People and Place

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

A Public Space

For this exercise we were asked to take pictures in a public space showing how people make use of their personal space.
I went to a small public park on a sunny afternoon.  I figured that there would be lots of people enjoying sitting in the sun following several grey days.  I was not disappointed. I wandered around the park several times to decide who I would take pictures of and I tried to get a range of activities. I looked for individuals and groups.

I feel these images do give a sense of lots of people enjoying their own space in a sunny park. With the exception of the young woman reading the book, I took the pictures without the people being aware of me. I wanted at least on picture close up so I asked permission to take the image of the woman reading, she was very happy to oblige.  I did have a problem with people behind the tree so have tried to frame the picture without them creating too much distraction, however a wider aperture would have achieved this more than the framing.

Monday, 27 February 2012

An Organised Event

For this exercise we needed to find an organised event where people were moving freely about and to take pictures that tell a story.  London is a city that has lots of events all the time, however the time period I had allocated to do this exercise I found it difficult to find something in the usual places.  After a bit of searching through magazines, newspapers, websites and bulletin boards I found an event to be held for one day at the Garden Museum at Lambeth Palace. A potato day.  That certainly sounded quirky enough for great pictures.  I went to their website to try and get a feel for what was likely to take place to help me think about what photos I might be able to take.  I realised that there was unlikely to be a lot of people attending. The day was about largely outselling heirloom and unusual potatoes, plus a few other gems.

What I aimed for was to show the environment, the produce, the sellers and the buyers. I wanted the pictures to show that this is not a big event but something that is a little quirky but interesting to anyone who wants to know about specialist potatoes.
I took several pictures from a distance, but I was not going to be able to get close up pictures without engaging with people.  I convinced the seller to let me take his portrait and to get him to hold a handful of potatoes. My aim was to show someone who really works in the garden. This is not a vendor he has hands that spend more time in the garden that in a store selling. Do I think I captured that?  Yes I do.
He is clearly a little uncomfortable in front of the camera but he is very proud of his potatoes. Would  I trust this man to tell me useful information about potatoes? You bet. I think I have captured that.
I am also happy that the pictures give you a sense of this small festival in a large indoor space. That the people buying potatoes and onions are serious gardeners.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Feedback Assignment One

My tutor didn't feel my approach to the assignment fitted the requirements of the course. He is not keen on me continuing with my street work within this course and felt I should keep it separate maybe even setting up a blog just for that work.
I clearly mis-understood what was required for the first assignment. I interpreted the 'take one person, five to seven portraits, differ in type and style, separate photo sessions' to be a requirement to have the pictures different.  My tutor's feedback was 'as a collection it is somewhat fragmented' I did not read the requirements to be a collection or an essay.  In fact i took it to deliberately not be a collection. My interpretation was to show a variety of portraits of the one person as different as possible. This by definition is surely not a collection or essay. Or am I missing something?
Even after a telephone conversation and further reflection I still see it differently than what he was looking for, with the exception that I do clearly understand that he does not want me to incorporate my personal projects into the course.
He does suggest it would be a good idea to have my ideas agreed in advance.  This I will do and have done so for assignment two.

I am also to spend more time discussing other photographers work.  I hope I am permitted to look at more than those on the recommended reading list.

My other frustration that I brought up is the number of books in our reading list that are out of print.  I've spent months trying to get my hands on most of them, both in this course and the last one.  It really would be helpful if we have to read obscure books that OCA tells us where we can find them. I know I'm sounding grumpy but I'm not finding this work inspires me at all, which along with acquiring those basic technical skills was my reason for doing the course.
When I attend workshops I am so inspired. The last one at foto8 was just brilliant. And I am really looking forward to the three day documentary workshop I'll be attending in April.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Standard Focal Length

This exercise is to use a standard focal length. I used a 50mm prime lens. The first advantage is that I wasn't going to be able to 'accidently' change the focal length as with my zoom lenses. Using a standard focal length will result in images that look the closest to what the eye sees. Unlike a wide angle lens that can distort the edges of the picture or up close give peole rounded faces, or with the longer zoom compress the background.
Another advantage is my camera doesn't look so big with a standard lens, which makes it easier to blend into the background a definite plus for street photography.
Picture 1:
The day was grey and dull as had been the case for several days. I decided to try and use this as part of my photography.  I went down to city hall with the intention of utilising the buildings as part of any pictures. I wandered around looking for a good advantage point.  I liked the angles here and tried several different positions before settling on this angle. Then I waited for the right person. I wanted only one person in the picture to emphasis the buildings, shapes and greyness. I saw this man approaching and knew if I could just get him in the gap between the buildings before anyone else came into the frame, then I would have a strong picture.  Having a group of people in this picture would not have the same impact, it would just appear as a messy snapshot with no statement.

I then thought that as this image was about shapes and tones that it might look better in black and white. I'm happy with the conversion and think that this is one time when black and white works very well.

Picture 2:
I waited for the golden light of late afternoon for this picture. I found this one spot where the sun bounced off the brown building in the background of this picture. Just two steps either direction the path was in dark shade from all the surrounding buildings.  I positioned myself and photographed various people as they passed through this tunnel of light. I liked this one with two people both in similar coloured clothing, a nice distance apart and their step is similar, giving a nice balance to the picture.

Picture 3:
 My aim this time was to get closer. I hung around a bus stop around the time a lot of people were going home. It was more dificult than I had anticipated to get something that worked. Too many people in the frame and the picture just didn't say anything. This picture gives a sense of time and place. A bus in the background, the free paper we all read in the morning and afternoon while taking our bus/tube to/from work.

Picture 4:
I saw this picture and had just moments to take it before crowds wandered into the frame. I love the balance between the sculpture and the woman, the hood on the statue matches the scarf on the woman, both have their hands clasped together holding something and both leaning in the same pose against the brick wall.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Close and Involved

Get close and involved. Oh I do love this.  Well before I get carried away with being so confident, I have to say perhaps I don't get as close as I thought.  My preferred lens for street work is my 24-105, now for this exercise I had to keep it at the widest angle.  Off I went taking pictures in a way I feel confident, however when I got back and looked at them all, I realised I had been unconsciously moving the zoom.  Not a single shot was at the full width. As I don't have a wide angle prime lens, I needed to figure out how to not slip into using the zoom. 
First I went out without a camera and watched and observed people and situations. You see so many pictures when you don't have a camera.  This I am coming to realise is a good thing.  When a camera is in my hands I'm taking pictures and not observing enough. Hence the note to myself, slow down. Next I taped my lens so I couldn't change the zoom.
I found if you have been watching people for sometime you can anticipate what is likely to happen. this group of pictures has more of that planning in them. Also I am more comfortable with this lens than the longer lens I used in the previous exercise.

Oxford Street is always a good place to start for street photography.
I spotted the guy with the cute teddy bear bag, clearly he had been left holding belongings while the owner was elsewhere. Initially I thought a picture of strong male, fluffy bag, was the picture.  Then the older woman with the heavy big bag appeared. Luck was on my side when the second male stepped into my frame with boots that look like a nuclear warning next to a sign offering benefits galore. All that happened in less than 30 seconds.

The beauty of living in London is there is always somewhere you can rely on finding something quirky.  Piccadilly Circus is a sure bet. Around here you can get close to people as there are so many tourists with cameras people don't notice another one.

I've found street photography has a rhythm, when it goes well you can get really good pictures. Other days, well best to pack up, go home and read a book. On the good days I can attempt to apply some of the skills I have acquired through my study.
I liked this picture as I felt I had managed to get some of the elements of design. Straight lines in the pillars the diagonals of the two people and the white shoe on the left leading towards the white line.

The next picture I anticipated. I saw the two woman walking down the road with their yellow bags.  I'd just passed the yellow lines on the road. So I raced back to the lines worked out where they were likely to walk and where I'd like to capture them. Then crossed my fingers and toes that no-one would walk in front of them at the perfect moment.  What I had anticipated worked.

However looking at it now it would have been even better if I had stepped slightly to the left and not have had all the distractions on the right hand side of the frame. A crop (below) shows how this improves the picture.

What did I learn from this?  In street photography where everything happens so quickly you still have to plan and remember all aspects of what makes a good photograph. A extra note to myself is remember the edges of the frame.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Standing Back

For this exercise we were asked to use a medium-long focal length lens.  I used a 70-200mm.

The first difficulty I encountered was the weight and size of camera and lens.  It is difficult to have a steady hand and to try and be unobtrusive (the key to great street photography).
My first session was at a busy railway station:

It was difficult to find somewhere to stand back and take pictures. Once I found a spot that had some chance of working then it became difficult to capture situations that would make a good picture with so many people racing by. For convenience I tried automatic focusing. That just didn't work. My lens was too slow in refocusing every time someone walked by. So had to change to manual focus and manual settings.  At railway stations most people are walking briskly.  With the picture above it took several attempts to capture the man on the seat without people walking in front of him. I also was trying to get more than him to make an interesting picture. The woman behind pointing balances nicely with the gentleman's hand.
I soon gave up and decided to try somewhere else. I figured Southbank might be easier.

You soon get spotted with a great big lens in peoples faces. Being half term break with lots of children around I thought I was likely to get into trouble here.  I decided I needed to find a cafe where I could sit outdoors and quietly observe without being so obvious.

This was the most successful way of achieving "the standing back" brief.  I still had problems with people walking by who were to close to me.  As I was sitting down I'd just get a big blur of the middle of them. I'd chosen a spot with only occasional vehicles going by so as to reduce that problem.

Overall I didn't find this an easy way of doing street photography. Sure you can get people unaware but it is harder to blend in.  I would rather work with smaller equipment and be mingling with people.  I don't mind if they spot me. Getting close gets better expressions. I felt more voyeuristic and uncomfortable with this lens. I can see that for someone else this might not be the case. I know people who find it really difficult to take pictures of strangers and would feel more comfortable putting the distance between them and the subject.  I don't find it difficult.  All of the pictures I have taken on this exercise I could equally have taken with a smaller lens and just got closer. If you are quick you can still get a picture without them being aware of you. I think it very unlikely I would use this lens again for street photography.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Exhibition - Doisneau

During my couple of days in Paris I took in the current exhibition at Hotel de Ville of Doisneau's Les Halles.  Every time I look at street photography of the 'greats' I see something else.  Generally what I see relates to what work I am involved in myself.  I've only just realised this relationship.  What I mean by this, is I am now more aware of what I am seeing in other peoples work in relation to what I am attempting at the time.
 So what stood out for me this time while viewing Doisneau's work?  Repetition. Going back again and again to the same place. This work spanned 30 years! I guess there is almost an obsession when a body of work means something to you.  Doisneau's Les Halles is the most brilliant record of a place and the people.  He felt strongly that the closing of the market in the centre of the city was like destroying the heart of the city. The moving of the market to Rungis was the end of an era.
How do I relate this to my work? Working on a project, such as my 'life on the streets' becomes part of you. Their lives are more important to me. I care about them and their lives, but I am still an outsider watching and recording.  I don't feel a need to be involved as a charity worker.  Doisneau felt strongly about his subject but didn't become a city planner.
At present I don't see an end to my project. Will I continue for 30 years? Probably not, but it is an interesting concept.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Capturing the Moment

Well I'm not Cartier-Bresson but I think I've managed to capture a couple of "moments" in the images below:

This one I think is amusing.  I had spotted this young girls with her stick.  Obviously bored with waiting for her family and was entertaining herself. I felt that something interesting might happen. So I loitered around watching her. I had looked away for a moment, then saw the policeman that was going to walk past her and the stick was in the air (prior to this she had been making sweeping gestures with it along the ground).  I didn't have time to focus properly so the picture is out of focus.  However I got all the "players" in just the right position. The girl looks as though she is either going to beat him, knight him or even fish him. The policeman's colleagues with their folded arms are looking into the scene almost as if waiting for her to strike him. It was all over in a split second. All the parties moved on moments later.

Another lucky moment.  I was standing looking up the stairs as the light was so lovely I wanted to create a picture in it. Three adolescent boys were standing behind the wall. One suddenly leaped over. I clicked (again with no time to focus) but caught him just as his feet landed and before he had time to straighten up.  A woman I assumed was mother prevented the other boys from following this ones lead.  I like the light, the two boys hands on the wall and the angle I captured the one who jumped. I'm happy with the composition of this picture.  The boys feet are right on the edge of the frame (but all there) he is still mid action.  Also the hands of the other two give that sense they are about to follow.  The light highlighting them against their dark clothes.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Developing your Confidence

The first exercise working toward assignment two is to take a lot of photos in a busy outdoor situation. In other words street photography.  The exercise is about you developing confidence.  I don't lack confidence in street photography.  Its not always easy to get great shots.  The group below are the better ones I took late one afternoon last week along southbank. I took all the pictures in about an hour.  What I try and get in street pictures is something a little quirky.  In this group the picture of the guy with the red hat between the coloured poles I think achieves this.  I also like to try and capture expressions. I captured a great expression on the face of the boy looking at the Hispanic Jews. The other expression in this photo is the exchange of looks between the man and woman in the background.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Assignment One - A Portrait

The difficulty I faced with this assignment is that of wanting to present the work of my on-going project versus a nice series of portraits where I had more control over the taking of the pictures.
I have opted for showing work from my project. My reasons are that this is the work that I want to continue with so this is where I really need to work out how to improve technically within the limitations I face.
The work continues from last year. I am photographing those around Kings Cross who have issues with alcohol, drugs and mental problems.  Most stay in hostels. Some are transient and live on the street, this second group I may only see once. Those that stay in the hostels can only do so for a maximum of two years.  Depending on where they are in that cycle will govern how long I get to follow them.  It has taken me several months to earn the trust that enables me to take most of these pictures.  I always give a good quality copy of the image to everyone I take a picture of. (with exception of those I don't see again to be able to do this).

This assignment required the same person taken in various type, style and sessions.  I wasn't sure I was going to be able to do this with one person.  I cannot control when I will see those that I am photographing or if I do if they will be willing to have their picture taken that day.

Debbie is one of the people I have been photographing. The images below were taken between November and two days ago.

Consider each portrait, Identify what has worked and what hasn't and why.
  1. The first image was taken in the middle of the day.  I got her to stand in a doorway with the black door behind her to deal with the strong light and to avoid any other distractions around us.  I think this one would have been better if I had got her to look directly at me.  Although I do like her expression. She was concerned about her boyfriend this day.
  2. The second picture is of Debbie with Deano, they were worried about the outcome of breaking their asbo.  I took several pictures and I did improve the cropping in others, but I liked the expressions in this image as it captures just how they felt that day. Fill in flash would improve the shadows in their faces but I never use flash for these portraits.  A big camera is intrusive enough for this work.
  3. The third image gives a sense of place as well as person, which the previous two don't. I would have liked stronger and sharper eyes. It's a bit soft.
  4. I was trying to get a picture that captured her not posing, the way she is when she tells me her stories.  I was happy I captured that.  However the lens is two wide and has distorted her face. It would have also been better if she was angled a little bit further to her right to have utilised the side window light better.
  5. If only I had used a different lens!

How can I improve my own skills?
In the past couple of days I have tried using a small reflector for some of these portraits.  Where I am sitting with them and can ask them to hold it, it makes a big difference.  There will be situations where this is just not possible.  I am going to change to a fixed lens over the next few weeks as it is too easy with a zoom lens to zoom in too wide.
I need to be more aware of how people are posed, take a bit more time before I click that shutter.
I'm still missing something, I'm not sure what but the pictures lack that special something that makes them stand out.  I hope this course will help me resolve this.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Varying the Pose

I spent a bit of time on this exercise.  First looking at ideas in magazines and newspapers.  Then based on previous exercises I had to consider where I would take the pictures.  My place has too many distractions, the weather has not been great to consider doing a shoot outside.
I came up with the idea of photographing this model doing her training. The downside was I had to fit in with training times.  This meant getting up 6 am to go to the gym!
In previous exercises I had found that most people don't know what to do with their arms or hands, or which way to stand.  I'm also not great in giving directions as I'm still trying to work out what works.  However I have noticed that if the model has something to occupy their hands like holding a book for example then i can get natural poses faster.  Hence my rationale for photographing during a training session.
I was confined by the space in the gym and where equipment was placed.  However I tried to make that an advantage and get angles that I might now of otherwise have considered.  The lighting meant I had to use a high ISO as I didn't have the flexibility in shutter speed and aperture to work with. My shutter speed had to be high enough for my camera to be hand held. I was also trying to not let the apeture get wider than 5.6 as I didn't want to end up with important features overly soft. Or a nose in focus and eyes out of focus.

Overall though I was happy I got a good range of positions and expressions.  I did find I had to be very careful to not distort her too much with the wide angled shots. The second picture in the top row  has too much forearm, looking at it now I think it would be better if I moved slightly to the right.  I was trying to not do too many from a higher position.  Maybe a longer lens and a little further back would have improved this.

The second group were taken as she prepared to leave for a bike ride.  I wanted to try and get the whole body standing in this group.  I find this the hardest pose to get right. I find I generally end up with all the poses looking awkward.  What I did here was use a stairwell, and got her to hold her helmet.  This meant neither of us was obsessing about hands and feet.
I did a few with her putting her helmet on and off. I have quite a bit of hand movement in the image, (middle, third row) which I liked. 

Sitting on the stairs is the most relaxed and natural pose of all the pictures.  Sitting with something in the hands I find the easiest to get natural.