Last post?

This is probably my last post on this blog for a while. I may resurrect it depending on decisions about progressing with the OCA course. You might find my new blog interesting though. It still focuses on photography and particularly landscapes. This link will take you there.

Advertisements

What do you see?

This post is triggered by a definition of landscape in the introduction of a book by Liz Wells (2011), ‘Land Matters: Landscape Photography, Culture and Identity’. She offers a definition of landscapes as, “vistas encompassing both nature and the changes that humans have effected on the natural world”.

Thinking about the definition made me return to a landscape photograph (used as the featured image in this post) and to look at it from the perspective of Wells’ definition. So, what do I see? Is it a natural scene or have humans effected it? If so, for better or worse? The answer is more complicated than I initially thought.

Although in my mind I see and think of the scene in the photograph as natural and an expression of the wonder of the natural world – a ‘classic’ landscape. In fact it is a landscape very much shaped by humans. The lake is man-made – a reservoir, the distant hills are topped by communication masts and there are houses and street lights signalling the human occupation of the land. These features could be considered a recent invasion of the land, a human overlay on an age-old landscape, or perhaps seen as improvements to make the land more habitable for the ‘dominant species’ depending on your perspective.

The man-made overlay could alternatively be seen as no more than a repetition of history. In a time long gone, Neanderthal man lived in this valley, made their homes in the caves, occupying the high ground because the valley was filled with water when sea levels were higher. Now the sea has receded but roads and paths that once crossed the valley are submerged again beneath the lake, replaced by invisible ‘roads’ provided by the communication aerials on the top of the distant hills allowing the current inhabitants to connect with others through their mobile phones and the internet. Whereas Neanderthal man used the valley’s cave walls as their art gallery, the landscape ‘improvements’ allow us to travel ‘invisible roads’ to Flickr!

Whereas Neanderthal and modern man may have chosen the location of their homes for the view, their motives were probably very different. Modern man seeking shelters with ‘vistas’ and roads to the shops. Neanderthal man also seeking shelter but within walking distance of food and with a view that allowed them to see danger approaching rather than because of the landscape vista.

It is also easy to ignore the changes Nature is making in the background. We could imagine a time when the landscape will look different again but unconsciously assume the mountains will remain as part of that new landscape, an immovable structural backcloth, but even that is an illusion as the African and Eurasian tectonic plates continue their relentless journey of convergence (6 to 9mm a year) eventually turning the Mediterranean Sea into the Mediterranean Mountains. What impact will this have on the mountains in our current vista? Will anyone be here to see it? If not, then perhaps, without the subjective framing of the human eye, the view will simply be of ‘land’ rather than a ‘landscape’.

So returning to the question, What do you see? Like so many of the questions raised by the course, the answer seems to be it depends on how you look and perhaps – for how long!

Christmas reflection

I have had an interesting few months leading up to Christmas in relation to the course. From the beginning I have been disappointed with the quality of the course notes and the course’s positioning in the context of a degree course. As I have thought more about this it is clear that TAOP is a precursor to degree study – part of a Certificate level course perhaps – rather than a step on that degree pathway. Nevertheless there have been many positives that have arisen from it.

I have read more about photography than I would have done. Tried different subject areas other than my ‘real love’ which is landscape photography. I have also enjoyed the learning and interaction with other students through their learning blogs for example. All of those things about my TAOP experience are positive and many of those positives can be applied to help improve my landscape photography.

Just before Christmas I visited the OCA headquarters to talk to a few people and read through the Level 2 ‘Landscape’ course which has been recently re-written. The re-write is good. Academically stretching in places and from my perspective great because it is structured so the student really gets under the skin of the genre. Reading through the course material also helped me to articulate the answer to a question that has bubbled around in my head for quite a time – where do I want to go with my approach to landscape photography?

One of the exercises (1.4: What is a photographer?) in the OCA’s Landscape course asks the student to read and evaluate an essay by Marius De Zayas published in 1913 entitled ‘Photography and Artistic-Photography’. The essay encapsulates in a few words the answer to my question about the path I want to take with my photography. To paraphrase, it says the difference between a photographer and an ‘artistic photographer’ is that the first aims to capture an image of something in front of him whereas the ‘artistic photographer’ aims to capture an image that represents something inside him. I don’t think the two ‘approaches’ are necessarily mutually exclusive but certainly if I want to move from ‘postcard landscapes’ – photographs that ‘simply’ capture my memories of a scene – to more evocative images that try to convey more abstract concepts such as solitude, calmness, inspiration or the longevity and power of nature etc that others can also relate to – then I have to look inside myself more before looking through the viewfinder.

For example, I took this photograph a few days ago looking over a lake near my house in Spain.

201312_Lake Vinuela_210

The image illustrates to me where I am with landscape photography. At one level I am a photographer capturing an objectivity I see before me (colours, shapes, perspective etc) but the image says more than that to me. It has a significance beyond its objectivity because it represents an insight into aspects of me and my life  – where I want to be, the appeal of being at one with nature amid the quiet, serenity of a sunset, the majesty and longevity of the mountains receding into the distance and hinting at hidden places to discover, and of course water, which has an appeal to me I don’t yet fully understand but is so often a feature of my photography. Maybe I am on a path to becoming an ‘artistic photographer’ and if so, then my work with the OCA so far has played a part in that transition that is worthy of acknowledgement.

That brings me back to an important part of my Christmas reflection. Returning to my visit to the OCA headquarters. One of the discussions was about progressing from TAOP straight onto the Level 2 Landscape course. Unfortunately, and understandably, that isn’t possible within the degree pathway but it is possible to make that transition by stepping off the pathway and becoming a ‘leisure learner’ – a term that describes me quite well I think. So this leaves me with some decisions:

  • Do I step off the degree pathway?

    The answer to this is almost certainly yes because I want to do Landscape next rather than the other Level 1 courses that follow TAOP. Leaving aside the cost of doing courses I am not interested in, I am at a place with my photography where I want to focus my time on things that interest and excite me – landscape photography is the reason I own a camera. Full stop!

 

  • Do I complete the TAOP first?

    Not sure about the answer to this yet. I am in the middle of ‘Module 4:Light’ which has relevance to landscape photography but the assignment is less relevant. The fifth assignment seems to be a repeat of the sort of work I have done in the past producing marketing material, annual reports, business plans etc – photographs and text to tell a story, communicate a particular message etc. Do I want to repeat that sort of assignment? Not really. Dilemma!

 

  • Do I sign up for the Level 2 Landscape course?

    This is a difficult decision. The course materials are good but you can buy a lot of books, workshops and equipment with £1300. I haven’t looked at other structured learning options so I don’t know whether the OCA cost is reasonable or not. The tutor input is probably a bigger driver for my decision. From comments I have seen from other students that input can vary and depending on your preferred way of learning can work well or not so well. What would the tutor input be like if I enrolled on the Landscape course? I don’t know. I need to talk this through with the OCA people so I can determine whether it fits with the £1300 price tag.

So an interesting time. New Year will be a time for action rather than reflection. What will I do? I really don’t know yet.

Assignment 3.5 – Tutor feedback and response

Feedback time. A time for learning. A time to look forward to with anticipation. Feedback on the first two assignments has been positive but less so this time. There is a lot to digest but judging from the comments, I lost my way (in terms of ‘course marks’) with this assignment.

What went wrong?

On reflection, I think a couple of factors were the main contributors to a less than satisfactory outcome.

  • Taking on a ‘colour’ project for an assignment in a genre (street photography with a “chaotic array of colours” and where “there’s an intensity to cities that means ‘ordering’ their visual elements is a challenge”) that needed more experience than I currently have in this type of photography. A good learning experience but bad ‘course tactics’.
  • Being caught between ‘two stools’ – trying to meet the colour brief alongside trying to make a social comment with a visual juxtaposition to Markel Redondo’s work on the economic pain in Spain (Redondo trained in photography in England and China and now lives in Bilbao, Spain and concentrates on social and environmental issues – http://www.markelredondo.com).

Tutor’s Feedback

Here is the feedback in its entirety, followed by my response.

“Overall Comments

The accompanying text here is eloquent, thought-provoking and very engaged, David: ‘colour is not about art, it is about survival’ is a wonderful way to set the scene for the assignment. While it’s a measure of your enthusiasm that you’ll happily write 18,000+ words to accompany an assignment, please keep in mind that at level 2 you’ll be expected to produce quite short critical reviews (approx. 2000 words) and exceeding these limits may be taken by the assessors as an inability to identify the essential – so best keep this in mind with the text that accompanies your assignments before then.

Aside this, there are some likeable images here, but I did have a sense of some of them being rather less accomplished than they could have been with, seeming like ‘drafts’ that needed further development. Street photography is hard, and while in one sense it is about ‘luck’, as Martin Parr has noted it is ‘luck that is earned’ through hard work and a great deal of focus and perseverance so as to  refine improve ‘worldview’ and improve technique. Some images here are promising without becoming as fully realised- technically or artistically- as they might have been…

Feedback on assignment Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity

 In one sense you have done a reasonable job of working with the brief in terms of how you have considered the chaotic array of colours that present themselves in a city. There’s an intensity to cities that means ‘ordering’ their visual elements is a challenge, so in this respect this is a fairly observant job. In another sense, there’s a slightly frenzied feel to some of these images, with something of a lack of attention to detail. Here, for instance…

Copy_Crop_Sharpen_IGP5305_3778

….I like the play of colours on the two main subjects and the materials they are holding, but there’s a lot of surplus detail that detracts from everything. The chap in the green tshirt dominates more than he should, without adding anything to the image- there was no need to bring in any further green; it just unbalances the photograph. The Rolex sign is a rather clichéd addition that strains to make ‘a point’ that feels unnecessary and just adds clutter to what should have been approached in a rather more straightforward manner, ie focusing on the two women, shooting them, for example, from the waist up and perhaps blurring the background. There’s an ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach here that means it’s quite disorderly and not as direct as it could have been.

Some images feel rather too removed/ distant from their subjects and have included details that don’t add an awful lot. This one, for example…

Crop_Sharpen_IGP5292_3765

…has quite a bit going for it, but feels like something of an ‘establishing shot’ where you’re orienting yourself to the subject and figuring out the best way of capturing the image, than a finished one in its own right. With further exploration this could have been strong, but it lacks directness (but I do really like the play of blue and red against the more neutral tones- but this could have been done as effectively by getting closer to the subject). The people at the side of the frame give the impression of being rather unwanted as opposed to being a vital part of the photograph, and undermine the sense of isolation that (I think) you were trying to capture. For future reference you need to be more sensitive to issues like this and how small details can not only add to a picture’s impact, but also take away from it.

I enjoyed some of the images from The assignment that isn’t– as thumbnails, a number of them jumped right out, and were rather more direct, striking and effective than some that made the final cut.

Suggested reading/viewing Context

Nick Turpin and Maciej Dakowicz are ‘street photographers’ who orchestrate the various and chaotic elements of the city in ways that are funny and thought-provoking. Both exemplify your observation that ‘the lifeblood of a city though is the people we find there’, but their responses, while overlapping, makes sense of everything in different ways. Maciej Dakowicz’s Cardiff After Dark series presents the city as a place of wild abandon and hedonistic pleasure, where the normal rules that govern behavior are not so much thrown out of the window as tossed straight through it. Here’s one:

clip_image002

Even the ‘secondary’ characters beyond the two main push-upping subjects add much to the image, and nothing is ‘wasted’- something to keep in mind with your approach to your own work. Sean O’Hagan has written an interesting piece here on this series and the reader comments beneath the article are also well worth reading.

Nick Turpin looks at urban spaces in different ways. There’s the same bemused feeling as in Cardiff After Dark, but there’s something much more playful and surreal in what he does:

clip_image001

…but again, his compositions are clear and very focused, with little doubt as to what he’s asking the viewer to look at.

Malagan photographs have appeared in your other assignments, so it’s obviously a place that’s rich in potential for you- having a sense of how others have ‘seen’ cities will certainly be useful in terms of developing your sense of the possibilities that are available, so some further research in this area would be useful.

Pointers for the next assignment

You’ve shot some images at a relatively slow shutter speed- I noticed one at 1/90 secs. When I honed in on its finer details, I noticed that it wasn’t quite as crisp as is ideal- so it’s worth thinking about how shooting with a faster shutter speed will impact on the overall sharpness of your images when shooting in the street and constant movement is a consideration. I see that the file name includes the term ‘sharpen’ in it- it’s always better to get an image as sharp as you can while taking it, rather than relying on correcting this later. Also, I think each shot you take needs to be considered as a platform for further images that refine and develop the idea, working around the subject matter to consider different perspectives and ways of framing it.

It might be an idea to return to the locations here and think about your technique and approach, perhaps limiting yourself to one or two set ups that you can really get your teeth into over a period of time, thinking carefully about what you put into (and leave out of) the frame. Try to approach this differently to how you ordinarily would. If, for example, you’d typically zoom into a subject, try just moving closer and seeing the difference this can make.

I’d also like to see your research put as much emphasis on actual photography, photographers, and specific projects that are out there as the theories and ideas that attempt to make sense of them. I really like the material you’ve included on Markel Redondo, and your reflections were useful and interesting, and doing this is a bit more immediate than just thinking about everything in purely theoretical terms.”

My Response

Although the feedback isn’t the most positive I have received so far, as always it contains many useful pointers for future improvement, some things to reflect upon and some things to be pleased about.

A good experience

This assignment was a useful development journey for me. I started exploring a particular city centre looking for colour combinations to meet the brief and that led to thoughts about the nature of life in Spanish cities at a time of serious economic pain for the country. I had explored the work of Markel Redondo and his images of ‘dead’ buildings and towns in Spain as construction came to a halt after the impact of the banking/bad business loan crisis and I started to question the visual premise he presented. Yes, there are many ‘dead towns’ and people struggling because of high unemployment levels but as I searched for colours I was struck by the life being exhibited by people on the streets of Málaga City just going about their everyday life. It was a city very much alive even though life was better for some than others (this idea of ‘the duality of lives’ in art is one I find very appealing and my awareness of it has been heightened by the work of the artist Julio de Romero Torres). By ‘duality’ I mean the idea that we can exist in the same place at the same time but be on different journeys through life and have very different subjective experiences of life in the same ‘frame’. City life provides so many visual examples of this and I tried to build that ‘duality’ as a visual concept into the images where I could. The tourists/homeless man image is an example of this. Both exploring the city – one for cultural highlights, the other for cigarette ends.

On the plus side, my journey through the assignment allowed me to explore social documentary/reportage photography as a potential interest (particularly the idea of duality) compared to my primary interest in landscape photography.

On the negative side, the journey exposed my lack of expertise in this area which was probably not sensible in the context of an assignment – perhaps better as a personal project or for later in the course.

Positive and negative comments

My approach to the feedback on assignments is to try and consider both positive and negative feedback with an open mind, pat myself on the back for the positives (if possible) and then quickly move on to work out how to turn the negatives into positives.

Positive comments are always welcome because they represent an external validation of progress but in some ways they look backwards – ‘what I did well’ – confirming a part of my development as a photographer is on track. In contrast, the negatives seem to energize me more and generate forward momentum – ‘where to go next’ and ‘how to get there’ become important questions for me to answer.

With those thoughts in mind I have simply listed the positive comments I see in the feedback as an acknowledgement that they are there. Having said that, perhaps a few could be seen as positives or negatives depending whether you are a ‘half full’ or ‘half empty’ person. For the purpose of my response to the feedback I am definitely a ‘half full’ person!

Positive messages

  • the text accompanying the assignment  is “eloquent, thought provoking and engaged”
  • the chameleon reference and image in the introduction to the assignment – ‘colour is not about art, it is about survival’ –  was “a wonderful way to set the scene for the assignment”
  • “some likeable images”, “some promising images” (faint praise I know but I did say ‘half full’!)
  • “done a reasonable job”, “fairly observant job” (still ‘half full’!)
  • “really like the material included on Markel Redondo, and your reflections were useful and interesting”
  • some of the images from ‘The assignment that isn’t’ (a post of images I would have used in a more traditional approach to the assignment based just on colour) “jumped right out, and were rather more direct, striking and effective than some that made the final cut” (obviously still half full!).

However …

It’s plain to see that I could have done better with this assignment. On the surface the feedback looks like a step backwards in terms of assessment but I think that Assignment 3 is really an important step forward for me in terms of exploring an aspect of photography I am inexperienced and uncomfortable with and it therefore helps to extend the scope of my photographic practice.

Having looked through the negative comments in the feedback I can see two main areas to concentrate on in my response:

    1. The length of the assignment report – very long – “may be taken by the assessors as an inability to identify the essential – so best keep this in mind with the text that accompanies your assignments before then” (comment made in the context of producing 2,000 word critical reviews in Level 2 courses). Also do more research on “actual photography, photographers and projects” as a counterbalance to the theory that “attempts to make sense of them”.
    2. The technical and artistic quality of the images needs to be better/more developed

1. The length of the assignment report “may be taken by the assessors as an inability to identify the essential – so best keep this in mind with the text that accompanies your assignments before then”

My tutor comments on my enthusiasm in producing “18,000+ words to accompany an assignment” and makes a helpful point about being aware that the expectation for critical reviews at Level 2 is for work around 2,000 words.

The assignment report (12,500 words) is split between sections on

  • background theory relevant to Assignments 3 and 4 (4,300 words)
  • the creative concept for the set of images including the ‘work flow’ process I went through in deciding my approach to the assignment (2,650 including a reiteration of the brief for the assignment)
  • a discussion about each of the 16 images and their context within the set (5,500 words)

I covered some elements of the theory relating to light, which is the subject of the next module, because it seemed sensible to bring together the nature of light, how it produces colour and colour as a design element into one place. This increased the word count for Assignment 3 but will reduce it in my Assignment 4 report.

There are still a lot of words but I do understand the importance of communicating within constraints and have had to demonstrate that ability in other situations. Previous study at different levels of higher education, work roles involving media interviews, consultancy and boardroom positions all required a demonstration of the ability to communicate quickly and clearly within a constraint on words and time. In that context I acknowledge the advice as something to keep an eye on in terms of a future constraint on assignments that have a specified length.

Clearly it is possible to write less when distilling the relevant theory for a particular module, writing about my approach to the assignment and writing about the images. Some of the text could even be posted outside the assignment report in separate posts within my Learning Log, leaving the assignment report for the images and the associated discussion. In the absence of a specified word limit for assignments, my preference is to keep the two aspects together so the theory and practice are unified. It helps to reinforce the link between theory and practice.

My tutor’s comments don’t question that approach but he does suggest a need do some re-balancing of my research by including more on “actual photography, photographers and specific projects that are out there …”. This is a good point and certainly one I have thought more about this year.

For example, this year I have visited six exhibitions – four photographic and two painting – but I have only written about one of them (Julio Romero de Torres), although my tutor is aware of my comments on particular pieces of work at the two photographic exhibitions I visited in Sheffield as part of an OCA study visit. I have also written about the work of Brett Weston in a previous posts. I also make a point of following up the work of other photographers mentioned in the feedback and making comments on them in my response but I do recognise a need to write more in this area.

Specifically I should look to include a section on the broader photographic context for the approach I take with an assignment. For example, I did talk about Markel Redondo’s set of images as an important trigger for the approach I took with the assignment and included some images I took to reflect his stance on the visible signs of an economic malaise in Spain but I could also have done some wider research on the genre of street photography to set my images against both contexts (one thematic and the other stylistic) rather than just the one.

Action:

  • Continue with the plan to produce a combined report as a learning resource pack for each module (theory and practice together) and critically review the inclusion of text for relevance.
  • Write up my exhibition visits to the Ansel Adams ‘Photography from the mountains to the sea’ (artistically disappointing), ‘Cartier-Bresson: A question of colour’ (a useful introduction to the work of 15 contemporary photographers), and ‘Courbet, Van Gogh, Monet, Léger: From naturalist landscape to the avant-gardes’ (an illuminating insight into the historical variation in the definition of landscape).
  • Write up my views on the Maciej Dakowicz and Nick Turpin work mentioned in the feedback (to be completed as a separate post categorized under ‘Photographers and Artists’.
2. The technical and artistic quality of the images needs to be better/more developed
 

This is a clearly a very important issue. Feedback on the images varies in its coverage – some images have specific comments, some are not specifically mentioned but there are general comments that I can apply – for example, at the general level:

  • “there are some likeable images here, but I did have a sense of some of them being rather less accomplished than they could have been …”, “some images … are promising without becoming fully realised – technically or artistically …”.
  • “there’s a slightly frenzied feel to some of these images, with something of a lack of attention to detail”
  • “there’s a lot of surplus detail that detracts from everything”
  • make sure the intended subject(s) is the primary focal point in the composition so the viewer is clear what they are being asked to look at
  • make sure images are crisp (if that’s the intention) by “shooting with a faster shutter speed”
  • see each shot as a stepping stone from which to refine and develop the idea I am trying to convey, working on different perspectives and framing to compare the effect

I have learnt something from both the specific and the general feedback about the images but I also feel I have missed a learning opportunity. There are only five opportunities on the course before the assessment to receive an expert opinion on my images. From my perspective each specific comment I receive on an image is like gold dust, it is so precious in helping to develop my practical skills and guiding me on decisions about critical changes to make in preparation for the formal assessment. At one level I can understand the learning value of trying to work things out for myself, using my current knowledge and experience to extrapolate from overall comments, or from comments on specific images, to the other images submitted but I know from the impact of comments I have received on specific images how valuable that input is to my development.

Action:

  1. Crop the two images referred to specifically in the feedback to remove extraneous details where possible (Completed and included below).
  2. Pay more attention to future compositions – particularly the positive and negative impact of the details included in the image.
  3. Review the images taken with a shutter speed of 1/90 sec. (with image stabilisation on) and decide how their ‘crispness’ could be improved. (Completed. One has ‘motion blur’ due to a hand movement of the subject, one has a focus problem that would be improved with a deeper depth of field or more attention to the focus point, I can’t see an issue with the third.)
  4. Think more about applying the artistic techniques I use in landscape/natural world photography to street photography (blurred backgrounds, graphic elements, silhouettes or general lighter/darker exposures to help direct the eye and help create a specific mood)
  5. Increase shutter speeds sufficiently to prevent motion blur unless it is a deliberate part of the compositional aim. Use bursts rather than single shot mode where there are rapidly changing gestures, expressions or subjects potentially entering or leaving the frame.
  6. Return to street photography at a later date outside the constraint of an assignment brief to develop my interest in social commentary/documentary projects

Changes to the two images referenced in the feedback

Recreating the composition of the images submitted is practically impossible for all but a few of the images. The combination of subjects represents a fleeting moment in time and re-assembling the people and even some of the backgrounds (e.g. the colours from the flower displays) is impossible. However I have cropped the two images shown in the feedback to try and produce a better result in relation to the points made about surplus details.

I have kept the variation in the length of the two dresses in the frame rather than cropping to the waist as suggested, since it fits with a point I tried to make in my assignment that part of a city’s longevity comes from the younger generations taking the past, adapting it to fit their worldview and thereby regenerating a city’s life in their own image. The photograph of the two girls shows both the traditional style flamenco dress (long) and an adaption of that tradition (shorter), more in keeping with today’s fashion. I have kept the image of the two girls light because that fits better with the mood I was trying to illustrate with that image, whereas I have darkened the image of the begging woman to accentuate the emotional tone of her plight.

The photograph of the single mother was originally intended to give an insight into the desperation and despair some people are experiencing in dealing with the current economic realities in Spain. I also wanted to use her circumstances as part of a general theme about the ‘duality’ of city life. Same location but different lifestyles and expectations. It was poorly executed (partly because her direct gaze and expression lasted only for a few seconds before she returned to a head-down blank expression but mainly because of my technique) but my intention changed when an ‘affluent’ family unexpectedly entered the frame from the right. I decided to try and include them to reinforce the idea of ‘duality’ with their family unit, clothes, shopping bags and the man’s symbolic support of his daughter on his shoulders being contrasted against the begging, single mother’s situation relying on discarded coins to support her daughter. Two to three seconds later and I think it would have all come together so shooting a burst of images rather than a single shot might have captured both the expression I wanted and a feeling that the family were a part of the composition rather than an intrusion. Having said that, cropping the image does give a stronger emotional tone to the image.

The assignment that wasn’t

I have also decided to include a selection of images from my original approach to this assignment based purely on ‘colour’ as a theme. These images represent the sort of approach I would have taken if I had not decided to go down the path I chose.

 

Select this link ‘Assignment 3.0 – Start here’ to return to the start of the report.

Exercise: Light through the day

The aim

Learn more about how natural light changes throughout the day and the effect it has on a landscape scene. A sequence of images is required – one every hour at least (Course notes, p.139).

Location

The images were taken from my house which looks across the valley to mountains. The sun rises behind the mountain range and is almost directly ahead by the time it clears the mountain side and is very low at this time of year (November). On the day of the exercise the sun rose at 8am, emerging from behind the mountain side about 8:45, and set just after 6pm.

The choice of location was practical. It allowed me to set up the camera for the day without having to travel to and from a location. From seeing the view most days I know the sun gradually unveils the contours of the mountain side and it still casts light on the mountain side until just before it sets. This image taken with my iPhone shows my base for the day’s shoot.

Ironically, having decided to complete this exercise whether the day was sunny or not, I ended up with sunshine throughout the day. The price to pay for that was a cold wind blowing through the mountain pass and down the valley (the first snow of the year had dusted the top of the mountains on the left of the frame but it soon disappeared as the sun rose). The early and late shots were a very cold experience. The tripod legs had to be anchored by rocks throughout the day because of the strength of the wind.

The images taken through the day are split into two phases; sunrise and the rest of the day. There is a gap of three and a half hours between the two phases because of problems with lens flare as the very low sun crested the mountain side and before it moved far enough out of the frame.

Framing

The view through the camera was to stay static throughout the exercise giving a baseline for a comparative sequence of images. This meant the framing of the images wouldn’t be refined to take advantage of the changing light conditions. The focal length of the lens was set at 55mm to exclude some distractions in front of the camera that couldn’t be excluded by changing position (lemon and olive trees mainly and part of the house).

Metering

The evaluative in-camera metering mode was used to measure exposure, as a guide, but the camera was set on manual and the histogram used to fine-tune exposure. All the images shown were taken with an aperture of f16 and ISO 100.

The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE)

Planning the day was helped by this iPhone/iPad app, produced by Crookneck Consulting LLC. It predicts sun and moon positions through the day and night, and through the year. I find it very useful for landscape photography, particularly when planning a visit to new locations. For example, it predicted that at my chosen location on 19 November 2013, the sun would rise about 8am and set around 6pm and would be physically visible from my location by about 08:45.

08:41

This prediction turned out to be pretty accurate with the sun emerging from behind the mountains on the right-hand side of the frame sufficiently to produce lens flare from around 08:45. This image shows the sun about to rise above the mountain side. An exposure of 1/250 sec, f16, ISO 100 was necessary to prevent highlight clipping so detail was lost in the mountain side but I think this is compensated for by the cloud detail and the silhouette of the mountains.

Phase 1 – Sunrise (07:50 to 08:40)

Four images showing the changing colours and texture of the clouds as they are lit by the rising sun. The images show the colour in the clouds progressing through the spectrum (red – orange – yellow) before becoming whiter as the sun rose behind the mountains.The images are exposed for the sky so the detail on the mountain side is less visible in the photographs than it was to the eye.

Phase 2 – Through the day (12:00 to 18:10)

These images show the change in the lighting of the scene as the sun traced its path across the sky over a six-hour period.  I started this sequence at 12:00 because of a problem with lens flare after the sun crested the mountain side and until it had moved around to the right sufficiently. A few images before 12:00 had minimal problems with flare but I decided to exclude them as they didn’t add anything significant to the lighting sequence. Outside the constraints of the exercise I would probably have used the three hours between the two phases by moving to the other side of the valley to capture the sun lighting a lake area or stayed where I was and changed the framing to include a set of hills further to the right with the sea in the background.

Discussion

My favourite image of the day is from the sunrise sequence. The colours represent nature’s traffic lights, signalling the start of a new day. I have chosen the 07:55 image as my preferred image from that sequence. To me, it seems a more active, encouraging cloud formation and there is a subtle colour link between the clouds and the street lights of the village. The lightening sky also adds more interest than the earlier image as it reveals more detail of the mountain side terrain and the hill-side community.

From the sequence for the rest of the day the choice for me is between the 12:00 and 17:50 images. In the 12:00 photograph there is the detailed texture of the trees and mountain side accentuated by the shadows in those areas. There is also a suggestion of more to reveal with the shadows still in the gullies.

In the 17:50 image there are still shadows on the mountain side helping to provide texture to the landscape (less than in the earlier shot) but the colour of the light has changed significantly giving a warmer feel to the scene and enhancing the terracotta rather than the white parts of the buildings. The peaks at the top left also change from grey to a warmer colour. On the hill-side the long shadows of the houses and olive trees also provide a more interesting texture to that area.

The best moment for me of the day was the sunrise time (apart from the very cold wind) and that hasn’t changed after seeing the full sequence of images through the day.

Photographic options

The way the light changed during the day suggests the location provides opportunities for this range of photographs:

  • cloud formations with the silhouette of the mountain as a base shape
  • textured landscape with the trees, mountain side contours and houses
  • warm light
  • cold light
  • shapes and silhouettes

Exercise: Light through the day – ‘Weathered light’

This post explains the background to my decision to re-do the exercise ‘Light throughout the day’ (Page 139 of the TAOP course notes) using ‘weathered light’. My intention is to adapt the brief for the exercise, which asks for images throughout a sunny day, by accepting the lighting conditions the weather presents on a particular day and working with them to produce a set of images recording the effect on a landscape scene. The exercise therefore becomes an exercise in observing and recording the impact on a particular landscape scene of ‘weathered light’ throughout the day rather than ‘pure’ sunlight.

The background to that decision is this. Having departed in TAOP Assignment 3 from my real photographic interest which is landscape into a sort of social commentary theme as a juxtaposition to a set of photographs by Markel Redondo, I decided to start thinking more about landscape again as this will probably be my next course if I continue with the OCA after completing TAOP.

Although Assignment 3 has made me more aware of my interest in social documentary and the duality/contrast of people’s experience of life in the same location/city, my passion in photography remains being out in the countryside taking photographs that have appeal/mean something to me, whether that is a ‘traditional’ landscape view or the abstract details found within the landscape (‘extracts’ as Ansell Adams called them). This combination of landscapes and abstracts/extracts is also a feature of Brett Weston’s photography which I have commented on before.

In the course of browsing around landscape related-blogs to help re-tune my thinking to landscape photography I came across an OCA-related blog by Dave Whenham (http://fatherpielandscape.blogspot.co.uk/) which re-opened the debate I had with myself early in the TAOP course about the nature of landscape photography and my approach to it. The black and white approach to ‘landscape’ in many of his blog images appeals to me very much and has become more predominant in my thinking as a result of the disassembly of photography in the TAOP course into compositional components such as elements of graphic design, colour and light. Helping to move my thinking from looking for ‘nice’ landscape views to looking for lines, shapes, colours and light in a more detailed and deliberate way. Even after a brief scan, many of the think-pieces in Dave Whenham’s blog and the background comments on his associated photographs have shone a bit more light on the path I am trying to walk to become a better landscape photographer. Very useful blog.

A particular idea that was triggered by reading his blog relates to an exercise called ‘Light throughout the day’ which is part of TAOP’s ‘Module 4: Light’. I have already completed a set of images for this exercise (yet to publish them in my Learning bLog) but have been waiting for another sunny day to have another go at it. Unfortunately this has been thwarted by the weather which has started off sunny but then becoming cloudy which cuts across the brief for the exercise which asks for sunny day images so there is a consistency of weather from dawn to dusk.

Dave Whenham refers to the text relating to ‘Project 11: The colour of daylight’ in (I think) the original OCA landscape course (as opposed to the latest offering) and says “… it is suggested in the text that weather controls light, which is in stark contrast to the landscape photographer who is unable to influence the light. The only “control” we have is in choosing when to attempt to make our photographs I would suggest”. With that thought in mind, rather than choosing to wait for the ‘right’ weather I decided to have another go at the exercise but ‘let’ the weather dictate the lighting conditions (sunny, cloudy or whatever). By extending the original exercise this will give me a useful landscape photography experience by providing an opportunity to cross-reference more variable weather and the different lighting effects produced (which I am calling ‘weathered light’), against a fixed landscape scene throughout a single day.

The plan is to take images 19 November 2013.

Exercise: Measuring exposure – Part 1

This exercise is designed to help practice the use of exposure as a compositional tool, for example to create a particular mood or intensity of colours. It asks for four to six photographs which are deliberately lighter or darker than average. I have chosen a group of four images all darker than the average exposure at the time. The first three images were taken in the Peak District, England, the fourth in Málaga, Spain.

England

The River Wye flows through Water-cum-Jolly Dale and over a weir near the old Cressbrook Mill before travelling on to Bakewell. On the day I took the first two images I travelled to the area with a Simon and Garfunkel song-inspired idea in my head about a ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters’. These first two images capture the turbulence in the river as it flows from the sunlight through a darker part of its journey before reaching sunlight again.

The exposure plan for the two images was influenced by three considerations. First, to have an aperture small enough to give sufficient depth of field from the foreground through to the background. Second, to have a shutter speed slow enough to allow the river to reveal its lines, curves, textures and whiteness of the turbulent water. Third to underexpose sufficiently to help reinforce the idea of ‘troubled’ waters through a darker visual feel to the image. The first image (Water-Cum-Jolly 1) also needed a darker exposure to help strengthen the colour of a reflection of sunlight in the foreground. In the second image particularly I wanted to create a visual contrast between the dark static river banks and the luminosity and fluidity of the river.

Water-cum-Jolly 1

Water-cum-Jolly 1

Water-cum-Jolly 2

Water-cum-Jolly 2

The next image (Monsal Head) came from a chance encounter with the setting sun as I arrived back at the car park which looks over Monsal Dale. The sun was falling below the hill and creating an interesting effect between the shape of the clouds and the glow of the sun. It was still an hour or more before sunset so the colours were cooler than a red sunset. The white balance for the image is 4900K  and I reduced the vibrance in processing to take more of the colour out of the image to help give a ‘moonlit’ feel for the image.

At a recent exhibition of landscape paintings in MáIaga (‘Courbet, Van Gogh, Monet, Léger: From naturalist landscapes to the avant-gardes in the Carmen Thyssen collection’) I saw ‘Nocturnal Landscape’ by Eliseu Meifrèn I Roig and found the nature of the light with the soft but cold luminosity of the moonlight very appealing.

The image was exposed for the brighter area of the sky to retain the highlight details although the image still needed a little adjustment of highlights (-24) to recover some details in the area of sky near to the sun. Shadows were also boosted in processing (+62) to help give a ‘heavier’, more sombre feel to the image and to help hide the cluttered, unattractive shrubbery in the foreground.

Monsal Head

Monsal Head

Spain

The fourth image was taken at sunrise looking over the valley from my house in Spain to the mountains towards La Maroma. The sky was changing rapidly and the ray effect only lasted for about two minutes. The aim with the image was to expose to accentuate the colours, shapes and patterns in the sky at the expense of the detail in the mountain side. In processing I adjusted the highlights (+7), shadows (-7) and blacks (+31) to provide a little more luminance in the sky, strengthen the texture of the lighter clouds while enhancing the sombre feel of the dark cloud settled on the top of the mountain. Although I wanted the mountain side to act as a dark contrast to the rising sun I also wanted to retain some detail of the houses to suggest there is more to see as the sun overcomes the mountain and dark cloud to bring light to the valley and the people who live there.

La Maroma sunrise

La Maroma sunrise