Assignment 2: reflection against assessment criteria

Before submitting my assignment to my tutor I must take time to reflect on my submission against the Course Assessment Criteria.  These are outlined on page 10 of the course handbook and again  at the end of part 1 on page 34 in graphical form which I have included below.  Assignment 2 marks the end of Part 2 of the course which has looked at “how the lens controls the depiction of space though focal length and aperture.”

 

 

 

 

Demonstration of technical and visual skills (40%)

I worked through part 2 of the course methodically.  During the assignment I made very specific decisions about which lens to use, which aperture, lighting control, distance from subject, composition and design.  My interpretation of the brief was to control as many of these factors as possible to maximise the technical result of the assignment as far as possible. Technically my six images look like a series and there are no disconnects from image to image as occurred in my first assignment submission. However, because of that control there is not a wide use of different lens techniques in this particular assignment.

Quality of outcome (20%)

I am satisfied that the resulting images work well as a series and are technically competent. I have actively sought peer feedback on this and feel that I have done a reasonable job on the quality of the images.  I am not sure that a viewer not aware of the brief would be aware that this assignment was specifically about collecting.

Demonstration of creativity (20%)

I am not sure that I am yet doing enough in this area.  I feel a conflict between being creative and the constraints of the brief.  I honestly felt bewildered when I discovered that one student used a photo-booth for this assignment. Yes this is a creative approach to collecting head, but is it using a dslr in aperture priority mode? Do creative risks mean ignoring the college instructions if the results justify it? I am as yet unclear on this and believe this is my greatest area of challenge – yet it is the area that I most want to develop.

Context (20%)

This is another area that I am working to improve and need to develop.  Now I am reading more and learning to reference what I discover rather than just keeping it in my head.  I find this challenging, as do many, as it is not a natural way for me to work or communicate.  However I recognise it as necessary and a strong part of what will help me develop my creativity above.  A work in progress.

Assignment 2: assignment notes & submission

Introduction

Having been given the choice of Crowds, Views, Heads or a subject on your own choosing, I reviewed the options here

Typically I would have selected “views” or “other” as they are a lower risk category that I could work on, on my own and at my own pace.  “Views” is still an area that interests me that I will return to.  I was also drawn to the “crowds” option but feel that, in order to avoid a set of clichéd images, this merits a longer-term approach. I have a number of ideas about how I would like to capture this that contrast with a typical street approach, but they will take some months for me to capture.

In the end I selected “heads” which is both the area the most outside my comfort zone but also the area in which I am most interested in developing my photographic voice.

In the previous assignment, my tutor feedback included the comment, “ … (a) thorough, more lengthy, approach can result in the kind of work that you could never think of in advance of being there.” With that comment in mind, I have taken great care to research portrait photographers throughout the coursework in part 2 of EYV.

Theme

Having picked heads as my subject matter, I decided to present Strong Women of the Matriarchy as my portfolio for this assignment, being all the living women on the matriarchal side of my partner’s family.  They range in age from 84 to 16 and most I have not photographed before.

In the course handbook for Assignment 2 we are guided to be “… cropping close around the head to avoid too much variety in the backgrounds.” I hope to have taken that guidance to the extreme by controlling the background, lighting and approach to each portrait as much as I can.  Given the restricted brief, I was worried that my approach would result in images that are more technical than creative, and I have certainly had some feedback for the OCA discuss group that underlines that. You can read those responses here.

I believe that the character and personality of each of these strong and independent women is apparent. I am grateful that each of them permitted me to photograph them knowing that every detail would be visible and that there would be no retouching.  Some chose make up, some didn’t and this reflects how they wanted to present themselves to me and to the lens.

Technical set up

Having decided on subject matter, I wanted the theme of “collecting” to have a strong presence. I decided to control the background by using a simple dark backdrop and main light source with one or two reflectors when necessary. The main light source was in front of the subject at an angle of about 30-40 degrees to the left and slightly above head height pointing down.  This, I believe, is classic Rembrandt lighting which I created using a single flash unit and soft-§box.  I also used a single reflector on the right side at a similar angle to avoid too much shadow on the right side of the face again so maximum detail can be revealed.

Drawing upon the exercises in Project 1 in Part 2, “The Distorting Lens”, I knew that I wanted to use a telephoto lens to minimise distortion in the headshots.  For this series I used my 56mm lens (85mm equivalent).

At the same time, I knew that I wanted to use a small aperture to maximise depth of field.  Mostly I used f 8-11 to create the depth of field I was looking for to reveal details in the portraits. Using a telephoto lens at about 5 feet from the subject is going to limit depth of field, but using the lens near f 11 counters that without introducing diffraction effects into the image. This provides front to back focus of each head revealing every line and blemish, or every trace of makeup applied.

Evaluation

What worked well

From a technical perspective I believe I have delivered a good degree of technical competence.  The images are in focus, correctly exposed and without apparent distortion.  I have kept to the brief and, unlikely in Assignment 1, I have been consistent with format, colour, framing and composition.

What didn’t work so well

Whilst technically competent, I found the brief quite constraining and so I wonder if my creativity is too limited or worse absent. I wanted to create the sense of a collection but wonder if that has come across.  One member of Discuss suggested that the portraits could have been even more “specimen like”, however I did want to present that spirit of family as a collection of people with their inherent humanity and not just inanimate objects. During the exercises in part 2, most of the photographers that I have researched do not use tight headshots.  Martin Schoeller does but then his portraits are printed to huge sizes such as 6’ by 4’ so the impact is very different to a small screen based image. Ultimately what didn’t work so well was my own understanding of whether or not I have done enough.

How the series might be improved in the future

In this set of images I had chosen to present them as deadpan.  I am now not sure if they are deadpan.  I might choose to explore this further.  However, along the way with this first series, some of the subjects blinked.  The eyes shut images (some can be seen on the contact sheets) look quite different to conventional portraits and I wonder now I should have actively pursued this option. It would have presented a more creative interpretation of the brief whilst sticking to the constraints of that brief though at this stage I am not sure how I would have explained what this represented.

 


Bibliography

  1. Bloomfield, R (2014) Photography 1: Expressing your Vision., OCA 2017, p.53

Assignment 2: contact sheets

All contact sheets have one highlighted image which is the one that I have selected.  The first model was Shirley and the contact sheet has a mixture of portrait and landscape format shots.  It was during this first shoot that I felt that the close cropping required and portrait format was too predictable and Photo Booth like  I tried, and preferred, the landscape format with space on the left of the image for the “head” to breathe in each case.

During the photographs, most of the subjects blinked in a shot.  I have kept a shot in the contact sheet where this has happened as it is an image group that I would like to revisit.  It breaks the rule of a portrait for eye contact to be absent but I also think it makes for an interesting alternative take of a portrait. One issue I am not clear about is whether I should be submitting the assignment to my tutor electronically on printing out.

Assignment 2: choice of approach and subject

Introduction

Having been given the choice of Crowds, Views, Heads or a subject on your own choosing, I reviewed the options here.

Typically I would have selected “views” or “other” as they are a lower risk category that I could work on, on my own and at my own pace. “Views” is still an area that interests me that I will return to. I was also drawn to the “crowds” option but feel that, in order to avoid a set of clichéd images, this merits a longer-term approach. I have a number of ideas about how I would like to capture this that contrast with a typical street approach, which would be achieved more quickly.

In the end I selected “heads” which is both the area the most outside my comfort zone but also the area in which I am most interested in developing my photographic voice.

In the previous assignment, my tutor feedback included the comment, “ … (a) thorough, more lengthy, approach can result in the kind of work that you could never think of in advance of being there.” With that comment in mind, I have taken great care to research portrait photographers throughout the coursework in part 2 of EYV.

In the course handbook for Assignment 2 we are guided to be “… cropping close around the head to avoid too much variety in the backgrounds.” I hope to have taken that guidance to the extreme by controlling the background, lighting and approach to each portrait as much as I can. As a result, I believe that the character and personality of each of the six women comes thoroughly strongly. They are strong and independent women ranging in age from 84 to 16. I hope that the genetic similarity is apparent but that the strength of character also comes through. I am grateful that each of them permitted me to photograph them knowing that every detail would be highlighted and that there would be no retouching. Some chose make up, some didn’t and this reflects how they wanted to present themselves to me and to the lens.

Technical set up

Having decided on subject matter, I wanted the theme of “collecting” to have a strong presence. I decided to control the background by using a simple dark backdrop and main light source with one or two reflectors when necessary. The main light source was in front of the subject at an angle of about 30-40 degrees to the left and slightly above head height pointing down. This, I believe, is classic Rebrandt lighting which I created using a single flash unit and octabox. I also used a single reflector on the right side at a similar angle to avoid too much shadow on the right side of the face again so maximum detail can be revealed.

Drawing upon the exercises in Project 1 in Part 2, “The Distorting Lens”, I knew that I wanted to use a telephoto lens to minimise distortion in the head shots. For this series I used my 56mm lens (85mm equivalent).

At the same time, I knew that I wanted to use a small aperture to maximise depth of field. Mostly I used f 8-11 to create the depth of field I was looking for to reveal details in the portraits. Using a telephoto lens at about 5 feet from the subject is going to limit depth of field, but using the lens near f 11 counters that without introducing diffraction effects into the image. This provides front to back focus of each head revealing every line and blemish, or every trace of makeup applied.


Bibliography

  1. Bloomfield, R (2014) Photography 1: Expressing your Vision., OCA 2017, pp.52-53

Assignment 2: assignment brief & initial response

Brief

Create a series of 6 to 10 images from one of:

  • Crowds
  • Views
  • Heads
  • A subject of your own choice

I am to use the exercises from Part 2 as a starting point to test out combinations of  focal length, aperture and viewpoint. Images must be presented in either portrait or landscape format not both. The tutor will assess how well the series in terms of technical skill and how well the assignment works as a whole.

Wikipedia on collecting – “It has been speculated that the widespread appeal of collecting is connected to the hunting and gathering that was once necessary for human survival. Collecting is also associated with memory by association and the need for the human brain to catalogue and organise information and give meaning to ones actions.”

On first reading of the brief I was immediately drawn to one of the categories.  However, I am learning to sometimes ignore the reflexive approach and be more measured so here is my response to each option given.  I will do this whilst keeping in mind the Wikipedia taken on collecting being necessary either for survival or for memory by association, giving meaning to my actions.

Crowds

My initial response to crowds was to dismiss it.  It is very contemporary but there are so many images of a single person on a crowded station surrounded by blurred commuters that I felt this was not an area I would be drawn towards. However, on reflection, there are many ways to interpret what a crowd is and a number of interest projects and series have now come to mind.

A crowd may not typically be as small as 3 people but it might be 10-20. I think of the work of Michael Hanke who photographs people such as those that watch airshows or participate in chess competitions.  He is interested in the crowds or viewers or participants and takes stunning crowd images a couple of which are below.

An area that interests me is that of people and their hobbies. Around the UK you will find groups of men or women (occasionally both) surrounding their favourite hobby forming little crowds unified by a common interest such as allotments, model railways, sewing, colouring-in, remote control planes and boats, sewing, etc.  I do however feel that this is a project that lends itself to a longer term time frame.

Views

There are two ways of interpreting the word view though the brief steers the student towards that of urban or rural landscapes. Alternatively one could interpret the brief as being capturing different opinions, particularly political views.

Capturing pretty scenic views is of little interest to me as a photographer though I can see the artistic merit of some images. Urban landscape images hold more appeal though I would like to find a new way to present them. I have an idea that I would like to take a pictorial landscape approach, normally reserved for postcard type scenes but to apply it to scenes of environmental degradation, one of the burning platforms of our time – I am interested in the juxta-position of “beautiful” imagery with the devastated landscape. I think this might act as an elegant counterpoint to the typically gritty portrayal of environmental calamity which often just turns people off from really looking and understanding. A new approach is needed. This is a project I would like to look at but again I think it will need a longer time frame than I have available.

Heads

Such a broad category but the brief makes clear that this assignment is about lens technique and experimentation or creative risk so a specific approach to the headshots is what is required that shows a series with a strong link between images. Photographs of people are the area in which I feel least confident but which I feel I have the most interest. It would be easier for me to dive into photographing views, however I think the challenge of creating a strong, coherent series of people photographs would be good for me to tackle, taking me outside my comfort zone.

A subject of your own choice

This fourth category is easy to miss as it is mentioned almost in passing. However it is mentioned and so should be considered. Is OCA throwing this in as challenge? I have not come across any EYV students that have pursued the fourth category; the majority that I have looked at have preferred Views or Heads

 


Images

  1.  http://michaelhanke.photography – accessed 2 Feb 2018
  2.  http://michaelhanke.photography – accessed 2 Feb 2018

Bibliography

  1. Bloomfield, R (2014) Photography 1: Expressing your Vision., OCA 2017, pp.48-51