I opted for 3 bananas in the frame – one to the left, one in the middle and one to the right.  This was for practical reasons (see above re keeping the background out of the image) and also because 3 seemed a natural number and composition.

Capturing the image:   I used a tripod as light was not good at the time I took the shot (inside).  I did not want to use a flash as I thought this might add distracting highlights. I set up the bananas on the table in my lounge and set up my tripod so that the camera was facing down onto them so that I could use a long exposure.  Getting the bananas in the right place while not showing the table underneath was quite tricky, despite the relatively simple requirements.  However after a lot of mucking around I got a composition I was happy with.  I used an aperture of f/8 in order to keep most of the image in focus.  Any higher was not really necessary as the scene was relatively flat.  I used a focal length of 105mm to give a tight composition. Metering from the bananas gave a shutter speed of  1.6 seconds.  The auto-focus struggled when I set the focus point in the middle of the bananas – I guess the colour was too uniform for whatever algorithm was used.  I was reluctant to focus manually as I always seem to be slightly off when I’ve tried this before, so I set the autofocus point towards the edge of the central banana.  For post processing I tweaked the levels and added standard sharpening.

Thoughts on the image:  The image is OK, but not quite as interesting as I thought it might be.  I think it gets the impression of curved across, and the composition seems to work well in leading the eye from the top towards the bottom in a curved shape, it’s just that the eye is not really been led to anything.  I think if there was something at the bottom of the image, such as an unripe or overripe, or even open banana, then this might add a point of focus to the image that could help make it more interesting.  Perhaps the composition may have worked better if it was in some sort of context –  in a bowl on a table on a table.  But then I’m not sure that the impression of curved would come across as strongly.  Overall then I think this is the weakest image I took in this assignment, and I think the reason for this is the lack of a point of focus in the image.


f/9; ISO 200; focal length 135mm; 1/25 sec

Subject: The subject I chose for Straight was a very long straight road not far from where I live.  Every time I drive down this road I always think how straight it is and I hoped to impart the same sense to the viewer.  Taking a photo from the middle of a busy road is not fun, and looking at the traffic down the road in the middle of the day soon put paid to that plan.  So I decided to take the image very early in the morning before the traffic started to build up.  One morning I happened to wake up very earlier (5:00 a.m.) and thought “why not”, so off I set – much earlier than I had originally anticipated.

Composition: For composition I decided to reinforce the concept of straight by keeping the image dead centre down the middle vertical axis of the frame.  The course discusses adding dynamism to shots by putting them to one side, however in this case I did not particularly want dynamism in the horizontal sense and actually wanted symmetry to reinforce the concept of Straight.  Vertically I wanted to fill most of the frame up with the road as I thought the more of the frame I could use with the straight road the more sense I would have of imparting the impression of Straight.  However I wanted to leave a bit of sky at the top as a hint of context and as it was quite unusual at the time of day (about 5:30 in the morning).  I considered having a portrait shot, which would have isolated the road from its surroundings, but rejected the idea as I thought the surroundings and context of the road added interest to the image.  I wanted to use a wide angle to give an impression of depth to the road and to include as much of the surroundings as I could.

Capturing the image:    I decided against using a tripod with remote as I thought it would be a bit dangerous with all the added faffing around to set this up in the middle of the road, even if it was ridiculously early – so I was shooting handheld.  I took a couple of practice shots from the side of the road just to finalise the composition and to explore the camera settings.  Metering from the road means that the sky burnt out, and decreasing the exposure by a stop of two meant the road seemed very underexposed, so I decided to use my 0.6 hard edged graduated neutral density filter to bring the brightness of the sky down.  I put the edge of the filter along the edge of the horizon which meant that I could have both the sky and road exposed in the image.  I tried a few focal lengths – as suspected the zoomed focal length isolated the road too much and made the image too flat, however the widest focal lengths gave too great a sense of perspective and the very heavy foreground of the road was distracting.  A focal length of 135mm seemed a good compromise.   Shutter speed proved to be slightly problematic keeping the ISO at 200 (as I wanted to do if I could to keep noise down).   However using the reciprocal rule (see Dark) I needed a shutter speed of 1/135mm, minus 2 stops for the VR which was about 1/30.  The metering gave me a figure of about 1/15 initially which I was reluctant to use and so I stopped down a bit to 1/25 to see what the impact would be.  I focused around 1/3 of the way into the shot.   Post processing involved tweaking the levels a bit to add a bit of lightness.

Thoughts on the image:  The image turned out much better than I thought it would.  I was concerned that I would not be able to get any interest into the image and I would just be left with a shot of a road.  However, the very early time of day gave a really nice red glow to the sky and some very deep shadows to the scene which I think gives it a really nice quality.  Additionally, given the nearly utter lack of traffic the viewer has more time and focus to spend looking at the road, which draws the eye up the frame to the lovely sky.  Spending a bit of time looking at the image reveals the little birds in the foreground, the cars in the mid and backgrounds.  Putting the line down the centre also works well I think as the little kinks and swerves in the centre line are very apparent.  Overall this worked much better than I thought it would, but this is primarily because of the light at this time of day which almost happened by accident.  Lessons learnt here was the light in early morning adds an interesting quality all of its own.

6. Many/Few


f/9; ISO 200; focal length 32mm; 1/2 sec

Subject: A few months ago my girlfriend left one of hairclips on the window sill.  Walking into the room I thought how like a monster or alien the hairclip looked from a certain angle, with the holes by the clasp looking like eyes and the teeth of the clip looking like big monster/alien teeth.  When this assignment came along and I was thinking about what contrasts to base my work on, the thought popped into my head to use the hairclip somehow in Many. Developing this thought a bit I thought that they resembled the aliens in the old Space Invader games.  I therefore came up with the idea of getting across the idea of Many by creating a little scene using the hairclips and any other makeup stuff I could use to mimic Space Invaders.  The intention is to use a lot of hairclips, along with a scene that evokes a sense of Space Invaders to impart the impression of Many.

Composition: This one took quite a bit of work and playing around with.  I had to play around with the settings of the ‘aliens’ for some time, referring to pictures of screen shots from the computer game.  There were all sorts of subtleties to take into account – for example there needs to be space to one side of the aliens for them to move into.    I put the ‘defender’ (the vial of nail varnish) under this space to balance the image a bit and to reinforce the impression of this space should the image be viewed against a white background (such as in internet page).  I found some tiny little hairclips and used these as bullets in order to conform to the image of Space Invaders a little more, and also to lead the viewer’s eye and to give a suggestion of motion.  Finally I put the ‘shot’ alien in a little more of a traditional angle for a hairclip just to demonstrate what these objects are.

Capturing the image:  I set up the scene and composition describe above on an A2 bit of white card  on my lounge floor and set the camera up on a tripod pointing downwards at it.  I used a tripod as it because it was very quickly apparent that I would be returning to the composition quite a lot (see the notes above).  I framed the shot to just contain the A2 card, but wasn’t too fussy about this having learnt from a couple of other shots that I could just crop it later.  This gave a focal length of 32mm but this was purely for practical reasons rather than any artistic reason.  The afternoon sun did cause some quite heavy shadows so I decided to use flash on the shot as well to reduce them a bit.  I used an aperture of f/9 as this is supposed to be one of the sharpest apertures on the 18-200. Metering from the card and adjusting for the fact that it was white gave me a shutter speed of 1/2 seconds at ISO200.  For post processing I played around with the levels a bit to make the background appear more white and also darkened the nail varnish vial a tad as it appears a bit washed out in the original.   Other than that it was just standard sharpening.

Thoughts on the image:  I liked the concept of this shot and I think the image above meets what I set out to do.  Still life takes a lot longer to set up than I think it is going to, but I am happy that I managed to get from concept to result in a relatively straightforward fashion.


f/5.6; ISO 200; focal length 200mm; 1/400 sec

Subject:  For Few I wanted to take something which we usually associate with Many and find an instance where it was only Few – in other words to get across the impression of Few by being different from the expectations of the viewer.  I settled on using a rose flower in our garden which had had some of its petals knocked off.  I hoped that the viewer would be thinking ‘that’s much fewer petals than I’m used to seeing’ by the expectations of a familiar object.

Composition:  For composition I wanted to have flower as the focus of the frame but not necessarily the centre.  I decided to keep one of the heads which had not had any petals knocked off in the image, to drive the point home that the focal point of the image was unusual in some way.  However I did not want it to distract from the flower with few petals so I would have to throw it out of focus.  I decided to have one flower head on one side of the frame and the other on the other side.  Which side was which was pretty much driven by the state of the rose, but I thought that it worked best anyway – encouraging the viewer to explore the image.

Capturing the image:  To get close enough to the rose I had to use the 200mm focal length on my 18-200 lens (a macro lens would have been ideal here).  Given that focal length, the maximum aperture I could have was f/5.6.  Metering from the petals and adding some composition as they are probably towards the highlights of the image, gave me a shutter speed of 1/400 seconds at ISO200.  After that was set up, and composing as described above, then focusing on the flower with a few petals and shooting away was straightforward.  Post processing involved tweaking the levels a bit and sharpening a smudge.

Thoughts on the image:  This shot does the job it intended to do, but not in any particularly imaginative or interesting way I think – but then I’ve never been a great fan of flower shots so I don’t know how much of this is a function of my own preferences.  The bud in the middle is a tad distracting, and maybe I could have found a better angle to make it work for me – pointing at a fully petalled flower perhaps.  Lessons from the course that I relied on the most were positioning the subject in the frame, and the part on depth of field.

7. White/Black


f/8; ISO 200; focal length 18mm; 1/800 sec

Subject: This was an opportunistic shot rather than a carefully planned one.  I had an idea that I wanted to use white cleaned sheets and duvet covers on the washing line in the bright sun, but I wanted to avoid making the image look like something out of a washing powder advert.  I had an idea that you could see silhouettes through the sheet if they were held up against the sun, so I took shots of my girlfriend hanging up the sheets.  I took several shots – some of them including the washing line, some not, some including parts of her not in silhouette (her feet for example), some not.  In the end I went for this image, as I think filling the frame with the sheet and her silhoette lends the image a slight abstract quality and makes it slightly more interesting for it.

Composition:  When I was taking this image I wanted to fill the frame with the sheet and make the silhouette the subject.  The patterns to the left of the image I did not try and avoid as I thought they added some texture to the sheet and gave a slight hint to the viewer as to what was going on.  The position of the silhouette I left as very slightly off centre to compensate for the folds on the right.

Capturing the image: I was taking several images and had the aperture set to f/8 in order to catch any depth of the sheet blowing in the breeze should it arise (and also to allow me to keep the shutter speed within the camera parameters).  Metering in manual earlier from the sheet, and compensating for the fact that it was white adding a couple of stops, gave me a shutter speed of 1/800 seconds at ISO200.  For this image I was quite close and down on the ground and I could use a focal length of 18mm to give an expansive wide view of the image.  In terms of post processing, I adjusted the levels a tad to make sure the sheet really was white at its brightest point.  I was careful not to sharpen as I thought the texture of the sheet in the shadow areas would halo quite easily under any sharpening.

Thoughts on the image:  As mentioned above I had several shots of this scene.  This was my favourite though.  A slightly stronger silhouette may have been nice but I think the image works.  For images like this where I am filling the frame with an object e.g. a sheet, it is very difficult to anticipate what someone who did not see the scene will think.  Aspects of the course lessons that were most in my mind as I was working were the lessons about taking several shots to converge on an idea, balance within a frame, and filling the frame with the subject.


f/3.5; ISO 200; focal length 50mm; 1/5000 sec

Subject: My original idea (given that it is nearly summer) was to absolutely burn some food on a barbeque until it was black and use that as a subject.  However, incredibly this turned out harder than I thought it was going to, so in the end I decided to burn some food in the usual way – in a toaster.  I wanted to use a similar of style to that found in food magazines or Sunday newspaper magazines, where the food is placed in a very nice setting and is the focus for the shot, but have the food burnt to evoke the concept of blackened burnt food.

Composition:  As mentioned above, I wanted to use a similar sort of style to that found for food photography.  Having a quick look through a couple of weekend newspaper supplements it is apparent that they use a few styles – top down, close in etc. I went for the setting where the food is the focus and centre of the shot, but there is a sense of idyllic surroundings.  I therefore wanted to fill the frame with the food, but leave some room for a sense of surrounding, but only to give a hint of the surroundings.  So once the food (toast and a slice of veggie bacon in this case) was burnt as much as I could without putting the local fire station on call, I arranged it on a plate towards the bottom of the frame.  I wanted to throw the background at the top of the frame as much out of focus as possible.  Ideally I would have liked to find some more ‘black’ food but that proved challenging for a veggie.  The only other item I could think of was mushrooms.  In the end I decided to keep it simply and use toast the main subject.

Capturing the image:  Give the composition plan above I decided to use my new prime lens – a 50mm 1.4 which has fantastically narrow depth of field.  However, the 1.4 end of the aperture was so wide open that I could not get the shutter speed down far enough.  In fact, determining the  exposure for this shot was quite challenging.  On one hand I wanted as small an aperture as possible (on a bright day), and on the other I had to exposure for the black on the burnt toast and the white on the plate – finding a mid tone to meter from was challenging.  In the end I looked at the meter from the burnt toast and the white plate and opted for somewhere in the middle.  For apertures I settled on f/3.5 which gave me a shutter speed my camera could handle of 1/5000 seconds at ISO200.  I considered using a neutral density filter to allow me to step up to the wider aperture but in the end I thought that f/3.5 was wide enough.  Focal length was of course 50mm on the prime lens – which is always quite a bit narrower than I suspect it is going to be.  Post processing simply involved adding standard sharpening and converting for web and printing.

Thoughts on the image:  I think the concept of the image is a good one, it is just a shame that I couldn’t make slightly more of it.  I would have liked a whole breakfast meal burnt for example, but (other than mushrooms) I couldn’t think of any additional foods (being a veggie I can’t use black pudding for example).  Additionally burning the food all over was much more difficult than I expected – you can see the crusts in the image above which are unburned.  Nevertheless it was interesting to look at images we see nearly every day on adverts of magazines and try to think what they actually did.  In terms of the course lessons the ones I most used were filling the frame, and isolating the subject in the depth of field.

8. High/Low


f/11; ISO 200; focal length 20mm; 1/80 sec

Subject: For High I wanted to use the lessons I have been learning about obtaining a sense of depth (depth of field, wide angled etc) to the vertical plane instead of the horizontal.  Ideally I would have climbed up to the top of a very tall building and looked down.  Unfortunately there are no really tall buildings round these parts (none that will let me climb to the top at least), and secondly I’m OK with heights, as long as they are moderate.  So I decided to go for a modest height, being the roof of our garage.  The idea was to take an image downwards, trying to give a sense of depth, to give the impression of height.

Composition:  The first thing I felt was necessary was to leave the ladder in the shot.  This not only would illustrate that something had been climbed, but also its perspective would hopefully add to the sense of depth.  For this reason I decided to leave the ladder to one side in order to show the diagonal of the ladder.  I toyed with putting the ladder in the centre of the shot, but the sense of perspective was not as great.  Secondly, I had recently seen some of the work of the artist/photographer David Hockney.  Hockney seems to be a general all round artist rather than a specialist photographer, as can be seen by his collages of images.   One image I saw in a book (link here – I couldn’t find a version on his site) I thought was very interesting, because he kept his feet in at the bottom.  I liked this as it put the photographer in the scene itself.  I tried to borrow this idea in this image, but keeping my feet in at the bottom.  The reasons for this were to make the image almost a familiar first person view to the viewer, and to increase the sense of height through being close to the edge and the relative size of my feet to the rest of the image.  Ideally I would have had my feet popping out over the edge, but I didn’t feel safe doing that.   I kept the edge of the roof towards the bottom of the image to give the sense of peering over the edge.  There were also practical reasons as if I had any more of the roof in shot I would have had my legs and so on in shot which I felt was a bit too much.  I liked the way the drive swept over to the left, and felt this counterbalances the ladder on the right.

Capturing the image:  Capturing the image was pretty straightforward.  Once I climbed up to the roof and thought about the composition it was simply a matter of setting up the usual variables on the camera.  For focal length, I wanted a sense of depth so wanted to use a wide angle.  Ideally I would have used the widest angle on my lens (18mm), unfortunately this includes a very distracting plant pot in the very top right of the image, so I zoomed in a very small amount to a focal length of 20mm to ensure it was out of the image.  I wanted a pretty large depth of field so went for an aperture of f/11.  Metering off the paving stones on the drive gave a shutter speed at ISO200 of 1/80 seconds.  I set the focus point to be the bottom of the ladder and took a few shots.  I shot in RAW and converted to web and print versions.  For post processing I made very minor changes to the levels and added some general sharpening.

Thoughts on the image:  This was a quite a straightforward shot.  The idea was a fairly strong one in my head, and once I had thought about the composition it was pretty simple to take the image.  I think adding the feet sort of makes the image as otherwise I think it would have been fairly dull.  For a stronger shot I think I would have liked the sun to be stronger and over to the right for the ladder to case shadows across the image, or behind me to cast my image onto the drive (which would have added a sense of perspective), but unfortunately it wasn’t that sunny a day and my house doesn’t sit in the arc of the sun like that.  In terms of aspects of the course in use I think those relating to depth of the image (i.e. wide angled shots and depth of field) as well as balance within an image were the major lessons on my mind as I thought through the image.


f/5.6; ISO 640; focal length 200mm; 1/2500 sec

Subject: For Low I wanted to take a ground level shot, using some common bug or animal that everyone associates with being on the ground.  I tried ants and spiders but they proved a bit too small for my lens (you would need a macro lens for those things I think), and in the end I thought slugs might do the trick.  So we found some slugs and put them on the ground where they could be my willing models.  The idea behind the shot, was to take an image of the ground, centring on the slug, and thereby give the sense of being right down with the slug.

Composition:  The first aspect of composition was that the camera was going to be right down on teh ground – actually sitting on the ground, with most of the frame being taken up by the ground.  The slug would be the focus of the frame.  The ground was covered with bits and pieces of wood and dirt and so on and I wanted to throw this out of focus if I could so that it would not prove too distracting.  The slug was originally slightly over to the left of the original shot – I wanted to give a sense of a long journey across the frame – but the right was filled with all sorts of debris (not to mentioned another slug!) which I thought was too distracting in the final image. So I cropped the image leaving the slug at the centre of the frame, but slightly off centre in the vertical plane.

Capturing the image:  Once the composition was set up, it was simply a matter of setting the camera up and reeling off a few shots – the slug was not in a hurry to go anywhere. For camera settings I wanted to throw the debris out of focus so went for an aperture of f/5.6 (the largest aperture on my 18-200 lens).  To make the slug any size at all I had to use the maximum focal length on the lens of 200mm.  Metering from the ground just in front of the slug gave me a shutter speed of 1/2500seconds.  It was only when I put the images on my PC that I realised I had left the ISO at 640 from a previous shot – I must learn to set this back to ISO 200 at all times!.  Luckily the D300 is pretty good with high ISO, and any noise is not too apparent (to my novice eyes at least anyway).  Post processing involved straightening the image, cropping the debris out of the right hand side and adding some standard sharpening.

Thoughts on the image:  This was a difficult shot to conceive, and an even harder one to find a suitable subject for that did not require a macro lens.  In the end I am happy with the composition – but ideally I would have like to have more space to the right to give that sense of journey.  In retrospect f/5.6 might have been a bit too big an aperture and if I was taking the shot again I think I would have gone for a slightly smaller aperture to keep some of the rest of the frame in focus (f/9), however my experience from a very similar set up as part of the previous OCA lessons showed me that with the ground so close in front of the camera then the depth of field is never going to be very wide whatever the aperture.  Overall then a shot in which I had to compromise on some areas, but one that sort of meets my conception.  Lessons from the course most in my mind were position of the subject in the frame, isolating a subject in the depth of field, and balance.  And I’m still a bit irritated with myself for not checking the ISO.

9. Curved & Straight

f/8.0; ISO 200; focal length 44mm; 1/4000 sec

Subject: This shot was opportunistic, taken in the Japanese garden at RHS Wisley, and was actually taken before I started working on the Assignment proper when I was trying to be mindful of future requirements.  What I was trying to do with the shot was to have the tree bend and curve on one side of the frame acting in contrast to the very straight frame of the background (the tree is actually in front of the screen).

Composition:  At the time of taking this photo I was working primarily on positioning the subject in the frame.  I therefore wanted to put the bonsai to the edge of the frame.  The left hand side seemed the most natural sa the curve of the tree almost forms a semi circle, centring on teh middle of the frame.  I wanted to fill the frame vertically with the bonsai tree to focus attention on it, rather than take a far away shot.  In terms of exposure I tried to get the tree in silhoette because it made the shape of it stick out a great deal, and also threw the curve of the trunk into sharp contrast with the straightness of the beams.

Capturing the image:  When I was capturing the image, after I had the composition decided in my mind, taking the image was simply a matter of working out the appropriate camera settings and working out the exposure.  For aperture I wanted some sharpness for the tree and for the background frame a foot or so behind it and therefore I selected f/8.  Metering from the screen and adding a bit of composition to prevent it becoming to gray gave me a shutter speed of 1/4000 sec.  The sun was behind the screen towards the top which helped to throw the tree into silhoette.  Focal length was a matter of practicality rather than any artistic reason, with movement being confined to paths bast the plants.  A focal length of 44mm gave me the exposure I wanted.  After shooting the image, post processing was a bit of level adjustment (to make the darks darker and the whites a bit whiter), conduct some lens distortion correction (the vertical line to the left of the image was a bit distorted which sort of defeated the point of the image) and adding standard sharpening.

Thoughts on the image:   I really like this image.  In hindsight it contains several contrasts – black and white, transparent and opaque, as well as the curved and straight.  However, for  me, the curved snd straight is why it really works – especially with the O the bonsai tree half forms around the centre of the image.

Thoughts on the Assignment

I found this Assignment very stretching taking much more time than I thought it would.  I think the challenge wasn’t so much the idea behind the Assignment, more the number of images that needed to be thought through – but 17 is an awful lot, particularly for a novice like me who has to think everything through slowly.    I did gain considerable learning benefit from the Assignment,  putting what we have learned together in one go is quite eye opening and I found myself considering placement of the subject in the frame, better crops, use of a wide angle versus a telephoto, the interaction of the subject and its surroundings and so on.  I also found the Assignment very useful in getting me to remember objects and scenes to take images of later – something the course recommends you do from the very beginning but a bit more difficult to get into the habit of.  I suspect I’ve written way too much here, but I find it useful to think through my thoughts if you see what I mean.

In terms of my favourite image I think it has to be Straight or High.  I like Straight because it turned out much better than I thought it would and I liked High because the plan I set out in terms of composition and borrowing inspiration from Hockney seems to work quite well.  My least favourite image is undoubtedy Curved as I find it a bit dull due to lack of a focus in the composition.


16 June 2009 - Posted by | Assignments


  1. Nice series of photos here. I really like ‘high’ though – it’s my fave hands down. Great composition & angle, if a bit vertigo-inducing!

    Comment by emma | 10 July 2009 | Reply

  2. Some fabulous shots here. Well done. I particularly like the “Black” shot, the background is excellent, and the exposure on the “Dark” shot is wonderful.

    Comment by Michael | 11 November 2009 | Reply

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