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A1 C&N – rework

Introduction

The original submission (November 2015) for assignment 1 is here and my tutor’s feedback on the work submitted here. This post deals with the rework of the assignment to improve technical aspects of the shoot and outcome. The concept behind the assignment is unchanged from the original submission.

Two specific aspects of the original shoot needed to be addressed: a) the quality of the night images was not the best because high winds made it unwise to use a tripod, so they were taken at high ISO and noise is evident and; b) there was inconsistency of view point between the pairs of day and night images.

Revised process

The camera used was a Fuji X100T with fixed 23mm lens (efl 35mm). The night images were shot as during the first session – all at ISO 400, and f/11 with long exposures (up to 15 seconds), using a solid tripod and a 2 second shutter-release delay set in camera. Unlike in the original submission, where Photoshop was used, Lightroom was used for processing, including black and white conversion and selective adjustments to the highlights and shadows in the images. The change in processing tool reflects my increase knowledge and competence in using Lightroom.

Once the final selects were made from the night images, reference copies were printed and taken on the street to assist in camera positioning for the day images.

The images

There are 3 pairs of day and night photos, reflecting the concept explained in the original version of this work; ‘my story is of night and day, of fear and normality.’

Click image to view as gallery slideshow

CONCLUSION

This is my updated conclusion, following the rework. Following the original work, I’d concluded that the concept was not as successfully executed as I’d hoped (see here for details).

Against the OCA assessment criteria I conclude:

Demonstration of technical skills – effective use of camera in low-light conditions, with high contrast street lights. Effective use of Lightroom in post-processing to emphasise darkness, shadows and street lamp highlights. In the rework, carrying reference pictures of the night shots to obtain more closely matching shots for the day images ensured greater consistency between the sets of images.

Quality of outcome – the concept is a good interpretation of the brief and the photographs in the context of the story are plausible.

Demonstration of creativity – I avoided the temptation to look for the unusual or extraordinary in the street scenes and took straight images in an attempt to express the spirit of the town and reflect the story context; an ordinary perspective to add credibility to the story.

Context – (at November 2015) I’ve been very active in my learning log for part one of C&N, with 24 pieces of research and reflection and 6 coursework activities ( see index here) and feel that I’ve gained a good grasp of the principles of context and narrative within photography.

A1 C&N – feedback

I received positive feedback on assignment 1 (for assignment see here), which I found valuable. Full feedback in pdf is attached below, and I note important points for me to work on here:

  1. Address any issues with assignments at any time up to assessment – a change in mindset to think of the module as a continuous piece of work, rather than sequential parts. In this case, I’d highlighted difficulties with the weather and consistency in composition between the two sets.
  2. The feedback includes some specific suggestions on the shots, which I should revisit when it comes to a reshoot.
  3. Advice that contextual content was a little technical-heavy at the expense of reflection on other practitioners. I think this is a hang-over from the initial assignments of EYV when this was stated as a requirement, but perhaps not intended to be continued forward.
  4. Reference / research material to follow-up upon:
    1. Flusser book (see here)
    2. Work of Mark Klett (see here)
    3. Work of Nicky Bird (see here)

See pdf of feedback: Andrew Fitzgibbon – Assignment 01 – Feedback Report

A1 C&N – submission to tutor

Create at least two sets of photographs telling different versions of the same story. The aim of the assignment is to help you explore the convincing nature of documentary, even though what the viewer thinks they see may not in fact be true … ensure the images are candid and ‘taken from real life’

Introduction

My story is of day and night, of fear and normality. A small Yorkshire market town is gripped by a fear of the night, with a vicious criminal on the loose after a series of violent muggings on the town’s dark streets. The streets are abandoned at night, no one leaves the safety of their home. There is a self-imposed curfew. By day, everything appears as normal, the streets are full of local residents and visiting tourists. The only thing that dampens their spirits is the northern English winter.

I considered other ideas for this assignment (see here), but found that the requirement for ‘candid’ photos narrowed the range of possibilities for creating different versions of the same story.

In a Yorkshire winter, I cannot help but be influenced by Bill Brandt’s work around the Northern mill towns; his ‘snicket in Halifax’ captures the dark atmosphere of the place. No matter that it is shot in black and white, there is very little colour anyway on dark winter days and nights. During my research for C&N part 1, I was drawn to the work of French photographer Thierry Girard (see post here) and his approach to showing the spirit of a place, without regard for the need for spectacle or a beauty aesthetic. While creating my two sides of the story, I also aim to show something of the spirit of the place I was photographing with a banality that would add to the realism of the story – no spectacle, just everyday life.

Process

All photos were taken with a Fuji X-T1 and Fujinon 35mm f/1.4 lens (efl 53mm). I chose to process the images in black and white to reflect the desaturated winter colours in the town and the sinister story line.

My first shoot was of the night photographs. This was technically challenging as the weather was so windy that the safe use of my tripod was difficult. Because of this limitation, I used auto-ISO with a targeted minimum shutter speed of 1/125s – one can see that the lens was wide open for most of the images. The ISO stretched to 6400 on occasions, but was mostly settled around 1000. I paid careful attention to the histogram and adjusted the exposure to avoid blown highlights. I made my picks and selects from the night photographs before returning another time for the daytime photographs, which I wanted to be in the same locations.

For the day-time photographs, I did some research on candid photography and suggested camera settings. I wanted to embrace technology and move on from attempting to capture a single decisive moment. My research is in a separate post (see here). Again I set auto-ISO but also made use of continuous autofocus (to capture people moving across the scene) and low-speed drive mode to take short bursts of 3 or 4 shots of a scene as it unfolded. Again the weather conditions were poor (see umbrellas) and most of the shots were taken from beneath my own umbrella to protect my non-weather resistant lens.

In total I took 169 photographs for this assignment. There is a separate post of contact sheets for the picks only (i.e. including those making the final select, and those with potential eliminated) – see here.

Most post-processing was performed in Photoshop, including the black and white conversion, but any imagine manipulation was limited to minor tidying. Some images were processed in Lightroom alone – I am developing a habit of using Photoshop, even when not necessary, to improve my speed and familiarity. For the night time images, I used a black opaque layer to mask the whole image before uncloaking the lighter areas and highlights with a layer mask and soft brush; the purpose was to increase the contrast between light and dark areas, to add visual and emotional tension, alluding to what might be hidden in the shadows. I also used neutral grey layers for dodging and burning.

The images

Night and day. Fear and normality.

Click to open larger images

Conclusion

The concept was not as successfully executed as I’d hoped – the difficulty of using my tripod at night because of high winds impacted the image quality of the night photos, and the rain reducing the crowds in what is usually a very busy town slightly undermined the story in some images. On the other hand, it was a good experience in dealing with technical challenges in poor weather and light conditions.

Against the OCA assessment criteria I conclude:

Demonstration of technical skills – effective use of camera hand-held in poor light and weather conditions. Explored the use of Photoshop black layers to add contrast to night images. Shots are generally well composed but in retrospect I should have carried reference pictures of the night shots to obtain more closely matching shots for the day images (or taken more care to memorise them).

Quality of outcome – the concept is a good interpretation of the brief and the photographs in the context of the story are plausible . I think the presentation could have been improved by more consistent framing between the two sets of photographs

Demonstration of creativity – I avoided the temptation to look for the unusual or extraordinary in the street scenes and took straight images in an attempt to express the spirit of the town and reflect the story context; an ordinary perspective to add credibility to the story.

Context -I’ve been very active in my learning log for part one of C&N, with 24 pieces of research and reflection and 6 coursework activities ( see index here) and feel that I’ve gained a good grasp of the principles of context and narrative within photography.

References

Brandt B. Introduction by Ian Jeffery. Photographs 1928 – 1983. London, Thames and Hudson Limited, 1993

Howarth S and McLaren S (2010). Street photography now. Featuring Thierry Girard. Paperback ed. London: Thames & Hudson.

 

A1 C&N – preparation

Concept development

Mind map of assignment objectives and concept (at today’s date):

click for larger image

Two Sides of the Story

The concept proposed to my tutor was:

I was taken by a comment on Arbus’ work – ‘Our whole guise is like giving a sign to the whole world to think of us in a certain way, but there’s a point between what you want to know about you and what you can’t help people knowing about you’. This made my think of my working environment, which has always been large corporate, and is currently very large multinational corporate – in these environments there is a tendency to encourage conformity and blandness (even if on paper creativity is encouraged!), so the apple-cart is not upset, or individuals with sensitive dispositions are not offended. After a while, individuals are moulded to fit the corporate culture – or fired if they kick-back too much. Perhaps loosing or forgetting who they really are, or desperately finding other outlets to express themselves.

My self-portraits would be based on corporate poses (referenced from company internal imaging) I would then position these against self-portraits showing the creative/relaxed self. I need to test different approaches, but one idea is to use the same corporate poses but in a different context – for example, rather than studying a pile of documents, study the set-up of an electric guitar. In this case, I might create ambiguity by wearing business attire in all of the shots. Maybe I would find the project cathartic!

However, I then spotted ambiguity in the brief – a requirement for the photos to be ‘candid’ (I understand unposed) and reconciling that with self-portraiture (as in one of the example topics in the brief). Now I wait for my tutors advice. Read more