People and Place

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Focal Length

To show how a focal length can dramatically affect a portrait I have used a range of focal lengths from 24mm to 200mm (the widest at the bottom of my contact sheet below). At 24mm I was lucky to escape the wrath of my model. The face is grossly contorted making her nose leap out at you.  However this is not something that has to avoided at all costs. There could be times when this would really work. What immediately springs to mind is say a photo of a clown. The distortion in this instance might just be what you need to add to the comic sense.
In this situation though only the top three images in the contact sheet are acceptable. That is from 58mm upwards, the models features are more realistic as the focal length increases. I haven't tested this at extreme focal lengths as I don't have lens capability to do this. Looking at sports photos in newspapers though would suggest that the longer the focal length the more flattering the portrait. The first image at 200mm is really the best of them all. Also as the focal length increases it helps you relax your model. For me this focal length means I have to use a tripod as I can't hold such a heavy lens without camera shake, so again I find this useful to be able to engage with the model as I always use a remote trigger when using a tripod.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Documentary Workshop

Participated in a great workshop at Foto8 on Saturday.  Four very different high profile speakers.
Simon Baker, photography curator from the Tate. It is great to learn that photography is now regarded as an important genre for big galleries like the Tate to add to their collections.  The problem though is that they will concentrate on buying work of the older established photographers before they all die. I would have liked to hear that they would have at least an occasional exhibition of new and emerging photographers.  Still at least photography is being taken seriously by the establishment at a time when many think photography is losing importance as an art form because "anyone can take a photo".

Polly Braden presented her work. I loved her approach to work I felt closer to the way she operates than any of the others.  Her long term projects in China were wonderful, but it is her more recent work in London that I got the most out of.  She has been photographing the square mile for several years now and has some wonderful images and stories. Having spent a lot of time photographing the streets of London myself you are always trying to work out how to get a better image, how does someone get that really special image. What Polly does is position herself for 4 or 5 hours observing.  I am absolutely going to try that. I thought an hour or occasionally two did it. I've never spent a whole day in one spot. When I get to the street photography section of this course that is exactly what I am going to try. Be really interesting to see if it works for me.  I'll also diarise my experiences.

The next part of the day we broke up into four groups and were allocated one of each of the speakers to look at our own work.

My group was with  Raphael Dallaporta his very French accent made him difficult to understand. He also focused on how we presented our work rather than what we presented. As a group we were slightly disappointed, however after I heard his talk and how he approaches his work I changed my mind. Fortunately I took lots of notes and re-read them with a different view. I can now see he was trying to get us to see things differently. Very differently. One of the suggestions he offered to us was to print our photos in black and white on any old printer. Absolutely not good quality. Cut them out, lay them out. View them upside down, sideways, any other variation. He told us "you will see things you don't see in a lovely finished image".  He also told us to stick our failures in a scrapbook. Write all over them what you did wrong.  Revisit it frequently.  Only then will you stop making the same mistakes.

It was his presentation which was next on the agenda that opened my eyes to what he was trying to teach us.
He has done some incredible things. For example photographing body parts in a mortuary minutes after being removed from the body. The craziest work though is his collaboration with a team of archaeologists using a camera attached to a drone based on sketches made by Dellaporta in the 16th century to enable him and his team to photograph in the remote mountains of Afghanistan. They really did discover some new historical data. He also made us laugh at how he lost concetration for a moment and his drone crashed. The tales of the extraordinary efforts they went to to get locals to help them find the drone. Successfully I might add!
Raphael really does encourage you to truly think laterally. He is quite unique. I will be following him for sometime.  Not for wanting to take pictures like him.  I don't actually want to take pictures of any of the things he does, but just to follow how he gets his inspiration. It is not from photos. His work isn't even about photos, it's about ideas.  This is something that I am beginning to realise.  Photography is merely a tool to express your ideas.

The final speaker of the day was  Geert van Kesteren  the majority of his work is as a war photo journalist. His work is powerful not as a front line journalist but as someone who brings you the stories about the ordinary everyday lives of people in war zones. For me it makes the effects of war more personal. What horrific things are being done. If you can relate to people as if they are your own brother, sister, friend, you see it differently.  The emotion he achieves in his pictures is what I aspire to in mine.

I made a couple of friends on the day and am really enthused to try to take pictures that matter.       

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Exhibition - Shaped By War

Sunday I visited Don McCullin's exhibition Shaped By War at the Imperial War Museum. It was the biggest collection of is work I had seen covering his early work as a teenager in Finsbury Park, through his years as a war correspondent then his work with aids victims in Africa and his most recent work landscapes in England.  All his work is powerful but especially his war photography. How he managed to take some of those images and not lose humanity is a testament to how strong he surely is.
For me the most striking element to his photography is how he captures emotion, you are really drawn into the image. He makes war personal. Looking at these images  wonder how soldiers manage to kill one another. Maybe that is why it has become more high tech now and fought from planes thousands of feet away from their victims.
Equally his photos of African aids victims draws you in. As he (Don McCullin) says in the short film accompanying this work, don't look away from these images because they are too awful, look at them and let them influence your consciousness. Although at the end he felt that his images hadn't changed anything. War and war crimes continue.
In a world that is bombarded with images it is pictures like these that stand out and really count.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Review a Portrait Sequence

I did this exercise a couple of times, each time learning a bit more. The first time I spent too much time worrying about light and background and not enough on the model and expressions which is what this exercise is about.  For this attempt I set up where I was going to put the model and decided to rely solely on light from a window that front lit the model. The downside was it was difficult to have control over the light with just a venetian blind to control the amount of light. Too much light and parts of the models face burnt out.  The contact sheet below shows where too much light let in by no blind meant the models face had over exposed patches.  I decided not to worry about lighting but to concentrate on the model and get her properly focused and work through a series of expressions. I had the camera on a tripod and used a wired shutter. I then sat to her side chatting. I asked her to look at different points around the room and different emotions in a fast  banter. To me this really worked in getting much better expressions than my previous attempts.  Afterwards the model said it was the most fun of any of the shoots.

It was a great exercise in really experimenting with how to get the best out of your model and making it fun for both of you.  Next step is to get the images technically correct as well. 

Although under-exposed the image with the red circle around it is my favourite of the series. I increased the exposure in RAW and developed as shown below:

What I didn't notice at the time of shooting as many of the earlier frames are too tightly cropped for someone lying back. When I got her to sit forward slightly she looked more natural. I also like the way the light from the blinds has made a square frame around her face, which is particularly interesting as I was trying to not get the lines from the blind in the picture at the time. A useful lesson in trying to make what is there work for you rather than fight against it.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Eve Arnold

Eve Arnold has died aged 99. I love her work and had been re-reading one of her books this week when I heard the news. A great woman and a great photographer. A real inspiration.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Eye Contact and Expression

I have been working on a body of work around the streets of Kings Cross. The people I am photographing are vulnerable in some way, generally with an alcohol or drug problem.  Learning to take photos when the opportunity arises can be difficult. Sometimes I struggle other times I want the photo so badly I can overcome my hesitations.  The photo below is one such instance.  It was late at night I was on my way home when this young girl approached me. I talked briefly to her then left. I hadn't gone far when I felt compelled to go back and photograph her.  I explained what I was doing and asked if it was ok. She agreed. I didn't have a flash or reflector with me.  So I moved her under a street light and used a high ISO.  I know I wont get to take many pictures in these situations so I use the technique of saying I just need to get my camera setting right and check the light. This gives me time to position and relax the person and work out what the picture is I am going to take.  I really wanted to capture the vulnerability and loneliness I saw in her.  For me the poor lighting and noise in the photo aren't important.  Her expression is everything.